Let's say that I'm the owner of a bank that serves one million middle-class people. Also, let's say that each year, I make myself a birthday gift - I steal exactly one cent from each client's account, so that I have $10,000 in total. Would this act be considered immoral? From one point of view, taking a cent from a person that has hundreds or thousands of dollars on his or her account is technically stealing, though I wouldn't call that act immoral. In the end, on the other hand, you're left with $10,000, which is a pretty good "spare change". What do you think?

EDIT: I'm expecting to see an answer like this: "there are N main ethical systems considered in philosophy: under the ethical system 1, it is moral, under the ethical system 2 it is immoral, etc".

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    As an "answer" to your question I wish to contribute a comic. – iphigenie May 3 '14 at 14:51
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    This is too broad because there are too many moral systems to consider and each has different constructions based on the particular philosopher. A good answer would encompass a "great majority" of them, but this is unreasonable to ask in a single question. We like questions with a single real answer, not ones that act more like polls or generate extended discussion. Don't get me wrong, I think this is an interesting moral quandary, but it's best suited for chat. Can you narrow it down to a particular moral system? – stoicfury May 4 '14 at 0:56
  • Utilitarianism

    From a utilitarian (maximizing total benefit and reducing suffering or the negatives) point of view, you could argue that the one cent makes no difference to someone with $10000, while you benefit fairly significantly from all the one cents.

    But, in fact, it makes little difference (not no difference) to that person. If someone were to steal one cent one million times from that person, they'd be broke. If it truly made no difference, they wouldn't end up broke.

    Now it's unlikely that someone will have one cent stolen from them enough times to make a different to them, so the utilitarian argument isn't that particularly bad.

    However, if you were to break it down into stealing one cent at a time, it basically comes down to who has more money (although presumably how much money affects happiness / suffering as well). So, if you were poorer than them, you could make a fairly strong utilitarian argument for stealing from them (Robin Hood comes to mind).

  • Deontology

    Deontologically speaking (related to one's duties and others' rights), you could say they have a right to not have something stolen from them, and you have a duty not to steal.

  • Egoism

    Considering egoism (maximizes good for the self), you can also consider it right simply because you yourself end up better off.

    Then again, under some variation of this position, cold-blooded murder can also be justified.

There are also a few other positions one can consider.

  • @user132181 how old are you child? You can definitely steal i give you that right :) – Asphir Dom May 3 '14 at 16:54
  • @AsphirDom old enough :) – user132181 May 3 '14 at 16:59
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    I don't want to discourage you, but this is a misleading answer. The organization is weird, nowhere does it specify specific moral systems, and it barely scratches the surface of the question. "Utilitarianism" is a title that refers to a wide array of belief structures under the same name but with often critical differences (it is a consequentialist theory). "Deontology" is a category of moral systems even less specific than Utilitarianism; it is an alternative to consequentialism and shouldn't be on the same list level as the other two. – stoicfury May 4 '14 at 1:06

I disagree with krue's answer. That's not what the categorical imperative does, though the conclusion may be right.

The categorical imperative does not give licenses to others, it doesn't concern others, it's about verifying that your act is contradiction-free. Stealing that cent is not generalisable because that act, among other problems (e.g. stealing, see NotThatGuy's answer), reduces to absurdity the concept of a bank where you put your money, which is rightfully yours, to keep it safe. By definition an act that is not generalisable is, according to Kant, unethical.

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    Er, there's no Krue's answer any more. Can you make this a little more self-contained? – AndrewC Aug 22 '14 at 20:35

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