Andrew Cullison

Andrew Cullison is the Phyllis W. Nicholas Director of the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University. He is also an Associate Professor of Philosophy.

"Peter Singer no Fronteiras do Pensamento Porto Alegre" by Fronteiras do Pensamento is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Philosophers Peter Singer and Jeff McMahan recently wrote a very controversial op-ed in The Stone (a blog published by The New York Times) arguing that Anna Stubblefield may have been unjustly treated in her sexual assault conviction. Stubblefield engaged in multiple sexual acts with a person who was severely cognitively impaired.

"Signing my Tax Returns" by Donald Trump (via Twitter)

On Saturday, The New York Times released part of Donald Trump’s 1995 tax returns that revealed over $900 million in business losses and concluded that Trump could have avoided paying any federal income taxes for 18 years, deducting up to $50 million a year from his taxable income each year.

If true, Trump may have avoided paying up to $360 million in taxes over 18 years.

"Solitude" by Mortimer62 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (via Flickr)

Most Republicans don’t want Donald Trump as the nominee. Most Republicans didn’t want Trump during the primaries. He benefited from a crowded field of traditional candidates in the early primaries. The preferences of voters who voted for the third place candidates and beyond were simply lost. They had no say between the first and second place candidates.

"Do You Remember...The Future?" by JD Hancock is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (via Flickr)

Happy Back to the Future Day! October 21, 2015 is the day that Marty McFly travelled to the future in Doc Brown’s time-traveling DeLorean. To commemorate this day, I thought we should have a bit of fun and consider an interesting (and hypothetical) moral question.

Suppose we could build a time machine. Would it be wrong to build one?

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Image created from a photograph by Cynthia O'Dell.

In this episode, we hear from Paul B. Thompson on food ethics and Marcia McKelligan about ethics bowl.

Show Notes 

  1. Food Ethics
    Listeners of Examining Ethics can receive a 30% discount on Paul B. Thompson’s book, From Field to Fork: Food Ethics for Everyone by clicking on this link. Thanks again to Oxford University Press for supporting this episode.
  2. Ethics Bowl
    – Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (Collegiate Ethics Bowl)
    – Parr Center for Ethics at UNC (High School Ethics Bowl)
    – Squire Foundation and funding for High School Ethics Bowl
    – Matt Deaton’s free ebook guide, “Ethics in a Nutshell: An Intro for Ethics Bowlers”
  3. Andrew’s Reading Recommendations:
    – Hanna Rosin, “The Tricks People Use to Avoid Debate”
    – Roger Dooley, “How Warren Buffett Avoids Getting Trapped by Confirmation Bias”


Examining Ethics is hosted by Andrew Cullison and produced by Christiane Wisehart and Sandra Bertin. Thanks to Cynthia O’Dell for the photograph used in our logo. Our music is by Cory Gray and can be found on

To contact the Prindle Institute, email Our other contact information can be found here.


Business Men Shaking Hands, ReinerMedia - Flickr (CC-BY-2.0)

New Reddit CEO, Ellen Pao, is making waves across the tech and finance industry with her recent decision to end salary negotiations for new hires.

This new policy was unveiled in her interview with the Wall Street Journal yesterday as she talked about a wide range of issues related to gender in the tech industry. Pao said,

Men negotiate harder than women do and sometimes women get penalized when they do negotiate. So as part of our recruiting process we don’t negotiate with candidates. We come up with an offer that we think is fair. If you want more equity, we’ll let you swap a little bit of your cash salary for equity, but we aren’t going to reward people who are better negotiators with more compensation.

It isn’t just a fairness issue related to differences in persistence. There is evidence that women are harmed by the culture of negotiations. Researchers at Harvard and Carnegie Mellon conducted four separate studies to study the differences in the ways that the practice of negotiations effect people based on their gender. The results suggested that sometimes it hurts (for women) to ask for more money.

In the first two experiments “participants evaluated written accounts of candidates who did or did not initiate negotiations for higher compensation. Evaluators penalized female candidates more than male candidates for initiating negotiations.”

In the third experiment, “participants evaluated videotapes of candidates who accepted compensation or initiated negotiations. Male evaluators penalized female candidates more than male candidates for initiating negotiations; female evaluators penalized all candidates for initiating negotiations.”

This may explain why women tend to be much more uncomfortable with negotiations than men. If they are viewed more negatively for attempting to negotiate, they could be getting signals and social pressures in the process that discourage it. If men, don’t experience negativity for negotiation, then we have a systemic issue that leads to a wage gap between men and women.

Pao isn’t the first executive to end salary negotiations. In 2006, a dean of a Midwest business college penned an anonymous piece articulating why “he” doesn’t permit salary negotiations. The reasons are not specifically targeted to gender equality, but fairness considerations are (at least) part of the motive.

One might worry, however, that a practice of banning negotiations might harm workers in the long run. Proponents of banning negotations claim they determine a fair price by looking at the numbers in the industry. However, the current averages are influenced by people who have negotiated for higher wages. The act of negotiating drives up industry averages. If we did away with the culture of negotiation, average price would be dictated over time by the hiring companies. Employees would be deprived of the one thing they could do (short of walking away from an offer) to get the numbers up – asking that wages be higher.

So, should CEOs ban negotiations, like Pao did? There are potential benefits in the short term for female hires at Reddit. But a nationwide culture that shunned negotiations might be harmful in the long run. Negotiations keep average wages higher in a given industry, and workers on average might be better off in an economy that didn’t shun negotiation.

"Privacy", G4114is (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

This week it was announced that the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act, which will soon be introduced to Congress for consideration, will not extend to college students.

