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

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JacobGalt
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So, in your bar, the "stuff" isn't actually free. You set up the appearance of free snacks, but you don't mean it. Does that sit well with your own take of the "trader" principle?

Mindy

Actually you are selectively and intentionally misquoting.

Having deliberately left out:

"All the bars I know have some stated policy about happy hour promotions- whether that be a one drink minimum or simply a price value minimum"

So yes, it having been stated in advance that to partake of happy hour promotions one must make a purchase it sets quite well with me to kick someone out who hopes to blend in with the crowd, bypassing the stated purchase requirement, it sits quite well with the trader principle indeed.

Please stop baiting.

Edited by SapereAude
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I wrote:

Seriously, if someone here barks at me in the name of Objectivism that I had better stop eating free snacks while joining some friends at a bar, while not purchasing any full-priced items myself, because my doing so constitutes "lying" and "evading" and "fraud," then I'm probably going to pee myself with laughter.

And RationalBiker replied:

I don't think anyone here doubts that at all.

Does that mean that you think that the "rational" response to being accused of lying, evading and committing fraud for having eaten a free peanut in a bar which doesn't care if I eat five pounds of peanuts is not to laugh, but to gravely nod in agreement and then begin wringing my hands and pondering all the ways in which I haven't been moral according to the accuser's personal interpretation of Objectivism?

J

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Does that mean that you think that the "rational" response to being accused of lying, evading and committing fraud for having eaten a free peanut in a bar which doesn't care if I eat five pounds of peanuts is not to laugh, but to gravely nod in agreement and then begin wringing my hands and pondering all the ways in which I haven't been moral according to the accuser's personal interpretation of Objectivism?

It was in part sarcastic, as was reported, and for that I apologize. However, the sincere part is that I'm sure you are being truthful about your values and your personal take on the "trader principle". I don't know that i agree that is something to be proud of, but I do believe you are being truthful. My sarcasm notwithstanding, you also appear to be rather sarcastic in the comment above (about reflecting on the morality of your actions) and in the previous comment about wetting yourself with laughter. Seemingly, my sarcasm was on the only sarcasm that drew someone's attention despite their claims of the hypocrisy of others.

As I'm withdrawing myself from this thread, please feel free to discard any of my comments you think are inadequately supported.

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So, in your bar, the "stuff" isn't actually free. You set up the appearance of free snacks, but you don't mean it. Does that sit well with your own take of the "trader" principle?

Mindy

That's an interesting question.

If one believes in the meticulous version of the "trader principle" being advocated here in the name of Objectivism, shouldn't customers who don't partake in "free" snacks be offered a precise portion of their money back after an evening of purchasing drinks? I mean, if I'm a lying, evading, fraudulent thief for eating a single peanut without purchasing anything in a bar which doesn't require me to purchase anything while eating peanuts, I would think that charging all customers the same price per drink even though they don't all wish to consume the same amount of products would be highly immoral. That sounds like a serious violation of the version of the "trader principle" being promoted here. Such a policy makes the non-hungry subsidize the hungry, no?

Forgive me if I'm repeating anything here -- I may have missed bits and pieces while reading this thread -- but has anyone brought up the fact that some book stores encourage (or have encouraged in the past) customers to plant themselves in comfortable sofas and read books in their stores? If it's immoral for an Objectivist to take advantage of a no-questions-asked returns policy based on OO members' interpretation of the "trader principle," or to eat even a single peanut in a bar without paying for anything, wouldn't it also be immoral to take up a bookstore's encouragement to come in and read whatever one wants?

Should a moral Objectivist perhaps determine ahead of time exactly what percentage of a book he will allow himself to read for free, quit precisely at that point and then decide whether or not he wishes to purchase the book? If so, how would he rationally determine what the quitting point should be? Exactly how far can he read before he becomes a lying, evading, fraudulent thief?

Or would a truly virtuous Objectivist not allow himself to read any part of a book other than its cover without purchasing it first?

What about listening to the radio? It's free. If a person listens to the radio, shouldn't she find some means of calculating exactly how many products and services she should purchase from the advertisers who made the radio programming possible? That's the "value for value" trade that advertisers are expecting from listeners. And again, since the listener's morality hangs in the balance, I would think she'd have to be very precise about it. I can't begin to imagine how she would determine how to fairly divide up her purchases among various advertisers.

(If RationalBiker or anyone else is wondering, no, I'm not being sarcastic. I'm sincerely interested in discovering exactly how one must behave in order to not be judged as despicable by certain Objectivists.)

