Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Louis CK On Our Obligations to Others

We chatted yesterday in my class about how much we might owe others--especially those suffering from famine and lack of medical resources, education, etc.  I mentioned that Loius CK makes an argument that resembles some of the arguments we considered in class.  Here's the relevant clip.

Do you think he's right in claiming that it's evil--and we should interpret this as "it's not morally permissible"--for him to continue driving his Infinity?  That is, that he's obligated to sell it and donate the proceeds to those that are in dire need? If so, what implications does this have regarding your life? Are there things that you have or services you enjoy (e.g., expensive shoes, Netflix, etc.) that you should really do without so that you can help those in dire need?

23 comments:

Chen Huey Tsan said...

I don't think that continue driving his Infinity makes him evil although he is right about being able to help more people by selling the car. He's not obligated to sell the car and donate the proceeds to the needy ones just because not doing so makes him evil. He can CHOOSE to drive a less luxurious car because he can get to the same destination regardless of what car he drives. A car is a car and it gets us to places. That's it.

As for me, there are certainly materials that can be given up if necessary to help those in dire need such as branded shoes, bags, smartphones etc. I believe in giving moderately but not to the extend of making your own self suffer. In other words, it is not a good idea to donate all the money you have that you become one that is in dire need. There's always moderation and balance in everything.

Karynne Woodard said...

I see that utilitarianism does not moral obligate you to do anything. Their idea is to make the world a better place by having as few bad consequences as possible and because of this it is morally a better intention to donate your extra money to the poor to make their lives better. Or to not eat meat to better the lives of animals because they suffer too. However, you cannot be morally obligated to give up your happiness and suffer for other peoples happiness. You are also not obligated to do the most moral action. There are a lot of good moral action, as long as you promote good consequences you are being moral. You are not an immoral person if you want to drive a nice car or have Netflix because these things make you happy. It the things that don't make you happy that you can cut back on to help others.
For me I think that if something makes you happy you are not obligated to stop using it for other peoples happiness. Such as smoking, if it makes you happy you should continue to smoke, however, if making your loved ones happy is more of a desire then you should stop smoking because that will make them happy as well as you happy. It's a matter of balance.

Jake Seymer said...

I believe that under utilitarianism he would be morally obligated to sell his car to donate the money to starving people as long as that increases the overall wellness in the world. We can't tell the future, so you can't decisively know which actions you should do. He could sell his car and save 100's people. What if one of those many people grows up to be a warlord in Africa and slaughters thousands? Its possible that his intended action in the sake of good could cause overall negative well being. In terms of realistic expectations, yea he probably should sell his car. If I followed the same principle I should sell all my electronics. Don't need a tv, a cellphone, or a laptop (I can use one of the computer labs that the university provides for my assignments.) However that's not something that I'm inclined to do, and thus I have to disagree with this facet of utilitarianism.

jis said...
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Woojai Jang said...

According to UT, he is morally obligated to help those in need since helping them will only cost him little and will result in the greatest benefit (as is often thought to be the case). That is just how UT works and is how I know I am not a utilitarian—at least in this case. I just don’t see how my continuing to drive infinity is immoral. You can call it (using Thomson’s words in his article 'A Defense of Abortion') “self-centered and callous, indecent in fact, but not unjust.”

If someone sells his luxury car and gives that money to those in need, that is great. But, I don’t see how “he is morally obligated” comes in. That is not to say that we just should let the people in Africa starve to death. I think that we should help them. But, the only justifiable means of doing it is by promoting charity. (I know it is unclear what the word “justifiable” means here. I will try to illustrate on that in my paper).

Heather Wittrock said...

If Utilitarianism is correct, then yes, we do owe it to others to create the greatest good for the greatest number. We owe it to everybody, not just ourselves, and we especially owe it to the people suffering the most.
It sounds a little harsh to say that it’s ‘evil’ and that “it’s not morally permissible” for him to drive his Infiniti but that seems to be the case. From a UT theory yes, he is obligated to sell his Infiniti, as we are all obligated to give up our luxuries for the sake of greater good. And by greater good I mean simply the things needed to survive like food and clean water. I could give up smoking and probably save 5 lives a month. That’s what I ought to do (Hell I ought to do something!). But, like Louis C.K, I probably won’t (at least not quit smoking), and many others probably won’t either, and the unnecessary suffering continues. …. That does sound evil….

