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In the Name of God بسم الله

Homework Help! Which of these Secular theories is closest to Islam? [PHILOSOPHY]

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I have to write a Philosophy explication/argumentation paper ((1500-2000 words due Friday April 3 at 1PM (13H) GMT -6)), on "What is the nature and extent of our duties to aid the poor?". Possible texts/authors: Singer, Narveson, Smart, Williams, Kant... I must consider at least two of these texts, [and argue in favour of one of them].

I would like to know which (Secular) Philosophical position of this topic question (Charity/Duty) is closest to Islam(ic Philosophy)? I.e. Which author is closest to Islam on the issue of charity?

I am also curious to know if there is any appeal to Objectivity that I can make when arguing for the superiority of one author's view over the other(s)?


Here are the Philosophical positions of each author (according to what I've understood), and the main text we studied for each. I need to know how this would translate into charity & poverty. Obviously Singer and Narveson are clearest, but the others surely have an opinion on the subject too. Note that my explanation for Smart and Kant are written more eloquently because I took the explanation of their theories from my previous essays, whereas the others are taken from my class notes:

Peter Singer ("Famine, Affluence, and Morality")
Singer appeals to beneficence to argue for the distribution of well-being. Here, he defines beneficence as the contribution to general welfare, at some cost to one's own personal welfare. The result is Utilitarianism as welfarism, whereby the overall good is the maximization of overall welfare. Restated, under utilitarianism, beneficence is the redistribution of utility in order to maximize well-being. For Singer, beneficence towards others is a duty, and important ways, charity (normally supererogatory act) and duty are not a useful distinction (charity as morally obligatory under utilitarianism). In the drowning child example, you are walking through a local a park when you notice a child in a pond. The pond is shallow enough that you can easily walk, but deep enough that the child cannot. It appears that the child is in great distress, seemingly unable to swim. Unfortunately, today you’ve put on some of your best clothes, and there is no time for delay; your clothes would be ruined if you tried to help the child. The stakes are a child's life versus $1000 worth of clothes. What should you do? In the starving child example, you are reading an article in the paper when you learn of a child in war-torn country that, as one amongst many others, is starving and, due to a scarcity of resources after years of ongoing warfare, on the brink of death. The same article refers you to a trustworthy charity organization, whose work would relieve much of the suffering in the area. Unfortunately, the charity is presently underfunded. If, however, you gave $1000, at least one life would almost certainly be saved. What should you do? Consider if there is a meaningful moral distinction between the two scenarios? Singer's principle of beneficence considers a strong formulation and a moderate formulation. The notion is that "if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it" (p. 231). The strong formulation obliges us to give until the point of marginal utility (I.e. where the giving agent would be worse off than the beneficiaries), in the interest of  procuring equal utility/happiness (making the donor worse off than the beneficiaries in the transaction). *Give until the intercept where "total utility" is max and beginning to decline and "marginal utility" reaches zero. Moderate formulation is giving before said intercept so that Marginal Utility isn't zero, and total utility isn't maximum, so the effect is less profound and a compromise for those unwilling to sacrifice anything morally significant, such as personal projects like a parent who would rather invest/save $1000 for their child's tuition rather than giving $1000 of their disposable income to charity. There are two subsidiary principles that help explain the force of the principle of beneficence (p. 232). The principle of universalizability dictates that beneficence applies to all individuals, with no exceptions -- no exceptions off of physical distance from the person in need -- implication of negative responsibility. The principle of impartiality dictates that for all individuals with equal need, the same duty to help holds (the happiness of individuals must be treated as having equal moral value) -- implication of no special obligations (no loyalty), abandon personal projects (implies negative responsibility)... It compares equal needs (e.g. drowning stranger vs drowning friend) and unequal needs (e.g. your somewhat poor family vs a very poor family).  
For more on beneficence: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/principle-beneficence/

