Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Guest post from C.Ewing today:

Let us say that we have a person H. Person H happens to posses a wondrous technological device, which for any given morally pertinent situation will provide the proper steps/actions to resolve the situation/dilemma/problem in the moral fashion. H uses this iEthics device (yes, it is obviously prioritized) in order to determine proper tipping occasions, and amounts. Now, H doesn't like tipping. Indeed, H rather resents the very concept, much less the practice of tipping. It's a chore, but H does it anyway. In this scenario, the proper amount to be tipped in order for it to be considered "generous", we shall say, is $12.19.

A, is quite behind the times, as unfortunate as that is, and does not happen to have an iEthics. Indeed, we shall say that such a handy trinket, for our poor person A, is entirely inaccessible. A used to work as a server and in the same (or effectively similar enough) situation is, naturally, also obligated to tip $12.19 in order for it to be considered "generous". A, however, lives on a budget, and though A realizes that the service was excellent, and thoroughly enjoyed the meal, leaves a less impressive $8.00. A takes the opportunity to also thank the server for the excellent service, and says that the restaurant will be recommended to friends, due in part to the excellent service. A couldn't leave a better financial compensation, and so feels compelled to help in another way.


1. Was H generous?

2. Is A being generous?

3. Do other avenues contribute to the fulfillment of the moral obligation (i.e., can other actions effectively "compensate")?

1. Here, we need to define generous. In tipping, to be considered "generous" one typically tips %20. This is a rule of etiquette, and thus can be debated, but for our purposes that doesn't seem terribly important. H tipped precisely the right amount, and so the financial compensation is indeed, precisely the right amount to be considered a "generous" sum. However, H resents the very concept, and thoroughly suffered through the process. Now, we might say that this simply indicates a dedication to one's moral obligations. It was imperative, given the situation, that H leave the proper tip. H did so. Done. But this doesn't actually answer the question. The question is not whether or not the action was undertaken. The question is whether or not the action was generous. This is a descriptor regarding the action, and thus seems to require additional information beyond merely answering, "Did H do it?" The question seems to instead be, "Did H do it generously?" For surely, if something (some action) is kind, then it must be done kindly. And if something is done as generosity, then is must be done generously. But what does that require?

When something is done kindly, it cannot be the manner in which it is done which makes it kindness, for a kind demeanor can be faked. We can never know whether the person is sincere, or whether the person is merely an excellent actor. If H masks the contempt for tipping, then it might appear that H is a generous person, acting as a generous person acts. This does not seem sufficient, for to be moral is a metaphysical statement of the reality of the person ("H is being moral") and does not ask for the mere appearance. A paper flower may look quite real, and be realized as a fake under closer observation. The closer observation required here is not open to us, but this does not dismiss the requirement. In order to be generous, the action must be done generously, otherwise it simply does not posses that quality, and surely generosity requires that it be generous. For lack of a better term, the nature or spirit of the action must then be one of generosity. When it is generously given, then it becomes an act of generosity, and when done from a miserly sense of obligation, it cannot be generous.

The answer is then: No.

2. A is surely giving from a sense of generosity. A is giving as much as is feasible, and though unable to financially meet the %20 which propriety and Miss Manners might demand, is doing it in the proper spirit. The additional attempts at other forms of compensation readily reinforce this understanding.

The answer then seems to be: Yes.

3. It may be that certain obligations can only be met in a certain way i.e., with a certain thing or a particular action. However, it does seem that most allow some area of leeway in meeting them. Indeed, certain forms of comfort may be inappropriate when comforting a friend, and may even conflict with other obligations. A hug may be one person's way of giving comfort, while another might treat to a beer or a night out. Listening may be one avenue in a particular case, whereas giving advice might also be adequate. While the monetary compensation in the above case might be the most common means of generosity, the service of praise and (hopefully) future monetary goods does not readily appear to be improper. Generosity is a means of giving another their due, but going above and beyond the minimal. If that is the case, then A is being generous, by giving what is able to be given monetarily, and making up the "difference" with what other means are readily available.

The answer is then: Yes.