J

Edited by Jonathan13
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Perhaps a truly moral Objectivist, as defined by certain people here, should always demand to see a store’s owner or manager before shopping, and insist that he charge the Objectivist full price on all items just to make sure all purchases are properly moral based on precise "value for value" exchanges?....

And what about free samples handed out in grocery stores, or free all-you-can-eat snacks or snack buffets served at bars during certain hours? Is it immoral for Objectivists to eat even a single peanut if he or she doesn't first ask to speak to the establishment’s owners in order to clearly determine whether or not they will be getting enough value from him in exchange?...

What about listening to the radio? It's free. If a person listens to the radio, shouldn't she find some means of calculating exactly how many products and services she should purchase from the advertisers who made the radio programming possible? That's the "value for value" trade that advertisers are expecting from listeners. And again, since the listener's morality hangs in the balance, I would think she'd have to be very precise about it.

The interpretation of the trader principle I’m putting forth here is not nearly as “meticulous” as your attempted characterization makes it out to be. Your examples of precise value-for-value computations are astoundingly concrete-bound, and illustrate clearly that you’re missing my point.

One common element in most of your examples is the case of a business practice in which a company offers something at a loss in a speculative attempt to gain business in other areas. In cases like these, here is the narrower principle that I would draw from the trader principle: You should feel free to engage in these speculative exchanges unless you have a strong, specific reason to believe that you do not fit the category of intended targets of the policy.

I’ll go through a few of your examples to flesh out my point. We’ll start with the free samples in grocery stores. Why are they there? What value is the store getting from them? Well, some people who try the free samples but weren’t planning on buying that product will decide to, because they are surprised at how good it tastes. Additionally, people who were planning to buy the product are provided with a way of making sure that product is quality. So what is the implementation of the trader principle?

By all means, try one. You can’t be sure of whether trying it will or will not result in a sale any more than the grocer can, in most cases (if you’re certain that you won’t buy the product because you don’t like it or something… why are you trying it?). If you don’t end up buying, oh well. The value gained by the grocer was speculative. However, if you’ve already tried one, and decided not to buy, then you have a strong, specific reason to believe that more free samples are wasted on you. Therefore, it is immoral to (for example) eat the whole dish of free samples just because you’re hungry. They’re not there to quell your hunger. Similarly, if you are the type of person who goes into grocery stores specifically to clean out the free samples, you’re being immoral. You don’t have to have such a concrete conception of value for value (e.g. buying enough to recoup the costs of the cheese cube you just ate) to separate use and abuse of the policy.

In the listening to the radio example, I don’t even know how you could be certain beforehand that you will not respond to any ads you hear; you haven’t heard them yet. I can’t think of a case where the radio would not get speculative value from you listening in.

The bar free samples are more complicated because, as it has already been pointed out in this thread, different bars view such things differently. In bars which readily give free waters, colas, snacks etc to people who aren’t drinking, such things are being viewed by the bar as an investment in future patronage. They’re investing in a good environment and atmosphere, in positive views of their bar, etc. You don’t have to recoup their costs every single night to provide that value. What you are required to do is to refrain from abusing that policy. In other bars, apparently, snacks are viewed as only for paying customers, and policies are correspondingly different.

A lot of these conclusions are held as common sense beliefs by most people. If you go into grocery stores specifically to clean out their free samples, you’re being an “asshole.” If you try one cheese cube but decide not to buy, you’re not. A little reflection on the trader principle, as above, backs up these common sense notions. Adherence to the trader principle doesn’t require obsessive calculation; in fact, it doesn’t require much more than a general policy of not abusing speculative exchanges.

To tie this back to the book example, let’s throw out the case where the store is making money even if you return the book, to make it a case of speculative exchange. They sell you the book with that return policy because there’s a good chance that if you’re buying it, you’ll decide to keep it. In most situations, you would not have any reason to doubt this expectation. However, there are some cases where you know with relative certainty that you will return the book. For instance, you have a book report due next week, and you’re planning on buying the book for the week and returning it after the report is done. This is a strong, specific reason to believe that the speculative policy is wasted on you. It doesn’t require a policy of scrutinizing every purchase you make for you to pick out instances like this. This thread was premised with the fact that the buyer is certain that he will be returning the book. Thus, in accordance with what I have written here, I previously argued that this is a violation of the trader principle.

