In the book Anthem, Ayn Rand describes a utopia where individuality is forbidden. All citizens live mundane, highly structured lives. The governing Council constantly teaches that men exist for the sole purpose of serving their fellow brothers to benefit society as a whole. Yet, one man, Equality 7-2521 defies these widely upheld beliefs. Equality discovers his own individuality and self-worth when he escapes into unchartered territory. He is no longer obligated to serve others but able to live according to his own free will. Ayn Rand presents an important question through this fictional utopia. Do we have a moral obligation to do good for others? We can ask this same question about our society today. More specifically, are we morally obligated to help the less fortunate? I believe that we have a moral obligation to help our fellow Americans who live in poverty. This is important because there is currently a great number who are in dire need of help.
As an Objectivist, Ayn Rand believed that we do not have a moral obligation to aid those who face poverty. From Rand’s perspective, morals are subjective since each person determines them for himself. Objectivism aims to promote freedom and the greatest amount of personal happiness for every single person. Thus, there are no moral absolutes to dictate our actions as humans. Therefore, Rand dismisses the notion that individuals have an obligation to help the poor. We may decide to help the poor if we so choose. However, this depends on if it aligns with our own moral codes. If someone does not believe that giving to the poor is a moral obligation, he is not required to so. Ayn Rand is an accomplished author and the founder of Objectivism. In the article “Charity”, Rand writes, “It is morally proper to accept help, when it is offered, not as a moral duty, but as an act of good will and generosity, when the giver can afford it (i.e., when it does not involve self-sacrifice on his part), and when it is offered in response to the receiver’s virtues, not in response to his flaws, weaknesses or moral failures, and not on the ground of his need as such”. This aligns with Rand’s former claim that we do not have an obligation to help the impoverished. Once again, we may choose for ourselves to help the less fortunate. However, this decision should not be out of sympathy towards a need, but rather out of admiration of another’s virtues. This is a personal choice and not a moral mandate.
Additionally, Rand argues that aiding those in need should not come at the expense of the giver. Rand’s Objectivism strives to bring about the most happiness for each individual. It is each man’s own responsibility to set his own personal morals that will best care for himself and bring about his own happiness. William R. Thomas is an accomplished author and lecturer who comments on Ayn Rand’s theory of Objectivism. Thomas writes, “Objectivism sees benevolent generosity as the complement of justice, not its antithesis. One reason we don’t have blanket obligations to support “the poor, for example, is because many poor people are poor because of their own choices and congenital vices. Thomas once again denies our moral obligation to help the poor. Like Rand, he views helping others as a positive decision but not a necessary one. Another reason for not helping those in poverty is because they deserve to be lesser. From Thomas” perspective, the impoverished are not ata disadvantage. Their own decisions placed them into this unfortunate dilemma. In conclusion, Rand believes that we have no moral obligation and should not sacrifice Ourselves to help those who are in poverty.
Although Ayn Rand presents a compelling argument, I believe that we have a moral obligation to help those in poverty in contrast to Objectivism. Imagine a society where Rand’s theory became a reality. Every person would be permitted to live according to their own personal moral standards. This may seem idealistic, but in reality, this would create immense discord among the population. Differing moral codes would come into conflict with one another. Additionally, no one would be obligated to do anything for anyone else including those in poverty. This will permit them the freedom to take advantage of one another rather than help. Denise Cummins is a psychologist and author who taught at Yale University. She writes, “Our very survival as a species depended on cooperation, and humans excel at cooperative effort. Rather than keeping knowledge, skills and goods ourselves, early humans exchanged them freely across cultural groups” (Cummins). As Cummins argued, we as humans are all dependent on one another. Rand’s Objectivism denies this dependency and community.
Abiding by a moral obligation to help those in need, would be a more effective method to alleviate suffering. George Monbiot often writes on the topic of social justice. In one article, he explains, “I wonder how many would continue to worship at the shrine of Ayn Rand if they knew that towards the end of her life she signed on for both Medicare and social security. She had railed furiously against both programs, which represented everything she despised about the intrusive state. Her belief system, however, was no match for the realities of age and ill-health” (Monbiot 15). Even Rand herself was unable to adhere to her Objectivist morals towards the end of her life. This is not an attack on her character, but rather reveals how unreasonable it is to live as a total Objectivist.
As we help those who are in poverty, we need to remember that, we too may need help from another in the future. Society functions best when we help the needy rather than leave them to care for themselves. In conclusion, our society should abide by a moral obligation to help the needy rather than Objectivism. Utilitarians believe that we have a moral obligation to help those in poverty. Froma Utilitarian standpoint, helping a group (such as the poor) is a priority over one’s own needs and desires. It may require sacrifice on an individual’s part to donate to a charitable organization or buy extra food for a homeless person. However, Utilitarians believe that these acts are justified by our moral obligation to achieve a greater good. From this perspective, we should aid those in poverty whenever it will bring the greatest happiness. This happiness can be measured by the number of impoverished helped by an individual’s contribution. It does not require a lot.
