In Dicta

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The morality of stealing

An intriguing article in today's New York Times. Excerpt:

"Hotels struggle constantly in the war against object attrition. A survey conducted last year by Harris Interactive for Orbitz, the travel Web site, found that 61 percent of respondents confessed to having nabbed toiletries and almost 20 percent had taken or had considered taking toiletries from an unattended housekeeping cart. Eighteen percent said they took towels, and 14 percent said they had taken ashtrays.

Still, it is hard to understand why people of means, like Ms. Mordas, who would never consider lifting so much as a stray grape from a grocery store, routinely tap their inner thief when in hotels and restaurants, and while on cruise ships and airplanes.

Benoit Monin, an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University, said a lot of attention has been paid to "major moral failures" like those of Nazi prison guards who committed atrocities by day but went home at night to pamper their families.

But far less attention has been paid to everyday moral behavior, which he finds just as interesting.

Professor Monin, who studies the way in which people sort out moral behavior, says huge variations exist.

For example, he said: "I might think that a hotel guest is immoral for stealing a bathrobe, whereas morality doesn't even cross her mind. On the other hand, she might find my drinking habits immoral, whereas I might not give them a second thought."

Continue reading here.

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