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I agree with Post #6; it isn't right, or morally justifiable to steal. However, considering the circumstances, most would steal to save the lives of their children. I also agree with Post #5; Mary should ask for the food.
She could also make a proposal to the store owner that she will perform some kind of work task for the store to 'earn' the food, even if it's a small one-hour task or something that the owner agrees to let her perform, such as some janitorial work. In the end, it's all about compassion and mercy anyways, and getting the children fed is the priority. Addressing the morality of the situation (so stealing doesn't occur again) is something to deal with once food is in the childrens' mouths.
It's not that Mary wants to steal; she believes she has no choice but to steal. Stealing isn't right and the ideal action is for her to do something other than steal. But if she sees no alternatives, she will feel forced to steal the food.
In this scenario I don't think it is right, or morally justifiable to steal, but put in that situation I think most parents would do whatever they could to protect their children. I do agree with above posters in that there is almost always more than one solution to a problem.
There is always another choice. Morally, you need to decide when to answer to a higher authority. Stealing is wrong, but letting children starve is worse. Mary should ask for the food. I would be willing to bet the store worker would give it to her.
If the scenario is posed as a choice between saving the lives of her children or letting them die with stealing food being the only mechanism of salvation, it seems then that the mother would be forced to steal. If this is the only way to save lives, this is the only moral choice. I suppose I am just echoing the utilitarian perspective posited by speamerfam.
A utilitarian would say that saving the children from starvation would be the better choice, since there is more utility in saving lives than there is harm in costing the store money. Aristotle's moral theory would obtain the same results because the mother would be acting viruously, that is doing something to promote human well-being.
Kant would say that you make your decision based on what you could will as a universal law. So, if you want to argue that Mary should steal, you have to ask what your law would be. It might be "all people can steal as long as they are only stealing what they absolutely need from someone who can afford it." If Mary would be able to accept this as a universal law then it is right for her to steal.
It is always told that no matter how bad the situation might be there is always a choice and according to me stealing can never be a choice. It's better to rather die starving than to involve yourself in such immoral activity. Stealing is like being a pessimist but we should always be an optimist in our life.
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