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Let's say we have a simple Telepath (mind control and reading). This Telepath is not interested in being a superhero. He doesn't want to mess around with stopping criminals and stuff because he has a moral code that would prevent him from using his powers on them. Instead, he wants to help homeless people by giving them large sums of money. However, he needs to get said large sums first. Our Telepath is too impatient to get money the honest way, but his moral code prevents him from just ordering people to give him cash. How can the Telepath steal money morally?

Moral Code:

  1. Don't hurt people unnecessarily
  2. Help people as much as you can
  3. Don't reveal that you're a telepath
  4. Never use your powers on anyone without their permission

Edit: To clarify, Rule #3 refers to revealing your abilities to the world as a whole. It's okay to reveal it to people individually, because no one would believe them if they blabbed since 'telepathy is not real'.

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closed as off-topic by Mołot, JDługosz, Pavel Janicek, Mindwin, Rob Watts Jan 4 '17 at 17:57

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    $\begingroup$ bullet 3 and 4 essentially means he cannot use his powers, ever. So short answer: He can't. Either ha has to be able to tell someone OR he has to be willing to use it on someone without their consent, otherwise he might as well not have them. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 4 '17 at 2:28
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    $\begingroup$ stealing is immoral. it cant be done. $\endgroup$ – Keltari Jan 4 '17 at 3:24
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    $\begingroup$ #2 means that anything other than devoting this person's entire life to helping others is immoral. If you aren't helping other people at any given moment, you aren't helping people as much as you can. $\endgroup$ – ifly6 Jan 4 '17 at 3:55
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    $\begingroup$ Consider dropping rule 4. It's a definite spanner in your works. $\endgroup$ – Lu22 Jan 4 '17 at 6:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Keltari Really? The question of whether it's ethical to steal to feed your starving family remains debated AFAIK. $\endgroup$ – ApproachingDarknessFish Jan 4 '17 at 8:17

13 Answers 13

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The only possible way to get money while respecting this ridiculous moral code would be to become a magician.

Not only would you be able to easily get permission from the audience to "read their minds" (that is why they came to see your amazing magic show) and you wouldn't have to reveal that you were a true telepath (because magic isn't real, silly! It's just a magic trick!) but you would also be able to make many millions of dollars (David Copperfield makes about 64 million dollars per year) totally legally, without stealing it from anyone.

You might say that it is rare for magicians to make so much money and it's unlikely you would be able to succeed. However, unlike all these magicians you actually can read minds. The shows would literally be amazing and awesome. If some tricksters can be successful, so can your actual telepath.

Oh, and entertainment can be very helpful for people. You would thus be able to firstly entertain (and thus help) your audience, the people who'd watch you virtually and then also financially help all the homeless people you could give money to.

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    $\begingroup$ Incredibly creative, and this seems to work. +1 $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Jan 4 '17 at 5:31
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    $\begingroup$ He can, of course, use his mind control power to "persuade" his audiences to keep coming back. Thus, guaranteeing full houses for his performances. He could also use to "persuade" them to give, not too generously, to charities for homeless people. Plus he can tell them he was going to do it, and ask for their permission to do so too. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jan 4 '17 at 5:38
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    $\begingroup$ Great idea but it has a possible downfall that it won't work if people know that telepaths exist (even if they don't know this particular guy is a telepath) because then they won't believe that it's just a magic trick. ("Yawn... this isn't magic, that guy is just using telepathy!") $\endgroup$ – colmde Jan 4 '17 at 8:42
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    $\begingroup$ I find it questionable morally to accept as valid someone "giving permission" when it seems they don't believe the thing they're supposedly permitting is possible. $\endgroup$ – sumelic Jan 4 '17 at 13:33
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    $\begingroup$ I disagree that you can just handwave the fourth rule with 'yes he technically told them about his power but he made them think it was a lie' whenever it's coupled with '...and then he used the power and showed it wasn't a lie'. $\endgroup$ – Ethan The Brave Jan 4 '17 at 15:07
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Drop the stealing and go for an honest way of earning money. ANY theft would breach this guy's code as it would have a negative ripple effect. For example: Steal $1000 from a store owner. To make his loss back he will have to inflate his prices, drop his workers' pay or sell inferior products. This gets worse when you steal from criminals.

