The topic that I thought was important to discuss in this class was the issue of poverty and hunger. When this topic was one of the options, I immediately agreed to study this issue, along with three of my classmates, because it was a concern that I have had recently. There are two competing authors that my group members and I read and discussed thoroughly.
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Peter Singer and Jan Narveson wrote two articles about how individuals should think when it comes to providing money to people who are less fortunate, and whether it is an obligation or not to donate money. In this paper, I hope to discuss the two issues thoroughly, provide an ethical theory that we learned this semester that most correlate to this issue, and my closing remarks on this issue. I believe that virtue ethics closely aligns with my view on how we should go about providing financial support to health organizations. We ought to be able to donate as much as we feel fit without being pressured and obligated. Our hearts should donate on the basis of what the person feels is virtuous, not out of obligation or one’s duty.
The first author is Peter Singer, who wrote: The Singer Solution to World Poverty. The overall objective in this writing piece was to show how one spends their money on inessential things or pleasures that could be funneled towards relief agencies around the globe. Peter Singer is honing in on the idea that we have a moral duty to give funds to others people around the globe who are less fortunate instead of spending it on things that are not essential to our lives or health. (The Ethical Life). He seeks to further his argument by providing examples and hypotheticals, which we will help us understand his train of thought more clearly.
Singer brings in philosopher Peter Unger, who wrote a book full of make-believe examples intended for us to think through whether people living on a comfortable salary not giving to people who are hungry, malnourished, or dying from easily treatable diseases are morally in the wrong. The one example that Peter Singer mentions a man named Bob, who owns an old Bugatti knows that in later years, it will be worth cashing in on to live comfortably. He is out for a little drive, and parks near a railway track. In an instant, he sees a runaway train, heading towards a stuck child on the track. Now, Bob happens to have a switch that could derail the train. But here is the catch: If he flips the switch, it will save the child but ultimately crash into his valuable, car. In this example, Bob decides against flipping the switch and allows the train to kill the child. This example is meant to correlate with how individuals have the opportunity to save children, but decide against it because the individuals do not personally know the people that are being affected by poverty and hunger, thus not sending money.
Towards the end of his article, he begins to state that there is no limit to how much individuals should donate to organizations in need of providing food to the hungry. Here is the formula Mr. Singer provides: Whatever money you’re not spending on luxuries, not necessities, should be given away. He wastes no time giving readers a sense of urgency that we are all Bob with a Bugatti, where we do not flip the switch. We are all in that situation. (The Ethical Life, pg. 236).
The second article that directly contradicts the Singer’s article is Feeding the Hungry by Jan Narveson. The thesis of Narveson’s article is that we are in no way obligated to feed the starving and it is entirely morally optional to provide assistance to those unfortunate ones. She brings about thoughts and examples that allow readers to discern the difference between the option of being moral and obligation towards the idea of being a good steward of finances towards the starving. One example she provides is if she locks an individual in a room, with no food, and does not allow you to leave, she has murdered you. She acknowledges the foulness of that act. But she completely does not understand some writers, such as James Rachels, who believes letting someone die is morally equivalent to killing them. Narveson believes that the difference between a deliberate wrong and a situation one has no control over is important to us in practice (The Ethical Life, pg. 240).
Another important point Narveson makes is the clear distinction between justice and charity. In short, she contends that justice is where one is compelled to carry out something, and they must do it. It is forced. On the side of the debate, charity comes from the heart. You are taking on a role or cause because you deem it necessary to care for someone, out of the goodness of your heart. You are not forced here. In conclusion, she wraps up stating that …we have the right to feed [the hungry] if we wish but we should never be forced to feed them. It is good on one’s heart to have the compassion to feed the hungry, and recommended that you do take charge. Charitable offerings should be genuine and from your good spirit, otherwise, you feel like a slave reluctantly giving money to something that your heart is not 100% about.
After summarizing the two points of view from the competing authors, I would like to take time to thoroughly discuss why I believe virtue ethics most closely relates to Narveson’s article. The idea of not feeling obligated or reduced to a moral law on how and why we should give charitably to organizations and the starving fits my opinion on the matter well. In the next few parts of this paper, I would like to provide a concise, yet thorough definition of virtue ethics, why I believe it applies most closely to this issue, and offer potential arguments that might counter my viewpoints.
