Philanthropy from the Point of View of Ethics

In its current use charity implies both an attitude and a type of conduct which may not be demanded of him who exercises it. Whatever the donor's inner obligation may be, the recipient on his side can make no claim upon it. Yet the inner obligation exists and in part limits the charity itself, for the donor cannot fail in his other commitments because he has answered the appeals of charity with too great a generosity. Within the appeal itself, however, lies a positive claim upon the donor which he recognizes, though he may be at a loss to estimate its force or to establish a criterion by which to judge between rival claims upon his bounty.

Back of the obligation of the donor lies the human impulse to help those in distress. It is an impulse which we can trace back to animals lower than man. There it is most evident in the parental care of the young, but the impulse may be called out by other relations. It may extend to adult members of the herd or pack to which the animal belongs. It is nicely interwoven with the hostile impulses in animal play. Its strength in humankind is at times deprecated by charity organizations, which desire to bring the impulse under rational control. The kindliness that expresses itself in charity is as fundamental an element in human nature as are any in our original endowment. The man without a generous impulse is abnormal and abhorrent.

Obligation arises only with choice: not only when impulses are in conflict with each other, but when within this conflict they are valued in terms of their anticipated results. We act impulsively when the mere strength of the impulse decides; when the anticipated results of action either are not present

(134) in the volitional experience or do not affect the onward march of the impulse to its expression. We may condemn such impulsive action, but the condemnation is based upon the fact that a sense of values, with the consequent possibility of reasoned choice, did not play its proper part in the action.

It is evident that here is a field within which there may be no clear-cut moral judgments. How much influence should I allow to a dislike which I find that I have for an acquaintance? In certain situations this may be quite clear. I must pay what is due him. If the dislike is not justified by defects in character or ability, it should not influence my voting for him at an election. But I will not make him a companion on a journey or an associate in social undertakings in which temperamental agreement is of importance. Between these extremes there may lie a multitude of situations in which the impulsive attitude plays a questionable part in our decisions. Falling in love, and the conduct that grows out of it, are shot through with actions which are determined by impulses that are not and perhaps cannot be estimated in terms of consequences.

The kindly impulses that lead us to help those in distress lie within this field -- so much so that they may breed beggars -- while organized charity has arisen to bring reason into their exercise. Bringing reason into charity consists, on the one hand, in definitely tracing out the consequences of impulsive giving, and, on the other hand, of so marking out the distress and misery of the community that constructive remedial work may take the place of haphazard giving. Organized charity, however, covers but a small part of the field within which these kindly impulses express themselves. Among our own kith and kin, among our friends, in those undertakings that seek to advance human welfare and lessen its suffering in numberless ways, in "the little nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love," these impulses are called out, and in few of them could we justify their exercise

(135) by a reasoned statement of consequences. Indeed, in many of them, such a rationalization of the impulse would diminish if not extinguish its worth and beauty. In kindness, the genuineness and strength of the impulse weigh heavily in our estimate of its worth and that of its author.

So far I have regarded these kindly impulses as if they stood upon the same moral level as hostility, sex, or hunger. And yet, in common parlance, kindness is nearly synonymous with goodness. That this is not merely a eulogistic approval of kindness by those that profit by it is evidenced by that sense of inner obligation which, as I have above indicated, is a part of our charitable attitudes. It is, of course, difficult if not impossible to isolate the fundamental impulses of our natures. Those which I have referred to as the kindly impulses are normally present to some degree however slight in our attitudes to all those about us; but the hostile impulse may quite completely banish them when it seeks the suffering and death of an enemy, and when our dislikes and resentments render us unsympathetic with their objects. In these situations we experience little or no impulse to assist them in their misfortunes, nor do our attitudes carry with them a sense of obligation to act as Good Samaritans. Nevertheless, the sense of obligation which is entailed by our social relations is present: economic relations obtain and persist; we must pay our debts and meet other obligations. In these economic and other social situations we do not simply respond to the stimuli which others embody -- paying debts is not merely succumbing to pressure. We speak to ourselves, however unwillingly, with the voice of the creditor and of the community, assessing ourselves with the obligation. Our moral self-consciousness implies our own action as stimulus to our own response, and this action as stimulus appears in a comprehending assumption of the rôle of those who exact payment from us.