So lets look at ways that actually help people:

Under the guise of hypnosis your guy could use his powers without breaking rules 3 and 4 (Real life hypnosis is voluntary so the person would have to agree to the procedure anyway) you could do the following:

  1. Human lie detector - The person being interrogated could even sign a waver allowing all humane lie detection techniques to be used (this fine print allows Telepathy)
  2. Trauma Councillor/Psychologist/ Spiritual healer - If you can order people to give you cash, you can order them to forget their pain - this would be in massive demand.
  3. Criminal Rehabilitation - Overwriting convicts' minds to make them good people again (With their permission in exchange for reduced sentences). Government saves on prison costs, convicts get a fresh chance at life.
  4. High Profile Addiction Counselor - As pointed out by Mark Ripley's comment, the telepath could make 1 percenters' and celebrities' addictions disappear instantly and charge crazy amounts for it.
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  • $\begingroup$ +1, excellent jobs. I particularly like the human lie detector. $\endgroup$ – Megalonychidae Jan 4 '17 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ And don't forget "Drug councilor to the stars". Make your patients drop that nicotine/cocaine/whatever habit just like that. Once your reputation spreads you can raise your prices. $\endgroup$ – Mark Ripley Jan 5 '17 at 10:02
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkRipley Nice one. added to the answer. $\endgroup$ – Lu22 Jan 5 '17 at 10:52
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Become a Psychologist that specializes in corporate officers; you can ask if it is okay to read their mind; charge them for it, help them, and then make insider trades based on what they know.

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    $\begingroup$ John, rather than say he is going to "read their minds" he can rephrase it to "I will delve into your mind and ... " same meaning but less hocus-pocus sounding $\endgroup$ – Mr.Burns Jan 4 '17 at 12:07
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    $\begingroup$ are insider trades moral ? $\endgroup$ – atayenel Jan 4 '17 at 13:11
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    $\begingroup$ @atayenel they don't seem to contradict any of 4 points of telepath's moral code. Some mental gymnastics may be required to say that he doesn't hurt people unnecessarily but that's not beyound capabilities of a regular human. $\endgroup$ – Daerdemandt Jan 4 '17 at 13:17
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    $\begingroup$ @atayenel Not by most normal moral codes, but this guy has his own. $\endgroup$ – mattdm Jan 4 '17 at 13:18
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    $\begingroup$ @atayenel the morality of insider trading is actually debated; for example: forbes.com/sites/harrybinswanger/2013/08/05/… So if the character holds a libertarian viewpoint then insider trading may be seen as illegal but not immoral. $\endgroup$ – John_H Jan 4 '17 at 13:46
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Step 1. Build a web site. One with the standard "By continuing to use this web site, you agree to the terms and conditions" banners. Make sure your T&Cs contain a clause about allowing users to have their minds read. Make the clause humorous, like "I give permission to have my mind read unless I'm wearing my tin foil hat." Nobody would suspect actual telepathy from that. Put on some entertaining but harmless content.

Step 2. Plant a telepathic suggestion that makes visitors come back and point others to your site.

Step 3. Once your visitor base is massive, plant two more suggestions: An inability to lie if the lie is purely for personal gain, and a compulsion to donate all money made by knowingly using unethical means to charity.

Step 4. Sit back and watch what happens to politicians and their minions in particular.

