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Is it immoral to keep getting refunds for books you've bought?

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I think this well-characterizes your misunderstanding of Objectivism. Objectivism is a philosophy, whereby one applies logic to knowledge of facts and reaches conclusions. But you seem to see Objectiv

Which is why companies don't go around advertising the fact that they're gaining value even when you buy a product and then return it 28 days later after slightly using it. They don't mind that people

On cheating the store:

The premise behind a sale is that assuming all conditions of the sale are satisfactory - ie the cash is good and the item is good - the sale itself will be final. One of the intrinsic premises behind any return policy is that the person returning the item in question is dissatisfied with the product - meaning that the conditions of sale are NOT satisfactory.

In this particular instance, the OP is buying a product, going home, reading it (gaining a clear value from doing so), then *returning* the item under the false premise that something is wrong with the item, when in fact he is perfectly satisfied with it.

He is, thus, buying the book under false premises (that he intends to keep it) and returning it under false premises (that something is wrong with it).

THAT is cheating the store, even if it's not explicitly spelled out in the return policy.

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On cheating the store:

The premise behind a sale is that assuming all conditions of the sale are satisfactory - ie the cash is good and the item is good - the sale itself will be final. One of the intrinsic premises behind any return policy is that the person returning the item in question is dissatisfied with the product - meaning that the conditions of sale are NOT satisfactory.

In this particular instance, the OP is buying a product, going home, reading it (gaining a clear value from doing so), then *returning* the item under the false premise that something is wrong with the item, when in fact he is perfectly satisfied with it.

He is, thus, buying the book under false premises (that he intends to keep it) and returning it under false premises (that something is wrong with it).

THAT is cheating the store, even if it's not explicitly spelled out in the return policy.

I suspect that is in fact what is happening. However, it is not a logical certainty. You didn't answer my exact question, would you do so?

What, exactly, is the return policy supposed to cover, if having read the book at all disqualifies you from returning it? If you can read part and then return it because it is inferior and unsatisfactory, how much can you read? How can you exclude from that consideration reading the whole book--the denouement being particularly important to the story? Assuming our OP would keep a book if it proved to be worth doing so, is he cheating when, finding it isn't worth keeping, he returns it? I have many times bought a book hoping it would be a decent read, from the blurbs and intro, then, having read it through, felt I was cheated. I don't return books for that reason, but I'm not sure it would be unfair to do so.

Even given all your implicitations :) , if the return policy is so poorly written that it fails to line up with the usual presumptions, isn't that the store's fault?

Mindy

Edited by Mindy
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If one didn't enjoy the book there's the other option of selling it to a friend or on Craigslist for a couple dollars off the original price. Rather than giving it back to the store for a full refund (because I find it hard to believe one can get zero value out of a book, and it was at least bought on the chance of obtaining some value). Return policies are for times where say, the book was gifted, or the pages inside were unreadable, or was a misprint, or instances where the publisher or manufacturer allowed some defect in the item that was not noticeable on first inspection. If the buyer has read the covers and a few pages in the book and decided to buy, read the whole thing, then return - that is immoral, even if it's within the store's policy. Especially when the buyer buys the book with the specific intention of returning it rather than abiding by an honest trade.

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If one didn't enjoy the book there's the other option of selling it to a friend or on Craigslist for a couple dollars off the original price. Rather than giving it back to the store for a full refund (because I find it hard to believe one can get zero value out of a book, and it was at least bought on the chance of obtaining some value). Return policies are for times where say, the book was gifted, or the pages inside were unreadable, or was a misprint, or instances where the publisher or manufacturer allowed some defect in the item that was not noticeable on first inspection. If the buyer has read the covers and a few pages in the book and decided to buy, read the whole thing, then return - that is immoral, even if it's within the store's policy. Especially when the buyer buys the book with the specific intention of returning it rather than abiding by an honest trade.

You can get less than zero out of a book that raises your expectations, then disappoints them cheaply, presents despicable cultural values, depicts a rotten sense-of-life, etc. You all seem to think that the physical book is all that counts.

Mindy

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You can get less than zero out of a book that raises your expectations, then disappoints them cheaply, presents despicable cultural values, depicts a rotten sense-of-life, etc. You all seem to think that the physical book is all that counts.

Mindy

Actually, most everyone is arguing that intentionally buying the book with the intent to return after reading, regardless of if you gain a value or not, is wrong. A trade occurred wherein the buyer bought the item with the intent to try and gain value from the item and still return the item for a refund after gaining that value. It was a dishonest trade on the buyers part.

This is different than the situation you're describing, where somehow the buyer was persuaded into thinking the book would be a good value, so he bought it. After reading the book and deciding he didn't gain anything of value, he returns the book. This is a more legitimate trade and refund, but I would still say that the buyer bought the book for a chance to gain a value. Say he really really likes the writings of a certain author. That author releases a new book which the man buys. One problem: this book sucks and the guy doesn't gain any value out of having it. Even though the man loves all the previous writings of the author, there's no telling that he'll write another book as good, and buying the book was merely a chance to gain value. This is why people should read some of the book before buying, as a sort of preview or taste-test.