That the recognition of an obligation is at the same time

(136) the assertion of a right is tantamount to the individual's identifying himself with those who make the claim upon him. For an obligation is always a demand made by another or by others. When the obligation seems to involve only one's self or an impersonal landscape, the impulse to action assumes obligatory form only when the individual speaks to himself in the rôle of another. In obligation the values involved always assume a personal form. Thus in the expression of impulses in which those of kindliness are not dominant or from which they may seem to be entirely absent a man identifies himself sufficiently with the community to lay upon himself those obligations which he in turn exacts from others toward himself. In these situations, as I have said, the obligation does not attach to the impulse. The obligation lies in that response of the community to the individual's action with which he identifies himself. And it is these demands of others upon him with which he identifies himself that are the carriers of the values involved in the act. The impulse to strike or to help, for instance, is as yet unvalued. It is in the result that the value appears. When the impulses come into conflict with each other, the conflict announces itself in the incongruence of the ends which the impulses reach. One may not strike a man when he is down. And it is not the mere incongruence of the ends that carries with it the moral judgment. It is that voice of others in which we join that conveys the moral import of the conflicting values. Both must be there: the voice of the community and our own; the ordered community that endows us with its rights and its obligations, and ourselves that approve or dissent.

There is a definite movement within the field of organized charity toward the assessment of wealth for those purposes which organized charity seeks to fulfil. There is a certain amount of misery which the community should meet in its own interests as well as in the interests of those who are succored. A community chest presents a budget that appeals

(137) not simply to the charitable impulses, but to the sense of justice as well. In a word, charity carries a certain burden that ought in any case to be met. Those whose incomes include a surplus above the necessities, whether their souls are stirred by the suffering or not, may well recognize a responsibility to bear their part in meeting this community obligation. When this point has been reached there arises a logical demand that this should be met by the community in the same manner in which it meets its other obligations, through taxation.

Illustrations of this are found in compulsory insurance of employees against the disabilities of old age, sickness, and unemployment. In these situations the responsibility of the community for the disabilities, and the loss which the community suffers through them, takes them out of the field of charity. The appeal is no longer made to charity, but to the sense of justice. The obligation comes from the social values involved upon the individual as an integral part of the community. The morality of paying taxes for these purposes is in no sense lodged in a kindly impulse to relieve the misery which such systems of insurance undertake to meet. What I desire to maintain is that, when the charitable impulse does carry a sense of obligation with it, we always imply a desirable social order within which the goods which our charity confers would come to the recipients as their due or as part of their proper equipment for life in the community. It may be regarded as an unimportant truism to state that the moral standard of charity is to be found in the social value of the benefit to the recipient. In its commonest definition charity is doing good to others -- especially to those who are most in need of it. But the ethics of charity is not exhausted by the recognition of the good that accrues to those who receive it. There is first of all the problem which I have already presented, the sense of obligation of the charitable person, even though that obligation cannot be enforced against him by

(138) society. The second problem is the standard which is implied in the appeals of different objects of charity.

The position stated above comes to this: that when a man feels not simply an impulse to assist another in distress, but also an obligation, he always implies a social order in which this distress would make a claim upon the community that could be morally enforced, as, for example, in a community where employees in industry are insured, the distresses incident to old age, sickness, and unemployment must be relieved. In contrast with this may be placed a conception that has obtained and still obtains in some circles, namely, that suffering and misery are part of the divine order, where they serve the purposes of punishment and discipline. Under this doctrine charity is a duty laid by God upon man for his own good, and which may accrue to him as a merit. I would still maintain that back of these legalistic conceptions has lain the assumption of the parable of the Good Samaritan that we are neighbors of those in distress; back of the eschatology of the church has always lain the thesis of the Sermon on the Mount that men are all brethren in one family. In immediate sympathy with distress we have already identified ourselves with its victims. In this the human kindly impulse stands above the impulse in lower animals from which it developed. In man even the immediate impulse that lies above the automatisms is the response of a self, and a self-experience is possible only in so far as the individual has already taken the attitude of the other. The very word "sympathy" announced this, as does the plea to "put yourself in his place," made in the effort to stimulate charity.

We characterize this sympathetic attitude of man as humane, as being human, thus distinguishing it from the impulse of the lower animal, for it involves participation in some sense in the suffering of the other. The participation exhibits itself in the experience of him who sympathizes, not so much in the sharing of the suffering as in the incipient attitudes of

(139) reaction against and withdrawal from the suffering object. We feel ourselves shrinking from or tending to push away the evil, and these attitudes stimulate our kindly impulse to relieve the sufferer. This is all, however, on the impulsive level. A sense of obligation has not yet arisen, for obligation arises only in the conflict of values. Even the immediate identification of the self with the other does not in itself take us beyond the impulsive attitude of relieving suffering. When, however, these values in terms of sympathetic identification with the others in distress are presented, they have a peculiar immediacy and poignancy; while, on the other hand, their very immediacy and poignancy militate against their statement in terms of rational means. It is difficult to carry over the interest in helping the immediate sufferer into long-distant plans for removing the social causes of the suffering. A man who is ready enough to put his hand into his pocket to assist a starving man who is out of work will hardly identify this impulse with a political campaign for insurance against unemployment.