A relatively insignificant sacrifice on our part can make an enormous positive impact on another person’s life. Peter Singer is a bioethics professor at Princeton University and an influential moral philosopher. He says, “Just how much we will think ourselves obliged to give up will depend on what we consider to be of comparable moral significance to the poverty we could prevent: color television, stylish clothes, expensive dinners, a sophisticated stereo system, overseas holidays, a (second ?) car, a larger house, private schools for our children… none of these is likely to be of comparable significance to the reduction of absolute poverty” (Andre). Singer, speaking from a Uilitarian standpoint, believes that we should help the less fortunate because it can be achieved by relatively small sacrifices on our part. It is our moral duty to take part in helping the impoverished.
Though this may mean giving up some luxuries, it will contribute to the end goal of lessening poverty to benetit society as a whole. Claire Andre and Manuel Velasquez are professors in the ethics department at the University of Santa Clara. They agree with Singer when they write, “If I purchase a VCR or spend money I don’t need, knowing that I could instead have given my money to some relief agency that cOuld have prevented some deaths from starvation, I am morally responsible for those deaths” (Andre). They take Singer’s argument one step further. They claim that many of us are morally responsible for the deaths of the poor. By being passive and not helping those in need, we are allowing the sufferings and deaths of others. Our unwillingness to sacrifice a simall luxury for a life is a concerning issue. It is no longer about how we decide to spend our money, but rather on the moral responsibility we hold to preserve others’ lives. In conclusion, from a Utilitarian perspective, we have a moral obligation to those in poverty.
Similar to Utilitarians, Kantian ethicists believe that we have a moral obligation to help the poor. However, for Kantians, the reason for helping others is different than Utilitarianism. Kantians believe that our moral obligation stems from the value of human life. Humans have intrinsic worth. Kantian ethics believes we should respect treat others as we would want to be treated. This holds true in the case of the impoverished. From a Kantian viewpoint, we should help the less fortunate simply because they are treasured. Immanuel Kant was an influential philosopher who developed the theory of Kantian Ethics. He stated, “Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only” (Rachels 114). This statement encompasses Kant’s main belief. All human being possess worth. We should respect this when relating to one another by not taking advantage of another’s weaknesses but instead helping those in need.
James Rachels was a philosophe, author, and professor who specialized in human and animal rights. In response to Kant’s philosophy, Rachels Wrote, “This means; on the most superficial level, that we have a strict duty of beneficence toward other persons: we must strive to promote their welfare; we must respect their rights, avoid harming them, and generally endeavor, so far as we can, to further the ends of others” (117). Rachels expands on Kant’s belief by more clearly defining how we as humans should treat one another. We are morally obligated to not only abstain from harming others, but also take part in bettering their conditions. If we follow Kant’s ethics, we should actively help those in poverty because that is how we would want others to respond to us in a similar situation. Our moral obligation to the poor should come from us recognizing the worth that each person possesses as a human being. In conclusion, we are morally obligated to help the poor from a Kantian perspective.
Though both Utilitarians and Kantians believe in a moral obligation to help the poor, I believe the Kantians have a more accurate reason for doing so. The Utilitarian’s appeal to the greater good does not adequately justify helping others. This viewpoint lacks emotion and sympathy for the poor. Utilitarians act solely out of obligations to fulfill a duty. On the other hand, Kantian ethics go deeper than adhering to a requirement. Like Kant, I believe we should recognize individuals’ inherent value. Our moral obligation to help the poor should be motivated by a respect and love for the people themselves. Each person has intrinsic value regardless of who they are. Human worth should not be measured by a person’s status, wealth, or contribution to society.
Pope Francis is a respected global leader. He explained, “All life has inestimable value. Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect” (Glatz). Pope Francis believes that all humans have the God- given worth. This should compel us to respect others no matter who they are. Human worth is not something subjective. It is an invariable factor that we are born with. For that reason, we should care for anyone who is in need. In conclusion, Kant’s theory recognizes human worth which is why we have a moral obligation to others.
I believe that we should fulfill our moral obligation to help the poor through programs that will equip them to overcome their own poverty. To effectively help those who are impoverished does not mean handing out a dollar to every needy person we cross paths with. Providing the poor with food or money is only a temporary solution. Though it may solve immediate need, it does not address the real issue of poverty. We should not approach the impoverished as a helpless group who need us to solve their problems. Instead, we should view them as capable individuals who can equipped to overcome poverty. This would involve supporting organizations that fund self-development in poor communities. These groups may provide education or equip the poor to get jobs.