Jan Narveson ("Feeding the Hungry”)
Narveson, a Libertarian thinker, does not believe beneficent action to be a duty. Consider (1) Duties of justice as a legal duty that can be enforced by others, which implies a justification of coercion or restrictions on liberty to compel dutiful action and/or prevent undutiful action, e.g. lying under oath; (2) Duties of charity as a moral duty that cannot be enforced by others, but which motivates action via emotion/conscience, which implies praiseworthiness of dutiful action or blameworthiness of undutiful action, e.g. lying to a friend. Question: “Is it unjust to let others starve to death?” (p. 2). Consider: Negative vs. positive rights of the starving (e.g. a right not to be harmed by starvation vs. a right to be fed). There is a moral difference between harming and allowing harm, thus an individual is only responsible for harm they do or cause; therefore, letting harm is not in violation of a negative right not to be harmed. There is also no positive right to be fed. Consider: Singer’s welfarist justification of such a right, I.e. maximization of overall welfare qua utility. Concern: Plurality of views of welfare; difficulty of evaluating and comparing utility. A positive right to be fed presupposes a common metric for welfare and comparisons of utility, but there is no such metric; therefore, we must allow individuals to decide for themselves what would be most beneficial. Consider: Investing in the opera vs. investing in OXFAM (p. 3). Result: (I) No (welfarist) case for a positive right to be fed, hence (ii) no principle of beneficence as a duty of justice.  Even if Singer did not intend to argue it as a duty of justice (he emphasizes the duty of individuals not the government), beneficence must have a limited scope due to the issue of impartiality. There is a difficulty of measuring & comparing happiness between individuals, and a threat to the liberty of richer individuals. In consideration of this, legally and morally we must take the rights of the individual as fundamental, making free-market capitalism the only fair solution. All in all, beneficence may be a moral duty, but with significant restrictions, such as the duty only applying in times of crisis, the help is genuinely of modest cost to the provider (p.4), and partiality towards personal interests is legitimate, if not encouraged. The result is charity as a moral virtue.
For more on Narveson: https://www.csus.edu/indiv/g/gaskilld/ethics/jan narveson.htm

J.J.C. Smart ("Defending Utilitarianism")
Smart uses a non-cognitivist approach, whereby moral principles depend on attitudes or feelings, to argue for act-utilitarianism (202). In act-utilitarianism, the rightness of an action is judged by the consequences of the action itself, as opposed to the consequences of following a rule that requires that action, which characterizes rule-utilitarianism (203). Act-utilitarianism appeals to the sentiment of generalized benevolence, which is the ‘ultimate moral principle’ of utilitarianism (205). Since different utilitarian standards do not disagree on what is to be done, but rather disagree on the standards of consequences that should arise (204), Smart grounds his argument for act-utilitarianism in the criterion of rational choice (206) to reject “rule worship” which fails to be optimific in situations requiring deliberation, yet accepts “rules of thumb” for spontaneous decisions, due to the lack of precise methods when comparing total situations involving immediacy or habit (205-6). Consider the comparative advantage of utilitarianism over deontological ethics in relation to the principle of benevolence. Note that deontological ethics are rule-based, thus in some instances they attain similar rules to those of rule-utilitarianism. In the “desert island promise” (207) a man promises to a dying man that he will give his gold to a jockey club, but he instead finds a better use for the gold, by giving it to a hospital in need. By focusing on the effects of individual actions rather than the effects of types/classes of actions, the utilitarian position achieves the most humane result by intrinsically assuming that the remote effects of him violating his promise, I.e. the rule, are negligible and more good would result from violating this promise (207).  However, in McCloskey’s “scapegoat” case (208), one innocent person must be killed to prevent a riot from occurring where hundreds will be killed. In this case, due to not following a set of rules in its desire to maximize total happiness—here, the rule that murdering any innocent person is absolutely impermissible—act-utilitarianism justifies intuitively horrible acts (208).  
For more on Rule and Act Utilitarianism: https://www.iep.utm.edu/util-a-r/