These two situations present the terminus a quo and the terminus ad quem of reflective judgment in a certain field of charity. At first the act is hardly above the impulsive level -- an almost unreflective push to relieve distress, the strength of which is largely dependent on the degree to which one "puts himself in the other man's place," or the completeness of the sympathy aroused. This very attitude, however, of putting one's self in the other man's shoes brings with it not only the stimulus to assist him, but also a judgment upon that situation. Distress is conceivably remediable, or at the worst can be alleviated. The charitable response which we find in ourselves is one which can and should be called out in others, or more logically still the evil should so far as possible have been obviated. One cannot assume the rôle of the wretched without considering under what conditions the wretchedness can or may be avoided. As I have already in-

(140) -dicated, the immediate effect of sympathetic identification with the other is to call out the other's response in attempting to ward off or alleviate suffering, and this calls out at once resentment or criticism against the individuals or institutions which may seem to be responsible for it. The step from this attitude to the idea of social conditions under which this evil would not exist is inevitable. Out of these ideas arise plans, possibly practical, for remedying at the source the misfortunes of those in distress.

This highly schematized path from impulsive charity to social reconstruction serves to indicate, on the one hand, a definite development which has taken place in many instances, and, on the other hand, that structural background of attitude and behavior which lies behind our humane impulses and out of which their ethics and philosophy arise. The very sympathetic identification with those we want to assist is in the logic of our nature the espousal of a cause. Universal religions have issued from their frustration -- new Jerusalems where all tears are wiped away, Nirvanas where all wants have ceased. In any case it must be in our reactions against evils, and with its victims with whom we sympathize, that the ethics of charity must lie. The bare impulse to help is on the same level with that of the dogs that licked the sores on Lazarus' body. The identification of ourselves with Lazarus puts in motion those immediate defensive reactions which give rise not only to efforts of amelioration but also to judgments of value and plans for social reform.

It is a mistake, however, to assume that putting one's self in the place of the other is confined to the kindly or charitable attitude. Even in a hostile attack one feels in his own muscles the response of the other, but this only arouses still further one's own attack and directs the response to the attack of the opponent; and in the consciousness of one's rights one places himself in the attitude of others who acknowledge that right in so far as he recognizes this right as inhering in them.

(141) These identifications with others lead to self-assertion and a sense of individuality, which eventuate in the maintenance of self-interest and, at a further remove, in a sense of justice. They do not involve that sympathetic identification with the other which belongs to the kindly impulses. In the latter, one expresses himself in assistance and protection. In so far as the impulse is dominant, the interest of the other has become his own, which he now champions. That one champions the interests of others, with which he has identified himself, implies a social order within which the removal of these evils would make the same claim upon all that they make upon the charitable individual. It is in the feel of this implication that there inheres the sense of obligation which we experience in the presence of distress and disability, though the social order in which we find ourselves may make no explicit claim upon us to alleviate it. The feel of this obligation may be very vague, a mere affirmation that such misery ought not to be. It may be formulated in the belief in another world, a world to come, or in another golden age that lies behind.

In taking the attitude of the other who appeals to our sympathy, the conduct called out tends to maintain the other rather than the self. There is, then, a fundamental difference in the organization of this behavior from that which characterizes behavior either in the attitude of hostility or in the co-operative acts in which the responses of others determine our own. In the latter the interest may be said to lie in the structure and maintenance of the self through his comprehending participation in the other or others. The sympathetic identification with the individual in distress, however, calls out in us the incipient reactions of warding off, of defense, which the distress arouses in the sufferer, and these reactions become dominant in the response of the one who assists. He places himself in the service of the other. We speak of this attitude as that of the unselfishness or self-effacement of the charitable individual. But even this attitude of devotion to

(142) the interest of the other is not that of obligation, though it is likely to be so considered in an ethical doctrine which makes morality synonymous with self-sacrifice. The earliest appearance of the feel of obligation is found in the appraisal of the relief to the distressed person in terms of the donor's effort and expenditure. The good of the man with whom we sympathetically identify ourselves is greater than that which would arise if we expended the effort and means on the ends of a self that refused to respond to his extremity. What I give up is slight in comparison with his need. This is but an early stage in the development of the moral judgment, and in the case of the generous individual may appear rather as a defense of an act under strong impulsion than as a motive so the act. But even in the immediacy of the situation that seemingly involves only the giver and the recipient, there it the implication of a community in which the good has a universal value --"which of them was neighbor to him that fell among thieves?" It is, however, an implication that can become explicit only when the social structure and the ideas behind it make it possible to regard the others as neighbors. The generalization of the prophetic message, its conception of the community as the children of Jehovah, made this possible. In the Greek city-state it was only in political and economic relations that the citizen could realize himself over against the others in the community. The generalization of these relations was indeed possible, but only in terms of a reason which could be the experience of a few, and a reason which defined and fixed existing relationships rather than obliterated them. With the decadence of the city-state and under the empire the philosopher, whether slave or emperor, could regard himself as a citizen of the world only so far as he had thought his way out of the structure of social relations, rather than by feeling his way into them.

