Up@dawn 2.0

Friday, April 29, 2016

Helping others

Should We Help Other People? (cont)

Section 6

Robert Miller


What would some of the great philosophers of the past think? Without assuming that helping other people is generally good, would a stoic go out of his way to help other people or would he not? Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus once said, “Judge every word and deed which are according to nature to be fit for thee; and be not diverted by the blame which follows from any people nor by their words, but if a thing is good to be done or said, do not consider it unworthy of thee. For those persons have their peculiar leading principle and follow their peculiar movement; which things do not thou regard, but go straight on, following thy own nature and the common nature; and the way of both is one.” From this we can understand that, for him, any act that was “good” ought to be done. We also can see that “good” is relative. It may be that for one man helping others is good and thus should be done while at the same time helping others is not worthwhile for a different man. For Marcus Aurelius, we should each do things according to our own values which themselves come from our experiences.

Marcus Aurelius and the stoics might leave us to decide whether helping other people is something we should or should not do, other philosophers may believe differently. Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was influential in the transcendentalist movement, said, The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” For Emerson, helping people not only appears to be worth doing but also something that is an important part of life. Emerson sees helping people, being kind, and generally being good as the building blocks of having a good life. This is a different stance than the one the Marcus Aurelius takes. In a way, Emerson puts forward established morality. He does not allow the individual to decide what is good or not good. Marcus Aurelius fully leaves morality in the hands of the individual. The individual decides what is good and not good, but Marcus Aurelius considers good to be the thing that should be pursued whatever it happens to be.

Should We Help Other People? 1st report

Robert Miller Section 6

Sometimes you get into a situation where you have nothing but a whole lot of needs. You can not do a single thing to pull ourselves into a position where we can meet those needs. That situation requires help from an outside source. Help from someone who is not you. But more often than not, you will not be in that situation. Someone else will be there. Whatever it is, you would be in the position to help them. The question I have to ask is, “Should you help other people?” The immediate response is, of course, yes. You should help other people. It is assumable that human nature would evoke that response no matter what the case is. However, there is more to helping people than just saying you will help them.

First, there is the need. What is that need? Will you help the elderly woman across the street? Certainly. Will go down and feed folks at a soup kitchen? Of course. Will you give the panhandler a dollar for gas money, just enough to get him to the hospital where his pregnant wife is giving birth to twins? Yes? No? Everyone knows not to help panhandlers. They're all just trying to get free money. They're lazy. They want to get high or drunk. But what if they really do need help? My father, for example, will say that he has been burned too many times to give folks on the road or at gas stations help. If everyone subscribed to that view, no one who actually needed just a meal or gas money or lupus medication will actually get the help they need. Then there are the people will help everyone who asks. If we all acted in that manner, everyone who needed only a little help will get help. However, everyone who asked for help when all they wanted was to buy beer also gets help. Is it right to deny someone who needs help on the off chance that you would be helping a person who would just buy drugs or alcohol? It would be better, I think, to help all who we can. But then we might hear the purpose for the help that someone is asking and say, “That's not worth the effort.”

The second thing deals with whether or not we are willing to help. We now recognize, our at least for this purpose, that we should help everyone. Unfortunately, we often might not care. I once had plenty of money and was asked to pay for some medication. The only reason that I did not help that person was that I was hungry. I've been asked to donate a dollar to very good organizations when I had the money to spare, but I again refused. That's my dollar. And it goes on and on, with larger and smaller amounts of help, but I have often refused. But then you might catch me in a good mood and I'll I do it. Obviously, we shouldn't allow our acts of charity to be solely during the good moments. What is it about the good moments that makes me open to charity? The utilitarian thing would be for us all to give help whenever it was needed under any circumstances required. If we are willing to allow pain and suffering that will go unanswered, then we ought to allow ourselves to donate or help others only occasionally. But if we decide that it is better, at least on paper, to try and address every need that comes up we should help everyone who asks us to help them.

1 comment:

  1. To Emerson I'd say: I suspect being useful, honorable, compassionate etc. makes most people happier.

    And to us all, whenever tempted to clutch every last $, I'd ask: What would Peter Singer say?