As I said before, the other option of getting some or all of your money back is to resell the book to a friend or online.

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It's a flawed analogy, as has been pointed out.

It's only flawed if you think that every business owner in the entire world doesn't cut corners and place money on a pedestal above morals. A lot of employers believe the myth that profit maximization is the same thing as having a productive business. It's not, and even Ayn Rand would agree that businesses need morals other than 'make the most amount of money without breaking the law' to flourish. The Enron Business Model is not moral.

I think that the same fallacy is in play here for the person who believes that reading a book, benefiting from the value of the book, and and returning it just so they don't have to pay anything is moral. Suppose there were no laws in effect forcing the businesses to do that. How long can this kind of behavior hold? Either people will smart up to you and your behavior will bite you in the ass, or you'll get away with THIS but be led to do other corner cutting things that are more obviously immoral.

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It's only flawed if you think that every business owner in the entire world doesn't cut corners and place money on a pedestal above morals.

You are attacking a strawman here. We are discussing a particular context and your analogy is flawed in examining that context. All this "every business owner in the entire world" stuff is hogwash with respect to the current discussion.

In essence what you are saying is that because every business owner in the world isn't completely honest, its okay to be deceptive and fraudulent in your transactions with any given merchant. I think Objectivist ethics would wholly disagree with that notion.

Edited by RationalBiker
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You are attacking a strawman here. We are discussing a particular context and your analogy is flawed in examining that context. All this "every business owner in the entire world" stuff is hogwash with respect to the current discussion.

In essence what you are saying is that because every business owner in the world isn't completely honest, its okay to be deceptive and fraudulent in your transactions with any given merchant. I think Objectivist ethics would wholly disagree with that notion.

You're the one attacking a straw man. I never said all business owners were dishonest. I said not all business owners were honest. Furthermore, I never justified that it was okay to be fraudulent, in fact there is no fraud in the legal sense of the term involved. I still think it would be dishonest to treat a book store as a free library but that's different than violating the terms of a contract. In fact this distinction isn't relevant in this context since I clearly agree that it is dishonest. Please read more carefully what I am saying next time alright?

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Please read more carefully what I am saying next time alright?

My reading comprehension is just fine thanks. You can keep trying to defend this analogy, but it simply falls flat for the several reasons that have already been pointed out. Understanding why the analogy fails does not require one to "think that every business owner in the entire world doesn't cut corners and place money on a pedestal above morals."

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You can get less than zero out of a book that raises your expectations, then disappoints them cheaply, presents despicable cultural values, depicts a rotten sense-of-life, etc. You all seem to think that the physical book is all that counts.

Mindy

When you buy a book, you buy a physical copy of the book which entitles you to read the content provided by the author, and, if you choose, to share that copy of the book with others, extending the right to read it to someone else (but not to make copies of the book).

There is no implied guarantee in the transaction concerning whether or not you will ENJOY the book, or that it will meet your expectations. The sale is about providing a copy of the book so that you can read the material therein.

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There is no implied guarantee in the transaction concerning whether or not you will ENJOY the book, or that it will meet your expectations. The sale is about providing a copy of the book so that you can read the material therein.

"If you read only one post this summer, read this one!"

"This post is a thrill ride you won't soon forget." :)

I take your point, and largely agree, but I think an argument might be that publishers put "reviews" and comments on the outside of the book that imply "you won't be able to put this book down", and such other things that suggest the book will be enjoyable. But yea, you are simply buying the physical copy and the right to read its contents.

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"If you read only one post this summer, read this one!"

"This post is a thrill ride you won't soon forget." :)

I take your point, and largely agree, but I think an argument might be that publishers put "reviews" and comments on the outside of the book that imply "you won't be able to put this book down", and such other things that suggest the book will be enjoyable. But yea, you are simply buying the physical copy and the right to read its contents.

Well - if you ever buy the books *directly* from the publishers, then you could return them citing bad faith. ;)

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My reading comprehension is just fine thanks. You can keep trying to defend this analogy, but it simply falls flat for the several reasons that have already been pointed out. Understanding why the analogy fails does not require one to "think that every business owner in the entire world doesn't cut corners and place money on a pedestal above morals."

The analogy isn't between book returning and all business activities. The analogy is between book returning and a business which specifically pays its workers less than the employer has judged the employees are worth.

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The analogy isn't between book returning and all business activities. The analogy is between book returning and a business which specifically pays its workers less than the employer has judged the employees are worth.

Analogies are supposed to compare things that are similar.

Book returning

Paying workers less than they are worth

REALLY not getting how you get those to be anywhere near similar, sorry...

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Analogies are supposed to compare things that are similar.

Book returning

Paying workers less than they are worth

REALLY not getting how you get those to be anywhere near similar, sorry...

Good job at removing the only relevant part of the analogy!

Here, let me be more clear. Both buying a book and paying for someone's labor are voluntary transactions. Paying less for a book than the bookstore deserves and paying less for the labor than the laborer deserves are equivalent harms/vices.

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Good job at removing the only relevant part of the analogy!

