Who is responsible for a package? The sender or the volunteer messenger who carries it? Do they perhaps have a joint responsibility? This issue has led to quite a number of arguments between me and my wife over the years, and we still haven’t resolved it.
Here’s the deal. Let’s say that Jenny’s in bed with a cold and asks her partner Anne to take out a book for her from the library. This Anne does, but on the way home she loses the book. Maybe she absentmindedly puts it on a shelf in the grocery store and it gets stolen, or she forgets to close her backpack and the book falls into an open manhole along the way. Who pays the library for the lost book?
- Sender pays. One of us feels that if Jenny isn’t willing to do her own running, then she has to accept that her unpaid messenger is only human, and thus error-prone. Jenny should pay. An optional generous thing for Anne to do here is to offer to share the expense.
- Volunteer messenger pays. One of us feels that by accepting the task, Anne accepts responsibility, and that it would be childish for Anne to expect Jenny to pay for the book. Anne should pay. Indeed, anything else would mean that Anne abdicated from the status of dependable adult, and should be ashamed of herself.
I once ran this question by a group of Swedish on-line acquaintances and found that the ones who agreed with me were a) somewhat in the minority, b) on the whole less likeable than the rest from my point of view. Dear Reader, what’s your take on the issue?
Update 2 April: In addition to many thoughtful comments below by readers, Janet over at Adventures in Ethics and Science kindly devotes an entire blog entry to this highly controversial issue.