Chuck Klosterman, who the Times labels “The Ethicist,” absolved a couple who took several cuttings from plants in a shopping center to transplant on their patio. He explains that since the owner of the plants was not damaged, then no harm, no foul:
“So here is my analysis: you technically stole, you technically committed vandalism and you should have asked the shopping center’s permission before trying this unethical act… But if I were to place unethical acts on an ascending continuum of 1 to 100, I’d give you and your wife a 4. Maybe a 3.”
The Ethicist is sliding down a slippery slope. Is an act that rates 4/100 on an unethics scale OK? How about a five? Perhaps he would settle for an unethics score of 49/100 as acceptable: that would say it’s OK to steal (or lie or cheat?) if the offense isn’t more than halfway to total lack of integrity.
Slippery slopes are hard to negotiate. Clarity of principles makes for easier decision making. When it comes to stealing I’d recommend my formula over The Ethicist’s. It’s one of my unenforceables:
What’s not mine is not mine.
Simple, huh? I think The Ethicist would give it a perfect unethics score of zero.