Su Jia Wong said...

Utilitarians might think it is morally wrong for Louis CK to drive his Infinity because to maximize the well-being of the world, he should sell the car and donate all the money to those who are in needs. Those in needs can improve their situations greatly if there were to receive money from Louis CK, and he will only suffer little pain by selling Infinity since branded car is just a luxury but not necessity. Thus, utilitarians think that the advantages exceed disadvantages, and it is not morally permissible for him to drive Infinity.

However, I do not think "it is not morally permissible" for Louis CK to continue driving his Infinity. To contribute to the welfare of society, it is not a must for us to sacrifice our own happiness. I personally will opt for egoism which is more plausible in our daily life. This is because only when we fulfill our self-interest, then only we are able to help the others. To help those in need, it doesn't mean that we have to sacrifice all our wealth. We still can donate moderately without having to sell all our luxury goods. For instance, I can choose to volunteer or donate food to the victims of natural disaster. I still can continue enjoying Netflix and using macbook, while helping the others at the same time. Isn't this a win-win situation?

Lik Sheng Ooi said...

I think that Louis CK is right, we ought to donate much more than what we are donating now, if any. People are dying of starvation around the world and we are here, enjoying ourselves while treating ourselves to a cup of Starbucks coffee. Some may refuse to accept Louis' views as they feel that they are entitled to have what they have now. But what if you are born in the famine-struck areas instead of your current situation? Moral luck has a lot to do in this.

Many of us, me included, will just have to admit that we are selfish and go on with our lives. His argument is rather strong. We should at least try, if not truly achieve what Louis CK said we ought to do.

Kah Yee Yap said...

I do not agree with Louis CK's claim that it is morally impermissible for him to drive his Infinity. Utilitarians might concur with him that donating the proceeds to those in need of help would make his actions morally right and contribute to a better world because this seems to maximize the overall well-being of the world. However, I do not think it is an act that is morally obligated although it is true that he can spend less money on a less luxurious car like a Ford.

If we ought to do what the utilitarians suggest by forgoing the materials that we have enjoyed, we might not be able to reach the goal of maximizing the greatest balance of benefits over drawbacks ultimately even though at first thought, it would be apparent that those poor people would benefit tremendously and live a more satisfying life. Nevertheless, if we were to ponder on a long-term perspective, those companies that produce the goods or services, which are the sources of our gratification, would not exist after all and a lot of people would lose their job opportunities or the chance to develop their talents as well. Eventually, it does not seem like a sound idea to help others unconditionally at the expense of our own enjoyment at times. Yes, I would say that there are things that I could have abstained from using, such as wearing a pair of Nike shoes or using a Samsung smartphone. These stuffs are not like basic necessities to sustain our survival but we have the right to enjoy them while doing charity simultaneously. We should not expect ourselves to sacrifice all of our wealth if we can perform good deeds in accordance with our own capabilities. Otherwise, it would be a task too demanding of us.

robert broome said...

With regards to these types of predicaments, I think it is all about balance and proportion. While I don’t think living a completely excessive and extravagant lifestyle is fair, I also don’t think people should sell/give away everything they’ve ever owned or worked for in order to give it to charity. If everyone gave away everything they ever earned, then we would be in the exact same position, as those who gave away everything they earned would then be “poor” and those who were once “poor” would then be richer. Maybe it is a selfish view, but I think people are entitled to enjoy certain luxuries in life, especially if they’ve worked hard to earn them and they make them and those around them happy. It would be ridiculous to expect people to work long hours, earn money and then give all that money away to charity.
However there is a distinction between things that are reasonable to purchase and enjoy, and things that are purely excessive—in which case it would be better to save that money and give it to people who need it more. The distinction between “morally permissible purchases” and “immorally permissible purchases” can be a little hazy. I personally believe truly excessive material items such as nice watches, fancy cars, designer clothes, etc. are not okay to buy. The cheaper versions of such items would suffice, and the money saved by buying a 50-dollar pair of Levi jeans as apposed to a 300-dollar pair of Hugo Boss jeans is significant and could be used for a greater cause. Note, that I am not saying someone shouldn’t buy the jeans altogether, but that they should take into account the cheaper and just as useful option. On the other hand, I think it is okay for someone who has earned money and worked hard to take their family on nice vacations (within reason), and to eat out at nice restaurants occasionally. Such things in my opinion are more worthwhile and benefit more people. No one wants people to starve to death, and while being completely altruistic would be nice, I think there needs to be a middle ground in which people have a balance between satisfying their own desires (within reason) and helping others.

