This argument falls flat if we assume that the price of an elite pass is within the means of a typically impoverished person; maybe they really care that much about having a seat on the bus. They could be living without a TV because they have a socially-unrecognized disability that makes standing on a bus a painful affair.

As far as I can tell, Explodicle is just rationalizing his self-interest to sound like it dismisses traditional ethical concerns regarding property, when in fact he has little intuitive grasp of such concerns to begin with; in a non-communist society, he is "evil".

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I would add that one emphatically feels the disappointment of the person whose right under the norm or law is being violated. Norms/laws are coordinating mechanisms, on which people rely (to a considerable extent). Disappointing their expectations is an additional harm to them (and it detracts from social coordination).

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You miss something in the bus scenario, and that is that in the second scenario, you *do* pay something for the seat.

I was frequently in that scenario for three years, where there was a rush and a fight to get on early to the school bus. Not only so you could get a seat, but the "cool" seats (in the back). As an archetypal nerd I was not cool and did not want to be cool, so I did not rush and did not fight. This means that whenever the buss was full (not every day) I stood for the 5 miles home. No big deal.

So notice that in that scenario, those who get the seat pays for it, by "fighting" and "rushing" to get the seat. And those who stand are usually those for whom a seat have little value. Of course this excludes handicapped, elderly and pregnant, but so does your example, so I think your example is in fact exactly modeling an overfull school bus.

But in the first case, you don't pay buy rushing. You pay with money. That means that you, who did not think a seat was worth the price, took it from somebody that did.

So in fact, in the first case you are really stealing a seat you do not feel is worth much from somebody that does. In the second case you rush for a seat you find worth the rush and take it from somebody who feels it's not worth the rush.

Obviously you should feel bad in the first case, and not in the second.

Also, calling out loud if somebody lost a ticket is not something useful, as the tickets are obviously not personalized. Anyone could say "Yeah me!". So not feeling bad for that is OK. I wouldn't, just as I wouldn't call out "who lost ten dollars" on a crowded bus. However, the one who lost the ticket should reasonably call out and say "oh, I lost my seating ticket".

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The technical term is "alienation of affections".

I'm reminded of Prefer Law to Values.

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Two possible rules regarding the problem of seduction benefits and costs between parties and to society:(1) the married loser could sue the seducer for estrangement.(2) the married loser could pay for an audit (or have an audit facilitator cover audit costs on contingency) to demonstrate the seducer's behavior made society worse off (loser pays audit costs including loss of income and reasonable incentive/discincentive fines).

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A determination of the value of norms cannot be drawn from the examples used, since the object of empathy is not being controlled for.

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case 1:

People get a limited amount of money to spend in a year. Since you didn't mention an income differential, I'll assume that the two working class schlubs on a bus make roughly amount of money.

Let's say they each buy all the same stuff and have $5 remaining in their yearly budget.

Person A buys a seat entitlement card with his because he has arthritis in his knees.

Person B has arthritis in his knees too, but he buys knee braces with his $5 that allow how to stand fine in a bus. Person A tried knee braces last year, but they only helped a little bit, so this year he decided it was worth more to buy the pass.

Person B finds person A's bus pass and uses it to score a seat.

Person A rides the bus standing with sore knees.

Society is worse off on net.

case 2:

There are no elite passes, lets say A and B both bought knee braces. B's still help him stand in a bus way better than A's do for A. B rushes and gets the seat first (but,we'll assume there was a 50% probablity of this outcome).

Society is worse off on net.

But, the two cases are not symmetric (assuming A and B both have an each chance at a seat in case 1). In the first case, A and B both had a preference signaling mechanism available to them (whether or not they decided to spend their money on the pass rather than on something else). B, by ignoring this signal "violated a norm", but also statistically made society worse off on net.

Where am I going wrong here?

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I actually have LESS of a problem with finding the ticket than hustling for a seat. The person who drops a ticket had extra money to burn, so I don't mind so much taking things from them. Similarly, I would rather rob an equal amount of money from someone wealthy than some random person. (I assume the elderly and disabled still get priority bus seating for free.)

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Agreed. Taking something somebody else paid for is in fact stealing. Taking something that is first-come-first-serve is not.

Same standards go for seducing a married woman, basically, with fuzzier boundaries. Single people are "first come, first serve" as far as dating is concerned. Married people are not because somebody already "paid" for them. (This metaphor doesn't trouble me because I'm anti-marriage.)

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I think you wrote a damn fine argument, Robin.-I just ran across this blog -and I'm pleased. :)

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Norms = Empathy

If you value the effect that the norm or law has on your life then you dislike seeing the norm violated and empathize with those it is violated against.

In the priority seating example those who value property rights and rely on society to enforce their rights are likely to empathize with the victim.

You also muddy the thought experiment by making it theft of lost property.

The use of the word law also makes things a bit shaky. Sure some respond to norms out of fear of the group but the group as a whole needs to support the norm. More often members will empathize with a norm. A law is more likely to be enforced by one group of people onto another group of people. Law for me brings up the idea of paying taxes and driving slow.

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The prohibitions against theft and adultery are norms. So is minding your business, in fact. Saying "theft is wrong" is a restatement of the norm, except that talking about norms is more of an outsider's way of talking. So we say "murder is wrong" but "rural Afghans have a strong norm against women showing their hair in public".

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I think this line of reasoning can go even further. If we imagine a person feeling mild annoyance at losing a seat to a more pushy person, and outrage at having his elite pass stolen, his feelings in the latter case may in turn be motivated by empathy with the other person. The first person feels the second person's satisfaction at having broken a norm as a negative emotion, which he attempts to rid himself of, even though the thief was motivated by the desire for a seat, not to break a rule. So we have two people, each behaving empathetically, but each modelling the other as being responsive directly to norms. This fits with the "fundamental attribution error" theory, where people think of themselves as situationally motivated, but of others as "being" good or bad.

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I would argue the comparisons are not equal. In the first cases in both scenarios you are breaking into a someone else's contract. Someone paid for that ticket and that's someone's wife - it's theft and adultery respectively. Whereas the second cases of both scenario are simply "first come, first serve".

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What's missing from this analysis is the obvious. Not returning lost property when the owner can easily be found is considered theft or akin to theft, as is adultery.Theft is wrong. It doesn't matter how much the elite card's rightful owner suffers or how much the wronged husband is angered or upset. It's the card owner's and the husband's prerogative to be upset or not -- it's his grievance, just as it was his card and his wife -- and none of the thief or adulterer's business.

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Regarding the bus example: as other have stated similarly, securing a seat on the bus requires and element of skill, thus conferring the feeling that that seat is the reward for a successful effort. As an example, some people better anticipate which cars will be fullest and where the doors will stop along the platform when waiting for the metro. Standing near a dropped card takes luck.

Regarding the seduction example: I imagine we believe the seduced party in a marriage suffers a misfortune because she is less able to assess the marginal value of either relationship. It's my understanding that the psychological basis of most cheating is the drive to seek novelty. Making the assumptions that seduction in marriage occurs later (in years) into the relationship and that novelty tends to diminish with time, it seems that those seduced out of marriage will have become unduly susceptible to sources of novelty. Thus, we see them as having traded an intense pleasure over a short duration over a moderate pleasure for an indefinite duration. I'd like to see data about average length of relationships between seducer and seduced in these cases.

More concretely, I think we see seduction out of marriage as a loss because the person seduced has left one decent relationship for another with no long-term potential. I'd also guess the degree of misfortune would depend on the age of the seduced and her prospects/transaction costs for finding a new relationship.

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