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

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No matter what the OP said, if there is nothing but a legal transaction going on, the legal considerations determine the moral question. Actually, that's another ad hominem, once the issue has been brought up.

What are the grounds for judging the morality of this situation apart from the legality of the situation?

...

if there are none but legal issues, then how the legal issues get settled is precisely how the morality is settled.

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I would like to better understand the moral dimensions of the purchase that exceed the legal ones, if you would be so kind. Do speak of the specific case at hand, however.

Well, I would be glad to illustrate what I believe to be the moral dimensions that extend beyond the legality of the action.

Every action that we take impacts our moral character. We need a strong moral character, which is in line with an explicit moral code, which is itself oriented towards our rational self-interest; I trust we all understand this. The way that we build up such a strong moral character is by repeatedly acting in accordance with our explicit morality. Acting consistently in this way automatizes our values and makes them second nature to us. If we are to lead successful lives, one of the most important assets we can have is a moral character which automatically orients our actions and inclinations in a pro-life direction. This is all fairly basic stuff, but I'm just making sure that we all understand the basis of evaluation here.

Now, in this specific scenario, an individual is considering whether or not it is moral to purchase a book which he has no intention of keeping. Legally, he is in the clear. However, because of the importance of moral character, and because every action this individual takes contributes to his character one way or another, we must also consider, beyond the legality of it, its impact on his long-term pursuit of self-interest. Now, a rational code of self-interest, we all know, encourages trading value for value, with no form of deception or fraud involved. However, this individual is considering engaging in a particular transaction from which the store will lose, not gain, value; furthermore, he is considering doing so by leaving out a fact that might well be material to whether the exchange happens or not. If he truly does believe in the trader principle (and he refrains from engaging in evasion, which is an obviously immoral action itself), taking this action must lower his opinion of himself. It will decrease his self-respect, which is one of the most important assets he has. Factoring in the long-term consequences as well, it also weakens his moral character, which lowers his internal defenses against taking advantage of people in future transactions. He loses some of his automatic orientation towards a pro-life morality. Acting morally in the future will be harder than if he had not taken advantage of the store's policy.

In short, there are negative effects on his own life which extend beyond the legal status of his action, and this is the basis for an argument that in this scenario specifically, there are moral considerations outside the legal issues. He is not making this decision in a vacuum; he must consider its long-term effects on his life. In this scenario, they are most decidedly negative.

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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

There is no legal aspect to the promise to pick up a friend. You aren't allowed to add details to the scenario, and, on that basis, find a legal aspect...

All action by a human in society does not have legal aspects. The quality of a piece of music I write is not, per se, a legal matter...

I am saying that the law provides an outline for the possible moral means of achieving some end. So how you pick up your friend is influenced by the law. The quality of the piece of music is not affected by the legality of you listening to it, granted, but that is not analogous as it is an attribute of an object, not an action taken by a human being. My only purpose, was to say any action of a human being is, by its nature within the context of the law and morality (in that its execution cannot violate laws, and also must be in your rational self-interest).

Further, the legal aspects of a thing and the (otherwise) moral aspects are not disjunct as you assume in your statements. Legality--proper legality, which is what we are assuming in this thread--is a subset of morality. What is legal is also moral, what is moral is not illegal. The point is whether the legal aspects of a given interaction exhaust the moral considerations. If all the moral issues embodied in a situation are also legal ones, the legal considerations settle the moral question.

Here is where you are making your mistake. Legality is NOT a subset of morality, but the other way around. An action that is legal is not necessarily moral, but any moral action is necessarily legal (recall that legality is derived from the nature of man in the abstract, whereas morality is derived from the nature of a specific person such as you or I). The legal aspects of a situation never exhaust the moral issues. This can be evidenced by this: No law can determine whether or not an action should be taken, because that depends on the hierarchy of values of those involved. The return policy tells me when I may return the book (that is what the law says), but no law tells me when I should return the book. As a result, even in the case involved here, it cannot determine the moral question. I'm not sure if I'm getting it across, but I hope I am.

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Well, I would be glad to illustrate what I believe to be the moral dimensions that extend beyond the legality of the action.

Every action that we take impacts our moral character.

