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Is there evidence that stealing makes one less happy?

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There seem to be objectivists who say it's not in a man's self-interest to steal (and therefore immoral, according to the objectivist).

In my subjective experience, it has held true that a sense of accomplishment is a remarkable feeling that cannot be replaced by other fraudulent feelings. I mentioned this idea to someone and he raised an interesting question I could not answer. He said a Christian could say he or she experiences something subjectively and this would not be good enough evidence to support the divinity of Jesus.

Is the belief that stealing makes everyone less happy than earning based on subjective whims? Do you have any objective evidence I can pass along to my friend? Are there fMRI-based studies or anything?

Edited by brian0918
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Is the belief that stealing makes everyone less happy than earning based on subjective whims? Do you have any objective evidence I can pass along to my friend? Are there fMRI-based studies or anything?

The Objectivist case against theft isn't made primarily on the basis of a "sense of accomplishment" coming from earning your money. After all, people can end up programming their emotions to feel pride at doing some pretty awful things. The case against theft can be made much more strongly on more solid, objective grounds.

As a general rule, I am going to be able to gain much more value in life by working and producing than by stealing. If I engage in theft, I may get a few bucks from it here and there, but by and large I'm going to be able to support myself much better by having a legitimate job and working hard. As a generalization, it is the case that production is a more fundamental and reliable way to gain values than theft. Think of how many millionaires there are in America, and how many of them got that way through being businessmen rather than being thieves. Living one's life by production is a much better long-term plan than living by theft.

So, if we accept that my primary mode of supporting my life should be production, it's in my best interest to build my own character in ways that help me to do that. My character can be thought of as a gut level orientation to solving life's challenges in a certain way. In this case, I want to act in ways which build up a productive character. I want it to be (relatively) easy for me to do work. I want to always be looking for opportunities to be more productive, not looking for opportunities to avoid work. Being this way will make my life much easier and enable me to be much happier. But the only way to build this kind of character is to consistently take responsibility for earning what I want. Every time I try to get away with something that I haven't earned, I'm training myself and my subconscious to avoid attempts to earn values whenever possible. That's not going to be good for me in the long run, because earning values is a much better general plan than taking them unearned. Even if I could get away with stealing something scot-free in this particular instance, it still wouldn't be in my self-interest to steal it, because I need to think about the longer-term consequences of my actions on myself. A strong character, oriented towards earning what I want, is one of the most valuable assets I could have in life; it's certainly worth much more than snatching a few bucks here and there.

To tie this discussion back to your particular question a little better, I think (from the above argument) that it's possible to demonstrate that being the kind of person who values a sense of accomplishment is objectively better for you than being the kind of person who values squeaking by and taking as much as possible without earning it. From this, someone who ties morality to rational self-interest can maintain that theft is, in the course of ordinary life, immoral.

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Nope, but he does.

obama_wideweb__470x418,0.jpg

Let's not visualize the teenagers shoplifting or gang members hijacking cars while forgetting about legalized theft.

Here's how you should look at it: what caused America to elect an altruist is the fact that almost everyone's an altruist. In other words, most of the victims are not only sanctioning the theft, they are demanding it. And they aren't happier for it, in fact the state of the country is a perfectly objective argument against Americans' choice of Ethics (including Obama's).

But what caused Obama in particular to become President is not that he's a bigger altruist than everyone else, it's the fact that he's a well spoken altruist (with good timing, a little luck, and probably a pretty good work ethic - although I don't know that for sure). Even in a messed up world, altruism is not enough to cause people to gain anything. The leader of the lunatics still has to have some kind of actual virtues that make him king of the asylum.

So Obama is happy because of his abilities (which he had to have worked on), not because of his faulty Ethics which is destroying the country. But of course, his faults will eventually catch up with him, and he will no doubt be remembered as one of the worst Presidents in history. That's not something he will be happy about ten or twenty years from now.

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As a general rule, I am going to be able to gain much more value in life by working and producing than by stealing.

You will personally gain more or everyone will? If you just mean yourself, that's subjective. If the rule is generally applicable to people and there are exceptions, that is called intersubjectivity, not objectivity. Are you suggesting that there are no people who benefit more from a combination of work and theft than work alone?

As a generalization, it is the case that production is a more fundamental and reliable way to gain values than theft.

If it's just a general rule and it's only true for some people, that's intersubjective.

I really want you to be right because I am frustrated when people use relativism to try and justify China's government. I'd like for it to be the case that you can derive a morality based on hard evidence/reason. Where am I going wrong here?

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You will personally gain more or everyone will? If you just mean yourself, that's subjective. If the rule is generally applicable to people and there are exceptions, that is called intersubjectivity, not objectivity. Are you suggesting that there are no people who benefit more from a combination of work and theft than work alone?