The bill is designed to restrict ways in which educational technology companies can use the data of K-12 students. Ed tech companies have an interest in that data because they can data mine it for the purposes of targeted marketing and product development. But because of the risks it might pose to students, and because of the vulnerable position of K-12 students, legislators are seeking to limit ways in which this data can be used.

However, when asked to consider whether the legislation should extend those protections to college students, they decided not to.

Part of the rationale is that college students are a less vulnerable group than K-12 students, and if ed tech companies are in a better position to provide useful learning tools if they can leverage big data, then one might think that it’s worth the risks.

However, one might think that there is still a significant moral issue here when it comes to college students. College students might be less vulnerable in some respects, but they are just as vulnerable with respect to their ability to opt out of certain educational technologies. Often, use of educational technology is required by a college student’s home institution. Students cannot opt out. And so, even if college students are in a better position to assess the risks and make informed decisions than K-12 students, they are still less free opt out of using the technology.

What do you think? Should the bill be passed at all? If so, should it be extended to include college students?

Justin McBrayer, wrote this interesting piece for the New York Times.  He argues that there is a misleading distinction embedded in the common core standards when it comes to teaching students the difference between facts and opinions. We’re all probably familiar with the drill. Students are given a list of sentences and asked to distinguish the facts from the opinions. Things that can be proven by science or simply observation are supposed to be labeled as the facts and things that are more subjective (like “Ice Cream tastes good”) are supposed to be labeled as opinions.

But McBrayer’s worry is that children seem to be taught than any evaluative claim is merely an opinion and something that couldn’t be true. But if one thinks that facts are true propositions (which a lot of students likely do), then students could reason that it’s not true that it’s wrong to kill people for fun. Why? Because moral judgments are evaluative claims that children are taught to label as opinions. If there is a sharp distinction between opinion and facts, such that opinions couldn’t be true, then we have a system that might be teaching kids to be moral nihilists?

What do you think? Should we teach the fact/opinion distinction? Is it problematic to train students to think that moral judgments couldn’t be objectively true?



"United States Supreme Court Courtroom" John Marino (Flickr) CC BY 2.0

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments today on a new challenge to Obamacare. Vox has one of the clearest summaries of the issue here.

People say the issue hinges around the interpretation of four simple words “established by the state”, but really it’s about where the law mentions tax subsidies and where it does not.

The Affordable Care Act talks about all manner of health care exchanges, but the only place it mentions subsidies and tax credits is in a section that talks about healthcare exchanges established by the states.

Challengers of the law contend that Congress only intended to subsidize people for purchasing health insurance in states where the states set up exchanges, and that any subsidies provided by the government in states where the federal government runs the exchange is in violation of the law.

That’s the core argument, namely that federal government is in violation of the letter of the law by providing subsidies to people in states where the states have not set up exchanges.

What’s interesting is that both sides will be arguing about intent. On the one hand you might think it’s pretty clear that the democratically controlled Congress intended to provide subsidies to anyone who bought health insurance through exchanges. That’s what it sounded like the deal would be all along, and that’s exactly what followed passage of the law – a massive roll-out in which the subsidies were immediately provided to people who bought insurance via federal exchanges. On the other hand, one might think that the purpose of the tax credits was to dangle a carrot in front of states to start their own exchanges (that’s what the Challengers contend), and so subsidies for any other reason is not authorized by the law.

The implications would be huge as only 14 states have set up exchanges. If the Supreme Court decides in favor of the challengers, the the law won’t be struck down – but the federal government will be required to suspend subsidies to people who bought health insurance in these 36 states.

What do you think? Is the federal government in violation of its own law? Should they be prevented on these grounds from continuing to offer tax-credits and subsidies?


I recorded the talk I gave last weekend at the American Philosophical Association Central Division. You can listen to it above.

In the talk I discuss ways in which Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 could threaten democracy. The bulk of it focuses on Web 3.0 and defends net neutrality as an appropriate and permissible preventative measure. Given the recent FCC ruling – it seemed like a good idea to post it here. Below is the handout from the talk for anyone who wants to have it in front of them while they listen. Here’s a google doc version of my handout.

  1. Central Aims

    • Articulate ways in which the semantic web (Web 3.0) threatens to put us in a collectively worse epistemic position and further undermine our democracy.
    • Defend net neutrality regulations as an appropriate and permissible preventative measure.
  2. The Evolution of the Internet
    • Web 1.0
    • Web 2.0
    • Web 3.0 or The Semantic Web
  3. The Beginning: Web 1.0
  4. The Web 2.0 Threat
    • Does the blogosphere put us in a worse epistemic position?
    • Posner
      • Error Correction
      • People are generally good at not trusting blogs without validation
  5. The First Web 3.0 Threat: Algorithmic Filtering
  6. The Second Web 3.0 Threat: Non-Net-Neutral Landscape

    • Net Neutrality = the thesis that internet service providers should be neutral and enable access to all content and websites available on the internet. Furthermore, they should not favor, speed-up, block, or slow-down content and services from any website.
    • Targeted information manipulation
    • Minority Voices via Innovative Tech Services
  7. Objections to Net Neutrality Regulation
    1. This is government regulation without good reason. Let the market correct for this.
    2. Reduce Incentive to Innovate (and provide cheap Internet access)
    3. Reduced Incentive to Expand Networks
    4. Increased Costs
      1. Advertising Revenue High, ISP charge to consumer low
      2. Advertising Revenue Low, ISP charge to consumer high
      3. Advertising Revenue Intermediate, ISP charge to consumer intermediate
        (Castles on the Rhine Effect)
    5. It’s Failing in Europe
    6. Chicken Little What-If-ing