In short, there are negative effects on his own life which extend beyond the legal status of his action, and this is the basis for an argument that in this scenario specifically, there are moral considerations outside the legal issues. He is not making this decision in a vacuum; he must consider its long-term effects on his life. In this scenario, they are most decidedly negative.

This is question-begging. You prove that there are moral aspects beyond the legal by saying his action is immoral, though legal. But that is what the debate is about. You can't just claim returning the books, within the store's policy is immoral. Doing what he is doing is not harmful to his character (so to speak) if it is not immoral. Whether or not it is immoral is the question the thread poses.

Mindy

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Whether or not it is immoral is the question the thread poses.
So, do you think all the moral "customers" who can read a book within 30 days (or whatever) and do not want to keep the book, ought to return it and get their money back? In other words, is returning for a refund the moral thing to do in that circumstance, in principle? Do you view this as a situation like a vanilla/chocolate choice where either choice is moral, and it's only a matter of personal taste? Or, do you think morality can advise one course or the other? If the latter, and if returning for a refund is moral, then is it true that not returning it (where one has done reading it, and does not want to own it long-term) would be immoral?
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You are not on subject. The subject is specifically a verbquote]Here is where you are making your mistake. al promise to pick up a friend by a certain time. The verbal promise to do someone a favor is the only thing at issue. You have to respond to this subject.

No, morality is not a subset of legality. Legal acts relate to the NIOF. That means legal issues are inter-personal. Morality is broader, as it includes those things and also intrapersonal considerations.

Speaking for myself, my nature is the same as the nature of man, both abstractly and concretely. Your distinction comes from where?

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That argument begs the question. It assumes there is a question of "should" besides the legal question. But that is pure assertion on your part. The thread is about whether or not there is wrong involved if he is legally within his rights.

Mindy

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Speaking for myself, my nature is the same as the nature of man, both abstractly and concretely. Your distinction comes from where?

...That argument begs the question. It assumes there is a question of "should" besides the legal question. But that is pure assertion on your part. The thread is about whether or not there is wrong involved if he is legally within his rights.

The nature of man is that he is a rational animal, needs self-esteem, etc. The nature of Josh (that's my regular name) is that he is male, likes physics and has a thing for science fiction (there are other things in my nature too, but lets go with that). So, for me, reading science fiction or watching a really good science fiction movie for recreation is a value, whereas for some people I know, that would be a very unpleasurable experience and a disvalue. So, for recreation, it is good and moral that I read science fiction, but bad and immoral for them to (in the sense that it wouldn't serve their lives and so isn't in their rational self-interest). It violates no one's rights for either of us to read science fiction, but the morality of the question is left unanswered without information about the specific person in question (for example me or my acquaintance).

Legality is (properly) determined by rights. So when I say that morality is a subset of legality, I mean that the range of moral choices is necessarily smaller for any given person than the range of legal/non-rights violating ones. Perhaps I didn't make that clear before- I am addressing actions, and all actions either do or do not violate rights, and so either are or are not legal. By my example above, where both my acquaintance and I can read science fiction without violating anyone's rights, but for them it would be an immoral, there is at least one action out of all possible actions which is legal but immoral, and therefore the range of moral actions is subsumed under the broader category of legal/non-rights violating ones. Perhaps a desert island where I am by myself could be considered a different category, as there isn't really "law" there. But whatever I am doing, I am not initiating force, and so my actions are "legal"/"don't violate rights"/"don't initiate force."

Think of it this way: There are a huge number of actions that do not involve the initiation of force. I am faced, in my day to day life, with selecting the good actions within that category, good being defined as it is in Objectivism - in my rational self-interest. Clearly, out of the enormous number of actions which do not involve initiation of force, there are only going to be a relative few that are in my self-interest, and so only a few that are good/moral. Simply saying "It's legal" does not mean that an action is good, in any case at all. That is simply the first hurdle, the first elimination barrier in the determination. The next is to see if it is in someone's rational self-interest to do the thing. The first question cannot answer the second in the affirmative. Your argument is based on the notion that it can. Therefore your argument is unsound.

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Fraud is misrepresentation of a material fact regarding an exchange, in order to obtain consent. That's what fraud means. There is no bookstore in the real world where payment is optional.

