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Stealing: Ethical Dilemma And Moral Development

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Table of contents

  1. Define the ethical dilemma
  2. Influences on Decision Making
  3. Ethical standards
  4. Laws Broken and Repercussions
  5. Responsibility
  6. Ethical Dilemma Evaluation
  7. Kohlberg's stages of moral development
  8. Morality vs. Law Argument
  9. Opinion and personal perspective
  10. Conclusion

Decisions between what is right and wrong are presented to all of us in some shape or form. For example, an ethical dilemma is a decision in which we challenge our own beliefs to decide between right and wrong. Ethical dilemmas only occur when two or more ethical standards apply but conflict with each other. These moral dilemmas appear when a difficult problem or situation may not be solved in a way that will satisfy all parties involved. Usually, one action violates ethical wrongdoing, while the other step is morally right. Stealing to feed your family is a classic example. While stealing is ethically wrong, in some cases, such as those that involve saving a life, it is the morally correct thing to do.

First, as stated in the thesis statement, stealing is morally wrong. However, life is precious and a gift from God. Once an individual dies, he will never come to existence for a second time. An individual lives once. The society within which we live is also mandated to protect human lives. Besides, the main reason for a government is to protect its citizens from attack, resolve conflicts, and protect their properties. The law prohibits stealing and vandalizing properties. However, a crucial question arises; does the law prohibit stealing in any given situation?

Define the ethical dilemma

Faced by a situation where a man is starving, and a nearby bakery is closed, I would break it, steal a loaf of bread to feed the man. Though the law prohibits stealing, it does not consider such a situation when an individual experiences an ethical dilemma. From my position, I feel that at times, it is essential to discard the law since it cannot anticipate every eventuality which may arise in our day occurrences.

The bakery owner has a right to own properties. He is also entitled to protection from the local authority. A starving resident has the right to life and security too. The local authority is, therefore, mandated to enforce the law and resolve conflicts between the citizens. While deciding between saving life and breaking the bakery, I will evaluate the harm linked to my action. I feel that it is more harmful to let a starving man die than stealing a bread.

Influences on Decision Making

Stealing one bread in the bakery would have an insignificant impact on the level of profit. The owner may not even realize the loss of his balance sheet. The cost of producing the bread could also be significantly low since the baker commercially produces goods on a large scale. The act is evil though a necessary evil. In connection with the same observation, people believe that stealing is highly unethical. I criticize this statement since I feel it is even more immoral to witness a hungry man die by refusing to steal (Amidon, Joel, et al., 28).

Ethical standards

Ethical standards can be defined as guidelines that are followed to promote values such as ethical behavior, trust, kindness, and fairness. Such instructions are enforceable and subject to interpretation. The ethical standards that help to promote harmony is a society.

Kindness, honesty, loyalty, and law-abiding are notable examples of ethical behaviors in a society. The act of being kind should not be limited to wealth. People with a lot of wealth may not be in a position to help others. Kindness and fairness may conflict with the principle of the law-abiding. Since I have no money, this does not imply I will have to follow the law and ignore the value of life strictly.

Laws Broken and Repercussions

My decision to break the bakery and steal to save a life is also based on the following questions; what is vital between life and death? What is vital between life and property? Notably, the answer to these questions is simply LIFE. Unlike properties, lives can never be replaced. As a member of society, it is essential to save a life by breaking societal ethics than observing another member of a community losing the precious gift (Shavell, Steven, 34). Due to the lack of an alternative to save the starving man from death, stealing is a morally right decision.

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The ethical dilemma in question is a matter of life and death. At my position, life is more precious, and I would be ready to face judgment from others and positively accept the responsibilities for error. Stealing is illegal and would result in strict measures by the local authority. However, when an individual dies while I am in a position to save, I will feel guilty.

Ethical Dilemma Evaluation

A moral dilemma dictates the choice of one action and foregoing the alternative. Based on the ethical dilemma, it is morally right to save life compared to letting the individual die. Stealing is universally immoral but a necessary evil when it comes to a situation of life and death. The choice of stealing a loaf of bread is less expensive than losing someone’s life. To justify the decision, suppose you were in an area under attack. You happen to find the attacker with his gun at hand, almost shooting innocent people. Would you stop shoot him too to save others, or would you let him proceed and kill others? You would kill him to save others. Killing is unethical. However, killing the attacker would save more lives and, therefore, a necessary evil.

Kohlberg’s stages of moral development

Kohlberg’s stages of moral development have three distinctive phases, which include re-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional. The pre-conventional stage postulates that children’s morality is controlled externally. Children believe that authority is ever right. For instance, they will not question their parents and teachers since they have not understood right and wrong. In the conventional stage, the child’s sense of morality is strictly grounded in societal and personal relationships. At this point, individuals are less interested in the welfare of others. In the conventional stage, individuals are expected to obey the rules. The laws are believed to be equal across all individuals. Notably, this implies that all individuals are expected to do what they are supposed to do. Lastly, in the post-conventional stage, an individual’s morality is guided by more abstract values. The laws are viewed to be less rigid but more social contracts.

Debatably, guided by the Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, at times, it is essential to break the law since they should not remain rigid and fixed. The universal ethical principle orientation postulates that rules are only valid if they are based on justice.

Morality vs. Law Argument

There are five approaches to the argument for law and morality, which include; utilitarian, virtue, common good, rights, and justice. The utilitarian approach requires an individual to undertake a decision which is least harmful or most good. The right approach, on the other hand, postulates that the best choice is one that respects the moral rights of the involved. Fairness requires that everyone is treated equally, and we should be in a position to defend our decision. The common good approach indicates that we should always do what is best. Lastly, the virtue approach is based on the fact that our actions should always be consistent with given virtues.

The model is clear for decision making in a moral dilemma. First, I am expected to make a less harmful decision. Saving is less dangerous than stealing. I am also likely to make the right decision, which at my position, stealing to save a life is the best.

In summary, life is precious, and we should use all means to save it. We only live once, and therefore, it would be unfair to leave an individual to die because they are poor. Material wealth should not limit our kindness; we can steal to save others, as indicated by the approach of the common good.

Opinion and personal perspective

Arguably, it is also important to base the argument on an individual’s point of view. Faced by the same situation, would I steal to save my life, or would I wait to die? Regardless of how holy I am, I would save my life. Debatably, this implies the same situation when a brother or a sister is suffering. The consequence of breaking the bakery would be imprisonment, the local authority may authorize me to pay the repair cost, or I would be entitled to work for a given period without a salary. Such decisions would be reasonably cheaper than losing a soul (Rank &Sarah, 27).


In life, we should expect to face a moral dilemma where the decision we make is subject to critics. Some people will completely disagree with my decision, but I feel it is the best. At a point of life and death, make decisions that save life since life is a gift from God, which, when destroyed, it can never be repaired.

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Stealing: Ethical Dilemma And Moral Development. (2021, September 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 21, 2023, from
“Stealing: Ethical Dilemma And Moral Development.” Edubirdie, 21 Sept. 2021,
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Stealing: Ethical Dilemma And Moral Development [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 21 [cited 2023 Sept 21]. Available from:
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