An acquaintance of mine is a highly paid professional lacking none of life’s luxuries. He plays the violin as a hobby and frequently plays in a public space, placing a jar in front of him so that passers-by can contribute money to show their appreciation. Other musicians play in that space, but they move on if another musician is already there. His actions suggest, to me, that he’s a struggling musician in need of financial assistance, but he’s collecting dollar bills from people who may be less fortunate financially than he. Your thoughts on the ethics of this? NAME WITHHELD, NEW YORK The reason this strikes you as problematic has to do with your view of what this man is doing. You see his actions as a request for undeserved charity. He sees his actions as a performance that has potential value. And he is correct. Part of your argument is based on the premise that your acquaintance is occupying a common space that could better serve a less fortunate peer. That contention would make sense if the guy were panhandling. But that is not what he’s doing. He’s creating art for public consumption; he is, by the strictest definition of the term, a professional musician. While not charging for this work, he’s still saying, “I believe my music has value — and if you agree, pay me whatever amount you think is justified.” He’s not expecting people to give him money just because he’s standing there. That people less wealthy than he is might be generating his revenue is irrelevant. If you go to a Metallica concert, you would have a hard time finding one person in the entire arena who’s richer than the band’s drummer. Does this mean Metallica should provide free tickets to every member of their audience who makes less money than they do? I suppose you could make the case that they should. But it wouldn’t be a very good one. THE GRAPE THIEF
A man goes to the supermarket and passes a table of fruit. His eye meets a luscious bunch of seedless grapes. The man puts the grapes in a...
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