Services such as these provide opportunities for the impoverished to sustain themselves long-term. Taylor Princen is an author for Borgen Magazine who specializes in community and nonprofit leadership. In an article about ending poverty, Princen lists ten solutions. A few suggestions she offered were creating jobs, educating Women, and microfinancing. We should encourage these types of programs because they provide long term success and self-sustenance. Jobs allow the unemployed an opportunity to work and support themselves financially. Similarly, education will equip women to make better decisions and get better jobs in the future. Microfinancing also encourages those in poverty to use their acquired skills to sustain themselves by helping to start businesses. In conclusion, I believe we should answer our moral obligation by providing opportunities for those in poverty to overcome it.
In conclusion, I believe that we have a moral obligation to help the poor. Rand’s Objectivism denies absolute morals, thus we are not morally obligated to help the poor. However, Objectivism will create an unhealthy and unrealistic society. The Utilitarians accept a moral obligation to help those in poverty for the sake of the greater good. However, I believe Kantians are correct in their view of moral obligation. They believe that our moral obligation to the less fortunate should be attributed to each individual’s intrinsic worth. If we recognize this, we would be able to better help the poor through programs that empower them to rise above poverty. This is the most effective long-term solution. The book Anthem feared a society where humanity holds total moral obligations above freedom and individuality. However, America will not become Anthem if we choose to help those in need. We help the less fortunate out of respect and recognition of their worth as valuable human beings. Holding and acting upon our moral obligation to those in povety will benefit us all.
- Andre, Claire, and Manuel Velasquez. “World Hunger: A Moral Response.” Santa Clara University. By reading this article, I learned more about the nature of moral obligations from a Utilitarian viewpoint. We should not just feel guilty for actively harming the poor. But, we are also responsible for their suffering if it is a result of our negligence. I used this article because it was effective in providing concrete examples. The comparisons it provided clearly showed how our money could be used to help those in need rather than spent on luxuries.
- Cummins, Denise. “Column: This is What Happens When You Take Ayn Rand Seriously.” PBS NEWSHOUR, 16 Feb. 2016. I read this article because I curious to see how Rand’s Objectivism plays a role in our own society today. I learned how it hurts inter-human cooperation which can negatively affect companies and reconstruction after major destruction. Though Rand’s ideas may seem to be ideal, they do not work well in the everyday workings of life. I used this article because it included a clear connection between Objectivism and the destruction it can bring to our society.
- Glatz, Carol. “Pope: Elderly, Sick, Unborn, Poor Are ‘Masterpieces of God’s Creation'” National Catholic Reporter, 17 July 2013. I read this article because I was interested in Pope Francis’ view on the value of human life. This article provided a summary and quotations from Pope Francis’ speech on the sanctity of life given to the United Nations. I learned the high value he places on life as he believes it is God-given. This article supported the argument that humans hold intrinsic value.
- Monbiot, George. “Her Psychopathic Ideas Idolize the Rich, Brainwash the Poor.” CCPA Monitor, vol. 9, no. 1, 2012, pp. 15. EBSCOhost, 2016. This article provided me information on how Rand’s moral view can be harmful to our society today. It gave insight into the unfairness of Objectivism. It has and will lead to further injustice between the rich and poor. I used this article because it provided an effective example on how Rand herself was unable to adhere to her original moral beliefs,
- Princen, Taylor. “Ten Solutions to Poverty.” Borgen Magazine, 2 July 2014. I read this article because I was curious to find concrete solutions to poverty. I learmed that we can solve the isue through a variety of ways. These include economic, medical, and societal solutions. This article was helpful in clearly listing examples and ways they can help in today’s real world.
- Rachels, James. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. New York, Random House, 1986, pp. 114- 117, 122-23. I read this because it gave a clear overview of Kant’s beliefs. This source provided a helpful analysis of Kant’s theory in relation to our moral obligation to the poor. I learned that we have a moral obligation which is rooted in the intrinsic value of human life. This value should be what motivates us to help others.
- Rand, Ayn. Anthem. Signet, 1995. I used this book because it provided a good look into the importance of realizing one’s own self and the human nature. It displayed Rand’s philosophical view of objectivism through an easy to understand fictional story. I learned the importance of recognizing individuality and the dangers we face if we lose this freedom. It also made me think deeper about how moral obligation plays a role in our own society today.
- Rand, Ayn. “Charity.” Ayn Rand Lexicon. I read this source because I was curious about Ayn Rand’s view on helping others after reading her book Anthem. I learned that she does not view helping others as a moral obligation but rather as something secondary to one’s own freedom and desires. I used this article because it provided Rand’s opinion clearly in her own words. It offered direct insight into the issue of charity and caring for the less fortunate.
- Thomas, William R. “Charity.” The Atlas Society, 25 Jan. 2011. I read this article because I wanted learn Thomas’ opinion on charity as a Rand commentator. I learned that he believes that Ayn’s objectivist view is the most effective and fair approach when facing the issue of helping others. As each is responsible for himself, the poor will be more respected and self-motivated. I used this article because it provided helpful insight to the relationships between objectivism, Rand, and charity.