Universal Ethics > Wise Choices > Index > Stealing


Stealing is unethical.

A typical wish

"I would like to live in a world where the things I have worked to obtain or produce are safe from theft."

This supports the ideals of Industriousness and Fairness.

Making the Wish come true

Each person may vote to make the wish come true by respecting the property of others, so that they do not take it without the owner's consent.

What exceptions may there be?

If you obtain stolen property from someone, even though you have that person's consent, it is not ethical to take it. That's because it wasn't that person's property to give you in the first place.

Societies define rules for what is considered to be "legitimate" property ownership. In general, the rules are designed so that people will be able to keep the product of their labour. Often there are multiple people involved in producing something, so there needs to be fairness in how the rewards of work are allocated.

Therefore, property obtained or produced via the use of slave labour is not "legitimate ownership" because slavery is unethical. Similarly, if unethical bargaining practies are used so that some of the people who produced the product are not appropriately compensated, the person who possesses the product of their shared labour is not necessarily the legitimate owner.

A person's ability to produce or obtain property also depends indirectly on other things: the person may have been given the prerequisite knowledge to produce it via their school education as a child. Their factory or workplace may benefit from police and fire protection. Their ability to get to the workplace may depend on roads that were built by society, and their ability to transport the product may depend on that same infrastructure. Therefore, when producing the product, it may be reasonable to expect that person to pay taxes, in order to compensate society somewhat for their contribution to the success.

In general, a person is considered to be a legitimate owner of property if they obtained it according to the rules that have been set forth within the society, where the rules have the general agreement of the members of the society.

If one obtains property from the legitimate owner without the consent of that owner, that is considered to be "stealing" and it is an unethical practice.

If one obtains property from an illegitimate owner without consent, however, that would be acceptable if the person taking it is an authorized officer of the society who is following a fair and impartial process for restoring the property to its rightful owner.

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