I have a moral dilemma. A large expensive item was purchased from Amazon. Being damaged on delivery, it was sent back, and Amazon ordered a replacement at no additional charge.

After considerable time the replacement arrived, but only part of it. Delivery comes in two boxes. Because the portion received was good, and it took so long to get the replacement, I told Amazon I wanted to contact the shipper, which I did, and the rest of the item was sent. Unfortunately, content of the second shipment was damaged and was returned on arrival.

Amazon ordered yet another replacement at no charge. Surprisingly, the order was filled very fast, was undamaged, and I began using it, happily. Amazon was notified of the undamaged partial order still on hand and sent a truck to pick it up.

I paid for the item one time and have one of the item. Today I received an email from Amazon saying they have processed a refund for the original order, but subtracted a few hundred dollars for shipping and restocking.

My question is: Should I advise Amazon the refund is not correct, referencing the order numbers, and what was paid for each order? Please provide reasoning for the answer.

It was difficult throughout the process, talking to different people and getting them to relate the orders properly. This might not affect whether the money should be kept, pursuant to answers given to the question.

  • Perhaps not an argument, but I doubt that at Amazon they have much ethical worries in their policy (nor will they be so impressed by your ethical behaviour that they'll begin to have some) and I doubt they're in need of the money. So much less reasons to refund them. Jan 20, 2015 at 2:45
  • 1
    You have a point, but, I don't think whether Amazon needs the money, or is an ethical company, should affect my opinion on what is right. But that still does not say whether I should keep the money. Jan 20, 2015 at 3:07
  • Can you express the value of the thing in question here. I believe it's material whether we're talking about a $2 purchase or a $20,000 purchase.
    – virmaior
    Jan 20, 2015 at 3:47
  • To me the amount has no bearing, but for the sake of fairness to others who need to know to construct an argument it was $2100. I have yet to make up my mind on this, by the way. Jan 20, 2015 at 3:58
  • Was/Is the inconvenience to you worth close to $2100?
    – cHao
    Jan 20, 2015 at 5:48

3 Answers 3


If you have any doubt at all about whether you owe them money, you should alert them to that doubt. I think there are two reasons, one legal the other moral.

Amazon may be responsible for sorting out whether you owe them money, but it is a bad idea to put yourself in the position where you might get involved with the courts in any capacity. You know that you may owe them some money. In addition, you have admitted this in public. You may be in a very dangerous position, even if you are technically not guilty of anything for which you could be prosecuted or sued. The courts are not pleasant, they are not quick, they are expensive. The reason for this is that government officials have extremely limited accountability, so they do not have to make any effort at all to make your life easy. You should not want to get involved with them unless it is absolutely unavoidable.

The moral reason is that what you are doing is dishonest by your own admission. It is a bad idea to take an action of which you have a criticism because it is irrational to do so.

I will address some of your comments on other posts. You said that:

Ayn Rand says values /should/ be reasonable, but still even she does not say they are reasonable.

The Objectivist position is that it is rational to act according to correct moral standards. Some people may be irrational, but that does not make what they do right. You continue:

But what we are valuing in this regard is reason. How can reason give us values when we value reason? Makes no sense. Simplest is to accept values exist in an unqualified fashion, then begin working on our values through reason. But still it is reason we value.

Neither values nor any other knowledge are derived from anything. Any purported derivation relies on premises and rules of inference that could be in error. Rather, knowledge is created by noticing a problem with current knowledge, proposing solutions to that problem, criticising the solutions until only one is left and it has no outstanding problems. See "Realism and the Aim of Science" by Karl Popper, Chapter I and "The Beginning of Infinity" by David Deutsch.

Another comment:

I gave this an up vote because it answers my question, should I, and why. It is somewhat of a realist black and white perspective, but that is also a common way of thinking and fair to be represented. I am a relativist, which means I think values are contextual, but I also recognize we do have values, regardless how we came to have them.

Saying that values are contextual and that they are relative is not the same. If I kill somebody for eating a bag of crisps while he is sitting next to me that is wrong. If I kill somebody who is actively to murder me, that may not be wrong. So whether killing is right is contextual, as is knowledge in general, see "Understanding Objectivism" by Peikoff, Lecture 2. And morality is black and white, see:


  • I selected this answer because it consolidates self interest and morality: self interest regarding safety from civil proceedings, and morality regarding valuations we have, or how we construct morality. I did not mean to imply I'm an objectivist, which I thought of later. Mentioning Rand has a way of immediately changing the dynamic of a discussion to realism! I mentioned her because of the extent to which she attempts to join morality and reason, the which I do not agree with because I am not objectivist nor realist. About contextuality, I see it as underlying everything, that all ..... Jan 22, 2015 at 18:13
  • things are intellectual in nature or constructed intellectually, and realism or reality is merely one of those intellectualizations. How do we exist without real things, i.e. matter, concreteness is some fashion. Well, how do we exist without self either, which does the intellectualizing? At least something must be taken for granted. I accept that to be the values and whatever intellectualizations I find myself surrounded by. A realist may instead call that realism. Jan 22, 2015 at 18:19
  • Oh yes, and I had already notified Amazon to take the money back. Jan 22, 2015 at 18:22
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    Reality is an intellectualization? I don't know what that means, but if you think the laws of physics are not actually true, you will get a bit of a shock if you jump off the roof.
    – alanf
    Jan 23, 2015 at 16:22
  • This would be a neat subject to discuss. Maybe I'll ask a question to see what happens. What exactly makes the Laws of Physics happen? What enforcement mechanism exists making something happen if such and such occurs? Nothing! There is no god to do that. It is a hold over from medieval "word of god" stuff. Cause, effect, and physical law are logic we assign through observation. Historically much has been accumulated. It is the probability what we have observed will happen, only. The only premise is the Premise of the Uniformity of Nature by which we make assumptions out of necessity. Jan 23, 2015 at 18:00

As I stated above in the comments, I do think the amount has bearing.

