It seems the choice between human life and personal gain is an easy one to make; but if people are honest, the decision is often not so easy and how an individual reconciles personal, organizational and cultural values as well as ethics in a global setting is something that takes a great deal of effort and consideration and must take into account the utility values of their actions. Virtues like charity and honesty can be universally admired, though not universally practiced. A person of affluence may be able to donate money to the less fortunate, even to the desperately poor that may have their lives saved by such charitable action.
However, most people of all income levels choose to buy things beyond the basic necessities of life, like televisions, expensive foods, or a night on the town, and few consider this action to be immoral. However, when considering the implications of such action in terms of ethics, the ability to donate to charity and choosing not to makes the morality behind the uncharitable action unclear. By applying virtue theory, Kantianism, utilitarianism, and humanistic psychological analysis to the concept of charity to personal, organizational and cultural values as well as ethics in a global setting, it becomes obvious that those who do not donate when they have the means are committing an immoral act and will only be incomplete humans.
Virtue theory is one of philosophy’s oldest concepts, dating back to ancient times in both Western and Eastern philosophy. Beginning in Western tradition with Plato and advanced significantly by Aristotle, virtue ethics place precedence on what an individual sees as the best possible choice for a situation in an attempt to become a good individual based on character. By following this approach, as Aristotle stresses, the perception of the particular takes priority in the sense that a good rule is a good summary of wise particular choices, and not a court of last resort (Pfaff, 2008). When using this approach to address charity, a person would not donate their money to the poor because rules or an obligation, but because he or she would feel that doing so would be the best course of action and the most decent thing to do in building their own good virtue. The ultimate goal of their act is personal happiness, and by embarking on what they feel is virtuous, like courage and benevolence, people will be able to achieve their ultimate goal. By not donating to the less fortunate, the qualities that instill these virtues and build character are not achieved. Buying personal luxury items instead of pursuing charity in the community, whether local or global, is not virtuous by this approach. For Kantianism, the goal is less to build character through virtue, but to use reason to understand the best course of action for a particular situation.
All humans are born with free will, and the decision to be charitable or uncharitable rests within that freedom. The German Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant (1781) contributed much to the Western discussion of ethics and free will, and his conception of freedom and virtue are reasoned by “the critical distinction of the two modes of representation (the sensible and the intellectual) and the consequent limitation of the conceptions of the pure understanding and of the principles which flow from them” (Kant, 1781). Kant attempts to distinguish between the empirical and rational conceptions of free will and how it influences virtue, questioning whether freedom is the independent choices of free will or merely the practical reaction to circumstance and causality. To this end, Kantianism is highly dependent upon reason to figure out the proper decision concerning virtue, and his ethics rely on obligation to reason more than emotions or goals. Thus, the Kantian approach to donation would be the duty of those that have the means to donate. People would not donate their money because of the suffering of those in poverty, nor would their charity rely on any other emotional reason. They would simply choose not to buy an extra television or expensive dinner and instead donate to a charity that will help society, because of their basic obligation to the society in which they live. While this approach stresses the importance of learning and following duties to achieve virtue, the utilitarian approach stresses the greatest good to achieve virtue.
The utilitarian approach is the preferable way for humans to act to help achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Theorist Peter Singer (1999) proposes that if people in affluent countries like the United States donated a small portion of their money that would normally be spent on luxury items, the money can be used to help out poverty-stricken peoples around the world. He claims that if this money was donated to such charities as Unicef or Oxfam America that it would do a greater deal of good for the most possible people, thereby having the greatest utility value. By choosing to buy a television and not donate money, a person is making a questionable moral decision. Just because a person cannot see the product of their charity, by not being charitable is similar to knowing someone will die and letting them because it is not convenient. By the utilitarian approach, those that are not donating to these organizations are committing an act similar to those that let a person die when they have the power to save them (Singer, 1999). While this may seem extreme, by denying the greater good for self-interest, including the ability to donate money that may save the life of an impoverished child, the logic is difficult to deny.
While the virtue theory finds the denial of charity immoral because it is not virtuous and decent, Kantianism rejects such an act because of the duty one has to the community, while the utilitarianism rejects uncharitable behavior because it ignores the greater good. The virtue theory, Kantianism, and utilitarianism allow a person to pursue a line of action that encourages behavior beneficial to all, but each for different reasons. To further understand how an individual reconciles personal, organizational and cultural values as well as ethics in a global setting, one must move beyond philosophy to psychology and employ the humanistic approach to understanding behavior.
