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Is it anyone's duty to help those in need?

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Hey everyone.

I recently became interested in objectivism after I read a bit about it this summer. I recognized that the basic beliefs were entirely in tune with how I have felt for as long as I can remember. I have a pretty firm set of values, some of which are different from those of objectivists, but I am still beginning to consider myself to be an objectivist. Anyhow, I have a few questions about how some of these ideals come into play in a less-than-ideal world.

My main question is about charity. Not everyone can get along in the world, some people really have been dealt a bad hand (and I'm using the strictest definition of "a bad hand", ie a child, or someone who is severely disabled, ect). Is it anyone's responsibility to take care of these people and get them on the right track, or do we let them starve? If so, whose responsibility is it? I'm guessing its not the government's because in the US, that makes it society's, which is unfair. Should these people rely on voluntary charity then?

Speaking of charity, do many objectivists give to charitable organizations? Does Objectivism support giving to a cause if it is not out of sense of duty, but if this makes the donor happy? I personally get no joy out of sitting on money I have no use for, and I like to see my hard-earned money at work for something I believe in. Is this normal/common among objectivists?

What about people who accept charity/financial assistance? Are they non-objectivism in that very act, or can they go about it in a way consistant with these beliefs? (for situations like college scholarships and for situations like food banks)

Another thing I recently read was a belief that we are not responsible to take other philosophical ideas into consideration or to respect them. Am I getting that wrong? That is one of the stupidest things I've ever heard.

Thanks to anyone who actually got this far, but I was excited to find a group of people who I could discuss objectivism with without getting the "duty to society" line.

Cheers,

Natasha

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Hello Natasha,

Objectivists tend to be very generous people. I know that I certainly am, and from experience, so many of the people on this forum are too. About two weeks ago, I made a fairly brief post about generosity on my blog. The address is: phoenixatlantis.blogspot.com. It might answer some of your questions.

"Another thing I recently read was a belief that we are not responsible to take other philosophical ideas into consideration or to respect them. Am I getting that wrong? That is one of the stupidest things I've ever heard."

There's nothing wrong with getting something out of other philosophies as long as they do not contradict your principles. E.g. Ayn Rand was influenced by Aristotle and held a certain degree of respect for Nietzsche's ideas.

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held a certain degree of respect for Nietzsche's ideas.

She enjoyed at times the style of his writing, not his ideas.

Ayn Rand stated, "Philosophically, Friedrich Nietzsche is a mystic and an irrationalist. His metaphysics consists of a somewhat "Byronic" and mystically "malevolent" universe; his epistemology subordinates reason to 'will', or feeling or instinct or blood or innate virtues of character. But, as a poet, he projects at times (not consistently) a magnificent feeling for man's greatness, expressed in emotional, not intellectual terms."(The Fountainhead, Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition, pg. x)

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Tara Smith (University of Texas - Austin) gave a lecture at the ARI Conference over the summer on the first day about "KGC - Kindness, Generosity, and Charity". The fundamental idea with these three acts is that they are based in free-will and are not a part of duty or required by the government. This was a great lecture to kick off the conference because it advocated for an attitude of benevolence towards like minds. It allowed a lot of people there (myself included), who are usually on guard against the moochers of the spirit (like my mother, for example) and the pocket-book, to open our eyes to the wonderful people around us and be benevolent enough to take them at face value and allow them to be innocent unless proven guilty.

It is true that people are born into poverty, with diseases, or crippled. While this is unfortunate, it does not automatically become one's (or society's) responsibility - as you said - because that would eliminate any choice in the matter and the charitable act would be based on need instead of merit.

Sometimes an act of charity is based in love of a cause, based on one's own life experience (veterans, hospice, scholarships, etc.)

Sometimes the act of charity is based on emotional attachment and a desire to make someone else happy (like Rearden giving Philip money in A.S.). However, as you can see in that particular example, if the money that is recieved isn't valued equally by each party in the exchange then someone is at a loss. That is why emotional attachment must first be rooted in a solid objective evaluation and affirmation of shared values - which is the basis of merit.

Many Objectivists I know give generously to organizations and institutions that demonstrate merit and uphold rational values which they wish to support. These recipients have earned the kindness, generosity, or charity they recieve.

-Danielle

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