Many will want to avoid an absolute moral view regarding the unacceptability of stealing, the kind of view that Kant might be thought to defend. Neither Utilitarianism nor Virtue Ethics offer an absolute prohibition against stealing, but each has their own problems. In terms of showing your understanding of these issues, applying normative theories to your own variety of cases is a tactic that may best enable you to write with confidence about the various nuanced issues afflicting each theory.
COMMON STUDENT MISTAKES
- Not applying the strengths and weaknesses of the various moral theories as discussed in theory-specific chapters.
- Having too narrow an understanding of stealing. It is advisable to discuss a range of cases (real and fictional).
- Assuming too much when explaining how a theory might be applied to an issue of stealing — give a full explanation, showing understanding, and using key terms.
ISSUES TO CONSIDER
- Is keeping due tax from the government an example of stealing?
- Can you create your own satisfactory definition of stealing?
- How does the definition you arrived at in (2) fit with the idea of stealing ideas?
- Does stealing once make you more likely to steal again?
- Is it possible to measure the psychological pains associated with stealing?
- Is an absolute prohibition against stealing defensible? Why or why not?
- Do people you consider virtuous have any history of stealing?
- Would the best set of rules for promoting the greatest good for the greatest number contain a rule absolutely prohibiting stealing?
- Is it worth debating the ethics of stealing if you are an emotivist or a prescriptivist?
- What would the error-theorist say about the morality of stealing?
Bible, New International Version, freely available at https://www.biblegateway.com/
Leon, K., ‘Family Seeks Stolen iPad with Photos of Deceased Father’, Fox21 News (3 October 2014), freely available at fox21news.com/2014/10/03/family-seeks-stolen-ipad-with-photos-of-deceased-father/
MacIntyre, Alasdair, A Short History of Ethics (London: Routledge, 2002), https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203131121
Mill, J. S., On Liberty (London: Longman, Roberts, Green & Co., 1869), freely available at freely available at http://www.econlib.org/library/Mill/mlLbty1.html
Russell, Bertrand, History of Western Philosophy (Woking: Unwin Brothers, 1947), freely available at https://archive.org/stream/westernphilosoph035502mbp#page/n3/mode/2up
2 A. MacIntyre, A Short History of Ethics, p. 126.