Thursday, October 6, 2022

Having to do what one thinks is very likely wrong

Suppose Alice borrowed some money from Bob and promised to give it back in ten years, and this month it is time to give it back. Alice’s friend Carl is in dire financial need, however, and Alice promised Carl that at the end of the month, she will give him any of her income this month that she hasn’t spent on necessities. Paying a debt is, of course, a necessity.

Now, suppose neither Alice nor Bob remember how much Alice borrowed. They just remember that it was some amount of money between $300 and $500. Now, obviously in light of her promise to Bob:

  1. It is wrong for Alice to give less to Bob than she borrowed.

But because of her promise to Carl, and because any amount above the owed debt is not a necessity:

  1. It is wrong for Alice to give more to Bob than she borrowed.

And now we have a puzzle. Whatever amount between Alice gives to Bob, she can be extremely confident is either less or more than she borrowed, and in either case she does wrong. Thus whatever Alice does, she is confident she is doing wrong.

What should Alice do? I think it’s intuitive that she should do something like minimize the expected amount of wrong.

1 comment:

William said...

How much is Alice left with, and what is the minimum she thinks she would have borrowed? If she reasonably estimates that the minimum she borrowed is more than she has left, all goes to Bob, no wrongs done. If she is still worried, have Bob first promise that if the true amount is later revealed and she gave him more than owed he will supply the excess to Carl.

If there is money left after that minimum, and Alice worries that her choosing a number is somehow ethically wrong (anyway, why?), let Bob and Carl negotiate to decide on the number. That way Alice is not picking a wrong number.