Yet if the bookstore had voluntarily made a refund policy a part of the contract, that's essentially the same thing as making payment optional.

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This is question-begging. You prove that there are moral aspects beyond the legal by saying his action is immoral, though legal. But that is what the debate is about. You can't just claim returning the books, within the store's policy is immoral. Doing what he is doing is not harmful to his character (so to speak) if it is not immoral. Whether or not it is immoral is the question the thread poses.

Mindy

Actually, what I am doing is tracing the multitude of consequences to one's life that flow from violation of the trader principle, or any moral principle; and it is quite clear from my post that the trader principle is the one I consider pertinent here. I guess I'll make it still more explicit.

The individual is entering into a transaction with the store from which the store will lose value (and this is known prior to the transaction by the individual). Obviously, the store believes that by instituting this policy they will gain more monetarily from increased book sales than they will lose through returns. Thus, they judge the policy as a whole to be a value to them. However, it would be fallacious to take this point and say that any transaction made under this policy is also a value to the store. In fact, the trade which our individual is considering is one in which the store loses. The fact that the store has estimated that it will gain more from other people's reactions to this policy than it loses on transactions like this one doesn't change the fact that, when you restrict the perspective from the overall policy to this one transaction, the trade is not one of value for value. The fact that the store foresees a certain amount of people taking advantage does not change the fact that those people are, indeed, taking advantage. Taking advantage of others is psychologically damaging in ways which have been charted in detail by Objectivists here and elsewhere.

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The *purpose* of the return policy is not to allow people to rent books, but to allow customers who have an issue with the book to return them. The presumption is that there *IS* an issue with the book that is at odds with the purpose of the sale.

The purpose of the book is so that the buyer can own the book and read it. The reasoning behind the return should not, therefore, be "I've now read it and am done with it."

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The *purpose* of the return policy is not to allow people to rent books, but to allow customers who have an issue with the book to return them. The presumption is that there *IS* an issue with the book that is at odds with the purpose of the sale.

The purpose of the book is so that the buyer can own the book and read it. The reasoning behind the return should not, therefore, be "I've now read it and am done with it."

How do you know? Have you read the hypothetical bookstore's return policy? You can't have done that since it's a hypothetical example. Since you only have limited information you should make a judgment based on what you know, not on what you don't know.

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How do you know? Have you read the hypothetical bookstore's return policy? You can't have done that since it's a hypothetical example. Since you only have limited information you should make a judgment based on what you know, not on what you don't know.

I know how stores operate.

I know it's a book store not a book rental office (aka: library).

I know in general the store is not there to rent you a book.

I know that in general, return policies aren't there to let you get something for nothing.

You are trying to create an escape clause to justify what you know is wrong - you're getting something (the reading of the book) for nothing by exploiting the return policy when there's not actually anything wrong with the something in question.

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The nature of man is that he is a rational animal, needs self-esteem, etc. The nature of Josh (that's my regular name) is that he is male, likes physics and has a thing for science fiction (there are other things in my nature too, but lets go with that). So, for me, reading science fiction or watching a really good science fiction movie for recreation is a value, whereas for some people I know, that would be a very unpleasurable experience and a disvalue. So, for recreation, it is good and moral that I read science fiction, but bad and immoral for them to (in the sense that it wouldn't serve their lives and so isn't in their rational self-interest). It violates no one's rights for either of us to read science fiction, but the morality of the question is left unanswered without information about the specific person in question (for example me or my acquaintance).

Legality is (properly) determined by rights. So when I say that morality is a subset of legality, I mean that the range of moral choices is necessarily smaller for any given person than the range of legal/non-rights violating ones. Perhaps I didn't make that clear before- I am addressing actions, and all actions either do or do not violate rights, and so either are or are not legal. By my example above, where both my acquaintance and I can read science fiction without violating anyone's rights, but for them it would be an immoral, there is at least one action out of all possible actions which is legal but immoral, and therefore the range of moral actions is subsumed under the broader category of legal/non-rights violating ones. Perhaps a desert island where I am by myself could be considered a different category, as there isn't really "law" there. But whatever I am doing, I am not initiating force, and so my actions are "legal"/"don't violate rights"/"don't initiate force."

o

Think of it this way: There are a huge number of actions that do not involve the initiation of force. I am faced, in my day to day life, with selecting the good actions within that category, good being defined as it is in Objectivism - in my rational self-interest. Clearly, out of the enormous number of actions which do not involve initiation of force, there are only going to be a relative few that are in my self-interest, and so only a few that are good/moral. Simply saying "It's legal" does not mean that an action is good, in any case at all. That is simply the first hurdle, the first elimination barrier in the determination. The next is to see if it is in someone's rational self-interest to do the thing. The first question cannot answer the second in the affirmative. Your argument is based on the notion that it can. Therefore your argument is unsound.

