Is Charity Truly How Hobbes Described it?
A week ago, the 2011 Masters golf tournament came to an end with a victory by Charl Schwartzel. However, earlier in the week, before the major began on Thursday, there were a few stories that were closely followed by the media. One was Tiger Woods’ return to Augusta after his game had been steadily improving over the last few tournaments. Another was Phil Mickelson’s pursuit of a fourth green jacket, even though he had won the Shell Houston Open the week before (a feat that has never been accomplished). And the more heart-warming story of the week was that Ryo Ishikawa, a 19 year-old professional golfer from Japan, had promised to donate his 2011 winnings to help the disaster recovery in his native country after its devastating earth quake on March 11.
Ishikawa claimed that Japan wanted him to play not only the Masters, but also finish his regular schedule on the PGA Tour. Many sports journalists and PGA beat writers admired Yo, Ishikawa’s nickname, for not only the selfless gesture, but also for his maturity and how he has handled the situation. With much of his family still living in Japan when the earthquake and tsunami hit, he has played quite well on the Tour since then. However, I began to wonder, was the gesture really selfless? After all, he could always have taken a year off from the tour and gone back to Japan to help with the relief efforts. The entire situation reminded me of Hobbes’ view on charity, and his view on human nature, versus that of Rebecca Solnit.
In a lecture back in February, while we were discussing Hobbes, Professor Lavaque-Manty gave us an example of how Hobbes viewed charity. In an excerpt from John Aubrey’s Brief Lives, he mentions that Hobbes gave an old beggar a decent amount of money because it pained him not to do so. In brief, he gave the man money to help himself feel better. Hobbes’ thought that at least a little piece of every charitable act we do is selfish is consistent with his state of nature.
According to Rebecca Solnit in “The Uses of Disaster” uses people’s reactions to various natural disasters to argue against Hobbes’ view on humans. Her theory more agrees with Locke that people are good and that people help one another in the state of nature. I have typically agreed with this view. But recently, I have had to question if people actually perform charitable acts for themselves or are the acts out of selfishness.
For example, when people tell you about an positive experience that they had while volunteering, the most common thing that people say is, “It makes you feel so good about yourself”. Some might add that helping others makes you feel good about yourself, but ultimately it always comes back to them. I believe that the Ishikawa gesture was very nice, it was something that he did not have to do, and people would not have cared. He could have even just donated his winnings from the Masters and people would have been just as pleased. But, to a degree, his donation to the relief effort is his way of justifying him playing the rest of the Tour season, as are most acts of charity.