Another example, from my recent life. I just moved into an apartment and ordered AT&T internet service. The appointment they set up to install my service was two weeks from when I called them. There is another company called Clear which provides internet service through wireless modems. You order their service, they send you a modem (within a day or two), and you can get internet immediately; no instillation required. Furthermore, Clear has a 14-day money-back cancellation policy, no questions asked. Someone suggested to me that I order a Clear modem and use it until I got my AT&T service up and running, and then return the Clear modem at no cost to me. You don’t have to scrutinize the situation to realize that this is an abuse of Clear’s policy. I’d be ordering in a situation where I’m 100% certain that I will return it within the 14 days. This is a clear violation of the trader principle.

The overall point is: it does not take obsessive calculation in order to be alert to situations where you’re abusing speculative exchanges and violating the trader principle. I hope that this has made my viewpoint clear, in such a way that you would be able to apply the principle I have put forth to some of the other situations you discussed without me walking through all of them.

Edited by Dante
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Should a moral Objectivist perhaps determine ahead of time exactly what percentage of a book he will allow himself to read for free, quit precisely at that point and then decide whether or not he wishes to purchase the book?

Moral Objectivist is a redundancy.

The nature of the business "bookstore" is not that of a "library" and rational man's actions would and ought to reflect that fact . I am not sure what your point is about "ahead of time" but the answer is YES - in normal circumstances, a rational man would stop himself from reading a book in a bookstore beyond certain point.

What is that point? It would be the point - judged by him objectively and honestly - at which he would be able to make a decision whether or not the book is what he is looking for and thus if he would want to purchase it. Table of content, if available, would be a good idea to include as a part of that, to help oneself in that process. What also is helpful is to go to places like Amazon (and internet connection is available in most bookstores now days) and read some of the reviews of those who read the whole thing - then either confirm or refute one's expectations about the book.

For me it is never more than few pages or so (it may be slightly more if the book is very long) and not necessarily consecutive pages, but that number is probably not the same for everybody. The fact that that number may vary between people does not mean that there is no reasonable point for each person. An honest man would not have a problem deciding where that is.

I do not find this and similar cases to be an issue at all for people of moral character because they do not take the approach of "How much I can get away with?" toward anything they do.

Edited by ~Sophia~
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The interpretation of the trader principle I’m putting forth here is not nearly as “meticulous” as your attempted characterization makes it out to be. Your examples of precise value-for-value computations are astoundingly concrete-bound.

I think his arguments indicate skeptical view of objectivity (when applied in practice) and thus rational morality overall.

Btw, very good post - Dante!

Edited by ~Sophia~
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In the listening to the radio example, I don’t even know how you could be certain beforehand that you will not respond to any ads you hear; you haven’t heard them yet.

Should it matter? You know that radio programming is paid for by advertisers who are expecting listeners to buy their products and services in return. Therefore, if you believe that Objectivism requires that you must "trade value for value," then you shouldn't turn on the radio unless you're willing to buy equal amounts of products or services from all of the companies that you hear advertised while listening, whether you need them or not.

I can’t think of a case where the radio would not get speculative value from you listening in.

I can't remember a time that the local station that I usually listen to advertised products or services that I'd buy. Today I heard ads for laminate flooring, a place that sells pool tables and pinball machines, and a women's styling salon. I won't be purchasing any of those products or services. If I'm immoral for not "trading value for value," my only options are to buy those products or services that I don't need, or to stop listening to my favorite radio station, no?

In bars which readily give free waters, colas, snacks etc to people who aren’t drinking, such things are being viewed by the bar as an investment in future patronage.

Yes, and the same can be true of booksellers who have lax returns policies. In other words, if you're saying that context matters, and that people can't fairly judge others to be "lying" and "evading" and committing "fraud," without knowing quite a lot of details about the specific contexts, motivations and expectations of all parties involved, then I think we're in agreement.

They’re investing in a good environment and atmosphere, in positive views of their bar, etc. You don’t have to recoup their costs every single night to provide that value. What you are required to do is to refrain from abusing that policy.

The question is, how does one objectively determine when one is abusing the policy -- or more germane to this discussion, how does one determine when someone else is abusing a policy? Prior to reading this thread, I assumed that an objective standard would take into account the point at which the business owner believes that his policies are being abused. But people here disagree. They think that even though the business owner couldn't care less if customers take all they want, the customers who take more than certain Objectivists want them to take are somehow "immoral" and "abusing" the policy.

In other bars, apparently, snacks are viewed as only for paying customers, and policies are correspondingly different.