The humanistic approach developed by Rogers and other individuals such as Abraham Maslow was simply to address the limitations of psychodynamic theories to address the meaning of behavior, and the nature of healthy growth. Different from other approaches within psychology, the humanistic approach emphasizes subjective meaning, a rejection of determinism, and a concern from positive growth rather than pathology (Glassman, 2007). Despite the fact that traditional psychology can also provide a picture of growth, the belief that behavior can only be understood objectively creates a scenario in which the individual is in essence incapable of understanding his or her own behavior. Rogers argues that the humanistic approach and its acceptance of subjectivity is the scientific, because science is reliable because the nature of observed events are not objective, rather they can be agreed upon by different observers; Rogers calls this process intersubjective verification (2007). With the humanistic approach to understanding behavior and growth, Rogers’ theories enable individuals to understand greater their own personality and development.
With the humanistic approach as his foundation, Rogers’ contributions to the field of psychology of personality helped change the nature of modern psychoanalytical therapy. One of his greatest contributions was his person-centered approach to counseling, often referred to as Rogerian therapy. By this approach, psychologists seek to approach people with empathy, genuineness, and non-possessive warmth creating the best possible way to enable them to grow and develop and work through any problems they may have (Rowan, 2001). The person-centered approach involves removing obstacles so the client can move forward, freeing him or her for normal growth and development. It emphasizes being fully present with the person and helping the latter truly feel his or her own feelings and desires. Being “nondirective” lets the person deal with what he or she considers important, at his or her own pace (Daniels, 2007). To Rogers, development remains the ultimate responsibility of the one developing and by avoiding control over clients, therapists that follow this approach go further to instill independent development than those that do not.
Rogers’ theory of personality development relied on principles and not necessarily stages of development. Many of these principles are founded on organismic values that Rogers believes are positive human and social values common to all people (2007). The belief that humans are in a process of self-discovery rather than a fixed and static state also contributes to personal growth. Rogers’ ideal personality, referred to as a “Fully-Functioning Person” is a person who is open to her own experience, lives in the moment in an existential fashion, and is fully connected to and accepting of a personal stream of consciousness, which is constantly changing (2007). More than almost anything else, Rogers’ idea that humans are a constantly evolving work empowers the individual to live an authentic and vibrant life free of constraint and bound only by one’s own will.
The application of Rogers’ theories on personality has implications that go far beyond the therapeutic environment of counseling into everyday life. Rogers saw conditional and positive regard as a key to personality development, and an individual’s ability to become a fully-functioning person would rely on conditions or lack thereof imposed upon the individual. In the workplace, employers can set conditions on their employees by rewarding them for good work or meeting certain quotas; when the employee matches this condition of worth he or she feels worthy and is rewarded. However, if the employee fails to meet predetermined criteria, they will feel unworthy by not meeting established conditions.
Employing Rogers’ humanistic approach in will enable for better communication and independence among individuals and groups, and will allow an individual to better reconcile his or her personal, organization, and cultural values with ethics in the world. Organizations treated in the same manner as individuals will encourage the same type of development, and the acceptance of development as an ongoing process will create a more stable environment. With emphasis on the high value of humanity and its fundamental goodness, the positivism offered by Carl Rogers, Kantianism, utilitarianism, and virtue theory are some of the best ways that will enhance any individual or collection of individuals to live a balanced and happier existence for themselves and each other.
Daniels, V. (2007). Carl Rogers Summary. Sonoma State University. Retrieved January 14,
2008, from http://www.sonoma.edu/users/d/daniels/rogers.html
Glassman, W. (2007). The Humanistic Approach. Approaches to Psychology. Retrieved January
14, 2008, from http://www.ryerson.ca/~glassman/humanist.html
Kant, I. (1781). The Critique Of Pure Reason. Ed. J. M. D. Meiklejohn. Retrieved July 17, 2008,
Pfaff, C. A. (2008). Virtue Ethics And Leadership. United States Air Force Academy. Retrieved
July 17, 2008, from http://www.usafa.edu/isme/JSCOPE98/PFAFF98.htm
Rowan, R. (2001). The Person-Centred Approach. Association for Humanistic Psychology.
Retrieved July 17, 2008, from from http://ahpweb.org/rowan_bibliography/index.html
Singer, P. (1999, September 5) The Singer Solution to World Poverty. The New York Times
Magazine. pp. 60-63. Utilitarian Philosophers. Retrieved July 17, 2008, from http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/19990905.htm