A Philosopher's Blog

On Returning the Lost

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on February 17, 2014
A picture of a wallet.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My regular running routes take me over many miles and through areas that are heavily trafficked—most often by college students. Because of this, I often find lost phones, wallets, IDs and other items. Recently I came across a wallet fat with cash and credit cards. As always, I sought out the owner and returned it. Being a philosopher, I thought I’d write a bit about the ethics of this.

While using found credit card numbers would generally be a bad idea from the practical standpoint, found cash is quite another matter. After all, cash is cash and there is typically nothing to link cash to a specific person. Since money is rather useful, a person who finds a wallet fat with cash would have a good practical reason to simply keep the money and use it herself. One possible exception would be that the reward for returning the lost wallet would exceed the value of the cash in the wallet—but the person who finds it would most likely have no idea if this would be the case or not. So, from a purely practical standpoint, keeping the cash would be a smart choice. A person could even return the credit cards and other items in the wallet, claiming quite plausibly that it was otherwise empty when found. However, what might be a smart choice need not be the right choice.

One argument in favor of returning found items (such as the wallet and all the cash) can be built on the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. More formally, this is moral reasoning involving the method of reversing the situation. Since I would want my lost property returned, I should thus treat others in the same way. Unless, of course, I can justify treating others differently by finding relevant differences that would justify the difference. Alternatively, it could also be justified on utilitarian grounds.  For example, someone who is poor might contend that it would not be wrong to keep money she found in a rich person’s wallet on the grounds that the money would do her much more good than it would do for the rich person: such a small loss would not affect him, such a gain would benefit her significantly.

Since I am reasonably well off and find relatively modest sums of money (hundreds of dollars at most), I have the luxury of not being tempted to keep the money. However, even when I was not at all well off, I still returned whatever I found. Even when I honestly believed that I would put the money to better use than the original owner. This is not due to any fetishes about property, but a matter of ethics.

One of the reasons is my belief that I do have obligations to help others, especially when the cost to me is low relative to the aid rendered. In the case of finding someone’s wallet or phone, I know that the loss would be a significant inconvenience and worry for most people. In the case of a wallet, a person will probably need to replace a driver’s license, credit cards, insurance cards and worry about identity theft. It is easy for me to return the wallet—either by dropping it off with police or contacting the person after finding them via Facebook or some other means. That said, the obvious challenge is justifying my view that I am so obligated. However, I would contend that in such cases, the burden of proof lies on the selfish rather than the altruistic.

Another reason is that I believe that I should not steal. While keeping a lost item is not the same morally as active theft (this could be seen as being a bit analogous to the distinction between killing and letting die), it does seem to be a form of theft. After all, I would be acquiring what does not belong to me by choosing not to return it. Naturally, if I have no means of returning it to the rightful owner (such as finding a quarter in the road), then keeping it would not seem to be theft. Obviously enough, it could be contended that keeping lost property is not theft (even when it could be returned easily), perhaps on the ancient principle of finders keepers, losers weepers. It could also be contended that theft is acceptable—which would be challenging. However, the burden of proof would seem to rest on those who claim that theft is acceptable or that keeping lost property when returning it would be quite possible is not theft.

I also return found items for two selfish reasons. The first is that I want to build the sort of world I want to live in—and in that world people return lost items. While my acting the way I want the world to be is a tiny thing, it is more than nothing. Second, I feel a psychological compulsion to return things I find—so I have to do it for peace of mind.


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MWF Posting Schedule

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on November 8, 2011

Thanks to the budget cuts, I face summer unemployment, a lower salary and an increased workload. As such, I need to devote far more time to activities that generate revenue. While I enjoy writing this blog, it generates $0.00 for me per year. As might be imagined, I can make far more spending my free time writing professionally for money.

I did consider simply stopping this blog, but I do enjoy it. As such, I will try switching to a MWF posting schedule rather than my usual seven posts per week. If I am forced to let my blog end, I will be sure to have a final post noting that, rather than simply fading away.

In any case, I will still be active on the Talking Philosophy Blog, although I think that WTP is probably still banned from the site.


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The Tree of Community

Posted in Miscellaneous, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on September 18, 2011

Image via Wikipedia

While I was doing some touch up painting on Thursday, a storm suddenly rolled in with wind, rain and a little thunder. As I was packing up my gear, I heard a tree fall. I went out to look and saw that it had fallen across the road in my home owners’ association. While it did not block my way out it did block some of my neighbors. Naturally, I went out to move the debris.

As I was clearing the debris, two of my neighbors came out. One woman helped as best she could with the branches and the other went to find out who to call about a huge tree in the road. The boyfriend of another neighbor came out and helped until he had to go, but he said he would be back with a winch to pull the tree out of the way. Another neighbor came out and offered to help clean up things, once the storm passed. At that moment, the rain began to pour down. Since we had cleared enough debris to allow people to get by the tree, everyone retreated from the rain.