Max Haraldsen said...

I think calling his and our behaviors "evil" in this situation is changing the definition of what evil is. Evil is directly causing harm to others in some way. In his case, he is refraining from giving additional help to those who need it. If he were not to exist, those people would be in the exact same position as they are now. I believe that moral law does require one to help out others as much as possible. In a perfect world, we would do whatever we could so everyone could live comfortably. Moral law should be idealistic and incredibly optimistic. Otherwise if morals weren't "high" enough, they would only affirm us for not doing horrible acts but nothing much more than that. I think just because it is difficult for many of us to meet these moral standards does not make them false or our behavior "permissible" relative to them. What has happened is that society accepts these behaviors as okay. They are not evil though; they are only apathetic and selfish.

Daria Kryuchkova said...

I would not say that our conveniences are necessarily evil. We can't help the fact that we were born in highly developed countries. Howeever, it doesn't give us the right to be self-centered, egotistical and conceited. We as the complex society with all imaginable opportunities have to provide some sort of support to third world countries. It doesn't mean that we should say no to all luxiries we have, especially if they were achieved through hard work and honesty; nevertheless, in my opinion, wealthy people with basic sense of morality must contribute part of their finances to the needs of others. It doesn't even have to come along with good intentions, but has to be aimed at the eventual results. Those needy people would get what they lacked, so who cares if the contributor helped them just for the sake of fame or sociatal approval (I know Kant would never agree with me). Finally, to answer the question about Louis' s luxury car, does he really need that fancy vehicle? We really have to pace our desires and be moderately humble in our happiness. I think we "don't get full but gorge" ourselves. That is the first sign of egoism.

Caitlin Cooper said...

I think that under utilitarianism it would be considered morally wrong and he should sell his car and donate the extra money but in reality I think it is really harsh to say that it is evil. I love this example because coming from southern California I grew up with my friend’s parents driving luxury cars and I never understood it. For some reason driving them is almost part of the culture. My sister and I always talk about how it doesn’t matter how much money we have in the future we will never drive a luxury car. Even though I drive a Toyota I am guilty of loving nice purses and I really could sell them and donate a good amount of money.

I think Luis CK is at least on the right track. If we all constantly tried to do the right thing in regards to humanity it would be incredibly difficult (sadly). If we really looked at where are clothes are made or the life of the coffee bean farmer who’s coffee we drink, it is sadly difficult to live a life that cannot be connected to some horrible system like sweatshops and EPZ’s. I think he’s on the right track because he’s aware. He’s aware of the things that he can do with his money, and although this isn’t a common way, he’s bringing the awareness through his comedy. So maybe there were people in his audience that never thought of things in that way and now they might think twice before they waste money on some unnecessary object.

Sara Klunk said...

In this situation, it would a utilitarian would say that Louis CK should give up driving his Infinity and donate that money to those in need if that is what created the most overall happiness. However, one could also argue that by purchasing that car, he is keeping the car dealership, manufacturers, and oil companies in business through that purchase. It would seem that by purchasing that vehicle, he is helping hundreds of people to be happy because they are able to provide for their families. In the clip, Louis CK did mention that he could drive a Ford Focus and donate the rest of the money to help feed people in dire need. This seems to be the better choice because, through is purchase of the Focus, he is still able to help stimulate the economy and feed hundreds of people with the money he saved. This choice seems to generate the most happiness – he helps to stimulate the economy, hundreds of people get to eat as a result in the purchase change, and he still is able to drive a decent car.