But you haven't addressed my question about an Objectivist who owns a bar and doesn't reimburse patrons who haven't taken advantage of what the owner is (falsely) calling "free" snacks. According to the trader principle being advocated here (and by which people are being judged as lying, evading, fraudulent thieves) isn't it immoral for the bar owner to have a policy in which the non-hungry are made to subsidize the hungry? Shouldn't an Objectivist who believes in only trading value for value charge each individual only for the products or services that he consumes?

Adherence to the trader principle doesn’t require obsessive calculation...

But if it's a principle, and an objective one at that, then precise calculation would be required: one would have to establish an objective standard by which to determine at what point one was being "immoral" or an "asshole." It wouldn't matter if one inappropriately took a single peanut versus taking plateful after plateful of expensive Hors d'oeuvres. One peanut over the line would make one "immoral."

J

Edited by Jonathan13
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Moral Objectivist is a redundancy.

Wow. So, when one makes one single moral breach, no matter how minor, he or she is no longer an Objectivist? I was never under the impression that Rand thought that Objectivism was that intolerant.

The nature of the business "bookstore" is not that of a "library" and rational man's actions would and ought to reflect that fact.

I would have thought that the "nature" of each bookstore is an issue that is up to each bookstore owner to decide. If a bookstore owner doesn't mind that customers are reading entire books in his store and not purchasing them, but is in fact providing them with comfy sofas on which to do so, why should he mind that some people are buying books, taking them home to read, and then returning them for a refund?

If a grocery store's free samples booth pitchwoman doesn't mind that a guy is wolfing down an entire tray of pizza puffs because she has been told by her employer not to discourage anyone from taking as much as they want, but, in the event that someone starts chowing down, to instead use the customer's enthusiasm to the store's advantage by pointing out to other shoppers that the pizza puffs are so damned good that you can't help but eat more than one, how is it anyone else's business to judge the morality of those involved? Who are you or anyone else to tell the owner that he or his customers are not properly acting according to what you've decided is the "nature" of his business?

I do not find this and similar cases to be an issue at all for people of moral character because they do not take the approach of "How much I can get away with?" toward anything they do.

If I've given you the impression the I'm promoting the attitude of "How much I can get away with?" then I think you're missing my point. My actual position is to be critical of the attitude of "Which actions can I eagerly condemn in others while refusing to take into account the specific contexts of the customers, businesses, policies, and purposes behind them?"

J

Edited by Jonathan13
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You know that radio programming is paid for by advertisers who are expecting listeners to buy their products and services in return. Therefore, if you believe that Objectivism requires that you must "trade value for value," then you shouldn't turn on the radio unless you're willing to buy equal amounts of products or services from all of the companies that you hear advertised while listening, whether you need them or not.

I just said I'm not limiting value to definite, concrete monetary amounts. No one here has voiced any kind of opinion to the effect this is a viable way to live.

The question is, how does one objectively determine when one is abusing the policy -- or more germane to this discussion, how does one determine when someone else is abusing a policy? Prior to reading this thread, I assumed that an objective standard would take into account the point at which the business owner believes that his policies are being abused. But people here disagree. They think that even though the business owner couldn't care less if customers take all they want, the customers who take more than certain Objectivists want them to take are somehow "immoral" and "abusing" the policy.

The intent of the policy is certainly relevant, which incorporates the business owner's perspective, but just because an owner lets you get away with something doesn't mean it isn't in your own rational self-interest to restrain yourself.

According to the trader principle being advocated here (and by which people are being judged as lying, evading, fraudulent thieves) isn't it immoral for the bar owner to have a policy in which the non-hungry are made to subsidize the hungry? Shouldn't an Objectivist who believes in only trading value for value charge each individual only for the products or services that he consumes?

No. This is purely your mischaracterization of what has been said here. You have not incorporated what I termed speculative value into your value-for-value calculations for the bar. Your calculations are therefore bound to the specific physical goods transacted, and you make an incorrect conclusion.

But if it's a principle, and an objective one at that, then precise calculation would be required

What do you think a principle is, precisely?

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Wow. So, when one makes one single moral breach, no matter how minor, he or she is no longer an Objectivist?

That is not a reasonable implication of what I said. It is off topic and I do not wish to pursue this further.

---------------------------------------------

I wrote:

The nature of the business "bookstore" is not that of a "library" and rational man's actions would and ought to reflect that fact.

To which you replied:

I would have thought that the "nature" of each bookstore is an issue that is up to each bookstore owner to decide.

It is a common knowledge that the intent of trade in places called bookstores is to sell books to customers (because those are the defining characteristics of the concept).

If a bookstore owner doesn't mind that customers are reading entire books in his store and not purchasing them, but is in fact providing them with comfy sofas on which to do so, why should he mind that some people are buying books, taking them home to read, and then returning them for a refund?

