Donating stuff to the poor is not in and of itself a good deed. Caring about other people is the good deed, and so giving something to someone else because you care is a good deed. If you don’t have anything to donate, you can still care just as much. (Similarly, if you donate a billion dollars with contempt, you haven’t done anything good. Abu, the monkey in Disney’s Aladdin, gives a small loaf of bread to poor orphans out of shame. This is not a good deed. Of course, monkeys don’t have Free Will, so who cares.) You don’t need to be a billionaire to care, nor are billionaires capable of caring more just because they have more money.

So forcing other people to help each other, such as by taxing them and redistributing their money in the name of moral goodness, or just bothering them by showing them pictures of miserable poor people and asking for their money, does not equal a moral goodness in and of itself. In fact, you can never force someone else to do good. That misses the point of what it means to be good.

“A care with a prayer is worth more than a curse with a purse.”

Categories: Philosophy


Anonymous · July 1, 2012 at 10:26 PM

Really? Other than a prayer, caring without deeds is a hollow vessel indeed. If I am at sea drowning, I’d much prefer to meet the guy who saves me but is unhappy about the time he lost… Than the guy who cares a lot but is unable to help as I am swollowed by the abyss.

S P Hannifin · July 2, 2012 at 12:58 PM

Yes, if you are drowning, you are probably not concerned about whether or not a potential savior cares about you. But that doesn’t mean you being saved is a good deed for your savior just because it makes you happier. (If a log floated by and saved you, would you thank the log for its good deed?)

I’m not saying that one can claim to care and then not act upon his caring; true caring will lead to action (when it can). I’m saying that the action itself does not imply caring.

Nor can we judge the moral goodness of an action based merely on the resulting physical pleasures or prevention of pain. What makes the drowning man’s anguish any more important than a potential savior’s dry comfort? Only caring makes it so.

A drowning man may happily accept the help of an uncaring savior, but what will get the savior to save him in the first place? The judgment of society? “You should help drowning people, or most people will think you are evil and will be mean to you.” This man will go on to do whatever society claims is “good” since he has no actual concern for other people and therefore no way to discern the difference between good and evil.

Or recall the story of Jesus and the Widow’s Offering (or Lesson of the widow’s mite). Rich men offer huge sums, while a widow offers only a little. Jesus points out that the widow’s gift is more meaningful. Why? Because the grand offerings of the rich were made without care, only so that they would not look too selfish to everyone else. The woman actually cared. Surely the ones for whom the offering box was meant were pleased to hear this; “great, our donations are about to go way down, Jesus has said that offering two little coins is good enough! Well, we don’t care how much they care, we just want as much money as we can get!” But, no, that’s not the point Jesus was making. And the ones receiving the donations should not be judging the spiritual goodness of their doners based only on coin amountage anyway. (If that were the case, the world might as well perish as everyone tries to give everything they have to everyone else.)

This is the common problem of the world: thinking in physical terms, thinking that goodness is somehow manifested in physical definitions. Based on what, I ask? The path to “goodness” is not set in physical terms. Nothing physical, whether an item or an action, is good by itself. It is through caring that goodness is born.

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