This situation does seem to have some implications on my own life. I could (and should) probably go without as many sushi nights out, the latest Apple product, or my Netflix subscription in order to use that money to help those in need. Helping ourselves versus helping someone else seems like something many people, myself included, seem to struggle to find the right balance between. The donation of time and money to help others is an important thing to examine when evaluating how to spend one’s resources.

Zhen Ming said...

If the action is seen from a utilitarian point of view, then he is obligated the sell his car and donate the money because it will result in an overall increase in well-being. However, I don’t believe that the action is not morally permissible. From a deontology point of view, it is possible for this action to be morally permissible because the maxim can be universalized. There is nothing wrong for everyone to own and drive Infinity on the street provided that there are enough resources in the world to build them.

In addition, I don’t know how exactly giving up digital Netflix accounts will help others. If life is to be created and treated equally, then isn’t it not just my job but also the job of those service creators to do what is best for the well-being? Furthermore, how do I giving my Netflix account to someone else really increase the overall well-being?

From a hedonist point of view, if life is subjective then we all value life differently depending on our situation. For me giving up some of the things that I love to someone else will make my life less happy. In addition, it may not even benefit the people whom are unfortunate if they don’t know what to do with it. Therefore, if life is situation dependent, then we all should live different lives and judge the quality/happiness of our lives within a set of situation norms, and not compare between two worlds.

I would personally disagree with the statement that I have the obligation to others.

Cristina Olvera said...

I believe that what he intended to say was that driving his car was morally impermissible because there are so many mouths that he could be feeding with the money he could save trading in his infinity. I am totally against his argument saying that it is evil to own nice expensive things just because there are those less fortunate. As terrible as it may sound it is not his sole duty nor anyone else's to watch out for others all the way around the world. World hunger and poverty is something that is way beyond one individual's grasp it is something that no individual can fix on their own. Yes as we have all most likely heard every little thing helps, every cent that one gives to the needy may count towards something but if you cannot afford to give as much as you would like or if you have the urge to treat yourself to some luxuries you shouldn't feel bad for it. That does not make us a bad person. Simply having intentions to give to others and the fact that you care about them is a good moral thing all in its own. There are some unnecessary services or objects that we could do without and if we would instead use that money towards something that would benefit the greater good it would be the moralistic thing to do. However if one stops using these services and buying themselves nice things with the intent to be moral then it really doesn't count as being moralistic anymore. It would be nice if we could all stop indulging on unnecessary things or services and give that money to those who need them we could benefit so many. Sadly this is not how most people in our society think.

Emily Engel said...

I don't think that things like Louis CK owning an Infinity (instead of cheaper car and donating the proceeds) is necessarily evil. I also don't think it'd be evil of him to have a cheaper car and still not donate any money. It's hard to say exactly what he and everyone else should do with their (excess) money because we don't really know what would happen based upon our decisions. Perhaps I could sacrifice $9 each month to donate to charity instead of having Netflix; although, maybe the $9 I do pay each month helps one of their employees donate $10 each month, thus doing more good. Who knows? Maybe I really am making the world a worse place because I have Netflix.
That being said, I think everyone should do their best to help others however possible, while still maintaining their own happiness the best that they can. I've been sponsoring a child since I was 19, whether I was in school or just working. I feel I live a pretty comfortable life and can afford to do so (I could probably donate even more if I gave up some non-essential things); however, there have definitely been times where I've wondered if putting this money towards tuition, savings, etc. would be more beneficial. Maybe if I have less student loan debt, I'll be able to donate more in the future. But then again, maybe not. Because we are not omniscient, we really don't know if driving an Infinity instead of a Geo Metro will make the world any better.

Enrique Franco said...

I think we need to consider the possibility that it isn’t morally permissible for him to continue driving his Infinity but not quite for the reasons mentioned. I don’t think, for instance, that he would be morally responsible for the wellbeing of those people half way across the world. His moral obligations will have to have some connection to his ability to fulfill them, i.e. his resources and his responsibility and ability to help those around him. That being said maybe he does have some level of responsibility to help the poor and suffering in his town, county, or state. Admittedly I don’t know how that proximity would be factored. But perhaps one could argue he’s still fulfilling his responsibilities to his children. The Infinity could offer the ample protection need to transport them from point A to B that a more efficient car would otherwise lack.
I do think there are those in need that many of us COULD help at some slight inconvenience for ourselves. Many of us aren’t comfortable with the possibility that it is in fact our moral obligation to help others in such fashions. This comes at the expense at how good we really are. But as we’ve discussed the difficulty that may come with morality is not necessarily an appropriate rebuttal to a set of moral obligations. Morality is tough. We shouldn’t think that a lavished life while constantly failing to help others will make us good moral agents.

