An Ethical Quandary: Should I Have Taken Frank's Coffee?
By Art Carden
I’m sharing a room with Frank Stephenson of Berry College at the Southern Economic Association meeting in Tampa. Our room has a coffeemaker that makes one cup at a time. Yesterday morning, Frank made a cup of coffee, then I made one while Frank was shaving. While my cup was brewing, I thought “I could just drink the cup Frank made and have the present satisfaction of coffee right now, and then he could enjoy the coffee I’m brewing when he finishes shaving.”
I didn’t do that, and I waited for my own cup of coffee to finish brewing. It just felt wrong to take Frank’s coffee even though the coffees were essentially perfect substitutes and I was pretty sure Frank wouldn’t have cared (I wouldn’t have had he done it, and he confirmed that he wouldn’t have cared when I mentioned it to him as we walked to the elevator).
Like I said, the coffees were perfect substitutes, I was pretty sure Frank wouldn’t care, and if I were in his position I wouldn’t have cared, either. So why was my instinct to say “it would be wrong to take Frank’s coffee”? Was my instinct correct?