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chicoflaco
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If a person finds something valuable (say over $1000 like a nice camera) but it was found in a public place -- with no obvious owner in sight, does he or she have to try and make an effort to find its owner? Say a receipt was in the bag, or a phone number or a name. I know what Ayn Rand thinks about found objects in public places (not stealing), but is a person morally obligated to at least try to contact the original owner if he or she thinks they can locate him/her? :thumbsup:

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Here's an example of a law on the subject. From Neb. Rev. Stat. 28-514:

"A person who comes into control of property of another that he or she knows to have been lost [or] mislaid . . . commits theft if, with intent to deprive the owner thereof, he or she fails to take reasonable measures to restore the property to a person entitled to have it."

Morally, I think the reasonable measures requirement makes sense. What value is there to you to getting something nice when you didn't earn it and you know it has an owner? Sure, there's value in claiming unclaimed items--somebody has to claim it and make it property. But where the circumstances are such that you should doubt whether the property has been abandoned, I say it's immoral to claim it as your own without first trying to find the owner. This is easy to see when you use an extreme example of "public place." Say there's a piece of lawn furniture that obviously made its way on to the street in front of a house by a fierce gust of wind. Can you morally take that furniture? If no, why not? I say the principle should be whether you have reason to doubt that the property has been abandoned.

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I say the principle should be whether you have reason to doubt that the property has been abandoned.
I agree that that's a relevant principle, but let me take the fishing float problem. Back in the old days, Japanese fishermen would use blown glass floats on their nets, which would break loose and wash ashore. They are kind of valuable and I have good reason to think that the owner had not really abandoned the float, but at the same time I don't think that he is cruising up and down the coast looking for his lost floats. A reasonable person would conclude that the floats are hopelessly lost, and that there is no chance of returning them to the owner, even if the owner is scouring the beaches at this very moment. However, one little variation on the float could make a huge difference: an owner's label of some sort.

Now translate this into a modern common event -- lost dogs. Generally speaking, you have every reason to believe that the owner is actively searching for that dog and wants to reclaim his property. But dogs can wander quite a distance, and the owner may have no reasonable chance of recovering his dog, and it would not be a good thing for everybody to shun the poor mutt and leave him to starve because he was stupid enough to wander away. If you combine "reason to consider abandoned" with "reasonable efforts to return to owner", then I think you have a good policy for dealing with lost items.

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If you combine "reason to consider abandoned" with "reasonable efforts to return to owner", then I think you have a good policy for dealing with lost items.

Yes, I see that I mistakenly suggested that "reason to consider abandoned" would be the only principle, which is clearly dumb. As for your lost dog example (a very good one, I might add), look at that statute I quoted. In particular, note that it requires "intent to deprive the owner thereof." Under that statute, I think somebody who took care of the dog but fully intended to give it back if/when the owner was located would not have intended to deprive the owner of the dog, and thus (rightly) would not be guilty of theft.

There's plenty more to address in our glorious posts, but I now must get back to my regularly scheduled program (reviewing my notes on revocation of wills).

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Under that statute, I think somebody who took care of the dog but fully intended to give it back if/when the owner was located would not have intended to deprive the owner of the dog, and thus (rightly) would not be guilty of theft.
Have fun studying up on how to cheat widows out of their inheritance. The thing is, my boys are lost pound hounds, and I don't intend to give them back to the original owners if they show up and can prove ownership. Of course I will do so if order to by a court, but I won't voluntarily give them up. I believe in a version of the rules "finder-keepers" and "possession is 9/10's of the law". (It's also true that possession accounts for 9/10th of the convictions, but that's a separate thread).
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