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January 9, 2017 / Congau

Stealing Is Not Always Wrong

Is stealing ethical, if carried out in order to feed a starving family?

Ethics should not be a list of unexplained principles. For every single act one should be able to state why it is right or wrong. The principles are only there to facilitate a quicker explanation by pointing out that cases that look similar may indeed have a similar moral value. But also they may not. Stealing may not be just stealing.

It is probably useful to ask oneself that very basic question: Why be ethical at all? And the answer should be: Because you don’t want to be the cause of other people’s suffering. It all goes back to that and all principles should be derived from that.

Now the principle against stealing has of course the same origin. Theft causes suffering for the person who loses his property. But if there is a case when not stealing causes more suffering than stealing, the principle loses its purpose.

A moral principle is a dangerous thing if it makes us go morally blind. It is possible to commit terrible acts by sticking to rules that were meant to do good in another context.

It would indeed be an act of extreme cruelty to let a family die of starvation if access to food, even stolen food, was ready at hand, but a fanatic adherence to principle may in fact produce such perverted results. If it is then admitted that strict rules cannot regulate moral conduct, one may realize that even less radical moral dilemmas must be treated as unique cases.

Sometimes it’s necessary to steal if we are to behave ethically.

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