Here I am speaking of physical, monetary value. I'm not making any statements about subjective mental or emotional value. Plainly, attempting to live by leeching off of others just isn't a good gamble to make when trying to determine a way of supporting yourself financially. You're going to have to be productive in your life in order to live and be secure financially, so doing things (like stealing) that make real productivity harder for you isn't actually a good idea, regardless of how it makes you feel and whether you think you get emotional value from it.

Edited by Dante
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You will personally gain more or everyone will? If you just mean yourself, that's subjective. If the rule is generally applicable to people and there are exceptions, that is called intersubjectivity, not objectivity. Are you suggesting that there are no people who benefit more from a combination of work and theft than work alone?

There are. However, that's due to either the sanction of many of their victims (in the case of those who benefit from institutionalized theft), or out of an unusual amount of luck. Either way, it is not true that their chosen morality offers a path to happiness the way an honest, rational morality does.

Bringing the few people who are lucky enough to escape the consequences of theft as proof that it leads to happiness is like bringing lottery winners as proof that sitting at home watching TV and playing the lottery is a good way to become a millionaire. In both cases, you are ignoring the overwhelming evidence against your hypothesis (the millions who subscribe to the same Ethics and are failing because of it), in favor of some hand-picked examples. It is not a logical way to generalize (It's called the fallacy of unrepresentative sample).

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These arguments have been egoist-based, which of course is the fundamental Objectivist position on ethics, and, here, specifically the immorality of theft.

As a secondary position, I'm thinking that

1. theft is a contradiction of the principle of non-initiation of force;

2. It obviously contradicts 'value for value', and therefore, the Trader Principle.(A bit weak, this one.:( )

3. Theft is altruistic. - i.e., it's 'other-based', in its creation of a victim, feeding off the victim, and lasting dependency on him(or, one like him.)

To the OP, 'determinist', I cannot offer any "evidence" as such, but only self-evidence - which should not be confused with subjectivity.

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There seem to be objectivists who say it's not in a man's self-interest to steal (and therefore immoral, according to the objectivist).

In my subjective experience, it has held true that a sense of accomplishment is a remarkable feeling that cannot be replaced by other fraudulent feelings. I mentioned this idea to someone and he raised an interesting question I could not answer. He said a Christian could say he or she experiences something subjectively and this would not be good enough evidence to support the divinity of Jesus.

Is the belief that stealing makes everyone less happy than earning based on subjective whims? Do you have any objective evidence I can pass along to my friend? Are there fMRI-based studies or anything?

It's not a belief it's a theory. Sorry, we don't have scientific evidence that stealing makes one less happy, just some empiriral data that seems to show that stealing makes one miserable on the long term. You must have confused the name of this Philosophy with some imaginary claim that its students, or its founder, are omniscient; but the name derives from the bigger theory that this is an objective universe,, that existence existence, from which all other theories and principles derive.

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Are there fMRI-based studies or anything?
I realize this is an aside, but just because some "pleasure center" lights up in the brain, does not mean we have identified a cause that is more "natural". If by happiness we mean a point-in-time state, then such techniques might end up giving us a more objective way of measuring the point-in-time state of a person than asking, "On a scale from 1 to 10, from sad to elated, how to do feel at this moment?" However, that is not what Objectivism holds as an appropriate goal, nor does it tell us that the brain-structure that is the immediate cause is not self-made after all. Edited by softwareNerd
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It's not a belief it's a theory. Sorry, we don't have scientific evidence that stealing makes one less happy, just some empiriral data that seems to show that stealing makes one miserable on the long term

Volco, where/what is the emprical data you were speaking of when you posted that? Thanks.

Edited by determinist
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Volco, where/what is the emprical data you were speaking of when you posted that? Thanks.

When seaking Objectivism, I understand it is against theft because it violates another individual's personal space, undermining any chance of a livable tolerable society. "Morality aside", theft leads to a society where the thief has to constantly be aware of himself not being a victim, and trust is reduced to zero. No wealth is produced and eventually there's nothing good for the thief to steal, making him unhappy (if a dirty conscience, a lack of self respect and its ramifications haven't achieved that yet)

The empirical evidence for this is that societies where levels of both legal and illegal theft (high crime and high taxes, like Cameroon) are not very happy ones, but that's subjective, I'd guess.

My conception of happiness is where I am wealthy, healhty, and live long enough to make the most of myself in cooperation with and freedom from other people.

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.

My conception of happiness is where I am wealthy, healhty, and live long enough to make the most of myself in cooperation with and freedom from other people.

That's the point, volco.

Happiness is the result of a rational life.

There may be, exceptionally, rationality without happiness, but no happiness can emerge without rationality.

Stealing is irrational. Therefore, it cannot bring happiness.

What stealing sometimes bring to some people is pleasure... Some sort of it.

But in Objectivism pleasure is neither the standard of morality nor our ultimate goal.

