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Our panel of 89 professional philosophers has responded to

Question of the day

There's no purely intrinsic reason, but there's still a reason overall. Here's a comparison. In the US, it's not just illegal but also wrong to drive on the left side of the road. In South Africa, the opposite is true. What makes it wrong to drive on the left in the US and the right in South Africa is that there is a widely-accepted practice --- in fact, a rule in this case --- about how we drive, and violating this particular practice puts others at risk.

Now in the case of the late-night piano-player, there may be no literal risk created by the disturbance the piano player creates. But there's still what's sometimes called a coordination problem here, and there's a way of getting on that solves the problem. Most people sleep at night. Most people also need a reasonably quiet environment to sleep. And so we have a combination of custom and, in many jurisdictions, law to make it possible for people to do things like practice the piano and for people to sleep. Since most humans are wired to sleep at night rather than in the daytime, this practice isn't just a matter of convention, but even if most people could easily adjust their sleep habits, we'd likely still need a convention to coordinate different needs and desires. The flip side of this, of course, is that if someone wants to play the piano at noon, I don't have much of a case for saying that they shouldn't just because I want to sleep when most people are up and about.*

If by a "logical basis," you mean something like a purely abstract argument that favors the sleeper over the pianist, there isn't one. But what counts as good behavior is more than a matter of abstract argument. It partly depends on people's actual customs, needs and expectations. The right perspective for considering a moral question isn't the perspective of an alien anthropologist. It's the perspective of a reasonable, thoughtful human being who knows what it means to live in the midst of life.

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*Of course, this doesn't settle the matter. For example: if I have a job that means I have to be awake when most people sleep, or a raging migraine, and if my neighbor knows this, common consideration calls for him to try to take my needs into account. After all, that's what he'd want if the roles were reversed.