Saturday, November 15, 2008

Against coerced charity.

The Master Argument:

Charity cannot be coerced.

Now onto the substantive argument. Consider Len, a man who is a hard worker and has been visited by the following misfortune: he loses his job and will starve to death if he doesn’t get any food.

Consider Bob, a man who works hard but doesn’t lose his job.

Len asks Bob for some food and Bob refuses and then when Bob isn’t paying attention Len takes some of Bob’s food and eats it. Here’s two questions I have, as well as what I think to be their respective (correct) answers:

(1) Was it immoral for Bob not to give Len some food? Yes.

(2) Was it immoral for Len to take Bob’s food against Bob’s will? Yes.

I answered “yes” to (1) because I think Bob has an obligation to Len to help him out and I answered “yes” to (2) because I think Len has an obligation to Bob not to steal Bob’s food. So both Len and Bob are immoral. The juicy question is: is the fact that Len is starving have any bearing on (2)? I think most people might think so and I suppose they think so on the following ground:

(3) It’s morally permissible to steal so long as it’s to save someone’s life.

But (3) is clearly false. Consider Shelly, a woman who works for a nonprofit organization that provides food for starving children in Canada. She comes a knockin’ at Bob’s door and asks him to donate some money to feed the starving in Canada. Bob, being his usual self, says no. But because Shelly is committed to the truth of (3) she hacks into Bob’s bank account and transfers half of Bob’s life savings into her organization’s fund. Should Shelly be thrown in prison? Yes. And therefore (3) is false. Now just as it was with Len I think Bob had an obligation to help the starving in Canada- so I agree that Bob was immoral for not donating money. But the point I would like to make is that because (3) is false, the mere fact that A has an obligation to help B and A is immoral for being unwilling to help B, the fact of A’s being immoral for not helping B doesn’t justify nor lessen the moral offense if B were to steal from A. Stealing is just as immoral as not helping someone. Period.


(4) All Government welfare programs, if not unanimously willed by the people, are unjust.

You may not find this argument convincing, but that’s irrelevant. Unless you can defeat this argument you must accept (4)!


Blogger Noelle said...

I concede your argument but you are forgetting an element, the human element. Okay really... you and I try to impose our beliefs on the greater society (e.g abortion, gay marriage) so why not impose the duty to take care of the fatherless, widows and the poor. I know the former issues are positive rights and this would be a negative right but I think taking care of the poor is more justified than being forced to do so.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Noelle said...

oops...but I think taking care of the poor is more justified than not being forced to do so.

10:32 AM  

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