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  • $\begingroup$ If someone doesn't believe you have the powers, you intentionally make it ridiculous to think so, and you are taking advantage of that, how is this really getting their permission? $\endgroup$ – Martin Serrano Jan 4 '17 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSerrano If it's legally binding... Many companies do similar things; not making it look like a joke, but still misleading customers and users in order to convince them to agree to something that they would not usually agree to (e.g. abbreviations that look like one thing to the layperson when used in specific contexts, but actually mean another thing, such as e.g. / ex.). $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Jan 4 '17 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ Yes. And that kind of kibitzing makes sense legally but not as part of a moral code IMO. $\endgroup$ – Martin Serrano Jan 4 '17 at 18:44
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Gambling would be one way, there are plenty of games like poker where the ability read the dealer or other player's minds would be a huge advantage. The character might also find taking money from casinos one of the easier things to square with his moral code.

The problem with using telepathy to make money directly is that for practical uses you first need to convince people that it is real and effective and that they information you give out is honest and reliable. While this might work in the long term it would take a lot of time and effort to establish that level of reputation. Even with magic, even if you really can read minds a lot relies on showmanship and having the reputation and resources to put on big shows and the marketing to capitalise on it. Ironically being able to do 'real' magic might not guarantee a successful career as a magician, especially if you want to keep the ability secret since you can't do anything too impossible.

Point 4 make the t ask very difficult and indeed if you need permission to read peoples minds that isn't very different from just getting the to tell you what you want to know. You can't even use it to prove whether people are telling the truth or lying and you can't prove that what you claim to have read in their minds is true.

Also as mentioned in one of the comments rules 3 and 4 are mutually exclusive, how can you ask permission to do something while keeping it secret ?

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    $\begingroup$ Actually, for poker getting an accomplice (or several) who can see the cards of opponents would probably work. $\endgroup$ – aslum Jan 4 '17 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ @aslum They see the cards, you see them seeing the cards... And they've given permission, so it isn't breaking that rule. $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Jan 4 '17 at 17:13
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Start a cult

Model it after the present-day cults that make their followers spend huge amounts of money in order to improve themselves, and make

"Share your thoughts with me!"

a motto of your cult. Your mind reading skills will help you to empathize with your followers, your mind control will allow you to influence them to create a positive feedback loop - your followers find that they follow your advice, and get better.

Hide your actual powers in plain sight

Be very open about your powers. Describe them as a gift given by a higher being.

This will attract sceptics who'd like to disprove your powers - so you openly invite them to a session (or discover that they're sceptics if they don't announce themselves)... and then you deliberately fail to impress them.

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Become an interpreter and specialize in people with speech impediments or complete inability to form audible words. Yes it's 'honest money' but it could be really really good money since you could do what few others could.

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A potential work-around for rule #3: if the main character is just painfully unaware of how they present themselves in public and/or is a stupid person, then they can do anything and just not realize it.

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  • $\begingroup$ you may elaborate the statement, it seems as valid point, by invalidating the OP's premises. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Jan 4 '17 at 20:55
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I think working as a "life coach" or something like that would work. The telepath could bypass people's fears with his mind control powers and the people he helps know about his abilities.

For example, if someone isn't able to speak to woman he could control him and help him do so. Same for fear of heights, dogs,...

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    $\begingroup$ How does this give money to homeless people? Does he use the money he earns from this to give to homeless people (I'd assume he could charge a lot)? $\endgroup$ – Mithrandir24601 Jan 4 '17 at 14:33
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Maybe hang out with drug dealers. Use mind reading to find the ones who don't like what they do and want out. Offer to help them, and keep all the drug money that's left over. This initial part doesn't violate rule 4 as the money they leave behind will be available for claiming.

Riffing off the councilor thing, I also bet that rich folks with troubled kids (or even who are troubled themselves) would pay a boatload of money for somebody who can council or (potentially, if they consent) brainwash them.

Now if you can be a bit squishy on Rule 4 for the greater good: I would argue that robbing drug dealers and using mind control to rehabilitate them WOULD be a moral thing to do because it helps them AND everyone else their actions hurt (also, say, robbing terrorists). You'd basically make the argument that it's saving lives and is for their own good. Still, if Rule 4 is hard then this paragraph wouldn't work.