The moralizing of the impulse to identify one's own interest with that of the other evidently depends upon making this

(143) attitude functional in the society in which the individual has reached his self-consciousness and whose structure is essential to the maintenance of his own self. Religion in its ecclesiastical organization may make a place for a particular group who have sold all that they had and have given it to the poor. Such ascetic groups are in a sense samples of the social order that should exist. On the other hand, their restriction to cloistered groups is a confession that the attitude cannot be made the principle of society in this world. And this fixation of the attitude leaves the charity of the layman outside of any program of social reconstruction. Its value is a personal one, an act of piety, an expression of otherworldliness, and the acquirement of merit; or it may be regarded as engendering and cultivating worthy traits of character, consideration for others, kindliness -- in a word, humaneness. Over against a too legalistic or vengeful justice it appears as mercy. Then there remain the countless instances in which a sympathetic charity informed with wisdom may rescue others from social shipwreck, from suffering and distress, and help them to better social and physical conditions of life. It is in these instances that charity shines by its own light and becomes almost synonymous with goodness. Here are values which can be intelligently weighed against each other when they come into conflict, and within the social order as it exists reconstruction of the lives and fortunes of individuals can be accomplished. It is indeed in this remedial activity, this salvaging of otherwise unavoidable losses in the community as it is, this amelioration of the existence of the "poor whom ye have always with you," that we generally conceive of charity. It found its place in feudal conditions which have obtained socially long after feudalism was politically defunct. Noblesse oblige was a sense of some sort of responsibility for dependents. It was, in a way, institutionalized in chivalry. Because of the close genetic relation between the kindly impulses and

(144) the parental impulses it has always been peculiarly vivid in its response to the misfortunes of children.

And still the evils which charity has thus corrected or assuaged have been part of the order of society, and the obligation felt by the charitable did not arise from the duties which were inherent in that order. We return again to the implication of an order within this sense of obligation. The close relation which has existed between religion and charity, as we have seen, has given form to this implication; but human experience, especially in recent times, has abundantly proved that the implication lies in social attitudes, which religious doctrines have formulated but for which they are not responsible. If we undertake to give it its simplest and most immediate expression, it would take this form: that the need to which we respond is one which would be met if the intelligence which informs our social order and its institutions could reach the development which is implicit within them. That is, the moral appeal lying behind the obligation to charity is drawn not from the distress that is to be alleviated or the deficient goods which are to be supplied, but from the sort of conduct and experience and the sort of selves which society implies though it does not make them possible. For example, the moral appeal to charitable endowment of education lies not in the darkened minds of the uneducated but in the fact that there is a wealth of meaning in life and profound values which would interpret it to all members of the community if our social order gave to all the cultural background and the training which would bring out these hidden implications.

The compulsion of the appeal lies first in the location of these values in the relations of men to one another and to the nature that forms the environment of human society. Science, art, religion, and the techniques of living simply bring out, render serviceable and effective, these meanings and values. They are the realization of the wealth which belongs implicitly to all members of society. Cultured classes in

(145) some sense have an access to this wealth, which is denied to masses in the community whose social experiences and relationships, nevertheless, constitute the means of furnishing this access this wealth. And, second, this means furnishing access to continuously wider groups is not found in simply enlarging the capacity and functions of institutions which already belong to social intercourse and control. The present order of society does not make enlargement of cultural means possible, and our immediate duties are formulated in terms of the order within which we live. Those who have advantages cannot share them with the rest of the community. This could only be possible in a community more highly organized, otherwise bred and trained. So far as this community is concerned, we can morally enjoy what from one standpoint is an exploitation of those whose submerged life has given us economic and spiritual wealth which our peculiar situations have enabled us to inherit. To sell all we have and give to the poor would not change this situation. But we feel the adventitious nature of our advantages, and still more do we feel that the intelligence which makes society possible carries within itself the demand for further development in order that the implications of life may be realized.