Bernard Williams ("A Critique of Utilitarianism")
Williams' principal objection to Utilitarianism turns on the notion of negative responsibility, the notion that an agent is equally responsible for consequences they [foresee yet] fail to prevent as those they actively bring about. In Jim and the Villagers problem, Jim, a foreign scholar, walks into a village, only to find several armed men, mostly in uniform, in front of twenty locals tied to a wall. The captain explains that the villagers are a random group of inhabitants who, after recent acts of protest against the government, are just about to be killed to remind other possible protesters of the advantage of not protesting. However, since Jim is an honoured visitor from another land, the captain is happy to offer him a guest’s privilege of killing one of the prisoners himself. If Jim accepts, then as a special mark of the occasion the other villagers will be let off. If Jim refuses, there will be no special occasion and all twenty will be killed. Consider Jim’s inaction leading to the deaths of the 20 as equally bad as the captain’s act of killing them. Consequentialism demands negative responsibility as (I) A general responsibility to maximize goodness (ii) Indifference re: doing/allowing (iii) Impartiality re: who benefits and/or is harmed (iv) Impartiality re: who produces benefits/harms. The Utilitarian could reply that although Negative Responsibility holds, (1) Jim should not kill the one in light of the more remote effects this would have; (2) Consider the negative effects on Jim’s psychology as a result of killing the one; (3) Consider the negative effects of the precedent that Jim’s action would set. Williams' response is (1) in general, appeals to remoter effects imply lower certainty versus immediate effects; (2) Such effects either (I) wouldn’t exist (I.e. if Jim was a rational utilitarian), or (ii) would be irrational, and should be disregarded in a utilitarian calculus; (3) The precedent (I) should in some sense be a precedent for right action under utilitarianism, and in any case (ii) would be a precedent not likely to influence others (I.e. given the rare and extreme nature of Jim’s situation). According to Williams, negative responsibility threatens integrity, the notion of the agent’s capacity to pursue projects with which they identify, and which arguably have a role in constituting their identity. In George the chemist problem, George needs a job badly. His options are limited, but his friend offers him work at a lab doing R&D for biochemical warfare. George says he would prefer not to, but is reminded by his friend that (a) the lab remains no matter what George decides, and (b) If George refuses, the job goes to an overzealous supporter of the war effort, whereas (c) If George accepts, he could help to slow down the work. Utilitarianism threatens integrity because of (I) Impartiality: no special status for the agent's own projects; (ii) Negative Responsibility: A moral agent’s projects will be determined “to an indeterminately great extent” by the projects of others (p. 260). The result is that the moral agent is minimally (I) constantly kept from pursuing their most centra projects with which they identify, and perhaps even (ii) has no projects of their own at all, if it can be shown that doing so would lead to better results overall.
For more on Williams: http://faculty.fiu.edu/~hauptli/BernardWilliamsAgainstUtilitarianism.htmhttps://plato.stanford.edu/entries/williams-bernard/#DayCannTooFarOffhWillAgaiUtil

Immanuel Kant ("Groundwork of Morals")
For Kant, although we are all rational beings, the filtering of personal inclinations through the faculty of reason may often be inconsistently applied, indicating a gap between our subjective ‘maxim’ reasons for acting, and objective ‘law’ reasons for acting. Subsequently, we need an unconditional standard for moral action, which Kant articulates as a ‘moral law’, as per his deontology (G 4:402). Kant’s First Formulation of this Categorical Imperative (CI) is called the Formula of the Universal Law (of Nature). It poses the question of ‘could I rationally will that everyone act in the way that I propose?’ (G 4:421). If the answer is no, then we are forbidden to perform this action. This formulation is significant to Kant’s moral philosophy because it aims to correctly guide our inclinations into proper reasons for acting, to ensure that individuals will correctly adhere to their moral duty, as per Kant’s virtue ethics (MM 6:405). A “perfect duty” designates those inclinations that must be enshrined in reason, whereas an “imperfect duty” designates those inclinations that are treated as the willing of means to achieve an end, and Kant accepts both as moral (G 4:423). The First Formulation of Moral Law is convened through the universalizability test, whereby an agent’s maxims are imagined to be universal, and then “contradictions in conception” and “contradictions in willing” are considered. Firstly, if your maxim (I.e. personal reason for action) fails to be universally conceivable (I.e. always acted on by all) in an imagined world governed by this maxim, then we infer a contradiction in conception, whereby you have a “perfect duty” to always refrain from acting on that maxim in the real world (G 4:421). However, if there is no contradiction in conception, then we infer an opposed perfect duty to always act upon that maxim in the real world. Secondly, if you yourself cannot rationally will to always act on your maxim in an imagined world governed by this maxim, then we infer a contradiction in willing, whereby you have an “imperfect duty” to sometimes refrain from acting on that maxim in the real world (G 4:421). However, if there is no contradiction in willing, then we infer an opposed imperfect duty to sometimes act upon that maxim in the real world, considering that we implicitly must will the means to our ends, insofar as we need the help of others to achieve our ends. 
For more on Kant's Moral Philosophy: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-moral/

