BOSWELL: I added that [this] person maintained that there was no distinction between virtue and vice.

JOHNSON: Why, Sir, if the fellow does not think as he speaks, he is lying; and I see not what honour he can propose to himself from having the character of a liar. But if he does really think that there is no distinction between virtue and vice, why, Sir, when he leaves our houses let us count our spoons."
-- The Life of Johnson

Samuel Johnson, the great eighteenth century moralist, provides as good a definition as any of the ethicist's task: to make the distinction between virtue and vice. It is a task not just for the trained professional (albeit, in my case, haphazardly trained), but something each of us must do every day. We strive to act ethically because we believe it is fundamentally right to do so, but also because it would be dreadful to live in a world where suspicion reigned, where all transactions were conducted from behind bullet-proof glass, and where, when our dinner guests departed, we had to count our spoons.

How to Tell Right From Wrong in Everyday Situations
By: RANDY COHEN - "The Ethicist" from The New York Times Magazine.

Special thanks to illustrator Christoph Niemann.


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