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Volume 24 • Number 4

October 2010



Principled Divestiture Revisited

by Jeremy Gwiazda

Steven M. Cahn (1987) presented a fascinating and recalcitrant puzzle. Imagine that you own stock in a company that has undertaken an immoral course of action. Most people believe that selling the stock is the right thing to do. But if you sell the stock, you thereby abet the buyer in an immoral course of action, namely the buyer’s coming to own tainted stock. Is principled divestiture possible? If so, what are the moral grounds on which principled divestiture stands? These questions have proven difficult. Cahn (1989, 1991) answered many attempted replies (Cohen 1988; Gordon and Sadowsky 1989; Shiner 1990; Walters 1988) to his puzzle. In this journal, Saul Smilansky (1993) also attempted to answer the divestiture puzzle. Smilansky (ibid., p. 260) concluded, “Attempting to divest by offering the stock for sale is, however, morally problematic. It is problematic because it involves the bad faith of putting something forward as morally acceptable while claiming it to be morally tainted.” Smilansky continued, “One needs to get rid of the stock and take it off the market at the same time, i.e., make it impossible for others to purchase the stock.” Smilansky thereby implies that one should destroy the stock. However, Cahn had already replied to this move, noting that destroying one’s stock would increase the moral culpability of other owners.

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ISSN: 2152-0542