Number Fifty-One

Tealiberasophoterianistic Perspectives

Ethics debate: the man, the pump & the penny

with 12 comments

A man without cash on hand pulls into a gas station and pre-pays with a credit card for $25.00 gas. Due to a mechanical failure, the pump shuts off displaying $25.01. The man drives away.

Question: did he steal?


Written by Jesse Phillips

June 18, 2011 at 11:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

12 Responses

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  1. yes…he stole 1 cents worth of gas.


    June 19, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    • Joey is correct. Clearly he stole. I think the better question, and perhaps the implied question, would be “did he do something immoral or unethical?” The answer to that question, according to most ethical theories, especially Kant’s, would be yes. I think the answer has to be yes.

      Jake Phillips

      June 19, 2011 at 8:32 pm

  2. Is it always stealing as a consumer to knowingly leave with a product or service that has a market value greater than what you paid for it?

    For example, if I hire a lawn service, and I pay $25 for $30 worth of work, am I stealing at that point?

    You could look at the gas station scenario as something similar. By swiping my card I am agreeing with the gas station that they will provide me with $25 worth of gasoline. They will do this through the programming of the gas pump delivering the prescribed amount of fuel.

    The fact that the pump delivered more gas than the exact contracted amount wouldn’t necessarily be stealing any more than the lawn service providing service that exceeds the amount agreed to.

    I believe this argument could be made.

    Jesse P.

    June 19, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    • Yes, he stole. The fact is he agreed to pay for a specified “item” Mechanical error or not, he is obligated to either return the anything he received he didn’t pay for (which in this case would be next to impossible) or walk into the gas station and give the cashier the amount needed for what he did not return.

      If he drives away and his conscience does not bother him, what might he be willing to steal in the future? What makes it stealing…if the next time he goes the mechanical problem gives him $10 worth of gas he didn’t pay for? $20? $50?


      June 20, 2011 at 3:08 am

      • So, if you prepaid for somebody to fertilize your grass once a month, and they actually came out and fertilized it twice, would you be obligated to pay for that second time?

        Jesse P.

        June 20, 2011 at 3:28 am

  3. I don’t see how this is different than a full service station scenario where I give a guy $25 bucks tell him to put that much in my car, leave for a minute, come back and he tells me he put $30 in and then tries to tell me I owe him $5. I don’t think I do owe him anything, since we had an agreement that I would pay him $25. How can I be responsible for paying more than I agreed to pay because of his failure?

    Jesse P.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:37 am

    • The difference is that the full service person has an opportunity to address the mistake and potentially fix it. You don’t have the obligation to pay more than agreed.

      Chris S

      June 20, 2011 at 9:38 am

    • There’s a difference between a person consciously choosing to come fertilize your lawn again, and a machine making a mechanical error. The machine has no consciousness, and is clearly not trying to cheat you out of money. I don’t think you’re obligated to pay the 1 cent, but it would be unethical to simply take the extra cent worth of gas. Like Mom said, would it make a difference if it gave you $10 worth of gas? What if every person at every gas pump in the world started getting an extra cent worth of gas?

      Jake Phillips

      June 20, 2011 at 12:12 pm

  4. Yes, he did steal.

    By prepaying, he had a implied contract where the gas station is responsible for the machine giving him gas worth $25 at the stated rate and he would pay the agreed amount.
    The fact that the machine gave him 1c more does not create a requirement for him to pay extra as Jesse states above. He is required however to inform the other party of the mistake if he is aware of it. By not doing so, he is depriving them of the opportunity to fix that mistake. Now you could argue that there is no ability for him to return the product (nor could the gas station receive it) and I would agree. But that assumption doesn’t change the man’s requirement allow them to address the mistake.

    Chris S

    June 20, 2011 at 9:36 am

  5. This is a complicated issue. Let’s say ProvisionIT agrees to do a technology install that will take 4 hours for a contracted hourly amount and it takes 6 hours. Is the client obligated to pay for the additional 2 hours? No, because we under estimated the time the job would require and there is no fault on the client’s part. However, this is different, as Chris said, when machinery is involved. I see his point that we are at least obligated to inform the gas station (in this case) that there is a problem. But, as believers, I think we go the “extra mile” to then say, “But this wasn’t your fault so here is the money for the gas I actually used.”

    To do nothing but drive away (even happy that we received something we didn’t pay for) is, in my opinion, living as those who lives have not been invaded by the “otherness” of the gospel that has changed our lives.

    Our obligation is not primarily to men, but to the God who has changed our hearts forever.


    June 20, 2011 at 3:22 pm

  6. For the record, this exact scenario happened to me. Actually, I forget if it was $25 or not, but the pump squeezed out an extra penny of gas, which probably was nothing more than a drop that got caught in the fuel line anyway.

    I did go and give a penny to the sales clerk.

    It got me thinking, however, about consumer protection, contract law, etc. It just seems to me like both sides in a contract have obligations, and that it would be wrong for a company to hold me liable to pay more than I agreed to pay, whether human error or mechanical error.

    Jesse P.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    • You know those machines aren’t entirely accurate, there’s probably a small percentage of error in all transactions regardless of what the meter reads. One day they probably rob you of a few pennies worth of gas, other days its in your favour. I see no ethical dilemma in this, receiving an extra penny of gas isn’t quite the same as robbing needy families. Just my one cents.


      June 21, 2011 at 3:59 pm

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