The question "Is there evidence that stealing makes one less happy?" can be rendered as "Is there evidence that acting irrationally makes one less likely to get the reward of rationality?"

A no-brainer...

Edited by Hotu Matua
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That's the point, volco.

Happiness is the result of a rational life.

There may be, exceptionally, rationality without happiness, but no happiness can emerge without rationality.

Stealing is irrational. Therefore, it cannot bring happiness.

What stealing sometimes bring to some people is pleasure... Some sort of it.

But in Objectivism pleasure is neither the standard of morality nor our ultimate goal.

The question "Is there evidence that stealing makes one less happy?" can be rendered as "Is there evidence that acting irrationally makes one less likely to get the reward of rationality?"

A no-brainer...

You are correct, but the original thread question is a no brainer either. That's a characteristic of Objectivism, many of its points are Common SENSE (what Ayn Rand in FTNI called the default moral code of the intellectually orphan bizman).

Before someone who nicks himself "Determinist" (like with the Relativists) I am brought to have to defend the obvious. The word Reason can become a "Joker Card" and the argument becomes a circle.

In the case of something as apparently subjective and temporal as feeling happy, one can't reduce it to reason. The question could also be rendered "Is there evidence that stealing (aka breaking just rules or profiting from legal crimes) leads to a satisfied life?"

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In response to Hotu Matua:

Happiness is the result of a rational life.

There may be, exceptionally, rationality without happiness, but no happiness can emerge without rationality.

Stealing is irrational. Therefore, it cannot bring happiness.

What stealing sometimes bring to some people is pleasure... Some sort of it.

But in Objectivism pleasure is neither the standard of morality nor our ultimate goal.

Stealing is irrational? Are you saying it's irrational because it's not in one's self-interest? Why did you say that stealing is irrational?

The question "Is there evidence that stealing makes one less happy?" can be rendered as "Is there evidence that acting irrationally makes one less likely to get the reward of rationality?"

A no-brainer...

Again, this rests on the assumption that stealing is irrational. Why is stealing irrational? How do you know that stealing is irrational?

You could call it an axiom or "no-brainer" but we both know that Ayn Rand was only in favor of a single axiom, the law of identity.

In response to Volco:

In the case of something as apparently subjective and temporal as feeling happy, one can't reduce it to reason.

Happiness cannot be reduced to reason? What is self-interest? Isn't acting in self-interest a person doing that which makes himself or herself happy?

If not, what is it? Is it what you call a person acting in ways that it best helps his or her survival? Is the replication, propagation, and maintenance of an individual's allele sequences survival?

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If not, what is it? Is it what you call a person acting in ways that it best helps his or her survival? Is the replication, propagation, and maintenance of an individual's allele sequences survival?

No, replication or propagation is not survival of an individual animal, whether it be an ant, a shark, or a human. Self-interest is what best helps survival in the long-run, but that does not mean survival as such; it does not mean maximizing heartbeats. Survival means flourishing. Basically, while it may be possible to be happy for a short amount of time after stealing, what is required of stealing, both psychologically and materially, will be damaging to you in the long-run. A certain amount of evasion is required to steal, since you would be implicitly declaring you do not care that someone took time to acquire a value. There is an attempt to overlook the benefits of trade, such as establishing trust, establishing interpersonal relations that may benefit your life, etc. More importantly, you would be ignoring just how the use of force is an impossible way to interact in a social environment. The sort of outlook on life required of you to choose to steal is a very damaging one, because it requires evading facts. As all people are conceptual creatures, human flourishing relies upon a wide amount of knowledge, and no facts can be ignored.

Edited by Eiuol
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Yes I agree with Eiuol and his "ignoring facts of reality".

Rational self interest is certainly long-term, rather than quick-fix.

I am however surprised that no one has taken up my proposal that thieving is ultimately altruist.

Altruism covers more 'sins' than is generally accepted. Just because it seems counter-intuitive ie., TAKING from another person, not giving, does not preclude fundamental altruism.

The thief desperately needs other people - their values, honest effort, and wealth, to survive.

He is without doubt, a second-hander, which is a subset of over-concern with others, whch is in turn, altruist.

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What is self-interest?

Excellent question. Living without trying to answer that one would be pretty silly. Of course, Ayn Rand's answer is quite complex (because human existence can be both diverse and complicated, so a complete answer is as well), but you can read these quotes to get yourself started on it:

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/self-interest.html

At the bottom of the page, there are links to more quotes, explaining other terms used. Eventually, curiosity will hopefully prompt you to purchase the books the quotes are from, and read them as well, for better understanding of what Ayn Rand's philosophy is.