Why? Simply put, because the description of what happens is at least as I take it as follows:

Case in Question

  1. The asker ordered something on Amazon
  2. The thing originally sent by Amazon to the asker was broken.
  3. The asker requested that Amazon fix this
  4. Amazon's attempts to fix this were a mixture of ineptitude and competence resulting in the asker receiving more than what was due.

This is material, because at least as presented, the person asking has not engaged in an active fraud or perpetrated any lies. Thus, the question is what are the obligations of someone who becomes of an error in their favor to correct the error?

This is fundamentally different than stealing or pregnancy -- the two cases suggested above. The key distinction is the incidental nature of the event rather than the intentional nature of stealing.

The Principle

Any of a number of moral systems could be used to answer the question at hand. These answers I believe will hinge on a weighing of value / import. (I say this even though I am not a utilitarian).

The balance is this: What is the relative value of the accidental gain in comparison to the relative effort it would take to correct the gain or inform Amazon?

The Implementation

Thus, if the object were worth $2, then I would say that the OP has no moral obligation to do anything. Because the cost in terms of effort to inform Amazon, deliver the good, etc. far exceeds the value of $2.

At $2100, it's quite clear the OP stands to gain substantially and the effort to inform Amazon is relatively trivial compared to the cost of the item. Given these conditions, holding onto the object without at a minimum informing Amazon would be immoral since the work required to remedy this wrong is far less than the amount of the wrong (depending on your jurisdiction, it may also be a crime of defrauding Amazon).

N.b., I am not saying anything about amazon's richness versus your own. I am saying that there is a threshold of triviality where accidental enrichment is not worth informing a company about or putting great efforts into restoring the injured party.


I don't have a Utilitarian reference, because that's pretty much too obvious. I'm sure Sedgwick treats this sort of case.

For Kantians, I would suggest looking at the Rechtlehre and also the Casuistical Questions related to stealing in the Tugendlehre

For Aristotelians, I think this would fall under the purview of the golden mean in terms of small generosity.

  • I will give this a reply, having thought about it. I do not agree morality stems from reason, but from values, and ideals we have because of those values. Values are not reasonable. They simply are. Hopefully we can change our valuations through reason, but if not, we still have the values. You worked out a gain vs effort formula, which is good. I am more categorical on this, feeling the $2100 is no different than $2. Jan 21, 2015 at 4:44
  • I think you're lying to yourself on several counts there. First, there's no sense in posting this to SE if there's no sense in which reasons matters. This probes greatly against you actually believing values are wholly unreasonable. Second, "feelings" are rarely capable of being more categorical than reasons for a very simple reason -- reasons we can share pretty easily but feelings are much more difficult to transfer.
    – virmaior
    Jan 21, 2015 at 4:49
  • You are putting words in my mouth. Three things. I did not say values are unreasonable. I said they exist. Hopefully we can change them in a reasonable fashion. Also, philosophy does not equate directly to reason in this context because you seek to brand a given type of reasoning. Third, I did not mention feelings. It is wrong to assume I base valuations on feelings simply because I do not share your brand of reasoning, the which I don't know exactly what it is. Reason, unfortunately, without given in terms of specificity is nebulous. Jan 21, 2015 at 4:58
  • Here are your own words: "Values are not reasonable. They simply are" and "feeling the $2100 is no different $2." That sounds pretty clearly like saying "values are unreasonable" and "I base valuations on feelings." I don't grasp at all what you mean by "brand a given type of reason", I'm presenting a practical answer with minimal theoretical constraints. I can present it in any normative ethical theories terms if you need that. Or I can just make it a series of syllogisms.
    – virmaior
    Jan 21, 2015 at 5:03
  • I guess if as you suggest in the comments above, you see this is as some sort of Robin Hood act and think there's a justification for taking from large companies, then you might feel it's okay to ignore the principle I'm suggesting. But if you switch that party from Amazon to a mom-and-pop shop, these are precisely the normal sorts of principles that I would expect you to apply.
    – virmaior
    Jan 21, 2015 at 5:06

The amount involved is not the point, what is the point is the principle. If Amazon has done what they said they would do in the contract they have with you, why can't you fulfill your part of the contract? A mistake on their part should be pointed out to them. Shakespeare said "A rose by any other name is still a rose" - A thief by any other name is still a thief...

Just as you can't be a 'little bit pregnant' (you're either pregnant or you're not), you're either a thief or not a thief, there's no 'little bit' about it.

  • What substantiates the existence of the principle, such as, if enough of us don't do the right thing society will crash, but "right" in this context is circular, or, I myself will feel better giving the money back, or, we have evolved cultural values that emphatically declare I should give the money back. I also think comparing keeping the money to theft is a straw man. I did a legitimate ethical transaction with no slight of hand. What exactly is wrong with me benefiting from someone's mistake? Is that benefit within the bounds of civility? I appreciate your assertion nonetheless. Jan 20, 2015 at 5:07
  • I gave this an up vote because it answers my question, should I, and why. It is somewhat of a realist black and white perspective, but that is also a common way of thinking and fair to be represented. I am a relativist, which means I think values are contextual, but I also recognize we do have values, regardless how we came to have them. This train of thought causes the idea of right to become non-circular. Jan 20, 2015 at 7:11

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