Robert Romeo said...

I do not think that he is right in claiming that it is evil for him to continue driving his infinity. Unless of course the infinity is the only think that is keeping him from giving charities money, in which case it is not good, but still not evil. I don't think that anyone has any obligation to sell their possessions and help those that are in need. It would be a better world if everyone did that but it is simply not realistic to think so. If everyone did have that obligation then what sets the benchmark for how much a person has to donate? who is the person that decides the amount of money that each person has to donate annually? And beyond that, how is anyone supposed to know what luxuries they are and are not allowed to have?

There are certainly things in my life that I could give up. I could eat out less and donate the money that I save to charity. I could also encourage my friends to set aside some of their money to donate to charity. These are good things to do, but I do not believe that anyone should have to do them, they should only feel like it would help people if they did.

Jeff Collins said...

I don’t think that it is right to label him as ‘evil’. I also don’t think that he is obligated to sell his car and give that money to those are in dire need. I do think that if he did sell his car and donate all of the money to the numerous people that are suffering, he would help a lot of people. But, I don’t think he has to do it. That is his decision and if he chooses to spend his money on lavish items, then he should be able to do that. Saying that he is evil because of his decision is a little over the top.

After watching this video clip, it did make me realize that there are a lot of things that I own that I could easily give up in order for other people to survive. I think that giving up some services in my life, in order to help someone in dire need, is something that I should do.

Zhantao Xu said...

Under utilitarianism, he would be morally obligated to sell his Infinity and donate all the proceeds to those who are in need as long as it makes the world better. But this may result in a situation that all the rich people should sell their assets and then donate money to the poor people until there is no rich or poor people in the world, only because there must be someone who is poorer than you until egalitarianism is reached. However, this is impossible.
There is an ancient Chinese proverb saying that, “how much one pays, how much one gains”. Louis CK paid his effort to earn money, and his Infinity car is what he gained. Poor people, to some extent, are poor because they do not work hard enough. I think that it is morally permissible for him to continue driving his Infinity. He has no responsibility to sell his Infinity and donate the proceeds.

Reed K said...

Though it would be a very kind thing to do, I don't believe Louis is obligated to sell his Infinity and donate the proceeds to people in dire need. For most people at least, money is hard to earn and I don't believe that anyone has an inherent right to the benefits of your work and time because of their situation. For example, if you made millions of dollars teaching philosophy here at Wisconsin and I was dying of some disease that could only be cured with a $100,000 treatment, I couldn't expect you to pay for my treatment nor could I blame you for my death. The cause of death would be from a disease, not from Jesse Steinberg's miserliness. Just as you are not responsible for my life in this situation, Louis is not responsible for the lives of those in dire need.

That being said, I do believe charity is an "optional" duty, meaning though it's not required, you should be compelled to give money when you have the means.

Conner Schultz said...

Well, I don't think it's entirely clear whether or not he needs to give up the Infinity. I agree with Peter Singer's argument that we are morally obligated to help those that are dying of lack of basic resources, disease, etc., but I don't think that it necessarily means that you have to give up all your belongings. I believe doing that would be supererogatory (or maybe just plain stupid!). It can easily be argued that maintaining (at least to a certain degree) your current standard of living in order to keep living healthily (both physically and mentally) in order to perform as well as you can in your job so you can keep working, which makes more money that you can then donate to people in need. Also, working and stimulating the economy could have positive global impacts. That isn't to say that I don't think there are things in our western life that can be given up. We have way too many luxuries, and we are way too spoiled. Things like Netflix and expensive shoes are not nearly morally comparable to people dying of diarrhea, and I don't think they add a significant amount of utility to the individual to the point where it's essential to him performing well in his job. The end goal is, ultimately, marginal utility. That does not mean marginal wealth, so that's why I don't think that it means giving up all your possessions.