We are not discussing some theoretical scenario. The context of the question is today's reality and the type of bookstores which we are all familiar with.

In that context, what you describe can not be reasonably assumed by a costumer of such businesses.

Such deviations in policy both in terms of reading whole books inside the bookstore and purchasing books with the intent of returning after reading them at home - would have to be explicitly stated by the owner.

If the a grocery store's free samples booth pitchwoman doesn't mind that a guy is wolfing down an entire tray of pizza puffs because she has been told by her employer not to discourage anyone from taking as much as they want, but, in the event that someone starts chowing down, to instead use the customer's enthusiasm to the store's advantage by pointing out to other shoppers that the pizza puffs are so damned good that you can't help but eat more than one, how is it anyone else's business to judge the morality of those involved? Who are you or anyone else to tell the owner that he or his customers are not properly acting according to what you've decided is the "nature" of his business?

Grocery store is not a food bank. The nature of the grocery store business is not giving out food for free. Its purpose, its trade intent - is to sell food. Samples are by definition small parts of something intended as representative of the whole. It is not a resonable assumption on the part of the customer (it would be a huge context dropping) that he can just help himself to a whole. How a store owner may decide to deal with such situations is beside the point.

The point is that the owner's intent was to give out samples to individuals and not the whole and rational people recognize that fact.

In both cases what you describe directly clashes with the defining characteristics of those business and thus can not be reasonably assumed by the customer.

The fact that you can get away with it - that the owner may not be likely to take actions against you even though this was not the intent of his offer - does not mean it is right for you to do it. The fact that you can get away with it does not determine the morality of the situation.

My actual position is to be critical of the attitude of "Which actions can I eagerly condemn in others...

This has not been the focus of this thread and has nothing to do with the original question.

I do not view morality as primarly concerned with my praise or my condemnation of others, or other's judgments about me, or avoiding punishment.

Properly the focus of morality is to guide one's own actions according to a rational standard.

Rational man acts morally even when nobody is watching, even when there is no threat of punishment.

--------------------------------------

I am going to excuse myself from this exchange because frankly I do not find your arguments reasonable. You eagerly drop crucial context whenever it suits your argument as if you don't recognize your audience. It is not like it won't be identified on this board.

Edited by ~Sophia~
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The overall point is: it does not take obsessive calculation in order to be alert to situations where you’re abusing speculative exchanges and violating the trader principle. I hope that this has made my viewpoint clear, in such a way that you would be able to apply the principle I have put forth to some of the other situations you discussed without me walking through all of them.

You say you are proposing the correct understanding of the trader principle. Yet, all I read are opinions. I would be loathe to assume you were being authoritative rather than operating from an exchange based on reason, but I am forced to conclude, in light of your final comment about you "walking" us through life's actual cases, that you did not intend to offer other than personal opinion.

I am puzzled at whom you expect to replace their own thinking with your ruminations, as above. It is an attitude foreign to many of us posters. It is foreign to what I see as the norm here.

Mindy

Edited by Dante
Fixed Excessive Quoting
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You say you are proposing the correct understanding of the trader principle. Yet, all I read are opinions. I would be loathe to assume you were being authoritative rather than operating from an exchange based on reason, but I am forced to conclude, in light of your final comment about you "walking" us through life's actual cases, that you did not intend to offer other than personal opinion.

I am puzzled at whom you expect to replace their own thinking with your ruminations, as above. It is an attitude foreign to many of us posters. It is foreign to what I see as the norm here.

Mindy

Putting forth a viewpoint on an interpretation of an aspect of Objectivism is the same as asking for unthinking authority? Do you have any evidence for the claim that I am attempting to "replace" others' thinking?

I have put forth an argument in this thread based on the trader principle, Jonathan mischaracterized or misunderstood that argument in his response to me, and I went to extensive lengths to clarify myself.

If you actually read my final statement, notice I said very carefully, "the principle I have put forth" rather than simply "the trader principle." This is because I want Jonathan to comprehend my position to facilitate our discussion about it. Obviously I think my position is correct; otherwise it wouldn't be my position. However, nowhere here have I asked anyone to substitute my thinking for their own. The fact that I have put forth my argument so extensively should, rather, lend credence to the idea that I am attempting to persuade, or at least facilitate an understanding of what my position is.

