The Moral Obligation Of Charity And The Critique Of Relativism And Egoist

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Charity is an act of giving to others in need, it entails food, clothing, money and displaying kindness. It also relates to ethics that deals with good and bad behaviors. It highlights questions about morality regarding its subjectivity or objectivity. Ethics also describes the relationship between self-interest and morality, discusses the positive and negative effect of human actions on others.

Relativism is a philosophical stance that state that all viewpoints are considered valid and is seen as truth to that individual. For example, a person’s moral standard and religious belief is considered truth to that Individual. Ethical egoism and Utilitarianism are the theories that attempt to challenge relativism by justifying that there is a universal principle of right and wrong.

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Egoists believe that everyone should act in their self-interest and that one is not obligated to promote another person’s self-interest. They also believe that by pursuing their self-interest is a way of promoting good in society and the world. This means that deciding whether an action is good should not be determined based on how it affects others but solely based on the self-gratification it brings to that individual. As a result, an egoist tends to measure whether an action would have a positive or negative effect based on his/her feelings. An Egoists idea of donating to charity would be that the act of giving money, food, clothing, etc., if it makes them (egoist) feel good instead of caring about the benefit that the aid would have on the person receiving it. Ethical egoism is often equated with selfishness, the disregard of other’s interests. However, according to the ethical egoism it is often one’s self-interest to help others or to refrain from harming them. For an ethical egoist would believe that the motivation to help family members, friends or strangers in a time of need is based their intrinsic gain.

Ethical egoism is a theory that focuses on the pursuit of one’s own self -interest and it also states that a person does not have an obligation to promote another person’s interest. Adam Smith “Wealth of Nations” believes that when people pursue their own self-interest, society at large benefits from their actions. Mr. Smith also states that this occurs because people are the best judges of their own self-interests. Consequently, they become more motivated to pursue their own goals than that of another. If one makes a moral decision, one would consider the benefits that would be derived by involvement in the matter. For example, from the egoist perspective, if one acquired or had $5000, one would benefit from keeping it than donating it to charity because the morally correct decision would be to keep the money to invest in self-interest thus advancing self.

Ethical relativism is the notion that there is no right or wrong because there is no Universal law. Right and wrong is perceived by individuals based on their upbringing, societal and cultural norms and their value system. Right and wrong varies from one Individual to another. For example, if one person believes that it is right to keep money than donating it to charity, then the person would believe that is the ethical thing to do. Whereas, if another person donates money to others then that person would believe that it is the ethically correct thing to do. Ethical Relativism also believe that a society’s ethics changes with time to change to fit different situations.

Utilitarianism is one of John Mills work in which he believed in the pursuit of happiness and added that it should be given to several people. He states “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness and wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.” Mills also believes that a person’s action would be right if it resulted in pleasure or happiness as opposed to pain. I gather that he would view people giving to charity an act of self-fulfilment which would bring about self-gratification about doing such a good deed. Mills believes that fulfilling such acts of giving to charity would promote inner happiness as well as create a better environment to live by helping others in need.

In Peter Singer is an Australian Philosopher who wrote “Famine, Affluence, and Morality essay” based on his observation on the death rates in East Bengal due to lack of food shelter and medical care “suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad” (Singer 1972). He believes that if people have the capability to prevent these things from occurring without making a huge sacrifice, it would be the moral thing to do. At the core of his work is the importance of having programs designed to help impoverished countries by requesting donations from others, which he believes would prevent famine and death. Singer provides an example of a child drowning in a shallow pond to illustrate his analogy. He believes that anyone passing by even if he/she is wearing a fine apparel should save the child, although it would result in their clothing getting wet. Singer adds that one would not have to compromise one’s morals to save a child and that helping others in need is justifiable and morally necessary. He also believes geographic location or distance should not prevent one from helping because it is one’s obligation to help others in impoverished countries because it is morally appropriate thing to do.

Based on Singer’s theory one can assume that moral obligation exists regardless of culture. Singer states that people are more likely to help someone within proximity to them geographically is greater than someone who is further away. Singer is contrary to the argument of writers who are opposed to international development assistance; and they also believe that person should help the impoverished in their own country than abroad. Singer challenges their beliefs because due to the advances in technology one can easily help those in need. Therefore, Singer considers it immoral and unjustifiable to discriminate because of geographic location.

A major theme to most of Singer’s essays critiques the conceptualization of charity. He believes that donations given by the affluent should not receive more praise than individuals with limited finances. For example, Bill Gates should not be praised for his charitable work due his billionaire status. Singer adds that in a moral sense Bill Gates financial contribution would be less admirable than that made by a single parent who donates modestly to her local charity. The contributions made by the Gates’ Foundation although it addresses famine, help provide medical assistance and shelter would not be considered as morally ethical in comparison to a $15.00 monthly contribution by the single parent helping a well for a small village in Eritrea. He would add that the individual giving $15 who has minimal resources would be making a bigger sacrifice because of the recognition that it is the morally appropriate thing to do.

To summarize, each theorist highlighted his perspective as it relates to charity. Ethical egoism and relativism are critiqued due to their views on charity which promotes self-interest. In one’s time of need one would want help in some degree. It is important to treat others the way one would want to be treated. There is a moral obligation to help others by giving to charitable causes because it is the right thing to do. Donating to charitable causes nationwide and globally helps to improve the quality of lives of less fortunate people in the world.


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