Virtue ethics is defined as the following: emphasizes the role of one’s character and virtues, and it not confined by a set duty or to act in a certain form to bring about good end results. It is grounded in the idea that one should look at the virtues itself, and go about acts or situations in that manner. Act as a virtuous person would act in your situation is something that virtue ethicists might offer to you in a potential situation. To say this as plainly as possible, this ethical theory aims at the core of your being. The virtues that are within your heart is natural and is developed over time. Your goal is to act virtuously over a broad spectrum of situations because it is essential to who you are. It is the virtues in his/her heart that will propel them to be virtuous, and not have any aim or agenda in any given situation. It is the character that will matter in situations given.
Virtue ethics relates well with the article of Feeding the Hungry by Jan Narveson because she states that it not an obligation to give to the hungry that goes against your will. Virtue ethics does not demand or cling to an idea of duties, or the way one ought to act to be a good, moral person. Narveson argues that it is good to give to the those in hunger, but when one is forced to give against one’s will, it is no longer virtuous (The Ethical Life). In some regards, one can make the conclusion that virtue ethics is a broad theory, due to the fact that it aims for individuals to be virtuous, and this may form over the course of one’s lifetime. It is not contingent on a set of rules or formality.
To offer my own personal remarks, I relate to this ethical theory most because I should not feel the burden from others dictating how I should donate a portion of my donations to an organization. The message of Peter Singer was quite compelling, and it allowed me to reflect on how I spend my money weekly. It definitely has made me more aware of how I could save money, and think about how I could donate money equivalent to two meals going out, or two cups of coffee, and funnel that towards UNICEF or a local charity. But overall, his argument was aiming to get us to donate a certain amount, based on an independent study he included in his article. I disagree with the idea that people who make $100,000 a year should donate almost two-thirds of their paycheck to organizations. He fails to include that a family of four should be taken into consideration, or a recent college student making that sort of income donate instead of paying off his student loan debts. I believe his way of thinking is little extreme and forcing. But in regards to Narveson’s view, I should be able to act virtuously when I feel compelled to give money that week to someone in dire need. I should never feel pressured to donate because I would not be acting from my heart, but from someone telling me what to do.
Another point that I mentioned earlier this essay was Narveson’s argument about the difference between justice and charity. I wholeheartedly believe that if there was ever a situation where I caused a group to starve, I would feel obligated to provide food and financial assistance. I would admit that was a clear fault on my behalf. This is justice being served, due to the irresponsibility of my actions and lapse of judgment. But if there was an instance where hunger was a big issue in a neighboring state, I would not feel obligated to send money and/or food. I would, however, donate from the virtues of my heart, and donate whatever I possibly could to help those less fortunate. This would be considered charity because I am taking up the recommendation of being a servant to help a cause bigger than me.
I have offered my view of why virtue ethics directly applies to Narveson’s article, and why I agree with this interpretation. However, I should feel prepared to have someone deliver counter-arguments to my way of interpretation. The ethical theory that directly challenges the ethical theory I chose is deontology (based on the issue of this essay). In short, deontology is the ethical theory dealing with rules that discern right from wrong. It deals with one having to perform a duty or obligation in a given a situation. I hope to offer a few points and display arguments that may challenge my opinion.
One might argue and use Singer’s article as an example to why one should feel inclined to donate to one of the health organizations listed in the article. When one is aware of a crisis in another country that has people suffering from an oppressive government regime, starving its people, one might offer an argument that other well-to-do countries should chime in on the situation and offer monetary relief and assistance. There are situations where one is called to act out of obligation to commit to a cause bigger than itself and should choose compassion and generosity over self-interest. One might refute my take on the fact that we should not be pressured to give against my will, but I do acknowledge the idea of feeling empathetic to donate rather than to withhold. To act on love and kindness than to cave into selfish desires. To look to one’s left and right and see the pain, rather than turn a blind eye and act as nothing is taking place.
I anticipate a remark from the other side of this debate that I should possess a duty to act and provide financial assistance to organizations and people suffering from hunger. I do not agree with scare tactics or constant criticism of the way I spend my income, but I will agree to reminders to perform a duty and donate time and money to support local food drives and make donations to organizations striving to provide for suffering hunger. I believe it is important to acknowledge viewpoints on the other side of the issue and to apply a few counter-arguments to strengthen one’s position on the issue.
As one conclude confidently, poverty and hunger is a complex issue, and there is no right or wrong answer about how one should give their resources to helping with this incredible cause. I believe that through the summarizing both articles, offering my take on the issue and the ethical theory that most correlates to my way viewing this matter, and the inclusion of anticipating remarks to my opinion, one might have a better understanding of this issue. I firmly believe that if one acts with love in his heart, that person will act with goodness and be charitable. I do not believe forcing someone to donate financially is the appropriate way to help with a cause, but a simple reminder would go a long way on how the conveyance of the message could help stir the hearts and minds on caring for those in hunger.
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