Home Highlights TPV Ethicist-So Many Demands, So Much to Say

TPV Ethicist-So Many Demands, So Much to Say

TPV has responded to a request from the editors at The Times for help in making their responses in the Sunday Magazine’s ‘The Ethicist’ column more complete. As always, TPV is willing to help its sister publications and hopefully help the readership of both publications lead more fulfilling, ethical lives. TPV response (or correction, as the case may be) follows the Times’ response (written by Chuck Klosterman).


My next-door neighbor, who recently quit her job to pursue painting, asked if she could practice by making a portrait of my child. She said she would charge me the cost of supplies since it was for practice, and I agreed. When she finished the painting, she notified me that she had decided to charge me several hundreds of dollars because she had learned inart class the importance of correctly pricing her work. Although I was upset by the change in price, I did not want to ruin the relationship, so I paid what she asked. What was the right thing to do?



TO NADIA: Your neighbor started this transaction by asking you for a favor. You did not commission the work; she requested the opportunity to practice her craft. Now she’s acting as if this were a business transaction, based on a philosophical argument about art that does not remotely apply to the situation at hand. Here is what you should have done: You should have agreed that it is indeed important for an artist to properly price her work. But you should have also noted that the aesthetic value of art can never truly be quantified, unless the artist is willing to view her work as a commodity that’s subject to the harsh, anti-intellectual realities of capitalism. You should have explained that — tangibly — a piece of art is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it. This being the case, you should have offered to pay a price representing the painting’s actual value to you as a consumer, which (I’m guessing) would have roughly equated to whatever the art supplies originally cost. If she had balked at the offer, you should have said that you understand her position completely, and that you are subsequently granting her the freedom to sell this amateur portrait of your daughter to whoever is willing to pay the premium she requires.


TPV response: Your friend is an asshole. You need to find a new friend. Tell Picasso to try this bait-and-switch on someone else before you stab her with a sharpened paint brush. Offering to paint a ‘free’ picture of your kid and then changing the terms of your agreement so you have to pay? Serious schmuck territory. On the plus side, at least now you won’t have to accidentally ‘lose’ some crappy picture of your kid.


I’m a compulsive crossword puzzler. Coffee shops often have common-use newspapers available, and I’ll tear the crossword out and pocket it for later. Am I crossing a moral boundary by taking part of a common-use newspaper for my own personal pleasure?



TO: T.J. Let me begin by noting the obvious: Crossword puzzles are not hard to come by. There are thousands of available books filled with hundreds of puzzles, many of which would effortlessly satiate your compulsion. This entire ethical conundrum could be avoided for the next10 years if you made a $40 investment at any ordinary bookstore. But this, of course, is not the point. You want to know if you can continue to fill out crossword puzzles in shared newspapers. And you can. You just can’t tear them out. Crossword puzzles represent a unique circumstance for newspapers allocated for public consumption: They aren’t useful unless someone completes the challenge presented.In other words, there is no utility to an unused crossword puzzle; it’s not as if multiple people want to “read” the puzzle without filling in the spaces. The only social purpose a crossword possesses is directly tied to the user. And that user may as well be you. So if you come across a blank crossword at a coffeehouse, you are justified in sitting at the establishment and completing the puzzle. Now, this would not be acceptable behavior at a library or a museum (where the publication itself might also be archived). But if you’re at a place where the newspaper is clearly disposable, the puzzle is an open target for whoever wants to complete it. You can’t, however, take it with you. There are many reasons this shouldn’t be done, but the primary explanation is practical: There is always something on the other side of the paper. It might be a news article (which others may want to consume), or it might be an advertisement (which has monetary value to whoever purchased the space). Unlike a puzzle, those entities can be experienced by numerous users equally. Do not damage the medium.


TPV response: Oy. “Do not damage the medium”? Chuck Klosterman, Mr. Ethicist, get a grip. This isn’t a case of damaged property that’s going to show up at the W0rld Court. The correct response is to point out that doing crossword puzzles is a sickness, undertaken by only the most perverse, unhealthy members of our society, and it’s high time someone did something about it (since the reader describes himself as a ‘compulsive crossword puzzler’ he is in need of immediate psychiatric intervention—and not just from a normal psychiatrist; he should probably travel to Vienna just to make sure he gets a good one). Tear all those puzzles out of the newspapers so that we can put an end to this scourge and throw them out without looking at the puzzles. We’ll go after the Jumble and Family Circus next.


On the game show “The Price Is Right,” it is common for contestants, when bidding on one of the opening prizes, to bid $1 more than another contestant who has already locked in his or her bid. In doing so, this person has locked that other contestant out of winning (unless that person has guessed the exact price). Is it ethical when people bid in this way?



TO: DENNIS “The Price Is Right” is a game. In any constructed game, the ethics and the rules are essentially interchangeable. The rules allow a player to bid $1 above another player. This strategy is arguably unsporting but totally ethical.


TPV response: So Klosterman has clearly never seen this show—I would like to have his intern who explained this bit of lowbrow culture to him write the actual response, because it would have first noted what a schmuck these ‘one dollar over’ bidders are. It’s the same as putting down a bunt in the eighth or ninth inning of an otherwise meaningless baseball game just to break up a no-hitter. More importantly, is that PETA freak Bob Barker still holding that weird, skinny microphone and creepily guiding neurotic women around the Price Is Right stage? There’s a much better ethical question to be answered there, but we’re not even sure where to begin with that one. I hope in his next column Klosterman addresses the important issue of when to solve the puzzle on Wheel of Fortune. #wasteofcolumninchesintheTimes


RUFUS DAVIS: TPV Ethicist-So Many Demands, So Much to Say


  1. Dear TPV,

    Klosterman isn’t the first terrible advice giving ethicist to show up in our local media, but I’m glad you’re addressing the problem. Liked this in particular:

    The correct response is to point out that doing crossword puzzles is a sickness

  2. I agree that Vienna may be a better destination than a chair with a crossword puzzle sitting by


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