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Can I Ask My Ex to Delete Those Nude Pics?

I recently broke up with someone I had been seeing for several months — not a long relationship, but a very intense one. In our breakup I realized that there was a lot about him I did not know, and I no longer trust him the way I once did. Is there an ethical way to ask him to delete nude pictures he may have on his phone? Part of me feels that if they are received, they are yours to keep, but I no longer feel comfortable with his holding them. Any suggestions on how to navigate this without retaliation? H.Y.

His to keep? Yes and no. When he received these pictures from you, you gave him some property rights in them and not others. In particular, you weren’t granting him permission to share them with anyone else. You retained a reasonable expectation of privacy. It’s natural to say that you “shared” the pictures with him, and that verb is quite apt, because when you pressed Send, you were not fully relinquishing your ownership.

You’re free, of course, to ask him to delete these images, and to remind him that he doesn’t have your consent to share them. A decent person would accede to that request, and wouldn’t need that reminder. But he may take the view that he’s entitled to these mementos. And even if he promised to delete them, you’d have no way of knowing whether he had really done so. You’d have to trust someone you find less than trustworthy.

You mention retaliation. Do you think that asking him to delete them would make it more likely that he would circulate them — perhaps to a selected person, perhaps more widely? Most states criminalize the nonconsensual dissemination of nude or sexual images, subject to various conditions.

But your aim is to avoid the violation in the first place. You’ll be the best judge of how to manage your ex; I’ll just note that asking people to do something they’re not obliged to do needn’t be antagonizing. Politely let him know that you regret having shared these pictures with him, that you hope he will delete them and that you trust he will continue to respect your privacy.

I went over to my father’s house one recent morning to do some work while my floors were being cleaned. I told my father the day before that I would be coming over in the morning and then texted again a few minutes before heading over. I have a key to his place, so I let myself in. I quickly realized that my father was not prepared for my arrival and was in the shower. I shouted hello and headed into the kitchen area. In the kitchen, a brightly colored vibrator was charging. I was very surprised to see this, especially as his girlfriend of six years was currently out of town and would not be returning until the following evening. I called out to my dad that I was going to go for a quick walk to get some air, and when I returned the vibrator was gone. I know there are a number of possible explanations, including that he was preparing for his girlfriend’s return. However, my father does have a history of infidelity, and it makes me sad to think that he may be lying to his current partner. I honestly do not want to broach what I saw with my father, but do I have an obligation to let his girlfriend know of my suspicions? Name Withheld

First, you saw what you saw because your father trusted you with a key to his home. Although you texted him, you don’t say that he gave you reason to think he read your texts. So we’re talking about what you saw by gaining entry, unannounced, to someone’s home. Second, his girlfriend’s relationship to you passes through him, so to speak; your obligations to her are lesser than your obligations to him. Third, you have no relevant knowledge to impart, just speculation. (As you note, there are a number of possible explanations.) Yes, if he were being unfaithful and she didn’t know it, she would be better off, other things being equal, if she did. But that’s a wrong for him, not for you, to put right. I’d say you owe it to your father to keep your own counsel about this violation of his privacy. And you owe it to yourself to put it out of your mind.

A Facebook friend of mine, who is on the faculty of my university but whom I’ve never met, was instrumental in introducing me to a publisher for a manuscript I have been working on for many years. To my delight, the book has been accepted for publication!

I am very grateful to this Facebook friend and was thinking of treating them to a nice lunch. My spouse says: “Absolutely not! You are not real friends with this person. It is creepy to reach out to them, they are going to think you are some kind of pervert!” Regardless of whether my partner is correct about me being creepy, is it inappropriate to offer lunch to this “friend” I have never met? We have commented upon each other’s Facebook posts over the years and I think find each other interesting. (I would not be averse to actually being friends.)

Do you think the answer to this question differs depending upon our respective genders and/or sexual identities? Name Withheld

I find your spouse’s interpretation a surprising one. Your spouse evidently thinks that this lunch is bound to be read as a romantic overture (making gender and sexual identities relevant). Given the interactions you describe, though, a collegial lunch would seem a very natural proposal. There are many kinds of affection; eros and philia can follow different tracks. Being a loving and faithful spouse doesn’t require that you close yourself off from new friendships.

I have worked for my company for 21 years. It has always treated me fairly. I have enjoyed my tenure here, and I intend to give notice of my retirement on March 1.

I have heard that there will be a shuffling of responsibilities early this year. These responsibilities require interaction with our external customers. This could mean I am given new external customers with whom I need to develop trust and a solid working relationship. Question: Knowing that I will be leaving just a few months after I get responsibility for new customers, do I have an obligation to give notice earlier so that my employers don’t have to reassign my new customers after such a short period of time? Name Withheld

You don’t want to inconvenience a company you’ve enjoyed working for. That speaks well of you. But I don’t see why you need to inconvenience yourself as a result. Why can’t you just tell your bosses what you’re planning to do, so that they can take it into account as they reshuffle tasks and customer relationships? Your bosses have treated you fairly; you’ll depart having treated them fairly.

I am a graduate student at a large public university, and one of few students lucky enough to be funded by my department. Recently I learned that other graduate students (funded and unfunded) in the department have signed up for a Covid relief stipend. I am not in dire financial straits, and I don’t support anyone in my family financially, but grad school stipends aren’t high, and the cost of living near my university is high, especially since many housing-management companies seem to assume that students are fully supported by their parents, and therefore rent is a ridiculously high portion of my income.

I wouldn’t say that I experienced anything life-altering when Covid hit, but like many other students, I found being online more stressful, sad and isolating, and as a result felt a significant drop in my mental health with the onset of the pandemic. If this money is already awarded to my school, is it wrong to sign up for the Covid relief stipend? Name Withheld

Philosophers often use the term “institutional desert” to refer to what someone deserves according to the rules of some organization or governing entity, and that’s what pertains here. If the rules are reasonable, there’s no reason not to follow them. You don’t say how the relief program is structured or what its eligibility criteria are. But why not apply? If you answer all the questions truthfully and you are adjudged eligible, you’re entitled to the benefit.


Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy at N.Y.U. His books include “Cosmopolitanism,” “The Honor Code” and “The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity.” To submit a query: Send an email to ethicist@nytimes.com; or send mail to The Ethicist, The New York Times Magazine, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10018. (Include a daytime phone number.)

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