Sign in to follow this  
Ed Hudgins

Is Theft Now Legal in Italy?

Recommended Posts

Is Theft Now Legal in Italy?
By Edward Hudgins

The Italian Supreme Court has ruled that stealing small amounts of food out of desperation “does not constitute a crime.” The adverse moral and political effects of this ruling will be large and downright criminal.

License to steal

The case concerned an impoverished Ukrainian immigrant who stole a few pieces of cheese and some sausages from a Genoese market. He was sentenced to six months in jail and a fine that he could not pay. One has visions of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables suffering as a state slave for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a hungry child. Who wouldn’t oppose such a miscarriage of justice?

Indeed, in the appeal, Italy’s high court decided that “The condition of the accused and the circumstances in which he obtained the merchandise show that he had taken the little amount of food he needed to overcome his immediate and essential requirement for nourishment." The court further added that “People should not be punished if, forced by need, they steal small quantities of food in order to meet the basic requirement of feeding themselves.”

This ruling leaves open many legal questions. Does it imply that the punishment didn’t fit the crime or does it imply that no crime was committed? Does it imply that anyone who steals and can make the case that they did so for some essential, immediate need must be found “not guilty?”

 

Ethics of emergencies

Ayn Rand sheds light on this case in her essay “The Ethics of Emergencies.” She explains that one must “differentiate between the rules of conduct in an emergency situation and the rules of conduct in the normal conditions of human existence. This does not mean a double standard of morality: the standard and the basic principles remain the same, but their application to either case requires precise definitions.”

Specifically, she observed that “An emergency is an unchosen, unexpected event, limited in time, that creates conditions under which human survival is impossible—such as a flood, an earthquake, a fire, a shipwreck.” In such situations, it’s morally permissible to do things to preserve one’s life that would not be moral under normal circumstances.

But there are crucial caveats. Rand explained that if ... (Continue reading here.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Ed Hudgins said:

Ethics of emergencies

Ayn Rand sheds light on this case in her essay “The Ethics of Emergencies.” She explains that one must “differentiate between the rules of conduct in an emergency situation and the rules of conduct in the normal conditions of human existence. This does not mean a double standard of morality: the standard and the basic principles remain the same, but their application to either case requires precise definitions.”

I'm not going to comment on the specific case of the man who stole food because he was hungry, but about Ayn Rand's theory of emergencies.

Ayn Rand's theory of emergencies is confusing: different rules apply but not a double standard?

I have a different theory of emergencies.

An emergency seems to involve a conflict of principles. Perhaps Ayn Rand refused to believe that there could be such a thing as a conflict of principles, and perhaps that is why she had difficulty with emergencies. If a principle of  ethics is something absolute like a theorem in geometry is absolute and a law of physics is absolute, then there can't be any such thing as a conflict of principles of ethics any more than a conflict between 2 theorems in geometry or 2 laws of physics.

But what if a principle of ethics resembles a principle of strategy in chess? Everyone who is familiar with the game of chess knows that it abounds in principles of strategy, but these are seldom or never absolute and sometimes they are in conflict and grandmasters and chess engines frequently correctly violate them. What do you do when you encounter a conflict of 2 principles? Very simple. You go with the more important one.

Imagine someone is drowning and the only way to save this person is to steal a nearby boat. You have a conflict of principles: save someone from drowning vs respect the property of the boat owner. Which is the more important principle?

Suppose you respect property and let the guy drown. Later the owner of the boat says: You @#$%^&!! Why didn't you take the boat and save him?

Suppose you steal the boat (disrespecting property) and rescue the guy. You plan to return the boat and apologize and pay for the use of the boat or whatever. The owner of the boat says you did the right thing.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'd argue that Rand is saying, correctly, that all principles must be applied in the full context of the facts on the ground. All principles assume a certain context. This is how an Objectivist view of ethics differs from an intrinsicist view or a subjectivist view.

