In this story, 40-year-old Andrew Caspersen, a wealthy businessman from a well-known Wall Street family committed fraud and stole nearly $40 million dollars and lost it all in high stakes gambling on the stock market. He pleaded guilty to one charge of security fraud and one charge of wire fraud. However, a letter from Dr. Marc N. Potenza, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, called Caspersen’s “severe gambling” a mental illness. Caspersen’s lawyer thinks that it was an extreme compulsion to trade stock options that drove him to lie and steal from his friends, family and a hedge fund foundation. It was determined that the judge who would determine Jaspersen’s fate agreed to hear a testimony from Dr. Potenza on what constitutes a gambling addiction before determining his sentence. So is it plausible that someone who has an addition or mental illness but acts immorally gets treated less harshly for their actions as someone who was completely healthy?
I think that this situation has implications of Kant’s Universal Law Formulation. If we say that Jaspersen’s actions are ok because he has an addiction and can’t help it, we are justifying them and making the situation circumstantial. The maxim is that he stole people’s money to gamble with against the stock market because he didn’t think he would lose and he couldn’t stop because he has a mental illness. His compulsive stock trading was something he could not help and therefore his actions are justifiable and he should be treated differently than some other businessman who does the same thing but is normal. If we look at people’s actions as universalizable, therefore, they can be applied to everyone and it is rational because everyone would say it is ok to do, we would say it is acceptable to for anyone to do that action. However, with this scenario, I would say that not everyone would agree that fraud and stealing money to aid a gambling addiction is universalizable because if everyone did it, there wouldn’t be any security and people wouldn’t trust others with their money and therefore there would be no more opportunities to commit fraud. This concept of the Universal Law Formulation is called self-defeating, which means that the maxim isn’t rational because if everyone were to do it, it would become impossible to do.