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If you could get away with stealing -- Help me answer my friend

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A friend messaged me this yesterday:


What do you think the #ethics are of keeping an Ammazzon package sent to a former occupant at my address (unknown to me)? If Ammazzon would eat it and send another, I have no qualms, but if the chump gets screwed because they clicked wrong addy I'd feel badly. (BTW, it's a Chromecast, which I really really want, and I know it's not expensive but bird in hand vs actually ordering one myself...)


My response:


I'm an objectivist. I believe there's objective moral value, and it relates to your rational self-interest. (Not hedonism. That would be self-interest without regard to rationalism.) So I think it's in your self-interest to try to return it to the owner or back to amazon if at all possible, because stealing is ultimately self-destructive. Now if I found some money on the ground and there were no possible way to know whom the real owner was or return it to the real owner, then I would't feel bad in the least about keeping it. It wouldn't be stealing if there was no way be sure whom the proper owner was and it just landed in your lap.


His reply:


Please explain -- I'm genuinely interested and not being smartass -- why in your ethos, absent retribution by payback-dispensing karma or commandment-enforcing deities, that stealing is self-destructive and not in self-interest. Common good sounds lefty to me.



I already responded to him further. But what would your answer to him be?

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I don't want to be stolen from and so I do not steal. How deep you get into it depends on how intellectual he wants to go, how much he is able to process now or later, and whether it's worth your time or if he is a type of person you think you can influence.

Sometimes I like I engage in these types of discussions just to refine my own ability to explain these things to different kinds of people.

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I would reply that the concept of karma (and, at least to some extent, the rule system of other religions) is very likely based in the observation that certain acts tend to have unpleasant consequences, and should therefor be considered immoral. While I don't assign a mystical explanation to that phenomenon, I do recognize that it exists, and that aspects of reality such as cause and effect and human nature (the fact that humans are rational) explain it very well.

The other point to make is that the very reason for Ethics is that its tenets are not immediately obvious. If it was immediately obvious that theft is bad for you, you wouldn't need Ethics. The full explanation on why theft is wrong is far too lengthy to explain via PM, and can only be fully understood in the context of Rand's entire philosophy (or at least a large part of it).

In other words, a rational morality requires more complex and rigorous study of reality than what the various prophets, priests and monks have bothered with, not less.

Edited by Nicky
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An attempt to distill a very short version:


We choose our actions.  We live in a complex web of consequences and relationships over a long period of time.  Our lives will be more successful the more we can account for those complexities in our choices.   Distillation from reality and consistent following of best practices in the form of principles to guide our choices increases our command over the scope of our lives.


We have to produce the material which sustains our lives.  If living together is to be life-serving we must mutually respect each others pursuit of life by not taking away the results of others' production.  Taking someone else's production is taking a piece of their life away from them.  No matter how small the instance of your violating this best practice, it puts you in conflict with the essential requirement for us all living together, if living is what we want to do.

Edited by Fawkes
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  • 3 weeks later...

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