What an interesting lecture on morality. Personally, I don't like science fiction, least of all sci fi dealing with dragons and witches, etc. There was a time, however, when I noticed everyone around me reading those Harry Potter books. It was sheer curiosity and nothing else that made me pick up one of those Harry Potters. Now, I am a total fan.

Guess what I did was immoral. Guess trying anything new would qualify as immoral since I wouldn't know beforehand if I like it or not. Wow. What a screwy and frightening way of thinking.

Edited by claire
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What an interesting lecture on morality. Personally, I don't like science fiction, least of all sci fi dealing with dragons and witches, etc. There was a time, however, when I noticed everyone around me reading those Harry Potter books. It was sheer curiosity and nothing else that made me pick up one of those Harry Potters. Now, I am a total fan.

Guess what I did was immoral. Guess trying anything new would qualify as immoral since I wouldn't know beforehand if I like it or not. Wow. What a screwy and frightening way of thinking.

I assume that you mean by picking up and reading Harry Potter when you don't generally like "sci fi dealing with dragons and witches" (which, by the way, Harry Potter is not - it is Fantasy).

This is false.

It is not immoral to give a new work of art a fair shake, even if you generally don't like the genre.

However, if you had started reading Harry Potter and hated it but continued reading all the way through because you felt you owed it to the author or something, while getting no value in return, then that would have been immoral as you would have been sacrificing yourself for someone else's sake.

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I know how stores operate.

I know it's a book store not a book rental office (aka: library).

I know in general the store is not there to rent you a book.

I know that in general, return policies aren't there to let you get something for nothing.

You are trying to create an escape clause to justify what you know is wrong - you're getting something (the reading of the book) for nothing by exploiting the return policy when there's not actually anything wrong with the something in question.

Getting something for nothing is not intrinsically immoral, even if the one who got nothing for something believed they had made an even exchange. Compare this to a scenario where a business owner promises a team of interns that one of them will be hired, when said owner has already determined in advance which one will be hired.

While I will accept if both the bookstore owner example and the team of interns example implies the immorality of their exploiters, and I will accept it if neither is immoral, you can't claim that one is okay and the other isn't.

Edited by TuringAI
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Nanite,

I was pretty much agreeing with what you were saying in the above posts, but then I realised that you have been getting the hierarchy of legality and morality back to front. You write-

"So I say that morality is a subset of legality"...

"Legality is NOT a subset of morality."

Since the solution to this extended debate lies in the realm of morality, we'd better get this right :- from the nature of Man, is derived his morality; from his morality is derived his rights; from his rights is derived his laws. (As I take it.)

I mean, does a rational individualist begin by asking himself, "Is this action I am considering a legal one? And if it is, is it a moral one ?"

No. A moral action must or should be a legal one - and not necessarily vice-versa.

Do you agree?

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Nanite,

I was pretty much agreeing with what you were saying in the above posts, but then I realised that you have been getting the hierarchy of legality and morality back to front. You write-

"So I say that morality is a subset of legality"...

"Legality is NOT a subset of morality."

Since the solution to this extended debate lies in the realm of morality, we'd better get this right :- from the nature of Man, is derived his morality; from his morality is derived his rights; from his rights is derived his laws. (As I take it.)

I mean, does a rational individualist begin by asking himself, "Is this action I am considering a legal one? And if it is, is it a moral one ?"

No. A moral action must or should be a legal one - and not necessarily vice-versa.

Do you agree?

