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I had a discussion with a friend. It was based on this scenario: You had a bike that was very dear to you and your neighbor a few houses down stole it from you and you knew it. If this bike is standing in his garage, would it be ok to go on his property and take the bike back? This is assuming that you have no other option but to let it go, or "steal" it back.

Personally I would say that it wasn't the right thing to go on another person's property and take something, except if you had his consent, but my friend thinks it's perfectly fine to go take it back.

  • I agree with your friend (and you should take more stuff for compensation), but that's just a personal opinion. As a factual question, you're asking: how would different philosophers or philosophies solve this moral dilemma. – user935 Dec 4 '19 at 16:42
  • Well yea i should probably say that too, if it happenede to me for real, i sure would just take it back, but as morality go, i'd say it was stealing, which i think we can agree is wrong – Keinicke Dec 4 '19 at 16:57
  • The "steal it back" option is neither good or bad, it's just better or worse than others. – urhen Dec 4 '19 at 17:12
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    As "stealing" is generally thought of as "taking something that does not belong to you", I'd say it would be impossible to steal back something that is rightfully yours; but at the same time, doing so in the manner you describe does not negate the trespassing (though it could arguably justify it). – Uueerdo Dec 4 '19 at 17:20
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    Really strong magnets ;) – user935 Dec 4 '19 at 17:39
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You are not stealing, merely taking back something that belongs to you.

But it is a perspective thing. You have to trespass(you can be the judge of how bad that is) and have to take something away(which is yours).

At the end of the day I agree with your friend, because your are not doing anything wrong, you are making a wrong right again.

And the stealing from thieves scenario? That is just poetic, if the thief doesn't like it, he knows how his victims feel.

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I would say there is a confusion between immoral and illegal in the question. Given the information we have, it could not be said to be immoral to take back your property from the thief, if you know for certainty. It might be illegal to trespass on his land, but not it's not immoral.

Expanding the question, what if you are wealthy and have many other bikes, but the thief is a poor man who has taken it for his child, because he can't afford the bus fare to get to school ? :)

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It's worth taking the time to read over Kohlberg's stages of moral development. Your friend seems to be arguing from an upper pre-conventional perspective (which emphasizes self-interest and tit-for-tat type reasoning), while you seem to be working from a lower conventional perspective (which rests on social norms and standards of propriety). On that account your position is somewhat more developed.

Don't let that go to your head; one data point isn't enough to make a general statement... 😉

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Letting people get away with immoral acts only encourages them to continue acting immorally - and their victims likely won't be limited to you.

The key word in the legal arena is deterrence. People are punished by the law at least partly to send out a message.

There's also a matter of self-respect and setting boundaries. In that spirit, I'd take the bike back...with interest.

However, from a practical perspective you have to bear in mind that you could be legally charged with trespassing, and possibly even theft. This highlights one of life's big ironies: Why is it that bad people so easily get away with their crimes?

I've worked for several employers where bullying and corruption was rampant, and the biggest, most obvious bullies were impossible to fire. Yet the brightest, hardest working employees can be fired at the drop of a hat.

I'm still trying to figure out exactly what makes this situation possible. But my personal advice is to remember that - in the U.S., at least - justice is never on your side. The game is rigged in favor of the rich and powerful...and apparently in favor of schoolyard bullies as well.

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