Ethic Quiz: The Jean Valjean Rule

There are no good pictures of Jean stealing a loaf of bread, but here's Yogi Bear stealing a picnic basket...

There are no good pictures of Jean stealing a loaf of bread, but here’s Yogi Bear stealing a picnic basket…

News from Italy, via the BBC:

Judges overturned a theft conviction against Roman Ostriakov after he stole cheese and sausages worth €4.07 (£3; $4.50) from a supermarket.Mr Ostriakov, a homeless man of Ukrainian background, had taken the food “in the face of the immediate and essential need for nourishment”, the court of cassation decided.

Therefore it was not a crime, it said.

A fellow customer informed the store’s security in 2011, when Mr Ostriakov attempted to leave a Genoa supermarket with two pieces of cheese and a packet of sausages in his pocket but paid only for breadsticks.

In 2015, Mr Ostriakov was convicted of theft and sentenced to six months in jail and a €100 fine.

For the judges, the “right to survival prevails over property”, said an op-ed in La Stampa newspaper (in Italian).

In times of economic hardship, the court of cassation’s judgement “reminds everyone that in a civilised country not even the worst of men should starve”.

An opinion piece in Corriere Della Sera says statistics suggest 615 people are added to the ranks of the poor in Italy every day – it was “unthinkable that the law should not take note of reality”.

It criticised the fact that a case concerning the taking of goods worth under €5 went through three rounds in the courts before being thrown out.

The “historic” ruling is “right and pertinent”, said Italiaglobale.it – and derives from a concept that “informed the Western world for centuries – it is called humanity”.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for today, involving  the eternal confusion between law and ethics::

Never mind legal: was this an ethical ruling?

Continue reading

An Ethics Question From Ethicist Peter Singer

Princeton University philosophy professor Peter Singer is that rarest of species, the ethicist whose name many people actually recognize. This is because of his knack for raising important ethical issues in provocative ways, making enough people upset to create productive and sometimes transformation debate.

In a recent interview with the Carnegie Council’s Julia Taylor Kennedy, Singer touched on many of his most publicized themes, including global poverty. Here he poses a thought exercise designed to raise a question of conscience:

“I ask you to imagine that you are walking across some park that you know quite well, and in this park there is a shallow ornamental pond. Let’s assume that you know that it’s shallow, because on summer days you see teenagers playing in it, and it’s only waist-deep. Continue reading