Yes, what I was meaning, and what I think I made explicit in my last post, is that the set of all legal actions is larger than the set of moral ones for any given person. So when I was saying that "morality is a subset of legality", I really meant to say "the set of moral actions is subsumed within the set of legal ones," which is a true statement. You are correct that if I decide an action is moral, it is necessarily legal (as any action which involves the initiation of force is necessarily not in my rational self-interest, by my nature as a human being). So of course, no one would ask "is it legal?" and then see if it is moral. But in determining what is in my self-interest, I can and do consider, at least implicitly, if I am going to be initiating force (such ideas essentially never cross my mind, so it might be subconscious, but its there).

I hope I made it clearer. I understand full well the derivation of law/rights from morality. Law can be said to delimit the maximum range of possibly moral choices (no matter who you are, violating rights is necessarily not in your self-interest, as opposed to studying physics or reading SF, which are only in the self-interest of specific people). I hope I made the point I was making more clear. I was speaking loosely before, which was inappropriate, I hope I have corrected it.

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Whether they ought to do so or not isn't actually relevant to the question at hand. That is specifically whether the OP may do so without abusing the book-seller.

If you were to re-word this so there is not a false alternative implied, that is, do not presume that there is one and only one moral choice ("the moral thing to do") I'll consider an answer.

Again, that either choice is moral does not entail that the choice is trivial, so, give me a specific question, and I'll consider it.

The same moral judgment doesn't always apply at every level of abstraction, to a given sort of action. What is moral for me might, in your case, not be moral. The question is not specific enough.

That question is redundant over a previous one.

My position includes that if the book-seller does not claim all the protections he might, it is not others' responsibility to protect him from himself.

I also think that you presume too much as to what is in the book-seller's best interests.

If someone puts their house up for sale, for a ridiculously low price, would you forego purchasing it, choosing instead to advise him as to what price he ought to be asking?

Mindy

Edited by Mindy
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If someone puts their house up for sale, for a ridiculously low price, would you forego purchasing it, choosing instead to advise him as to what price he ought to be asking?
No, not in general. I am not obliged to protect this person from his own gross stupidity. OTOH, as a buyer of books, I appreciate that the bookseller allows me to return a book when I feel it did not live up to my expectations, I have returned books under that clause. I do not think the bookseller is being stupid to make such an offer -- so, the home-buyer analogy does not hold. It is obvious that the bookseller does not intend that people use his offer as a licence for free rental. Many such offers and conditions are made in good faith. Essentially, the bookseller is saying that if the customer thinks the book did not live up to his expectations, he may return it. It is up to the customer to be honest, since the bookseller will take his word. If all those who want to get a free read use this clause to do so, they will undercut the basis of the clause and it will be withdrawn. This is not a hypothetical example: ion most countries in the world one can return almost nothing to a retailer, because retailers realize that a large number of people will not use the clause in the spirit in which it is offered. So, to use the system thus is self-destructive in principle. it can only 'work" if a few free-riders do it, and the majority of customers do not rationalize that they were never given explicit instructions as to the nature of the clause, never signed any specific clauses, and so are free to assume that the seller is making this offer so that people can enjoy reading books for free.
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If someone puts their house up for sale, for a ridiculously low price, would you forego purchasing it, choosing instead to advise him as to what price he ought to be asking?

Mindy

In this house sale scenario, there is no divergence between the intent of the seller's proposal and the actions of the buyer. The seller of the house simply intends for someone else to buy it at the asking price. The buyer may think he's getting a ridiculously good deal, but he is not acting outside the intended nature of the sale.

Now, if the seller of the house only intends to sell his house (at this low price) to, say, someone underneath the poverty line, which he states clearly to all potential buyers, but he never actually checks the status of potential buyers (he just takes their word for it), is it now immoral to buy the house if you don't fit his conditions? I believe that this is a much closer analogy than the one you have given; the buyer is abusing the intent of the transaction and the seller is not putting forth any effort in attempts to enforce his or her intent (to find out if any particular sale actually fits his intentions). In this scenario, despite the fact that the intent of the seller is most likely based on misguided notions of morality, it is still immoral for the buyer to deceive or fail to mention to the seller that this sale would not fit the original intentions of the seller.

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In this house sale scenario, there is no divergence between the intent of the seller's proposal and the actions of the buyer. The seller of the house simply intends for someone else to buy it at the asking price. The buyer may think he's getting a ridiculously good deal, but he is not acting outside the intended nature of the sale.

