If, as the Objectivist theory holds, value is that which furthers or prolongs one's life, then is it a value to a person to live off of goods and services offered through charity? The person who seeks charity is technically "working" insofar as he puts forth the effort to find charitable organizations from which to receive or "mooch". Thus, he engages in life-sustaining actions. The donors are not sacrificing anything (as it is a charity) and the recipient is not sacrificing the donors to himself (i.e. not forcing them to give). The recipient receives the values of free, life-prolonging goods/services, and the donor receives the value of happiness: knowing that someone's life is being sustained (the donor basically engages an act of goodwill due to the recognition of another as a human being; from a sense of common identity). What are the fundamental flaws in this argument?
My answer has several levels, and offers a slightly different perspective than the one already given by Mr. Paquette.
First of all, a value is not just something that furthers or prolongs one’s life. A value is something that one acts to gain or keep. Values are earned through productive work. Goods produced by others, even though they may further or prolong the beggar’s life, are not, strictly speaking, values.
To take that a little deeper, life is a process of self-generated and self-sustaining action. All living things, if they want to live, must take action to further or prolong their own lives. Human beings do it by choice (that’s why it’s a moral issue), but they still must do it. That principle is obvious if you live on a deserted island, but it still applies if you live among other humans. The mere availability of goods, produced by others, even though given freely, does not absolve you of the moral responsibility of productively working to produce the values necessary to sustain your own life.
At a still deeper level, the beggar who chooses to live off the productive work of others is at the mercy of those others, dependent on whatever goods the others choose to produce and when, and is always subject to the possibility that they will choose not to produce them. As Ayn Rand so eloquently put it: “…that the man who has no purpose is a machine that coasts downhill at the mercy of any boulder to crash in the first chance ditch, that the man who stifles his mind is a stalled machine slowly going to rust, that the man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap, and the man who makes another man his goal is a hitchhiker no driver should ever pick up—that your work is the purpose of your life, and you must speed past any killer who assumes the right to stop you, that any value you might find outside your work, any other loyalty or love, can be only travelers you choose to share your journey and must be travelers going on their own power in the same direction.” [Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged].
The pride of producing your own values for yourself and for those dependent on you, of being in control of your own life and not beholden to others, of plotting your own course and working to make your dreams a reality through your work, is itself an immense and very important spiritual value. The beggar has none of that. What does he think of himself? What kind of a life does he have?
So, the answer to the question is no. In normal circumstances, living off charity is not moral.
However, there is one exception, and it’s important to realize that morality is contextual, just as knowledge is, and not dogmatic pronouncements from some authority figure. Suppose you have the case of a rational man who, for whatever reason and despite his best efforts, simply does not have the ability, for the time being, to produce the values necessary to sustain his life. If it’s a temporary situation, and if he continues to try, and, very importantly, if he has loved ones whom he values dependent on him, then, in this rare and outlying case, it would be immoral for him not to take charity, as long as it’s given freely and not coerced from the giver, and as long as he resumes productive work as soon as possible. The thing to note is that he has dependents (children, perhaps?) that he values, and it is a moral responsibility to protect and defend one’s values.
answered Dec 23 '13 at 15:46
Roger Theriault ♦
Under this model, it's productive work for an able-bodied beggar to put on tattered clothes and stand at a busy stop-light soliciting hand-outs from generous drivers-by.
What's wrong with this? It's dishonest.
A person does not deserve charity simply because he is willing to ask for it, and willing to seek out suckers willing to give it to him.
Arguably, the person donating to this "charity" doesn't know that he's giving cash to a perfectly able-bodied individual who simply chooses to ask for money rather than do productive work.
If he does know, then he is actually being immoral, supporting a vice, rather than donating to a good cause.
Charity, properly practiced, is not simply the giving away of money to people who are willing to take it from you. Proper charity is the recognition of virtue which is down on luck.
For example, a proper charity would be to support the education of talented inner-city kids who might otherwise fall into street gangs. Or to donate money to help disabled veterans.
It's fully immoral to donate money to people who are able to earn it. And the mere asking for money and offering no value in return is not a process of earning.
Any moral person who finds himself in need of money which he cannot offer value in return for is, as a result, indebted to the charitable. No moral person wants to exist, long-term, in this state of indebtedness. For example, if an inner-city child gets a better education due to charity, then when he grows up and gets a good job as a result, he'll want to pay the charity back to the donor.
Mooching is not a productive occupation.
answered Aug 06 '12 at 11:32
John Paquette ♦