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The U.S. welfare system has grown overtime from a government run system to a state run system. The rationale behind this shift is that a state run function provides a better welfare system that sufficiently addresses the needs of those involved.
This includes the taxpayers who ultimately raise funds for the welfare programs. States have the discretion to prescribe the eligibility criteria and determine the length of time a family may benefit from welfare. Nevertheless, the fundamental ethical issues behind welfare still prevail. The greatest ethical issue that raises a heated debate is the extent to which individuals should be held responsible for their own well-being.
According to Federal Safety Net (2013), the U.S. welfare system places the middle class ahead of individuals in severe poverty. Other people argue that the welfare system tends to take away pride from the able poor and fails to assist them escape poverty. Accordingly, the compassion given to the “poor” may send some signal that the so called poor are not capable of moving beyond their plight (Federal Safety Net, 2013).
Application of Virtue Ethics
Virtue ethics is very essential in the welfare system. According to Aristotle, a person’s quality of life is dependent on his or her ability to accomplish minimum human goals (Sumner, 1996, p.110). The ultimate goal of all human beings is to have a good, independent life. Many states have programs that focus on promoting employment for individuals so that they may stop relying on welfare.
Virtue ethics concentrates on the significance of beating bad character traits such as selfishness and laziness. Rather than focusing on prescribed rules and ways of solving problems, virtue ethics concentrates on assisting people to acquire good habits such as compassion. Aristotle further suggests that good habits enable people to control their feelings and reason. As a result, a person arrives at morally right decisions when confronted with hard choices.
The parties involved in the welfare process should embrace virtue ethics so that they invoke morality in decision-making processes. The government should also use ethical principles in making choices regarding the eligibility and length of time an individual is to benefit from the welfare program. The problem with virtue ethics is that it is very difficult to determine good character traits. This is because people view things differently.
Application of Care Ethics
Care ethics puts emphasis on the interdependence of individuals (Jawad, 2012, p. 24). In addition, the theory promotes the significance of relationships within families and communities. Care ethics proposes that some individuals are more vulnerable than others.
Proponents of this theory argue on the basis of Carol Gilligan’s assertion that girls and women view morality from an empathic and caring perspective in interpersonal relationships. This theory encourages altruism, which involves caring for others’ needs and feelings. Unlike the Kantian and Platonic theories, care ethics does not separate moral thoughts from feelings (Jawad, 2012, p. 33). Care ethics is also different from the libertarian theory which encourages individual independence.
Those who argue in support of welfare claim that self-interest is not the only thing that motivates people’s actions (Westfall, 1997). Human beings have an inherent duty of promoting the welfare of the society and its members. Accordingly, stable members naturally have an indomitable willingness to work and support the poor to pick up themselves and act in the same respect toward other members.
Critics of care ethics contend that the theory focuses on care without putting much inquiry into individuals giving or receiving the same. This theory does not settle claims that the welfare program puts the middle class ahead of the extremely poor people. Furthermore, care ethics fails to determine whether the relationships among care-givers and care-receivers are just (Jawad, 2012, p. 56).
There is no universally accepted way of evaluating ethical issues. Different theories attempt to solve different ethical problems. The utilitarian theory, which proposes the greatest happiness for the greatest number (Waller, 2011, p. 44, 87), can be applied in solving the welfare problem.
The main purpose of utilitarianism is to maximize happiness and minimize suffering. Essentially, individuals make decisions in line with what causes them greatest pleasure. They only engage in what pleases them when given an opportunity. Some people can take advantage of the welfare system so that they receive maintenance without working. Both “act utilitarianism” and “rule utilitarianism” place a great emphasis on the probable consequence of one’s actions (Waller, 2011, p.88).
To some scholars, care ethics may pose a great temptation to individuals with self-interest motivation so that they choose not to work. The care ethic cannot exist on its own since it increases the chances of oppression or exploitation of care-givers. Individuals in a society expect from others, and themselves, behavior that promotes the well-being of all members.
Utilitarianism advocates for individualism. This implies that the only morally relevant measure is individual welfare (Sumner, 1996, p. 67). Basing on the critical assumption that human utility is commensurable in some way and that it can be divided among individuals, welfare should be distributed in a manner that maximizes happiness and minimizes suffering.
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Federal Safety Net. (2013, June). Welfare Ethics. Retrieved from http://federalsafetynet.com/welfare-ethics.html
Jawad, R. (2012). Religion and Faith-Based Welfare: From Wellbeing to Ways of Being. Bristol: The Policy Press.
Sumner, L. W. (1996). Welfare, Happiness and Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Waller, B.N. (2011). Consider Ethics: Theory, Readings, and Contemporary Issues, 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Westfall, J. (1997). The Welfare of the Community. Issues in Ethics, 8(3). Retrieved from https://legacy.scu.edu/ethics/publications/iie/v8n3/welfare.html