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Excellent question. Living without trying to answer that one would be pretty silly. Of course, Ayn Rand's answer is quite complex (because human existence can be both diverse and complicated, so a complete answer is as well), but you can read these quotes to get yourself started on it:

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/self-interest.html

At the bottom of the page, there are links to more quotes, explaining other terms used. Eventually, curiosity will hopefully prompt you to purchase the books the quotes are from, and read them as well, for better understanding of what Ayn Rand's philosophy is.

I'm reading Philosophy: Who Needs It? right now, so understanding Ayn Rand's philosophy is already a work in progress. Since I read "Man's Rights" from The Virtue of Selfishness, I've been absolutely fascinated by Rand.

A general reply to some of the recent posts:

I'm not sure where mentions of the short-term/long-term self-interest dichotomy came from. I have zero doubt that seeking temporary, instant gratification does not equate to acting in self-interest. I understand that people are saying theft is only a quick-fix and is not truly in long-term self-interest. However, from the start of the thread, support for that particular claim has been my only focus. I want to accept it but it leaves me with questions. For example, is it really logical to make the generalization that absolutely anyone attains less happiness because he or she steals? If so, what (specifically) is your basis for that position? Do you think that because you personally feel better by earning things without theft, this is sufficient evidence that everyone else's brain works the same way? If not, then what is your substance backing such a position? Merely stating that it's obvious, a no-brainer, or otherwise communicating/sub-communicating it's axiomatic fails to provide an argument for the position. Also, merely repeating what the position is also fails to support it.

If you (any reader) concede that theft is even rarely in a person's self-interest, and that the basis for behaving morally is doing what's in one's self-interest, then it would logically follow that sometimes stealing is moral. That would obviously be a problem for objectivism. This is why it's so important to have a solid argument to support the claim.

(Side note: My forum reputation has decreased 2 points since I started this thread. Considering I want objectivists to be correct and I posted the thread hoping to refute a moral relativist, it's sad my reputation was attacked. Most scientists I know love when I ask them questions because they're eager to share their logic. I am surprised it's not the same deal with this thread. Interesting.)

Edited by determinist
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Why is stealing irrational?

Because it falsy denies your ability to use your mind to generate the goods for your own survival.

Your ability to produce, exchange, trade.

Your ability, in one word, to live as a man.

When a person steals he is acting as the beast he is not, therefore living a contradiction.

To be rational is to live according to one's nature, which, in the case of men, involves self-sufficiency, productiveness and ability to cooperate with, not predate, other men.

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I'm reading Philosophy: Who Needs It? right now, so understanding Ayn Rand's philosophy is already a work in progress. Since I read "Man's Rights" from The Virtue of Selfishness, I've been absolutely fascinated by Rand.

...

If you (any reader) concede that theft is even rarely in a person's self-interest, and that the basis for behaving morally is doing what's in one's self-interest, then it would logically follow that sometimes stealing is moral. That would obviously be a problem for objectivism. This is why it's so important to have a solid argument to support the claim.

That's awesome that you're reading all of Ayn Rand's non-fiction, it should really clear up a lot of your questions.

What you are missing, however, is that no rational person's self-interest would support stealing. Someone who is rational would realize that stealing is a violation of the rights of the person you are stealing from. Self-interest does not mean do whatever you want.

Edit: Here's a quote from Rand:

The recognition of individual rights entails the banishment of physical force from human relationships: basically, rights can be violated only by means of force. In a capitalist society, no man or group may initiate the use of physical force against others.
Edited by OCSL
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....is it really logical to make the generalization that absolutely anyone attains less happiness because he or she steals? If so, what (specifically) is your basis for that position? Do you think that because you personally feel better by earning things without theft, this is sufficient evidence that everyone else's brain works the same way? If not, then what is your substance backing such a position?

The opposition to stealing based on one's self-interest simply cannot be tied to some neurological measure of happiness. It is perfectly possible for someone to get pure pleasure out of an act of theft. Rather, as I have stated earlier in the thread, the Objectivist argument against theft is based on the objective, long-term consequences to one's potential for happiness that come out of trying to gain physical values through theft. Doing so undermines your main form of gaining material values, which is production. Stealing undermines your potential to sustain a high level of happiness throughout your lifetime. In order to get the case against stealing, or living through dependence on others in general, you really have to long at how acting like that affects your long-term happiness potential.

If you (any reader) concede that theft is even rarely in a person's self-interest, and that the basis for behaving morally is doing what's in one's self-interest, then it would logically follow that sometimes stealing is moral. That would obviously be a problem for objectivism. This is why it's so important to have a solid argument to support the claim.

It is true that there are occasions where I can be pretty darn sure that I can get away with theft without being caught. However, it does not follow that in these rare cases, theft is in my self-interest. As I have argued previously, this is due to the fact that every action I take impacts my character. A "prudent predator" policy of gaining from theft whenever I can probably get away with it isn't actually in my self-interest, because it leads to a weaker character, and therefore makes my life harder in those situations when I must earn what I need.

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