The Moral Obligation Of Charity And The Critique Of Cultural Relativism And Egoism

Relativists believe there is no right or wrong thing to do, there is no absolute truth. They believe a person’s view on what is morally right or wrong is strictly based on their culture and what is right or wrong varies from person to person while an egoist believes only in their own self interest and not the interest of others. The relativists and egoist both believe there is no objective moral rule that says we ought to be charitable to other people but I criticize this belief, I argue that there are many reasons to give to charity and there is an objective moral rule that says we ought to be charitable. The main objective ethical reason for giving to charity is that it makes you feel good.

In Ruth Benedict’s, “Cultural relativism” she explains her strong stands and viewpoints on why she thinks moral relativism is the correct view of moral principles. She highlights the idea of not judging a culture to our own standards of what is right or wrong, strange or normal. Instead, we should try to understand cultural practices of other groups in its own cultural context. Louis Pojman stated in his article “A defense of ethical objectivism” that “There are no absolute or objective moral standards that apply to all people every-where”. Benedict’s argument on cultural relativism is very strong. I personally criticize her argument about cultural relativism as this only relies on a person’s cultural background and traits which they are accustomed to. I believe a person’s own decisions can sometimes be more important than cultural beliefs because following cultural rules are not always positive nor ethical. Think about seeing a person suffering on the road and you are capable of helping them, you know you would feel guilty knowing you didn’t help them but because of your cultural beliefs you leave that person on the street. This is by far not morally correct even though a relativist might view it as such. Benedict mentioned an example about the Kwakiutl people, that it didn’t matter how they died, as long as someone died, they had to kill someone else to replace the death of their loved one. This is morally wrong, but this act would be the same if people gave to charity based on their cultural beliefs. Charity on a whole may be viewed as something right to do but that decision should be left to our own intuition and not some cultural belief.

According to Ayn Rand, “we ought to live our lives pursuing our own happiness and self interests and not worrying about the interests of others”. Personally this view point has to be criticized. People should be treated equally, and we need to show each other love and should treat others the way we wish to be treated. Giving to charity is an honorable thing to do, it may not benefit us physically, but it will aid the person who receives it and that in itself is a good deed. Egoism is unfair it its entirety, it only focuses on one’s own self, but it is evident that it is more beneficial to all when people help out each other. There are times that self interest can lead to ethical actions, and self interest in a capitalistic society can lead to prosperity much of the time but not always. People who do wrong almost always does it because they think it is in their self interest but what is in our self-interest is not always ethical. The problem with egoism is that it is bad for improving our society. Egoism only focuses on ones own self interest, but we are all interdependent on each other. We ought to help other people and look out for their interests.

If a person only focuses on his/her own self interest then that will in no means be a positive impact on our society.

The relativists would agree that there is no objective moral rule that says we ought to be charitable since they believe that truth and what’s right or wrong, is confined to the context giving rise to them. Ethical relativism relates to the norms of one’s culture, weather an action is right or wrong depends on the moral norms of that society where it is practiced, hence a relativist would not believe there is an objective moral rule that says we ought to give to charity since every culture is different. With reference to Benedict’s article, in our society we might think being charitable is the right thing to do or that we should do it without question but what is right to us may be questionable in another society. She mentions how many of our culturally discarded traits are selected for elaboration in different societies. A good example explained in her article was that of the old man who liked to work and being helpful, he had a different culture hence people would laugh at him whenever they spoke and labelled him as silly and crazy because they are not used to people acting that way, they are used to their culture where no one would work nor share with each other, but he acted this way because of his cultural roots so to him, what he was doing was normal. These view points towards charity can be troubling and problematic due to its implications on an individual’s moral belief. If you view charity from a relativism point of view and your norms are never to be charitable how would you function in a society where their norms towards charity is giving? The right or wrong of a person’s action depends on the norms of the society and one must obey these norms and to diverge from those norms would result in acting immorally. If you are in a society which believes that we ought to be charitable then you must accept those practices as morally right but these view points will promote social conformity and leave no room for moral reform or improvement in the society.

Egoist would agree to this opinion that there is no objective moral rule that says we ought to be charitable since they strongly believe that people ought to act in their own self-interest, hence if you want to be charitable then it must benefit one’s self. An egoist believes whatever is done should be done for an individual own personal gain. James Rachels bought up a very important point in his article on a critique of ethical egoism. “Why do we allow people to starve to death when we could save them? Very few of us actually believe our luxuries are that important. Most of us, if asked the question directly, would probably say that we should do more for famine relief”. From an egoist point of view, giving to charity as much as it may seem like the right thing to do can still be selfish. You won’t help someone if you didn’t want to feel good about it. The egoist point of view is one which is merely selfish. Selfishness is never a good thing in our society and can cause widespread problems which impact not only ourselves but the society on a whole. An act of selfishness rarely yields positive results and impacts us negatively while an act of kindness yields a positive result. Selfishness can in no way better our environment. Egoism prohibits helping others for their sake and that is not at all good for the flourishing of humans, furthermore egoism goes against considered moral intuitions and that is unacceptable.

There are good reasons to be charitable in today’s society. Weather you’re an egoist or relativist. If a person needs help and you’re able to help them then we ought morally to do it. You can make a difference between life and death. People lives are as important as yours hence being charitable in instances where you can then do so no matter your stands on the situation. Giving even the smallest to charity will have a big impact on that person’s life.Giving helps us to create a better world, spread justice etc. Imagine someone being able to see again because of your donation. A personal experience I’ve had which showed me how important it is to give is an encounter I’ve had with a lady and her son while I was out. The lady approached me asking if I had any money could give her so she could get dinner for her son because they had nothing to eat. Luckily I had some money and gave it to her. Her son’s sadness quickly transitioned to one of happiness. At that moment it became clear to me that giving to charity is not only right but it also increases self happiness and the happiness of others. I am in no position to say what is right or wrong. As Jermy Betham mentioned in his article, “Classical Hendonism”, “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do as well as to determine what we shall do”. The main point highlighted within utilitarianism is increasing happiness and decreasing pain. Being charitable will be increasing the greater good of the society and provide positive results, furthermore it will fulfill all those requirements of utilitarianism and make the world a better place.

Work Сited

  1. Benedict, Ruth. 1993. “Cultural Relativism.” In Moral Philosophy: A Reader, eds. Louis Pojman and Peter Tramel. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing, 33-37.
  2. Bentham, Jeremy. 1993. “Classical Hedonism.” In Moral Philosophy: A Reader, eds. Louis Pojman and Peter Tramel. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing, 120-122.
  3. Mill, John Stuart. 1993. “Utilitarianism.” In Moral Philosophy: A Reader, eds. Louis Pojman and Peter Tramel. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing, 158-163.
  4. Pojman, Louis. 1993. “A Defense of Ethical Objectivism.” In Moral Philosophy: A Reader, eds. Louis Pojman and Peter Tramel. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing, 38-52.
  5. Rachels, James. 1993. “A Critique of Ethical Egoism.” In Moral Philosophy: A Reader, eds. Louis Pojman and Peter Tramel. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing, 86-93.
09 March 2021
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