In sports (especially boxing) fans love to rank the best boxers, players or teams. So when ranking the Greatest Boxers of All-Time -- is it ethical to include boxers you or anyone else (alive) have never seen before (for no footage exists of them - e.g., Harry Greb)? (Provided that you put in as much research as possible - e.g., books, news archives, boxing historians writings.)

I'll admit to being intrigued by the question because it may not seem clear at first what the ethical issue is. We might say: everyone knows that these lists are matters of opinion; in any likely scenario, it's hard to see much harm coming of it.

That said, I think there's a little more to the matter. Perhaps we could come at at this way: suppose I put someone on a list like this without doing any serious research. If the setting is a bunch of boxing fans shooting the breeze, it seems like a small sin if it's a sin at all. I know that no one places any serious stock in what's said, and they know that I know this, and so on. But even in a case like this, issues of character come up. I may still be speaking without regard for the truth; in Harry Frankfurt's language, I may be bullsh*tting. Being a bullsh*tter is a kind of a vice; the kinds of people we tend to admire have due regard for the truth, even in small matters. And if it's not just a matter of running my mouth over a beer at the bar but putting the list up in a setting where new or less-educated fans might take me seriously, then more obvious ethical questions come up: I'm misleading other people when by keeping quiet or making it clear that there's not much behind my opinion, I could have avoided doing that.

Perhaps the most famous case of a thinker who would see an issue here is W. K. Clifford. In his essay "The Ethics of Belief." Clifford appeals to consequences. We all depend on one another for truthfulness, Clifford thinks. When I don't care about the truth in small matters, I do at least some small damage to the ties of truth and trust that bind us, but I also risk becoming the sort of person who'll be negligently lazy when there's more at stake.

So I think there is an issue behind your question that does properly call for moral attention. There may be worse things that bullsh*tting about relatively inconsequential questions, but doing it does raise issues of character, and at least potentially could be part of a larger pattern that could do real harm.

On the specific case: my thought is that if someone does their best to gather the relevant facts, and if there seems to be enough information to inform a reasonable judgment, the fact that the judgment comes from less-than-direct evidence needn't be a problem. And if the judgment is prefaced by the obvious sorts of caveats and qualifications, it's hard to see how anyone could have a legitimate moral complaint. Absent those qualifications, then things aren't all that they should be, even if we can imagine them being a lot worse.

I am a professional boxing writer who has to vote on who gets into the Boxing Hall of Fame so this question certainly resonates with me. With your mention of Harry Greb it is clear that you know your boxing because based on his record and opposition there are many of us who believe he is one of the greatest of all time. But is it legitimate to rank fighters from different eras-- or teams. Not if you imagine "legitimate" implies that there is some science behind it. But I think it is legitimate if you take your ratings with two grains of salt -- maybe 3. You look at a boxers overall ledger and whom he or she competed against. Fighters from the modern era such as Floyd Mayweather, will end their careers with 1/4 -1/3 the contests of a Sugar Ray Robinson - is it legitimate to compare them? Yes and no, but if no, it can be great fun. And perhaps from a Pragmatist vantage point that makes it legit. Thanks.

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