In this scenario, despite the fact that the intent of the seller is most likely based on misguided notions of morality, it is still immoral for the buyer to deceive or fail to mention to the seller that this sale would not fit the original intentions of the seller.

The assumed intent of any seller is to get the maximum price for his goods, and if you assume the book-seller meant for people not to take returns on the OP's basis, you should equally assume that the home-seller meant to get as much as he could for the house.

I do not see that someone's elses's intentions are my obligation to enforce. I do not create a claim on others' actions just by stating my intentions. Notice that when a declarations page for some program or database one is accessing must be read and agreed to in order to get access, the user must overtly mark that he agrees.

The argument seems to be devolving to: any sensible bookseller would have added a clause such as, "return if the item proves unsatisfactory..." therefore, it is incumbent on the public to behave as if he had included that in his explicit return policy.

Doesn't that patronize the seller? I once bought a very nice necklace of hand-cut and polished rhodochrosite beads, at a sort of antiques/flea market. I paid twelve dollars for it, when it was probably worth ten to twenty times that much. The owners didn't know what it was, and thus, what it was worth. Was that immoral? I was very pleased with myself.

Mindy

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I don't consider this immoral because if a person only wants to read a book once, why should he have to own the book to read forever? Is test-driving an automobile later found undesirable immoral? In both cases, if the freely established contract allows for return of a product after one's use of it, then it is moral to return the book if it is in the buyer's best interest.

The vendor of the book has the responsibility of knowing that the book may be returned.

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I do not see that someone's elses's intentions are my obligation to enforce. I do not create a claim on others' actions just by stating my intentions. Notice that when a declarations page for some program or database one is accessing must be read and agreed to in order to get access, the user must overtly mark that he agrees.

You misunderstand me. You don't owe it to the bookseller to abide by his intentions. You owe it to yourself to engage only in actions of which you can properly be proud, and one incarnation of that is abiding by the trader principle in dealings with others.

The argument seems to be devolving to: any sensible bookseller would have added a clause such as, "return if the item proves unsatisfactory..." therefore, it is incumbent on the public to behave as if he had included that in his explicit return policy.

If you honestly believe that the policy was enacted for the sake of anyone who wanted to return a book for any reason, rather than for the sake of those who were actually dissatisfied with their purchase, then you should act on the basis of that belief... but given the cultural context in which we live, I would find it very surprising if you in all honesty think that.

And yes, I do believe that we have to use our best knowledge of cultural context and "what is commonplace" to help assess what we should do. Let's say that I order food and a drink at a restaurant, and for my drink they hand me an empty cup, because it's one of those places with the soda dispenser open to the restaurant. Am I to understand in this situation that I should fill my cup only once, or is there a policy of free refills? In this situation, it is helpful for me to know that places which are set up in that way in America generally have a policy of free refills. I should then act under the assumption that I am allowed to refill my cup, unless they specifically place a sign indicating otherwise.

In the American cultural context, store returns are generally reserved for items that were defective or dissatisfying in some way, and for me to believe that the store is honestly okay with me using that policy to rent books for free, I would need an explicit statement from the store to that effect, and the OP did not mention any such thing.

As to comparisons with people who don't know what they're selling, that's something I haven't thought about in depth before. Certainly, getting a good deal on something isn't immoral in general. At an estate sale, for example, the goal of the sellers is to get rid of as much stuff as they possibly can in one weekend while still making as much money as they can in that timeframe. You can get some great deals not because they don't know what they're selling (usually), but simply because they're so pressed for time, and there's nothing immoral on your part for engaging in that. However, I do feel, upon thinking about it, that there are at least some extreme situations in which I probably would feel guilty for buying something which is only a low price because the person didn't know what they could get for it. I need to think about whether those feelings would be justified or not. My tentative conclusion is that I should not feel guilty over taking that action, though.

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You owe it to yourself to engage only in actions of which you can properly be proud, and one incarnation of that is abiding by the trader principle in dealings with others.
This succinctly captures the essence of the difference between egoist ethics and altruist ethics. Egoist ethics -- Objectivist ethics -- is about your actions, in terms of effect on you. Altruist ethics is about your actions, in terms of effect on others.
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