Why Theft is Neither Ethical Nor Practical
January 13, 2009 by Paul McKeever
The first part of the course addresses the challenge that the egoist (sometimes called the amoralist) poses for moral philosophy…The egoist is a person who doesn’t care about morality – all the egoist cares about is his or her own advantage and happiness, and he or she will be prepared to break any of our standard moral rules in order to secure it- just as long, that is, as he or she can get away with it.
…if I do decide to argue for egoism in that seminar, I know someone is going to ask something like: “Wouldn’t it be in your interests to steal, so don’t we need rights as a way of limiting peoples self interest, or everyone would be stealing and civilization would collapse”, so I’m going to have to make sure I fully understand why it’s not in someones rational self interest to violate peoples rights, to counter that argument. I’ll probably re-read a few chapters of [Ayn Rand's book, The Virtue of Selfishness] and [her book Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal] to make sure I fully understand my arguments.
A year or more ago, I was discussing the ethics of theft with a student of Objectivism. I was surprised to hear him opine that theft is wrong because, for example, one might get caught and spend years in prison. However, one might, alternatively, never go to prison. One might be very good at not getting caught. And it is not the case that the virtuousness or viciousness of theft depends upon the skill of the thief. Neither is efficacy the same as practicality.
Accordingly, I gave to Tom a response similar to that which I gave to the aforementioned student of Objectivism:
Do not make the mistake of making such arguments as “you might get caught and have to spend life in jail”. Though true, that is not essential. The essential point is that, when you attempt to make theft your method of continuing to exist, you make yourself dependent upon the production of others: you cannot steal what someone else has not produced. By neglecting rational production, you make yourself akin to a helpless baby, begging for a teat.
Thievery is not a mode of survival. It is the surrender of your fate to others. Moreover, because thievery entails a neglect of earning, happiness – not the alleviation of sadness, but happiness – cannot be obtained.