Harmful Jobs, Net Impact

Friday, October 13, 2017 -- 10:12 AM
Eliane Mitchell

Consider this:

You have just graduated law school and the Environmental Protection Agency, run under Scott Pruit, has offered you a position there. Pruit's goals at the EPA are to roll back regulations that help protect the environment—an agenda that you believe will do much more harm to the Earth than good—but on the bright side, you think, maybe you could try to change the EPA from the inside. So what should you do? Take the job and try to soften Pruit's efforts? Or would it be more productive to work for an environmental agency whose efforts you support? To put the question more broadly, is it ever justifiable to take a harmful job to do more good?

An article on 80,000 Hours, an online guide for examining "how graduates can make the biggest difference possible with their careers," explores these questions. Using moral philosophy for comparison, it rejects the effectiveness of taking a harmful job and hoping to change it "from the inside" on both non-consequentialist (deontological) and consequentialist grounds. First, jobs with a large negative impact flat out fail the deontological test by violating rights or other ethical principles; and second, the action of taking on a harmful job will likely result in other hidden harms, such as harming one's reputation or surrounding one with unethical people. For these reasons, the article concludes that people probably shouldn't take careers with obviously negative impacts, since the minute, positive results one could achieve won't outweigh the work's otherwise harmful means.

What do you think? Do you have an argument that can outshine this one? Enter your comments below and also find 80,000 Hours's list of the 10 most harmful jobs here.   

Link to article: https://80000hours.org/articles/harmful-career/

 
 
 

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