Question Description

In The New York Times, there is a column called “The Ethicist,” where some writer for the newspaper gives arguments in response to questions that are posed by readers. In the question below titled “Replacement Costs,” Randy Cohen is the writer who gives an argument in reply to David Lat’s question about replacing Oreos from a hotel’s minibar.

– What is the main premise of Cohen’s argument?

– What is the conclusion of Cohen’s argument?

(You can put these in your own words if you wish to. Note that a premise or conclusion may be just part of one of Cohen’s sentences.)

-Do you think Cohen has given a good argument? Explain your answer.

Make sure you answer all three questions if you want to get full credit. To do so, read the rest of these instructions.

In answering the first two questions, make sure your answer is expressed in what is called standard form.

An Example of Standard Form

Main Premise: [Fill in this blank.]

Main Conclusion: [Fill in this blank.]

Write out the words “Main Premise” and then state what it is right next to it. There should be no indicator words like ‘because’ or ‘so’ in the statement.

Write out the words “Main Conclusion” and then state what it is right next to it. There should be no indicator words like ‘because’ or ‘so’ in the statement.

Crucial Notes:

do not mistake a premise for a conclusion. Make sure you understand the difference, from the lesson. A premise does not mean “the main topic”.

state clearly what is the main premise and what is the conclusion of Cohen’s argument.

in assessing Cohen’s argument, you should be asking, are any of his premises false? And, does his conclusion follow from his premises? Do NOT simply talk about whether his conclusion is right — talk about whether his reasoning is good.

you will not get a good mark on this DQ if you just discuss your own view on whether what David Lat did was proper. That is not what we are asking. You must assess Cohen’s reasoning.

one valuable hint: The issue raised by the reader, David Lat, was whether his action was “proper” – i.e., ethically okay. That is a good clue as to which of Randy Cohen’s points will be the conclusion: it will be the one that speaks to that issue.

Replacement Costs


Published: January 8, 2010

When I checked into a hotel in California, I was starving, so I ate the $6 box of Oreos from the minibar. Later that day, I walked down the street to a convenience store, bought an identical box for $2.50 and replenished the minibar before the hotel had a chance to restock it. Was this proper? My view is “no harm, no foul.” In fact, my box was fresher: the Oreos I ate were going to expire three months before the box I replaced them with. DAVID LAT, NEW YORK

Cohen’s reply: I disagree. You might with similar logic stop by the Staples Center and present vendors with a bottle of the same brand of beer you drank at the Lakers game last night. I don’t think they would be inclined to refund your money.

The hotel is providing not just a product but also a service — the convenience of having Oreos available in your room, 24/7. To create this utopia of constant confectionery access, the hotel had to pay someone to travel the world and select the finest vintage cookies, order the Oreos and stock the minibar. You enjoyed that service; you must pay the (ridiculously high) price.

It would be a different matter if you had brought along that very same box of Oreos when you checked in — do you travel with a suitcase full of sweets? — and eaten them without unlocking the minibar. Although the final disposition of cookies would have been similar — a boxful in the minibar, a boxful in your belly — you would not have availed yourself of a hotel service, so you wouldn’t have had to pay for it.

When you respond to a fellow student’s response, you need to dispute some point that another student made, and to give reasons for your response. Don’t just say something like “I disagree with his or her response.” Be respectful: the goal is to have an enlightening debate

The other students post is in the file to respond to