Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Are We Doing Enough? A Discussion on the Ethics of Helping the Poor

By Ryan Fitzsimmons

An ever present problem in today’s world is poverty, which affects not only millions of people abroad, but also a growing number of people in the United States. While very few people would shrug a responsibility to help those who suffer from poverty and its related ailments, a question commonly arises. How much is enough and is it wrong to give less than I currently am?

Kristine Falkowski and Kaitlin Blumberg, two students of philosophy at St. Thomas Aquinas College, recently spoke on society’s ethical duty to help the impoverished and whether or not the amount currently being given is morally acceptable. “People must perform their duties,” says Blumberg, “but there is a great debate over what those duties are.”

First, the speakers defined what helping the poor entails. Among the needs of those less fortunate are shelters, clothing and healthcare, all which would improve their quality of living. “10,000,000 children die every day from poverty related causes,” says Blumberg, “which include preventable illness and hunger.” Because so many people perish from things that more affluent people can prevent with a little money, the question how much should people give and how much should a person lower his or her standard of living for another becomes problematic. Over the past few centuries, as Falkowski and Blumberg note, many different philosophers have tackled this issue.

The two speakers begin by noting different viewpoints on welfare from modern philosophers. “According to Robert Nozick,” says Falkowski, “people only have rights to what they have earned.” Blumberg fires back, mentioning John Rawls’ writings in saying “government should insure impoverished receive welfare.” These perspectives are then supported by older philosophical theories, including Aristotelian and utilitarian thought.
“Aristotle said that generosity is a happy medium between giving too much to help others and too little,” says Falkowski. Providing an ancient view on supporting others, Falkowski notes that Aristotle takes personal welfare into account. Although caring for the poor is an important task, it is equally important to care about oneself and not to rob yourself to give to others.

Blumberg, once again giving and opposing view, comments on utilitarianism, a 19th century philosophy. “Since utilitarians believe that no one person is more important than another, and that happiness is the ultimate goal in life, giving to the poor is a necessity,” says Blumberg. She goes on to mention how some utilitarians, most notably Peter Singer, give away all money they don’t need to survive to those less fortunate in hopes of creating a better world. Although Singer sets a good example, both Blumberg and Falkowski note how cases like his are extreme and are unrealistic to expect all people to follow.

Finally, both Blumberg and Falkowski come to a theory that they both accept as practical, the social contract theory. Developed by Thomas Hobbes, social contract theory states that all members of society follow rules because it is in their best interest to keep society strong. In relationship to the poor, both speakers mention how impoverished people are under the social contract, and that helping ease their poverty would assist the upholding of society.

By giving their views on the different ethical theories of charity, Falkowski and Blumberg offer different perspectives on how to help the poor and why it is in society’s best interest to do more.

Check Your Facts

By Liz Kaminski

True or false? That's the question Rob Garilli, a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas College and also SGA President, addressed in a speech on the reliability of the media in his Speech Communications Honors class earlier this month. To relate the problem of uncertainty with the media to his audience, Rob opened his speech with a poll he conducted on the class. Using his sample population, Rob found that “85% of students do not know whether to trust the news they are getting” and displayed the statistic with a pie chart to achieve maximum impact.

Rob explained that not only are students at STAC unsure of news facts, but a survey conducted by PIPA during 2010 congressional elections found that many voters were upset with media for providing false and biased information.

Since there are many news outlets and only a few are reliable, Rob wanted to inform the audience where they can look to find confirmation of stories that the media provided. One very reliable source to check political facts is on a website called PolitiFact. Established by the St. Petersburg Times with editor in chief Bill Adair, PolitiFact won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for its fact checking abilities. Rob then delved into the formatting of the website.

First, he explained the Truth-o-Meter which is what the website uses to rate the truthfulness of an article or story. “There are six levels with which PolitiFact uses to rate a story, True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False, and Pants on Fire” explained Rob. Most of the levels are self-explanatory, but Rob clarified one of the more unclear levels.

“Pants on Fire shows that not only is the story absolutely false, but there is also a sense of ridiculousness to the story. The catchy name was made up to help lighten the mood of the website and draw young people to the site,” Rob said. Each meter is located on the side of the article to show the reader the rating of truthfulness. Rob pulled up the website to show the audience where the Truth-o-Meter was located on the various web pages.

Rob used the two different examples to also show that PolitiFact was extremely unbiased in search for truth out in the media. One article dealt with how it was an untruthful rumor that the congressional Republicans have written up zero bills on job creation. Another article talked about the misconception in the media that Obamacare constitutes a government takeover of the health care system. This showed some support that the website was not biased.

However, at the end of the speech, sophomore Melissa Vander Teems brought up the point again by asking “Are the articles posted about 50/50 – like half of the articles dealing with Republicans are false and half of the article dealing with Democrats are false?”

Rob answered this question by explaining that they do not break it up in that manner. PolitiFact deals with all sorts of articles and posts all findings despite the ratio of false to true on Republicans and Democrats. There job is to find out whether the information the media is feeding the masses is true through reliable sources with high credentials and after amounting research.

This was an informative speech about how the media can put out misinformation which can greatly affect political positions. Rob’s detailed research into the website reassured the audience of its reliability. After this speech, the audience walked away with the tools needed to sort through the information provided by the media to make sure that is truthful and correct.