If you have any questions at all, feel free to ask me. Note that there are other Philosophers not mentioned here that I could take from, like Mill, Rawls, etc. 

General structure of an argumentation paper:

1. Introduction

I. Begin by clearly stating the paper’s specific topic and thesis
ii. Give a plan that quickly summarizes how the paper will develop its central claim

2. Explication
I. Introduce and explain any theories and central concepts used, focusing on their relevance to the paper’s topic

3. Argumentation
I. Present the paper’s own position on the topic in the context already established by initial treatment of texts/theories
ii. Consider a strong objection to the paper’s position, and respond

4. Elaboration
I. Consider a potential implication of the paper’s position (e.g. a further theoretical problem or practical application)

5. Conclusion
I. Summarize the paper’s position, including its central argument and most interesting result(s)

The closest thing in Islam that I could find is this:

If you could direct me to Islam's (Shia Jafari) Philosophical account of Charity and how I could possibly include it in my essay, I would be very grateful. I really don't know which one of these secular authors I should argue in favour for... I don't have a strong opinion in favour of any of them, nor do I know which one I can argue best for.
This is @ everyone
But, also @Hameedeh @Qa'im @Reza @Haji 2003 @Abu Nur @Ibn Al-Ja'abi @starlight @notme @Sirius_Bright @Abu Hadi @ShiaChat Mod @Akbar673 @Don'tMakeAس @habib e najjaar @Rohani @Gaius I. Caesar
JazakAllahu Khairan
Thanks a million

Edited by AmirioTheMuzzy
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This is really interesting, but not a subject that I am very familiar with. Also I would not pretend to have a sufficient knowledge of Islamic philosophy to be able to say whether one of these people had ideas about charity that were closer to Islam than others.

However there is an issue about whether you should be considering the above question or whether your focus should be more to do with the ways in which some ideas (proposed by different authors) were similar to the Islamic perspective rather than issues of degree, since the latter would be a much higher bar to assess and I would hazard far harder and problematic in terms of presenting the argument.

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Make sure the intro and conclusion is written very well (good grammar and makes sense and, most importantly, that it favors what the professor believes in!!!!), because most professors just read the intro and conclusion and make their judgement on what they believe in!!!!.  And write whatever the professor is inclined to believe in, you will get an A+.  The only paper worth putting all your time and effort in is something no one had to grade you on!  
So, don’t worry about what you think or feel is right when it comes to this school paper of yours.  Throw your biases away. Just write in favor of the professor.  

Good luck with your paper.  
Lesson:  the end justifies the means!  Lol.

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2 hours ago, eThErEaL said:

And write whatever the professor is inclined to believe in

He's not inclined to believe in any of these theories more than the other (as far as I know). I can't even figure out how to reason which argument is better than the other and why... If I could compare it to Islam, and argue from objectivity, then that would be ideal. But, obviously I can't.

Edited by AmirioTheMuzzy
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The most I have found is:


Kantian and utilitarian theories are unsuccessful attempts to justify the morality inherited from Christianity after the rules of morality had been deprived of their teleological character through the rejection of Aristotelian philosophies, and after they had been deprived of their categorical character as expressions of divine law through the rise of secular Protestantism.

In 1958, the English philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe initiated the contemporary revival of virtue ethics as an attempt to provide an ethics for societies in which religious belief had ceased to provide orientation.