EDIT: Added Material:

It should be clear from my previous post that my intent has not been to propose the correct interpretation of the trader principle broadly, but rather to apply the trader principle, which is integral to Objectivism but also very broad, to the particular case of speculative exchanges, as I have above termed them. As I said above: In cases like these [involving this type of exchange], here is the narrower principle that I would draw from the trader principle...

If the reader understands my viewpoint, he/she should be able to apply it to some of the situations in the thread that I did not touch on, therefore relieving the need for me to give my viewpoint on every single hypothetical. This was the meaning of my "not needing to walk you through" my viewpoint. If you interpreted this statement as a mandate to actually follow my principles in situations like these, you have misinterpreted. Rather, this kind of understanding (the ability to apply the position to concretes) facilitates further discussion about the position itself, which I welcome if you feel so inclined.

Edited by Dante
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How do you check if you have the correct understanding of any rational principle? (The validity of the trader principle has been established).

Well, for one, rational principles, if correctly applied, can be practiced by everyone, everywhere, at the same time, without conflict of interest.

It is not hard to imagine what would happen to bookstores if a lot of people started to engage in the kind of behavior which Jonathan and few others here claim as the correct application of the trader principle. Those actions seem "affordable" (at least to some - I am not one of them) because they are not practiced by most.

Edited by ~Sophia~
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How do you check if you have the correct understanding of any rational principle? (The validity of the trader principle has been established).

Well, for one, rational principles, if correctly applied, can be practiced by everyone, everywhere, at the same time, without conflict of interest.

It is not hard to imagine what would happen to bookstores if a lot of people started to engage in the kind of behavior which Jonathan and few others here claim as the correct application of the trader principle. Those actions seem "affordable" (at least to some - I am not one of them) because they are not practiced by most.

Looks like this discussion has been derailed

by invoking the Trader Principle. The principle is at most secondary in this context, and has become a red herring. What is primary, as Sophia and others keep insisting, is the principle of rational selfishness - the effects of constantly conducting such transactions on oneself and one's view of reality.

Over-consideration of the handout policies of a business should not concern one - how many peanuts, how many books, etc. - we must assume they are acting in their self-interest, and are profiting from the policy in the long run.

Another perpective:

Anyone has the right to put a huge pile of dollar bills on a pavement and invite passers-by to help themselves; would me grabbing a handful be practising evasion?

I think so.

Why the guy is doing it is unimportant. (Mad, stolen money, altruistic - what's the difference?)

But do I want to live my life hoping (or expecting) for the same thing to happen every day?

How many such incidents of taking advantage of freebies does it take to become a reality-faker? I don't believe you know until you become one.

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Looks like this discussion has been derailed

by invoking the Trader Principle. The principle is at most secondary in this context, and has become a red herring. What is primary, as Sophia and others keep insisting, is the principle of rational selfishness - the effects of constantly conducting such transactions on oneself and one's view of reality. [emphasis added]

Yes, I agree. When we ask about the morality of an action what we are asking is: how does this action affect you? And it is never in your self-interest to be dishonest. Treating a bookstore as though it was a library is dishonest and therefore immoral.

To address Jonathan's concern that we are "eager" to condemn others: I think he misses the point. A rational man should be eager to discover which actions are in his self-interest and which are not, which actions support his life and which do not -- this is what the science of ethics is all about. You must never fail to pass moral judgment, which just means: examine every action to determine whether it is beneficial to you. But pronouncing an action immoral doesn't necessarily condemn one for life or besmirch your character or brand you with a scarlet letter. It is a necessary part of being rational and remaining alive. It is an opportunity to correct one's course.

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I wrote,

You know that radio programming is paid for by advertisers who are expecting listeners to buy their products and services in return. Therefore, if you believe that Objectivism requires that you must "trade value for value," then you shouldn't turn on the radio unless you're willing to buy equal amounts of products or services from all of the companies that you hear advertised while listening, whether you need them or not.

Dante replied,

I just said I'm not limiting value to definite, concrete monetary amounts. No one here has voiced any kind of opinion to the effect this is a viable way to live.

Even if one doesn't limit value to "definite, concrete monetary amounts," at some point a radio listener, if he believes in trading value for value, must eventually give radio advertisers value, or he should stop listening to the radio programs that they've paid for. If he doesn't give advertisers value for the value he's received, then the concept "value for value" is meaningless.

The intent of the policy is certainly relevant, which incorporates the business owner's perspective, but just because an owner lets you get away with something doesn't mean it isn't in your own rational self-interest to restrain yourself.

I don't accept the selective framing of the argument in the above sentence. When you happen to like a business owner's method of offering freebies or lax policies, you positively refer to them as "speculative attempts to gain business," "speculative exchanges," or "investments in future patronage," but when you don't like them, you negatively characterize the owner as letting his customers "get away with something."

