Long-Ago Stolen Property
Webcast Q&A: Sunday, 13 February 2011, Question 3
In the live broadcast of Philosophy in Action Radio on 13 February 2011, I answered a question on long-ago stolen property.
I have an object in my possession that I stole almost 20 years ago. Finding the rightful owner and returning it is impossible. What should I do? I once lived in a large, very old apartment building, with a bike room in the basement, where residents were supposed to keep their bicycles. The room was virtually unused, as residents tended to keep theirs in their apartments. There were many dusty old unused bikes in there. I cut the lock off one, got new tires for it (the old ones were flat and brittle) and used it frequently while I lived there. I rationalized that a) it was probably abandoned (although I didn't know that, really) and b) the owner was always free to call security, have my lock cut off, and reclaim his bike. When I moved away, a couple years later, I kept the bike. Clearly I shouldn't have done so, and I would never do such a thing today. Should I just donate the bike to charity and move on? This is really bothering me.
My Answer, In Brief: Even though it's likely that the bike was abandoned, you should have asked the building management and/or other tenants before claiming the bike as your own. At this point, you ought to donate the bike to charity – not because you want to rid yourself of this source of guilt but because you should not benefit from your past wrongdoing.
- Download: MP3 Segment
- Duration: 4:49
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About Philosophy in Action Radio
I'm Dr. Diana Hsieh. I'm a philosopher specializing the application of rational principles to the challenges of real life. I received my Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2009. My dissertation defended moral responsibility and moral judgment against the doubts raised by Thomas Nagel's "problem of moral luck."
My radio show, Philosophy in Action Radio, broadcasts live over the internet on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. On Sunday mornings, I answer four meaty questions applying rational principles to the challenges of real life in a live hour-long show. Greg Perkins of Objectivist Answers co-hosts the show. On Wednesday evenings, I interview an expert guest about a topic of practical importance.
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