So, Bob is on his way to work one day when he passes a pond and sees a child drowning. He knows he can swim well enough to save the child, but he also knows the water is going to be cold and it will ruin his new suit. Should he jump in anyway and save the child?
This is an example used by Australian philosopher, Peter Singer to illustrate the moral obligation human beings have to help those less fortunate than they are.
I thought this would be an interesting question to consider on an individual level after the previous post where the comments discussed the question on a much more global level.
Singer believes that the needs of the poor are of much greater importance than any inconvenience it would cause us to provide the help. He believes not only that it’s our moral obligation to provide the help, but also that it’s immoral not to.
Do we care more about our new suit than the life of another human being? Should the money we would normally spend on luxuries like a meal in an expensive restaurant go instead to feed the poor?
According to the Jewish principle of tzedakah, people should willingly give at least 10% of their income to charity. For them it is a matter of religious duty.
Another school of thought is that charity shouldn’t be an obligation or a duty, but something done out of a true sense of compassion. When a mother gives up the last bit of food in the house to feed her children, she is not doing it out of duty or obligation, but because she sees their welfare and her own welfare as part of a whole. In the same way we should see “the poor” as part of us – not something separate from us. Living among people in need and not helping, diminishes all of us as human beings.
And, although many people would never admit it in public, there is also a school of thought that says, “Hi, I’m Frank. I work hard for my money. I slogged through years of school. I’ve scrimped and saved and invested so that I could provide a good life for myself and my family. Why should I also be responsible for Ernie over there, who dropped out of school to hitchhike around the country, who can’t hold down a job for more than a couple of months and who can barely provide for himself and yet goes and has four kids?”
Should Frank’s kids do without a trip to Disneyland this year so that Frank can give their vacation money to Ernest instead?
Or, would we, perhaps agree with George Orwell, that all charity is evil? That it doesn’t solve any problems and only makes things worse for those living in poverty? That charity may be kind, but it isn’t practical. That government/society gives us charity as a “quack cure” for poverty and injustice.
What’s really happening is that charitable giver becomes the focus of the charity instead of the people in need. Because it makes us all feel good. It makes us feel like we’ve accomplished something worthwhile, and it diverts our attention away from the fact that what charity really does is allow government/society to abdicate its responsibilities to its citizens.
Because charity doesn’t really address the root problems of poverty, does it? But as long as we have food banks and the United Way and homeless shelters, et al, we work hard at promoting and supporting them and forget to force any real solution.
Orwell uses Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as an illustration:
…we are not aiming at the kind of world Dickens described, nor, probably, at any world he was capable of imagining. The Socialist objective is not a society where everything comes right in the end, because kind old gentlemen give away turkeys. In the end, there are not enough kind gentlemen to give away enough turkeys.
I wonder what Orwell would have done about that child drowning in the pond?
What’s your school of thought on charity?