05/26/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Ethicist: Spiting Miss Lazy

Randy Cohen, better known as "the ethicist," always does a bang-up job of telling us why our natural loves and impulses are probably, in fact, morally wrong, according to his years of expertise in...writing for Rosie O'Donnell. Who would have known, for example, that fining a neighbor and ensuring that a coworker will be kicked out of his current apartment, because keeping undesirables out of your pristine co-op is very important, is more ethical than being...a decent guy? I for one would never have known that giving the homeless cardboard boxes, but really weather-proofed ones, is not, in fact, totally reprehensible on every level without Randy gently whispering in my ear to take what may look just like the low road, but which, he assures me, is the path of moral superiority. Could you have guessed that when you see a friend on your favorite porn site, you're required (by the iron-clad laws of Randy's interpretation of ethics, that is) to not only tell her about it, but do so face-to-face?

But your luck extends further than simply having been so amply blessed as to have an ethicist like Randy in existence; we've come across some questions that, for space reasons (because clearly no one is disagreeing with his opinions, or daring to offer an alternative version of the moral universe) he was unable to print. Learn how to live your life miserably, but morally, with these ethicist outtakes!

I recently went out to an Old Country Buffet with my aging grandmother. Having long outlived the retirement money she and grandpa had set aside, these sorts of treats mean a great deal to her, and I make the effort to fit in time for a meal out, or even just coffee and a dessert at the local Denny's, at least once a week. This week, though, upon returning from the bathroom, I noticed my grandmother sticking some of the free packages of saltines into her purse. I was too embarrassed to ask her about her 'doggie-bag,' but if I see her doing it again, I'd like to be prepared. I know she can't afford this brand of crackers for herself otherwise, but still, I'm not sure if what she's doing is right. Since we paid for the all-you-can-eat buffet, is she allowed to take the free crackers?

-Grandma's Apprehensive Witness at Dinner.

Oh, G.A.W.D., I'm sorry that you've let this problem progress (albeit slowly! Because Grandma's probably got a walker!) this far already; with clearly unethical behavior like this - because your grandmother's stealing is, in fact, unethical - the longer you go without confronting the behavior, the worse it gets. Soon, she may progress to sugar packets!

While I think returning the crackers is unnecessary, and perhaps impossible at this point, I suggest you inform the purveryors of the all-you-can-eat buffet of your grandmother's action as soon as possible, so that they at least have the chance to protect themselves from people taking slightly more than they can eat right at that moment in future. You should also make it clear to your grandmother that, as long as this sort of behavior continues, you can't, and won't, be taking her out anymore. How else will they learn?

Recently I was a witness to a large pile-up on the interstate. Amongst the victims of this traffic accident were three cars, a truck, and a school bus full of children on a field trip to the Learning Emporium. The drivers of two of the cars were severely injured, and bleeding arterially. The truck driver, though bleeding himself, pulled both drivers out of the wreckage, laying them on the road nearby. He then went back to the car of the first victim and, after rooting around, managed to pop the trunk. There he found some t-shirts, printed up for what appeared to be a 5K fun-run. Using these, he managed to tourniquet the leg of the first driver, and the arm of the second, saving both their lives, as emergency technicians confirmed later. After this, however, he ran back and used two, maybe three (I was observing from inside my car, three back in the pileup the accident caused) to clean himself up and temporarily bandage his own wounds. Should I report this to the driver of the car that contained the fun-run t-shirts?

-Witnessed Everything And Knows Something About Unloading Cars is Evil

W.E.A.K.S.A.U.C.E., you are absolutely right in your misgivings about this would-be hero (did he tie one of the shirts around his neck as a cape, too?) His showing off is distasteful, of course, though not ethically wrong, but his thievery - because that's what it is, no point in couching it in pretty terms to pad egos that are no doubt puffed up enough - is downright felonious.

Your urge to report him is good, but doesn't go nearly far enough; after all, the judgment of the driver/victim may still be impaired by the injuries s/he sustained. Instead of wasting time and energy, then, in contacting the victim of this blatant theft, go directly to your local police station. Just don't take the school bus (wink wink!!)

A man I know, we'll call him Andy Lohen, has a job which is far superior to mine, and which I know for a fact is far far better-paid. I feel like his job is pretty plush; he hardly has to do anything besides consult his own opinions! Am I justified in using him as the playful target for a humor piece, or is my jealousy clouding my ethical judgment?

-Definitely not Jilly Gagnon

There's nothing unethical about your behavior - I assume, after all, that if Mr. Lohen (how's he doing since the breakup with Mr. Romson?) is worth your attentions, he is a public figure, and while public figures are often followed a bit too...forcefully, they have, after all, chosen to open themselves up to popular opinion, even if that opinion goes against them.

That said, your decision may strike some as being in very poor taste.