False - read your own words. I didn't remove it. You did.

You said:

"The analogy is between book returning and a business which specifically pays its workers less than the employer has judged the employees are worth."

I have underlined the relevant clauses as stated by you.

I did shorten the second statement, because "business which specifically pays its workers less than the employer has judged the employees are worth" compresses nicely down to "paying employees less than they are worth" where the business doing the paying and the determination of value are implied.

Here, let me be more clear. Both buying a book and paying for someone's labor are voluntary transactions. Paying less for a book than the bookstore deserves and paying less for the labor than the laborer deserves are equivalent harms/vices.

Now - let us examine what's wrong with your attempt at an analogy.

In the book buying, a transaction is agreed to by two parties with certain terms and certain implicit agreements. Those have been covered at length, and it has been shown, I think, that a person buying the book with the intention to return it already well in mind is entering into the relationship in bad faith. He knows full well he is going to be getting for free something for which the book seller is entitled to be paid.

In your employer scenario, the employee and employer voluntarily agree upon the pay the employee is to receive. If the employer says to the employee, "I will pay you $10.00 an hour", and the employee agrees, does work and then is paid only $7.00 an hour for the work, the employer has deceived the employee. However, if the employer would be WILLING to pay up to $10.00 an hour, but starts off by saying, "I will pay you $7.00 an hour", and the employee agrees without negotiation, does work, and then is paid $7.00 an hour, no harm is done - the rate was agreed upon. The employer would have paid more, but his initial offer was honest and he stuck to it. This relationship was entered into in good faith, even though the employer determined that the employee was worth paying UP TO $10.00 an hour for his services.

Provided the employer enters into the relationship in good faith and pays what he agrees to pay, there is no burden or obligation on the employer to pay more, even if he knows the employee is worth more. If the employee doesn't ask, the employee has no entitlement to get.

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Paying less for a book than the bookstore deserves and paying less for the labor than the laborer deserves are equivalent harms/vices.
I agree, those are analogous, especially in their hidden presuppositions and their irrelevance to the case at hand. They are analogous in the presupposition that a person's labor or a book has some intrinsic value, meaning that hammering nails is always worth $25 / hr and that poetry is always worth $.40 per page. Both presuppositions are false: things are only valuable to some person, for some purpose. If the employer does not value nail-hammering at that rate, then he need not pay that rate (regardless of the potential employee's appraisal of his "value to others") Similarly, you may judge whether a book of poetry is worth $.40 a page to you (regardless of the author's, publisher's or store-owner's appraisal of its "value to others"). Therefore, there is no "vice" of paying less than someone else's appraisal of a value.

The issue is not whether someone is failing to pay for an intrinsic value, it is whether or not one has committed fraud. When a person has no intent of honoring a supposed agreement yet enters into the agreement, one has committed fraud. That is the case of the temporary book thief, and not the case of an employer who offers a wage lower than what the worker wants or even might obtain from another employer. Therefore, you have no valid analogy between employer and bookseller.

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The issue is not whether someone is failing to pay for an intrinsic value, it is whether or not one has committed fraud. When a person has no intent of honoring a supposed agreement yet enters into the agreement, one has committed fraud.

Intentions don't matter if the letter of the law/contract/agreement is honored. Thus, if the merchant has made an explicit return policy that the buyer relies on, the buyer is like the employer paying only 7.00 for his "10.00" workers. Notice that during the time he reads the book, the store enjoys his money.

IF the language of the return policy is not violated, how is he cheating?

Mindy

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The OP asked about the morality of what he is doing, not the legality.

Intentions matter very much in the issue of morality.

This is at least the third time this fact has been pointed out in this thread. Let's hope this time it is understood.

Edited by brian0918
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Intentions don't matter if the letter of the law/contract/agreement is honored.

As a legal point of order here, INTENT can and does matter, even if no damages occurred:

http://www.lectlaw.com/def/i052.htm

INTENT TO DEFRAUD

The specific intent to deceive or cheat, ordinarily for the purpose of causing some financial loss to another, or bringing about some financial gain to one's self. It is not necessary, however, to prove that the United States or anyone else was in fact defrauded so long as it is established that the person acted "with intent to defraud."

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As a side issue, it's interesting to view this from the bookseller's angle.

I mean, why would they have such a policy, anyway?

It is apparently in their self-interest - it gives them a competitive edge in the market. They expect increased sales.

Which would probably indicate that they build into their pricing any losses from books returned in poor condition, extra work by staff, and so on.

Legally, they can do what they wish, and this empowers the buyer to take advantage of the policy - but morally?

Can one argue ad absurdum that by allowing the unethical buyer who makes the purchase expressly to return the book, the seller is 'encouraging' immorality, and thus is immoral himself?

A morally delicate issue, imo.

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Intentions don't matter if the letter of the law/contract/agreement is honored.
In Objectivism, which is in contrast to libertarianism, morality is a broader concept where legality is one aspect of morality. The libertarian stance "if it doesn't violate rights, it's moral" is a perversion of the concept of morality. Can you define "morality"?
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