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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?

asked Aug 06 '12 at 02:35

user890's gravatar image


edited Aug 06 '12 at 13:28

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

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%20Theriault's gravatar image

Roger Theriault ♦


While I don't disagree with the spirit of this answer, I have some objections to its method.

It starts from a definition of value(s), and a description of life, and then deduces from these that to accept charity is immoral, because it isn't earned, and it isn't really living.

Also, I must challenge this: "and, very importantly, if he has loved ones who he values dependent on him ". Why is it so crucial that other dependent people exist? Isn't being a starving or injured person in dire need of help enough to make accepting charity moral?

(Dec 23 '13 at 16:32) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

I agree with John.

Moreover, I think the original question has mixed up some somewhat independent issues.

Charity is the voluntary giving of help without contracting for something in return. There's nothing wrong with giving or receiving charity if it's not a sacrifice on the part of the giver and it is deserved (based on virtues and not need) on the part of the receiver. The original post seems to be contemplating charity which is a sacrifice on the part of the giver (the OP says it is not but John explained why that was incorrect), and which is not deserved (need does not equal desert).

(Dec 23 '13 at 17:28) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Additionally, the OP seems to be contemplating not only the latter type of charity, but a person who intentionally puts himself or herself in a position where s/he is dependent on charity. This is immoral essentially independently of the question of the morality of charity.

(Dec 23 '13 at 17:30) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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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%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦

I'm confused by the phrase: "It's fully immoral to donate money to people who are able to earn it." If this philosophy states people should have freedom of action then one should be free to distribute one's assets without censure.

One person may value another person or organization as a "good cause" while another may have a different viewpoint.

(Dec 07 '13 at 08:45) Louise Louise's gravatar image

Do you think the phrase "a good cause" has no objective definition? Is something "a good cause" just because someone thinks it is so?

Also, you are confusing political freedom with moral subjectivism. Objectivism holds that you should not be physically forced to do what another person wants you to. It does not hold that you should not be morally judged for the actions you take ("without censure").

Freedom of action (which Objectivism advocates) is freedom from physical force, not from moral judgment. And moral judgment is not a license to physically force someone to be moral.

(Dec 07 '13 at 12:29) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

In my opinion "a good cause" is definitely subjective; what is a "good" (i.e. an individual goal) can and does differ greatly from person to person.

The above is my opinion, of course, the same as it is your opinion that "it's fully immoral to donate money to people who are able to earn it."

Obviously I disagree with you.

(Dec 07 '13 at 17:09) Louise Louise's gravatar image

Obviously Objectivism disagrees with you that morality is subjective. It's even called "Objectivism"!

(Dec 07 '13 at 19:28) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Perhaps I am confusing "good" with "value."

What is valued by one person may not be valued by another; for example I decided to forgo parenting but other people go to great lengths to become parents.

Does the above make the concept of "value" objective or subjective? What I am getting at here is that someone might be a personal satisfaction out of giving away money regardless of the recipient. It does sound foolish to me but if that's what someone wants to do and it results in a higher self-esteem for the giver, why automatically consider this action to be "immoral?"

(Dec 08 '13 at 09:09) Louise Louise's gravatar image

See http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/good,_the.html for a short introduction to Ayn Rand's notion of "the intrinsic, the subjective, and the objective."

If you ask some questions on here you might be able to get more details. But really if you're interested you should start reading what Rand herself has written.

To answer your question, value is objective. Someone who gets pleasure out of giving away money regardless of the recipient is damaged psychologically. They probably got damaged this way because of immoral choices, but an emotional reaction is nonvolitional & not in itself immoral.

(Dec 08 '13 at 10:44) anthony anthony's gravatar image

To tie back getting pleasure out of giving away money regardless of the recipient (which therefore includes evil recipients whom you know are evil) to immorality, we would have to ask why they derive such pleasure. One possible candidate is that they have chosen to embrace religious doctrine (e.g. love your enemies) despite religion being clearly self-contradictory. The lying to oneself and/or conscious ignorance of glaring contradictions that one has to do to hold on to religion is immoral.

(Dec 08 '13 at 10:59) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I agree with Anthony, here, except for "they probably got damaged this way because of [their] immoral choices". I'd replace "probably" with "possibly". It depends on how old they are, and how abusive their parents were.

Anthony is also completely right in referring Louise to read Ayn Rand on the concept of "value". Ayn Rand's view on "value" is subtle.

(Dec 08 '13 at 13:16) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

I agree with Anthony, here, except for "they probably got damaged this way because of [their] immoral choices". I'd replace "probably" with "possibly". It depends on how old they are, and how abusive their parents were.

And I happily accept that correction. I actually had something about age and "brainwashing" but I removed it because I went over the character limit.

(Dec 08 '13 at 17:14) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Okay, thanks for the explanation.

I think however that the statement "Someone who gets pleasure out of giving away money regardless of the recipient is damaged psychologically."

Maybe he or she is just strange.

(Dec 09 '13 at 08:31) Louise Louise's gravatar image

Strange in a way which is harmful to oneself = damaged.

Note that we're not talking about merely a rich person getting pleasure from giving money to someone who seems to be an average person in a situation of desperate need through no fault of his/her own. The hypothetical is someone who gets pleasure out of giving away money regardless of the recipient.

We're not talking about taking pleasure in helping your neighbor, who has given you no reason not to want to help her, when you can do so without sacrifice. At least, I'm not.

(Dec 09 '13 at 08:59) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I'm not even sure this hypothetical is very realistic. The beggars/buskers whom I see pretty much all either have a story ("homeless veteran...") or perform something beyond just sticking out their hand (street performers). Even the gimmick of putting up a sign like "need money for beer" or "Ninjas Killed My Family, Need Money for Revenge" is arguably a type of (comedic) performance, and I suspect it doesn't work on people who have already seen the sign previously and don't get a laugh of it.

(Dec 09 '13 at 09:26) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Some non-profit organizations give help regardless of the recipient, but even there I think the idea is that by doing this you'll help more good people who really need it than bad people or people who don't really need it, and that it's just too difficult to try to sort out the former from the latter.

Maybe the religious organizations are an exception to this, but even then I don't think more than a very small number of participants really truly believe the whole "love your enemy" thing. You really can't function in the real world if you do.

(Dec 09 '13 at 09:29) anthony anthony's gravatar image

My apologies, my last comment is incomplete.

I meant to say, 'I think however that the statementof "someone who gets pleasure out of giving away money regardless of the recipient is damaged psychologically" is somewhat of an oversimplification.'

(Dec 09 '13 at 10:32) Louise Louise's gravatar image

One should be careful about interpreting "damaged psychologically". While it might seem that way, it's not an insult. It's a fact that if you enjoy doing something self-sacrificial (i.e. stupid), you have a psychological problem. I'm not sure the word "damaged" is best, but what's certain is that such person is not psychologically healthy.

If, however, you advocate self-sacrifice, and you sacrifice even if you don't enjoy it, the problem is deeper than psychological: it's moral.

The morality you accept shapes your psychology over time.

(Dec 09 '13 at 14:15) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image
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Asked: Aug 06 '12 at 02:35

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Last updated: Dec 23 '13 at 17:30