Is is ethically justifiable to betray a confederate in dishonesty?

Or should there be honor among thieves?

A few days ago I posted this thread on the subject of writing an academic paper for my boss’s son. Before anyone goes nuclear over the notion, let me point you to post 89 of that thread, in which the plagiarism issue is rendered moot.

But I don’t want to talk about cheating or workplace politics. What I’d like to discuss is the suggestion of several Dopers that I should take the money, write the paper, and then anonymously inform on the kid; or take the money and deliberately write a bad paper. These posters’ reasoning seems to be that, since the boss’s suggestion was dishonest, it is justified to take his money and screw him.

This seems insupportable to me. As Dylan wrote, “To live outside the law, you must first be honest.” If you take money from someone to do a job, knowing in advance the nature of that task, you then take on an ethical obligation to do that job to the best of your ability and not to deliberately undercut the aim of that job. If the work is so abhorrent to you that you are tempted to betray your confederate, you shouldn’t take money for it to begin with.

But that’s just my position. Anybody care to argue the contrary?

I can’t. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Even if you are a criminal or a thief or a scammer, don’t betray your comraes. Granted, if they are doing something so evil you can’t accept it, then like a good man would, you should break with them and expose their plans. Honor, even among thieves.

Don’t rat out your fellow crooks. That doesn’t make you good. That just makes you a crook and a traitor. If you feel you must betray the scheme on moral grounds, it’s clearly wrong to then benefit from the scheme.

In the case mentioned, no. That would have just been deceitful and passive-aggressive.

But, in general? Maybe …

I’m from a city where a working class neighborhood was destroyed by a sociopath. He tapped into a sub-cultural fear and distrust of government and dragged the neighborhood into decades of crime and shame. The neighborhood no longer exists; it’s just another postal code that’s been gentrified.

I’m not glorifying the old, brutal neighborhood, but I think a lots of people’s lives would be better if one of the people who would have ratted the organization out to the Federales had survived to do so.

“Honor among thieves” is no different than “Take the queen’s shilling, do the queen’s work”, and Nuremberg, and I, disagree with the latter.

I value ethics over morals. I value loyalty over self-interest. I think stand-up guys do time. Even ten years ago I would have agreed with you.

Still, sometimes, you have to serve the greater good; sometimes you put the community, even civilians, before your personal code.

Sometimes you rat people out.

I think betrayal can be justifiable when it otherwise wouldn’t be depending on what or who you’re betraying, and vice-versa. Honour and loyalty are not, in and of themselves, virtues; context is required. Loyalty to an evil person does not, in my book, have a speck of goodness in it purely because you’re being loyal. If you’re doing it because you hope they’ll become less evil because of your influence - in your example, perhaps, if you turned the son in in order to try and teach him a lesson, that to me would be ethically justifiable (though less so if you took the reward for it too). If you turned him in because you’re a bastard (note that i’m not saying you are, of course ;)), then no.

So to answer your question, it can be justifiable. It isn’t necessarily one or the other, and loyalty alone redeems it not one jot.

Agreeing with Revenant Threshold: for instance, if someone co-erced you into wrong-doing – threats or blackmail or whatever – then you might go along to protect yourself, but then secretly rat them out later. However, if it’s entirely voluntary on your part, that’s a different situation. In short, mere “loyalty” is not sufficient justification.

I agree with you wholeheartedly that there are times when it’s appropriate to “rat people out.” If I observe a crime, nothing short of fearing for my life or well-being prevents me from informing.*

But Skald is speaking of voluntarily participating in a crime (or some non-ethical but non-criminal behavior) and then ratting out your co-conspirators. I think that’s different, and I agree with Skald’s position on it.

Obviously, sting operations are a whole different kettle of fish.

  • I’m speaking of significant crimes here. I don’t call the police on jaywalkers, but I have called the police on reckless/drunk drivers and cases of physical abuse.

I’m basically with you on this one, Skald. Writing the paper would have been dishonest on its own. Writing the paper and screwing it up deliberately is still dishonest, it just adds a layer of hypocrisy and greed.

I’m not particularly a believer in honor among thieves or that kind of romantic outlaw code stuff, but I don’t think those actions would be ethically justifiable in this case. And if you took your boss’s money and then wrote a terrible paper, you probably would have ended up in a great deal of trouble.

I believe I pointed out the incredible knuckle-draggingness of that suggestion in the original thread.

Just to clarify my earlier post, I think backing out of a truly heinous act, one that will harm a lot of people, and informing the authorities is fine and maybe noble. But then you haven’t profited from the act either.

Accepting a reward for a minor malfeasance, as in Skald’s case, and then deliberately screwing the people who pay you is adding wrong to wrong. The right thing to do is to decline to participate.

I’m sure you did, but after I saw how many people were recommending you take the money and write the paper I started skimming.

I, personally, don’t hold traitors in very high esteem. I don’t know anybody who does.
Historically, few societies have. Benedict Arnold didn’t go on to be hailed as a hero in the UK, for example.
If you’re involved in criminal behavior and you rat out your confederates, then that just makes you a rat on top of everything else there is to dislike about you.

I don’t mean to hijack the thread, but I was going to comment on this attitude earlier and I might as well do it now that it’s out in the open. When topics about rats, traitors, undercover cops and so on come up on this board, there are always a few posts that indicate that ratting people out is worse than remaining in criminal enterprise with them. A murderer is a murderer, but a rat is a murderer and a rat. Why is it better to keep one’s mouth shut in these kinds of situations? I don’t get it. That’s not to say stoolies are noble people, because they just about always act out of self-interest, but as a character trait it offends people in a way that I just don’t understand. If you ask me who’s the better person between a mob killer and his comrade who gets pinched, I’ll go with the latter guy by a whisker.

I just wanted to point out that I may being a sexist egotistical lying hypocritical bigot, but I’m not STUPID. (My last pit thread might call that in question.)

I think I already answered this question above. Traitors are never esteemed; even by the people who benefit from them. By being a rat you are showing, first and foremost, that you cannot be trusted.

And untrustworthiness is not even remotely on par with murder and exortion and similar crimes. I wouldn’t trust a murderer or exortionist in the first place, so why is this somehow worse if they betray their confidants to the police, for example?

I think it is more like this: Criminals, as a group, are untrustworthy and hard to like. A rat is a criminal even more untrustworthy than his criminal confederates.
Whether it should be this way or not, squealers are not much esteemed.

Or maybe a rat is a criminal with a latent conscience. Obviously, as Marley23 said, in most cases a rat is acting out of self-interest. But I don’t doubt there are those for whom some acts are seen as unacceptable and worthy of notifying the authorities.

Which doesn’t really change anything. You’re still talking about a criminal who betrayed other criminals. Can you name for me even one rat who the general public held in high esteem because he was a rat?

I, personally, have never known one who ratted because of consicience. I know bunches who ratted in order to secure lighter punishment, or even immunity from prosecution, for themselves. They were not much loved by anybody.

Lindsey McDonald, maybe?

Of course, his change of heart didn’t stick. That’s what happens when your heart is two sizes too small. Plus, of course, he’s not real.