The context of the principle of private property is that individuals 1) have a right to their own lives, which means 2) a right to act to preserve their lives, which means 3) a right to secure and utilize the materials in the world necessary for survival, which means 4) in a social context  trading for one's own benefit with others based on mutual consent, each respecting the property of others, which 5) assumes all individuals have the capacity in a free society to produce enough to survive and prosper a some level.

But in an emergency, life, the basis of all value, is threatened because one cannot survive by doing 3) and 4).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, jts said:

I'm not going to comment on the specific case of the man who stole food because he was hungry, but about Ayn Rand's theory of emergencies.

Ayn Rand's theory of emergencies is confusing: different rules apply but not a double standard?

I have a different theory of emergencies.

An emergency seems to involve a conflict of principles. Perhaps Ayn Rand refused to believe that there could be such a thing as a conflict of principles, and perhaps that is why she had difficulty with emergencies. If a principle of  ethics is something absolute like a theorem in geometry is absolute and a law of physics is absolute, then there can't be any such thing as a conflict of principles of ethics any more than a conflict between 2 theorems in geometry or 2 laws of physics.

But what if a principle of ethics resembles a principle of strategy in chess? Everyone who is familiar with the game of chess knows that it abounds in principles of strategy, but these are seldom or never absolute and sometimes they are in conflict and grandmasters and chess engines frequently correctly violate them. What do you do when you encounter a conflict of 2 principles? Very simple. You go with the more important one.

Imagine someone is drowning and the only way to save this person is to steal a nearby boat. You have a conflict of principles: save someone from drowning vs respect the property of the boat owner. Which is the more important principle?

Suppose you respect property and let the guy drown. Later the owner of the boat says: You @#$%^&!! Why didn't you take the boat and save him?

Suppose you steal the boat (disrespecting property) and rescue the guy. You plan to return the boat and apologize and pay for the use of the boat or whatever. The owner of the boat says you did the right thing.

This is pretty good, Jerry. I think, however, that psychology and empathy trump philosophy--that is to say, you grab the damn boat. You don't stand there and have a discussion. In that context the boat being available could be considered a public asset, especially if just sitting there. This is kind of like one's swimming pool being an attractive nuisance to children. It might be proper to legally require certain such pools be fenced and gated. I would go so far to take the boat even if the owner was standing there objecting. (Could such a jerk exist?) I'd even knock him down. Why? Because we are now at war. I'm not going to stand there, let him keep his boat and let someone drown. I'm going to fight. If he wins that fight and drowning results, I wont be the only one who'll be coming back later and to kill that SOB.

Nathaniel Branden once said in response to the question, "What would you do if someone raped and killed your wife?": "I'd kill him." (I heard this.) Did he consult Objectivism? Did he spin a few paragraphs of rationalizations? Nope. When philosophy breaks down the psychology is still there. Essentially that's what happens with "The ethics of emergencies." The "ethics" are used subsequent to the action to justify what happened, aka rationalization. Philosophy is a human invention put into the head like the pre-frontal cortex is layered onto the more primitive brain. It has it uses and limitations. Psychology is biology.

--Brant

Rand had this all backwards; she put philosophy as more important than psychology (which she denigrated), hence all this ratiocinated confusion with "intrinsicism" and "subjectivism" and "context"--everything has a context--and an "ethics of emergencies" when the "ethics" is psychological forced into the philosophical traducing two contexts supporting neither

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Our psychological capacities and many tendencies are programmed in us by evolution. But we need to question them with philosophy. For example, tribalism probably helped our survival value 100,000 years ago. Someone who looked radically different from members of your tribe probably did want to bash you in the head and take you stuff. But we judge that an instinct to make fun of skin color of eye shape is morally wrong. In some cases, psychological propensity lines up well with philosophy. If anyone threatened by wife and kids, they might well find themselves dead, and good riddance. In most cases empathy and philosophy line up. I'd grab the boat as well. But the empathy that drives many to support the welfare state is out of context.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this