While this was just a small thing, it does show what is best about people: our ability to join together to do good-even if it is just something like clearing a path through debris so that a neighbor coming home from work can get to her house. It is easy to forget that we are bound together by ties of our shared humanity and that being there for each other, even for the little things, is an essential part of being a good person.

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Always Shake the Mustard…

Posted in Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on August 13, 2011
Australian "duct tape".

Image via Wikipedia

While it is often said that age brings wisdom, this is not always true. After all, older folks like me often do very unwise things. However, age does bring opportunities to learn wisdom, mainly from events arising from a failure of wisdom.

Some lessons are fairly minor. For example, I have learned the importance of always shaking the mustard. As you might have also noticed, the first squeeze of mustard typically results in mustard pee rather than actual mustard. This can be a bit annoying, especially if you are packing a now soggy sandwich for latter. The solution is easy enough-always shake the mustard and save yourself from the sogginess.

Other lessons are somewhat more serious. As a specific example, I learned a lot when I was helping my girlfriend pack up her stuff in anticipation of her move from Tallahassee to Orlando. On that particular day, we were moving her treadmill and weight bench to my house for storage. I had to take apart the treadmill to get it out of her apartment and found that although I had brought twenty different Allen wrenches, none of them quite fit. This taught me that it is a good idea to bring every damn size of tool, especially since it seems that every company has a different sized Allen wrench for every different product they make. I forgot to mention that on my way to move the treadmill, it started to rain-even though it had been sunny. This taught me to always pack some plastic and duct tape when moving other people’s stuff.

After the treadmill was ready to move, my girlfriend wanted to move her weight bench outside. I made the classic error of not asking her if it was secured for the move and the even greater error of not checking it to see that it was, in fact secured. Naturally, it wasn’t. So, as we moved it, a major piece of metal came slamming down on my finger. This taught me to make sure that anything I am moving for someone has been properly secured for the move.

Seeing the blood spraying out from it, I first checked to see if my finger was still attached. It was, but I could not see the extent of the damage. So, I went to her bathroom to clean of the blood and determine if I would need stitches. I could see that the wound was probably not in need of stitches, but I was still bleeding and needed to put a stop to that-at the very least to keep her from becoming annoyed by my repainting of her apartment.

I asked her if she had any gauze or even band aids. She, of course, did not. This taught me that when helping people move, it is a good idea to bring my own first aid kid. Realizing that the toilet paper was not going to cut it, I looked around and then though “ah, she’s a chick, so she has to have some feminine products.” I spotted the maxi pads and pressed one against the wound. I was now faced with two problems. First, I needed a way to secure the pad. Second, I had a maxi pad on my finger, which was clearly a threat to my Y chromosome. The solution to both problems was, of course, duct tape. It held the pad in place while simultaneously balancing out its feminine influence. This was yet another lesson in the awesomeness of duct tape, thus confirming the old adage that you should never leave home without it.

The treadmill and weight bench eventually made it to my house, with only a little more of my blood being shed (a small leg wound). This experience confirmed my past lesson about moving. First, try to avoid owing anything that you cannot move yourself. Second, it can be well worth it to pay a professional to move things that are really annoying to move. Third, if you have a girlfriend, she will always expect you to help her move. Fourth, if you have a truck, she will expect you to move all her heavy stuff and you will probably end up bleeding at least a little.


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Afghanistan & My House

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 27, 2011
Map of Afghanistan with flag.

Image via Wikipedia

I was a bit remiss in my blogging today-normally I have a post ready to pop in before 6:00 am. However, I have been engaged in “home improvement.” While doing some indoor work, I happened to catch a bit about Afghanistan and began to see the parallels between home improvement and that war.

Just like Afghanistan, my home improvement project began with a provocation that could not be ignored (‘wow, the 1980s called and want this house back”). Initially, the goals were limited and sensible (repaint some rooms and replace some fixtures). However, they soon expanded (replace the chewed up linoleum, rehang the gutters, clear out the attic and all closets, and so on) and money began being poured into the endeavor at an alarming rate. Like Afghanistan, no end seems to be in sight. While the main painting was completed Saturday, I spent today doing even more tasks. There will be more tomorrow, more the next day and presumably more and more. In fact, owning a home creates an ongoing cycle: as one project is finished, it makes something else look bad and that must be fixed. Then some problem arises that must be fixed. Once those things are dealt with, it is probably time to go back to the original thing that started the cycle and deal with that again.

Fortunately, there have been no fatalities (yet) involving my house.

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Tasting 45

Posted in Humor, Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on April 30, 2011
Birthday cake (three years)

Image via Wikipedia

This week I hit the 45-49 age group (as a runner, I think in age groups). When I hit 40, it was no big deal. I didn’t feel old and it was kind of cool to now be considered a master in running. Not quite as cool as being a Jedi master, but still pretty good. At the very least it gave me yet another chance to win something at a race (overall, age group and the master’s award). However, the next level of master (grand master) does not arrive until 50. As such, 45 does not give me much-other than having survived another year despite a history of bad decision making involving ladders and roofs.

