Two Puzzles about the Ethics of Divestment

Wednesday, October 26, 2022
3:00 PM - 12:00 AM

Presenter: David Boonin, University of Colorado at Boulder

David Boonin is Chair of the Department of Philosophy at the Cuniversity of Colorado at Boulder. He is the author of Thomas Hobbes and the Science of Moral Virtue (Cambridge University Press 1994), A Defense of Abortion (Cambridge University Press, 2003), The Problem of Punishment (Cambridge University Press, 2008) Should Race Matter? (Cambridge University Press, 2011), The Non-Identity Problem and the Ethics of Future People (Oxford University Press, 2014) and Beyond Roe: Why Abortion Should be Legal Even if the Fetus is a Person (Oxford University Press, 2019), and Dead Wrong: The Ethics of Posthumous Harm (Oxford University Press, 2019) as well as a number of articles on such subjects as animal rights, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, and our moral obligations to future generations. 

Suppose you own stock in Acme Corp. and you learn that it consistently acts in seriously immoral ways. What should you do? A common answer maintains that owning stock in Acme Corp. makes you complicit in its immoral behavior and that you should therefore divest yourself of it. But as Steven M. Cahn has argued, there seems to be something puzzling about this answer. If you sell your stock to someone, then they will own it. If it’s wrong to own the stock, then they’ll be doing something wrong. So if you divest yourself of the stock, you’ll be helping someone do something wrong. But it seems wrong to help someone do something wrong. So how can a company’s immoral behavior make it wrong for you to own stock in the company but not make it wrong for you to get rid of the stock by selling it to someone else? In this talk, Professor Boonin will present two versions of Cahn’s divestment puzzle and explain the reasoning that leads to each of them. He will then discuss the published responses that have appeared since Cahn first presented the puzzle and argue that none of them are successful. Professor Boonin will conclude by defending an alternative response.

This presentation is sponsored by Philosophy Department and part of the Fall 2022 Colloquium Series.

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Joshua Preiss