No. This is purely your mischaracterization of what has been said here. You have not incorporated what I termed speculative value into your value-for-value calculations for the bar. Your calculations are therefore bound to the specific physical goods transacted, and you make an incorrect conclusion.

And those here who morally condemn others for taking advantage of a store's returns policies are not incorporating "speculative value" into their value-for-value calculations for bookstores. Their calculations are therefore bound to the specific physical goods transacted, and to their prejudicial characterization that bookstores are instead "letting people get away with something" (or similar characterizations), and they therefore make incorrect conclusions about others' morality.

What do you think a principle is, precisely?

Let's go with Rand's definition. She defined "principle" as "a fundamental, primary, or general truth, on which other truths depend.

J

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We are not discussing some theoretical scenario. The context of the question is today's reality and the type of bookstores which we are all familiar with. In that context, what you describe can not be reasonably assumed by a costumer of such businesses.

If, as you say, the context of the question is today's reality and the type of bookstores which we are familiar with, then I don't understand why you're calling my explanations above a "theoretical scenario." Perhaps living where you do, you haven't experienced the scenarios I've mentioned despite the fact that I, and presumably millions of others, have? Are you not familiar with Barnes & Noble stores (and sometimes their nearby locally owned copycat competitors) putting sofas and large library-like tables all over the place and encouraging customers to sit and read whatever they want? Has that not been common in your area? Perhaps the welcoming environment that I've experienced for years isn't available near you? If so, that would explain a lot about the differences of opinion on this thread, and would lend credence to my view that some people may need to focus more on learning about others' contexts before judging.

I seem to recall that the library-like environment of book superstores has even appeared in a few movies. It's been a long time, but if I'm remembering correctly, "You've Got Mail" might be one such film which might give those who have never experienced the welcoming leisurely library-like environment a taste of it.

Grocery store is not a food bank. The nature of the grocery store business is not giving out food for free. Its purpose, its trade intent - is to sell food. Samples are by definition small parts of something intended as representative of the whole. It is not a resonable assumption on the part of the customer (it would be a huge context dropping) that he can just help himself to a whole. How a store owner may decide to deal with such situations is beside the point.

The point is that the owner's intent was to give out samples to individuals and not the whole and rational people recognize that fact.

Have you met the owner of every store and asked him his intent? I don't know how else you'd come to the conclusion that you can know with such certainty what they're thinking.

I know store owners and managers (they are friends and family members of mine) who do not have the intent to merely "give out samples to individuals and not the whole." Their actual intent is to find a way to entice customers to purchase more products. If they can entice them to do so by allowing people to wolf down on a tray of samples, then that's what they'll do, regardless of what you've erroneously declared their intent must be.

In both cases what you describe directly clashes with the defining characteristics of those business and thus can not be reasonably assumed by the customer.

The fact that you can get away with it - that the owner may not be likely to take actions against you even though this was not the intent of his offer - does not mean it is right for you to do it. The fact that you can get away with it does not determine the morality of the situation.

You don't know the owners' intentions. Why do you continue to claim that you do?

This has not been the focus of this thread and has nothing to do with the original question.

Really? The original question was, "Is it immoral to keep getting refunds for books you've bought?"

My answer is, "It depends, and we don't have enough information to be making the harsh judgments of others that some here have made." The fact that you may not like my answer doesn't mean that it has nothing to do with the original question or the focus of this thread.

I am going to excuse myself from this exchange because frankly I do not find your arguments reasonable. You eagerly drop crucial context whenever it suits your argument as if you don't recognize your audience.

I think it's probably more an issue of life experiences. I'm basing my views on my own experiences, as well as considering the possibility that others may have additional experiences and contexts that I might lack, where you seem to be limiting yourself to what you've experienced during your comparatively young and possibly sheltered life (no insult intended).

Well, for one, rational principles, if correctly applied, can be practiced by everyone, everywhere, at the same time, without conflict of interest.

If a store owner has a "conflict of interest" with the idea of customers taking advantage of the conditions he's voluntarily offered them, he'll stop offering them the conditions.

It is not hard to imagine what would happen to bookstores if a lot of people started to engage in the kind of behavior which Jonathan and few others here claim as the correct application of the trader principle. Those actions seem "affordable" (at least to some - I am not one of them) because they are not practiced by most.

I agree that it's not hard to imagine what would happen if a lot of people started to engage in the behavior: bookstores would enact policies which would either prevent the behavior or encourage more of it, depending on whether or not they thought they could make money off of it.

