A while back, I had my digital camera lifted at a party. It was apparently taken “by accident”, but it is hard to see how such an accident could take place unless the would-be-thief in question had a camera of the same (or, if very drunk), similar model of their own. I don’t believe this to be the fact in this case. I would like very much to understand the reasoning process, therefore, that allows someone to take something that isn’t theres. It seems to me that there are several possibilities.
Firstly, it might be the case that the person who took the item in question was very intoxicated. The chances that this is true are high. However, it doesn’t actually explain anything – even when drunk people still do things for reasons. So what are the reasons?
It seems likely that the item was taken because it is desirable – useful, or if money is the object, easy to sell for over a hundred dollars.
Still, we don’t usually go around taking things that belong to others, even if we won’t be found out. Why is this? It seems to me the essential reason is respect – we respect the rights others have to their things so we in turn will have our rights to things respected. However, if we don’t know the person, this reason doesn’t hold up.
In this case, the anonymity of the object may have had something to do with its being lifted – a camera that belongs to no one is not stealing. However, just because it belongs to no one imparticular, doesn’t mean it won’t belong to someone particularly. Now, if one is at a party where one doesn’t know hardly anyone, perhaps the logic is – it belongs to someone who I don’t know, ergo, the reciprocality of property rights doesn’t apply. But the failure here is the issue of the host – the host is the one that knows all the guests. Thus, if taking the camera is to disrespect not one of my friends but one of the host’s friends, it both a)disrespects the host by disrespecting their friend and b)disrespects the host by taking away to some extent their right to hold parties where nothing is stolen. Truth is a very important social value, and trust in a social situation of friend mixing is held through the host – everyone trusts the hosts’ choice in friends that if someone is a friend of the host, they will not steal from you. Therefore, to steal anonymously at a party is to hinder the ability of the host to be “a good host”.
The issue comes down to the implicit “taking of the word”. When I invite my friend into another friends house, my friend takes my word that the friend of mine will act respectfully, and I take my friends word that the same. If the friend fails, it is both the case that he has broken his word to me, and that I have broken my word to the host.
It is only through these implicit “taking ones’ word for it” that we have social situations at all.