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    $\begingroup$ That appears to violate rule 4. Can you explain? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jan 4 '17 at 10:02
  • $\begingroup$ You'd need to get permission from them to read their minds first. $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Jan 4 '17 at 17:15
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Have people pay for you to take control of their body and do something they don't want to do, i.e. exercise, public speaking, work.

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  • $\begingroup$ As it currently stands, it appears to be a duplicate of this answer - would you be able to extend it so that it explains how this could be used to actually give money to the poor and is noticeably different to the linked answer? $\endgroup$ – Mithrandir24601 Jan 4 '17 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ The Telepath has a very profitable business doing the above and can give money to the poor. The linked answer directly helps people with issues/metal problems, while this one is things people don't want to do, not can't do. $\endgroup$ – Josh D Jan 4 '17 at 16:47
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Become a con artist. Consider the show Leverage, for example. If you inserted a telepath on their team, this person could easily grift without ever breaking the code.

Don't hurt people unnecessarily

This part is easy. The team specifically targets people who kind of "need" to be hurt. Some corrupt CEO wants to allow thousands of people to be killed to protect his bottom line? Using your powers to his detriment helps the greater good. What you deem as "hurt" and what you deem as "necessary" are both subjective, and mind control allows you to perform a lot of useful manipulation without doing any harm at all.

Help people as much as you can

Again, easy. The team saves thousands of lives, recuperates devastating financial loss, etc.

Don't reveal that you're a telepath

It would be tricky to hide this ability from the team itself, but hiding it from the mark wouldn't be excessively difficult. The key would be to keep manipulations subtle, just giving people a tiny push so you hook them when they're on the fence, or using it to read people like no one else can. The mark would be an open book.

Never use your powers on anyone without their permission

This rule is obviously the trickiest, for any solution. But as a grifter/con artist, it's a confidence game. That's your job is to get them to trust you. It all depends on how explicit the permission needs to be. If you literally need them to say "Yes, you can read my thoughts", or "Yes, you can take control of my mind", then very few solutions will work. But if you can ask something like "Show me the real you" and use a positive response as permission to read their thoughts, that will take you far. You could also get yourself into position as their advisor and then ask them to "Let me guide you." I'm sure a grifter could come up with clever ways to get the mark to give permission.

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Since the very nature of business IS theft (for example hire an employee at $\$10/hr$ while he generates $\$30/hr$ for you - standard practice, by the way), AND business is "legal" use the councillor of business idea simply to learn how to do business, and then go forth and Steal, steal, steal! ( just like they do) havagooday

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    $\begingroup$ ^ Millennial alert ^. Clearly you've never owned a business or employed someone. Even if your time was worth \$10/hr, you've agreed to the wage, so it's not theft. More likely you're spending time getting paid and not working, which is against the agreement, and is essentially theft. If you really believed this, you'd go generate that \$30/hr by yourself. Oh, you can't? Perhaps such an arrangement is more valuable to you than you though. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Jan 4 '17 at 18:06
  • $\begingroup$ This does not provide an answer to the question. Once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post; instead, provide answers that don't require clarification from the asker. - From Review $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jan 4 '17 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre It's perhaps a loose definition of theft, but there could exist cases where this does apply as theft (interpreting it as telling someone they're going to earn $\$30$ for an hour of work and then giving them $\$10$) - just because not all businesses are like this doesn't mean that it doesn't or can't physically occur $\endgroup$ – Mithrandir24601 Jan 4 '17 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Mithrandir24601 Maybe, but this answer is fundamentally flawed. "[T]he very nature of business" is not theft, but to provide a service in the interest of making a profit. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jan 4 '17 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre Yes, that's true, but it just means that the premise to the answer is flawed, not the answer itself - (using my interpretation) it's still a valid way to steal money $\endgroup$ – Mithrandir24601 Jan 4 '17 at 19:12

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