Having seen other men fall into middle aged stupidity, I was a bit worried that when I hit 45 I would suddenly be unable to prevent myself from doing one or more of the following:

  • Taking shirtless photos of myself using a cell phone and a mirror, then taking out a creepy Craig’s List ad.
  • Buying a red sports car.
  • Buying a huge SUV.
  • Getting a big, gold medallion and a white disco suit with a “big V chest vent.”
  • Stockpiling Viagra.
  • Letting my hair grow out to allow for a “comb over.”
  • Quitting my job to “find myself.”
  • Buying clothes at Abercrombie & Fitch to look “young and cool.”
  • Hitting on stewardesses.
  • Running around town naked, yelling about how death is chasing me.
  • Taking a nap.
Oddly enough, aside from a sharp pain at the exact moment I hit 45, nothing happened. I can only infer that my midlife is at least 50 years away, thanks to all that running (and preservatives).
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Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted in Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on November 25, 2010
The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon G...
Image via Wikipedia

As usual, I’m setting aside politics, philosophy and all that to focus on what really matters: turkey.

I’m attempting to cook the turkey on my own this year. I’ve done it successfully(once) before, so I should be able to pull it off. However, I did buy a smoked turkey and have it as a backup in case there is a repeat of the infamous Imploding Turkey of Infinite Death episode (don’t ask…this is still classified as “Ultimate Turkey Secret”).

In the spirit of the holiday, thanks to all the folks who visit this blog and even more thanks to those who comment. While we don’t always agree, I enjoy the discussion-even when I get called out on my claims.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Sneakers of Summer

Posted in Miscellaneous, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on August 21, 2010
I Brooke Fishwick created this work entirely b...
Image via Wikipedia

When I was a kid, the start of the school year was always marked by getting a new pair of sneakers for school. The new pair would replace last year’s worn out sneakers. I vividly remember the soles of one pair flapping away and how the fresh cut grass would get through the holes and end up staining my socks.

Now that I am a professor, I can afford more than one pair of sneakers per year. In fact, I go through about four pairs of running shoes a year. However, I still remember those sneakers of summer.

This year I decided to honor those fallen sneakers by wearing a nice pair of sneakers while teaching this summer. While I do buy the dress shoes that are secretly running shoes on the inside, the sneakers felt much more comfortable. I suppose it is the sneaker magic.

I’m wearing them now as I type this in my office (I often write in advance). However, the fall semester teaching starts Monday and this marks the spiritual end of summer for me. So, the sneakers of summer are being retired from my teaching wardrobe and are back in the casual clothing category. I’ll miss them…at least until next summer.

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Happy 4th!

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on July 4, 2010
Digital photo taken by Marc Averette. Downtown...
Image via Wikipedia

Happy Fourth of July!

Celebrate our independence as the founders intended: booze, booms and bbq!

But, safety first: if you start the day with 10 fingers, be sure to end it with 10.

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Being a Man IV: Fatherhood

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on May 14, 2010
Petri dish
Image via Wikipedia

One plausible area to look for a role unique to men is that of fatherhood. There is, obviously enough, an intuitive appeal to the idea that only men can be fathers.  Of course, it is quite possible to raise questions about this.

One of the first things that needs to be sorted out is the distinction between being a biological father and a father. While most fathers are biological fathers, not all of them are. For example, the father of an adopted child would still seem to qualify as a father, even if he never impregnated a woman. Defining what it is to be a biological father seems rather easy: that is the male who provide the sperm that fertilized the egg.

Of course, a little science can make this a bit messy. For example, imagine sperm engineered and grown in a petri dish. This sperm could be used to fertilize an egg, but it would seem odd to classify the sperm as the father. Perhaps the creator of the sperm would be the father, even if the scientist was a woman or a team. However, let this matter be laid aside, perhaps to be discussed more in comments.

Turning back to looking at the role of father (apart from the biological role), it could be seen as a man’s role because a father is supposed to provide a manly role model and teach the manly virtues to his sons (and presumably teach his daughters that many men lack these virtues).

Of course, this account runs into a bit of a problem. If a father is one who provides the manly role model and teaches the manly virtues, there is a clear need to define what it is to be a manly role model and which virtues are manly. In short, looking at the role of being a father does not seem to help define what it is to be  a man. Rather, this seems to be a bit of a backwards approach. Instead, what is needed is an account of what it is to be a man and the nature of the manly virtues. Once those are established, then it would be possible to provide an account of what it is to be a father.

There is the possibility that there are no special manly virtues or manly roles that are unique to males. Thus, non-males could occupy those roles and have those virtues. If so, it would be possible that a woman could be a father (in this sense) or even a machine (such as an intelligent robot).  Not to be sexist here, it could also be possible that a male could be a mother (non-biological).

Then again, perhaps there are such roles and virtues. So, as an exercise to the reader, what might these roles and virtues be? Also, which ones would be essential (or at least important) to being a father?

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