If I steal someone's pen and replace it with another exact same pen, is it stealing? What are the key arguments to prove the point?

Expert Answers
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is interesting that you asked the question the way you did: "If I steal someone's pen and replace it with another exact same pen, is it stealing?" You did not say if I take someone's pen, you used the word steal, and this implies that you know it is wrong to take something that is not yours, even if you replace it with an exact replica. 

How we deal with these situations in our lives are determined by our ethics, the set of internal rules which govern our behavior. Assuming we have been parented even reasonably well, we understand right from wrong at an early age; even without proper parenting, there comes a time in our lives when we know for ourselves what is right and what is wrong in most situations. When things get fuzzy for us and we are not absolutely certain what is right and wrong, it is often because we want to do what benefits us rather than what is right; then we try to justify our choice by making certain claims. Here are the primary arguments a person might make for and against the idea that taking a pen and replacing it with an exact replica is stealing.

First, he would claim that no damage has been done and no one has been hurt so it is not stealing--since we all know that stealing hurts people, right? Perhaps no measurable damage has been done, but that cannot be assumed from the statement. If the pen were replaced immediately, perhaps the owner would never notice and therefore not feel any damage; if it were not replaced immediately, possible "damages" could occur, such as not having a pen available when he needs it. If the pen is replaced immediately, then what's the point of taking/stealing it at all? Unless there is a valid reason for taking the pen, this is a clear case of purposeless stealing.

Second, he would say that his intent was not to steal, so it cannot be considered stealing. In this case, the better word might be borrowing; however, borrowing is using the pen and then returning it, not replacing it with another pen, even an exact replica. So why did he take one pen and replace it with another? If it were done to play some kind of a joke, perhaps the act could be justified and considered something other than stealing; if not, he is again guilty of purposeless stealing.

Finally, he would argue that since he did not benefit from the "exchange," it was not stealing--because of course people always steal to gain something for themselves, right? First, this is not true, as we have evidence that some people steal simply for the rush it gives them.

Why would celebrities, who have fame, fortune and a reputation to protect choose to shoplift? UCLA psychiatrist Dr. Heather Krell said the drive to shoplift is similar to the drive someone has to become a star.... "You have to believe in yourself and that you're going to prevail and you have to get caught up in the moment. And it certainly seems that that's part of shoplifting," she said.

Second, there had to be a personal motive of some kind for him to do anything at all with this pen; if not, he would have left the pen alone. In some way, he benefited from this exchange and it therefore must be considered stealing; if not, he is still guilty of purposeless stealing.

"Stealing is taking another person's property without permission," according to the excellent eNotes article (linked below). The person who stole this pen and then replaced it with an exact replica may try to justify his act as mere taking; however, by definition it is stealing.  

maria-vivanco | Student

Well first off, why would you steal a pen, just to give it back anyway? Stealing is to take something, without someone's consent. So the owner of the pen, if that person didn't let you take their pen or give it to you, yes it stealing. Its stealing because a. the person didn't give it to you and b. because they didn't know. As mentioned before, you used the word "steal" instead of "take" which shows that you know it's wrong. 

Basically, yes it is stealing.

hermy27 | Student

Regardless as to whether or not the object was immediately replaced, it is the act of taking an object that does not belong to you that would be considered stealing.  If I cut off you finger and immediately sew on someone else's finger that looks exactly the same, it wouldn't change the fact that I cut off your finger.  Whatever action follows the original action does not negate the severity or wrongness of what happened.

kevin0001 | Student

Yes, that would count as stealing because first of all, you took it without asking the owner of the pen. Then, you replaced it with another pen. You took something that belongs to them and replaced with something that doesn't belong to them. That's still stealing. The owner never gave you any permission to take the pen which is also apart of stealing. 

zumba96 | Student

Yes it is because one you are stealing and two you are taking things without their permission. Even if it is the exact same pen you replace it with, it is not yours. The results are not changed, either way you would be stealing

eli468 | Student

It would be considered stealing. Even if you replaced it with a pen that looked the same, you would have initially taken the pen and it would be considered stealing, if it was without permission. Even if the victim doesn't realize something is different, it doesn't change the fact that the pen was still taken, regardless of whether it was replaced. Even if you returned the exact same pen it would still be stealing if, once again, permission was not given. The end results don't change the action that occurred at the start.

wescarlyon337 | Student

thanks  very helpful