Suppose you are at a restaurant and order your food, but no drink. However, you ask for a cup for water. When you go to the soda machine to get water, the water dispenser doesn’t work. Is it ethical to take some soda instead?

Contributed by Nakul.

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About John Hooker

T. Jerome Holleran Professor of Business Ethics and Social Responsibility Tepper School of Business Carnegie Mellon University

2 responses »

  1. Alan says:

    Taking the soda without paying is not a dilemma at all. It is not only clearly illegal (theft) but also unethical.

  2. John Hooker says:

    Helping yourself to soda is theft and therefore ungeneralizable.

    Theft is taking another’s property without permission. This is ungeneralizable because if it were generalized, there would be no property to take.

    You might argue that there was an implied agreement that water would come with your meal. Lack of water was a breach of the agreement, and you remedied this by taking soda.

    Granting that this is breach of an agreement, it follows only that you are no longer obligated to hold up your end of the agreement. You can return the food and ask for your money back (or better, just ask for some water!). It doesn’t follow that you can take soda that you didn’t pay for.

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