J

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To address Jonathan's concern that we are "eager" to condemn others: I think he misses the point. A rational man should be eager to discover which actions are in his self-interest and which are not, which actions support his life and which do not -- this is what the science of ethics is all about. You must never fail to pass moral judgment, which just means: examine every action to determine whether it is beneficial to you. But pronouncing an action immoral doesn't necessarily condemn one for life or besmirch your character or brand you with a scarlet letter. It is a necessary part of being rational and remaining alive. It is an opportunity to correct one's course.

How does one discover "which actions are in his self interest," etc., without bothering to ask a store owner what he thinks of customers taking advantage of the policies he's offered them? How is passing judgement beneficial to anyone if the judgment is passed prior to asking if the business owner and customer have indeed "traded value for value," and prior to considering the possibility that those issuing condemnations might merely lack the knowledge, expereience or creativity to imagine ways in which the scenario may have been beneficial to both parties?

In short, I disagree with the "you must never fail to pass moral judgment" part. I think people should fail to pass moral judgments when they don't have enough information, imagination or life experiences to be making fair and informed moral judgments.

J

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In short, I disagree with the "you must never fail to pass moral judgment" part. I think people should fail to pass moral judgments when they don't have enough information, imagination or life experiences to be making fair and informed moral judgments.

A rational man will always examine the morality of his actions. If he doesn't have enough information, then that is still a judgement and he would properly be advised to get more information. So you might ask the store owner: "listen, I'm a student and I don't really have the money to keep these books so I would like to take them home, read them and then return them. Is that OK?" And if the store owner says yes, then go for it (this was covered in the first page or two of the thread). But it isn't proper to deceive yourself about the nature of a store or to defraud the store owner.

I don't think you should be using your "imagination" though, that just means you don't have enough information and again, you should ask.

But really, I think this is a pretty straight forward situation and in my experience stores are different from libraries and an honest person can tell which is which.

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I don't think you should be using your "imagination" though, that just means you don't have enough information and again, you should ask.

What I mean by using one's imagination is that if you're, say, a 24-year-old working in a cubicle, and you really don't have peer-level relationships with the people who make decisions for your or any other company, and therefore can't ask them what they think or feel about certain things and get candid responses, maybe it would be wise to use your imagination in considering that they probably know much more than you do about the consequences of their decisions, that they have much more knowledge about whether or not their policies are beneficial to them or not, and that asking yourself, "How might a company make money while having such a refunds policy?" might be a more productive approach than leaping to conclusions about others' morality.

But really, I think this is a pretty straight forward situation and in my experience stores are different from libraries and an honest person can tell which is which.

I have to wonder about people's levels of self-awareness here. I see a lot of comments (I'd even call some of them preaching) about what a "rational man" would do, or what an "honest person" would believe, or that "only an evader" would say or do such and such. Do you seriously think that style of argument is going to be effective? Do you not realize that it's generally going to be taken as an attempt to imply that your discussion opponent isn't rational, honest, etc., and that you think that you're infallible? Do you understand that it's likely to be seen as little more than a bluff and a lame attempt to intimidate?

I also have to wonder about people's senses of proportion. Next time that you see someone wolfing down a tray of freebies and it upsets you, I'd like to politely suggest that you consider options which might be a little more subtle and proportional than "immoral," "dishonest," "fraudulent," etc. For example, you might want to try "gauche," "uncultured," "ill-bred" or "coarse." We needn't always rush to the nuclear option. Doing so makes Objectivists look, er, gauche, uncultured, ill-bred or coarse.

J

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Putting forth a viewpoint on an interpretation of an aspect of Objectivism is the same as asking for unthinking authority? Do you have any evidence for the claim that I am attempting to "replace" others' thinking?

Yes, and I am glad to have the opportunity to explain. This thread has been essentially a discussion, at places sharpened into an argument, about how a particular commercial situation should be judged. All, or almost all the participants have given reasons why it is to be interpreted as proper or improper. Please note that "reasons" is not a normative term in this case. Reasons can persuade or convince or be found insufficient, etc. because they supply grounds for arriving at different conclusions.

In your post, however, reasons were conspicuously absent. Expressing your opinion, and calling that an "interpretation" doesn't substitute for reasoning. A person who enters an actual discussion and only expresses opinions (and I am glossing over the begged questions, etc. in this) is offering his view as if it were to be accepted on authority.

When it is done with a pious attitude, it is doubly insupportable.

Mindy

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