As a moral relativist, there is no hard wrong or right in this situation. Rather, there is an opinion on this matter that can only be deciphered when one considers the dynamics of the situation (Harman, 1975). In this instance, the idea that “taking things that belong to others” is always wrong would not be correct. Rather, one would need to consider how much another person values that thing. If the other person put zero value on that thing, then the other person would be suffering no harm from the taking. This would make the taking moral, or at the very least, not immoral. Morality is about the decision that brings the greatest amount of happiness to the largest amount of people, and in this case, taking the item home leads to a boost in happiness for the taker while not depriving the owner of the good of any happiness. One might say, in this situation, with a moral relativist position, that the taking is not immoral.
According to virtue ethics, I would explain to my employees that in the moment they chose to steal the items from me, they had made a decision in excess (Hursthouse, 1999). The reasonable person would have thought about all the options and settled on the idea that it is not right to take something that does not belong to them, even if that thing is not going to be missed by the person who lost it. I would explain to them that in any given situation, they should be trying to find the right balance, never acting out but always keeping their decisions right for the given moment (Willows, 2013). In this moment, the right move was to consider both their own needs and the rights of me. If they had done so, and not just considered my use of the item, then they might have understood that by taking something that belonged to me, they were going for maximum happiness on their end while leaving me with no happiness.
- Harman, G. (1975). Moral relativism defended. The Philosophical Review, 84(1), 3-22.
- Hursthouse, R. (1999). On virtue ethics. OUP Oxford.
- Willows, A. (2013). Aristotle’s Virtue Theory. Challenging Religious Issues, 7.