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If one were to find property that had been lost, is there a proper policy which would allow the finder to keep it? The most common example is finding an envelope full of money. Is one even morally obligated to report that he has found it? (Given that the owner cannot be immediately located, even with a decent amount of effort)

asked Jan 02 '11 at 21:32

Vince%20Martinez's gravatar image

Vince Martinez

Following the principle of refusing the unearned, I think it is proper to make an effort to return the money or other property. Helping the owner recover his lost property is the sort of help Rand envisions in her discussions of emergency situations. (See Lexicon under emergency.) The degree of time and trouble one ought to give to this depends on personal circumstances as well as the value of the lost property.

This is a Golden Rule situation in which being helpful makes a valuable contribution to one's own cultural ambience. The essence of the good of this sort of helpfulness is that circumstances make it possible for a small effort to return a large benefit, only it is one person's effort and another person's benefit. Accidental factors create this situation, and we are all victims, sometimes, of such factors. I prefer to live in a society in which the help of strangers is customarily available, and that means taking the role of helper when it comes along, though always with an eye on the costs involved.

answered Jan 03 '11 at 18:15

Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Mindy Newton ♦

Yes, Mindy's first sentence says it all. If I find a packet of money, it's not a value to me unless I've earned it. To me, it's nothing more that a packet of green paper.

(Jan 07 '11 at 11:02) Roger Theriault ♦ Roger%20Theriault's gravatar image

I answered this question in a recent edition of my Rationally Selfish Webcast.  An audio recording of my response is available as a podcast here: NoodleCast #52: Live Rationally Selfish Webcast. The discussion of this question runs from 49:40 to 58:06. 

My basic view is that because lost property belongs to someone else and because you want to live in a benevolent culture, you should make a reasonable effort to return lost property to its rightful owner. Forgetful people like me really appreciate that!

answered Jan 04 '11 at 12:46

Diana%20Hsieh's gravatar image

Diana Hsieh ♦

edited Jan 14 '11 at 01:25

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Asked: Jan 02 '11 at 21:32

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Last updated: Jan 14 '11 at 01:25