It is this feel for a social structure which is implicit in what is present that haunts the generous nature, and carries a sense of obligation which transcends any claim that his actual social order fastens upon him. It is an ideal world that lays the claim upon him, but it is an ideal world which grows out of this world and its undeniable implications.

It is possible to specify the claims of this ideal world in certain respects. A human being is a member of a community and is thereby an expression of its customs and the carrier of its values. These customs appear in the individual as habits, and the values appear as his goods, and these habits and goods come into conflict with each other. Out of the conflict arise in human social experience the meanings of things and

(146) the rational solution of the conflicts. The rational solution of the conflicts, however, calls for the reconstruction of both habits and values, and this involves transcending the order of the community. A hypothetically different order suggests itself and becomes the end in conduct. It is a social end and must appeal to others in the community. In logical terms there is established a universe of discourse which transcends the specific order within which the members of the community may, in a specific conflict, place themselves outside of the community order as it exists, and agree upon changed habits of action and a restatement of values. Rational procedure, therefore, sets up an order within which thought operates; that abstracts in varying degrees from the actual structure of society. It is a social order, for its function is a common action on the basis of commonly recognized conditions of conduct and common ends. Its claims are the claims of reason. It is a social order that includes any rational being who is or may be in any way implicated in the situation with which thought deals. It sets up an ideal world, not of substantive things but of proper method. Its claim is that all the conditions of conduct and all the values which are involved in the conflict must be taken into account in abstraction from the fixed forms of habits and goods which have clashed with each other. It is evident that a man cannot act as a rational member of society, except as he constitutes himself a member of this wider commonwealth of rational beings. But the ethical problem is always a specific one, and belongs only to those habits and values which have come into conflict with each other. About this problem lies the ordered community with its other standards and customs unimpaired, and the duties it prescribes unquestioned.

The claims of the ideal world are that the individual shall take into account all of the values which have been abstracted from their customary settings by the conflict and fashion his reconstruction in recognition of them all, Thus, the other

(147) -wise-unquestioned right of a man to expend his own wealth in his business, family, and personal interests comes into conflict with the needs of youths in impoverished classes for enlightened and adequate training. The claims of reason are that these values shall be regarded apart from their character as private property and the social restrictions which limit the development of children of poorer classes. Whatever he ultimately does, the charitable man feels it incumbent upon him to consider what could be accomplished with a portion of his wealth if it were devoted intelligently to increasing opportunities for education. So much money, in abstraction from the interests that seek it, would spell the enlightenment of many and a raised standard of public education. It is only by stepping into this field in which the possible accomplishments of this wealth can be impartially contemplated that the owner of the wealth feels himself able to decide to give or not to give.

It is clear, however, that reason would operate in a vacuum, unless these values of enlightenment -- of science, aesthetic appreciation, and human associations -- can take on forms which are freed from the social restrictions placed upon them by the groups which have possessed them. The phrase "republic of letters" has signified this freeing of culture from its class connotation. In a sense it constitutes an ideal world, which does not mean that these values exist in a world by themselves, but that the products of science, art, and human association can and should take on forms which would bring them within the province of any mind and nature able to respond to them. Now the claims of such ideal values lie not simply or primarily in the widening of the community that enjoys them, but in the superiority and efficiency of the science, art, and human relations which are so freed. It is not until science has become a discipline to which the research ability of any mind from any class in society can be attracted that it can become rigorously scientific, and it is not until its

(148) results can be so formulated that they must appeal to any enlightened mind that they can have universal value. Artistic creation and aesthetic appreciation must attain forms which have the same universality of objectivity; human relations should become such that their full social import interprets them. Reason is then a medium within which values may be brought into comparisons with each other, in abstraction from the situations within which they have come into conflict with each other; and within this impartial medium it becomes possible to reconstruct values and our conduct growing out of them.

Furthermore, certain of these values, such as those of science and art, have been given a form in which they become accessible to all minds with adequate training and social background. That is, they have been given a form which abstracts them from the restrictions which economic, feudal, and cultural class distinctions lay upon great numbers in the community. This sets up what may be called the "democratic ideal" of removing such restrictions. Now it is within this field that charity is so largely active, not in setting in motion great schemes of social reconstruction, but in bringing about or helping to bring about in specific cases just such a removal of restrictions; and, I take it, the obligation which the charitable individual feels is the demand that these restrictions should be removed. It is not a demand which society as it is now organized can enforce against him. It is a part of the growing consciousness that society is responsible for the ordering of its own processes and structure so that what are common goods in their very nature should be accessible to common enjoyment. We vaguely call it "progress." The charitable man sees and feels in an immediate situation the opportunity of an advance in this direction, and the opportunity may become a duty which he lays upon himself.


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