Her insight was that with the eclipse of religious belief, the moral force of duty and obligation could not be sustained, whether by Kantian claims on behalf of reason, or by utilitarian attempts to ground morality in the psychological states that result from the satisfaction of desires. She failed to see that the motivation to acquire virtue would be no less weakened when removed from the context of religious thought in which it had been nurtured in Christian Europe.

One is left with the impression that no system of ethics can be complete unless it pays adequate attention to all three elements of ethics: the moral law, the end of man, and virtue. Moreover, an ideal system of ethics should not only pay heed to these three elements separately; it should also integrate them.

This task seems so overwhelming that a number of recent moralists have advanced the view that there can be no correct theory of ethics, sometimes called "the no-theory theory".

(No doubt, there will be some controversy as to whether the ethical guidance provided by religion should be considered a theory, and we will return to this point after discussing whether religious ethics is more appropriately considered deontological, teleological or virtue oriented.)

Regardless of whether it is a theory or not, we fortunately do not need to construct a theory of ethics in order to find integrated guidance from religion in the three areas of ethics mentioned: precepts, aims and virtues. God has revealed a moral law for man; He has described the proper end of man; and He has shown us virtue in the lives of His Prophets and Imams (عليه السلام).

So, what we find in the ethics of Islam is a mixed view of the moral life in which law, ends and virtue are integrated harmoniously, grounded in conceptions of divine providence and the essence and end of man, and motivated through a complex religious psychology of taqwa and love.

Of course, this does not mean that there is no work to be done in religious ethics. To follow God's guidance and to understand how these various elements are to be determined and related to one another requires a thorough knowledge of various Islamic sciences. It is by means of fiqh and usul that the law is known. An Islamic anthropology is needed to understand the end of man, which, no less than fiqh and usul, must rely upon the sciences of tafsir and hadith.

Finally, the virtues have been the particular subject of study by the 'urafa of Islam who have been especially concerned with the practical course of sayr va suluk through which the virtues are acquired, which has led to an entire genre of Islamic literature, an excellent example of which is the book Misbah al-Shariah, which some attribute to the sixth Imam, peace be with him.

As for the issue of theory, mentioned earlier, one may wonder whether a system of ethics can be derived from the sacred texts of religion. Here we should ask what is meant by a system. Sometimes what is meant by a system of ethics is a philosophical theory of ethics.

The two, however, should not be confused. There are many systems that are by no means philosophical, such as organic systems, economic systems, digestive systems, mnemonic systems and galactic systems. Philosophy can be used to develop theories of such systems, but the existence of such systems does not imply that there are theories of them.

A number of recent Western moral philosophers have advanced the position that no philosophical theory can adequately explain and systematically relate all the aspects of the moral life. Perhaps the most important discussion of this topic is to be found in Bernard Williams' book, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, but there are several other very interesting books and articles on the subject.


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8 hours ago, AmirioTheMuzzy said:

He's not inclined to believe in any of these theories more than the other (as far as I know). I can't even figure out how to reason which argument is better than the other and why... If I could compare it to Islam, and argue from objectivity, then that would be ideal. But, obviously I can't.

Well, if he isn't Muslim, and you mention "Islam" as some kind of philosophy...just be prepared to get a poor grade.  

He might not be inclined to any particular idea, but you can always write something he would like.   It is always about what he likes.   Always keep that in mind.  So, this is why people go to office hours.  The whole point of office hours is not so you can get extra help!  no way!  rather, office hours is so that you can get into his mind!  Why do you think only the A+ students bother going to office hours?  lol


Edited by eThErEaL
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I'm going to be frank, the only western philosopher that I can think of that comes close would be Immanuel Kant, he's rather reminiscent of Ayatullah Mutahhari and both men were deeply influenced by Plato. But you won't have time to read Plato or Kant in the time crunch you're in.

I think you're making a mistake with this idea for your essay, this is more suited for studying  in a seminary or a hawza. A personal bias towards a religion is never objective. Whatever you write must stay relevant to the material being taught by the professor.

While I don't always agree with @eThErEaL, if my experiences in philosophy class have taught me anything, it's this: Religion is to be avoided unless it's relevant to the class. I'm glad to know that you weren't going to mention but still.

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