Embracing the Other:
"Our democracy has taught us to apply our moral teaching all around, and the moralist is rapidly becoming so sensitive that when his life does not exemplify his ethical convictions,
he finds it difficult to preach." -- Jane Addams
Ethics courses are taught in a variety of ways currently. One approach holds the individual as a completely autonomous and independent creature who can make decisions as if she existed in a bubble of isolation. The individual then employs her most esteemed faculty – reason – and proceeds to arrive at an "objective" judgment on the matter at hand. In most cases, these ethical debates in this approach center around whether or not to abstain from a questionable deed or word: whether to have an abortion, whether to engage in sex outside of marriage, whether to eat meat, and whether to assist in euthanasia are a few classic examples. Rarely do we find in ethics courses prescriptions for beneficence, however. Although we are minimally required to uphold a principle of nonmaleficence, there is an assumption among philosophers and ethicists that we are never obligated to actively do good or to be Good Samaritans. Certainly, this is true in the legal realm,  but need this be the case from a purely moral standpoint?
In her book Pragmatism and Feminism, Charlene Haddock Seigfried writes, "For pragmatists, social ethics is not a subset of ethics, but ethics itself" (224). The view that ethics is necessarily social ethics should be taken more seriously. I believe that Jane Addams  is a perfect exemplar of the philosophy that holds social activism to be an essential component of a fully virtuous life which begins at birth. As the primary founder of the Hull House, an experimental settlement project for the poorest of Chicago, Addams demonstrated what she inwardly felt: a need to live unsheltered from the larger part of humanity and a need to contribute to its betterment.
Some may attribute Addams’ social consciousness to various factors in her personal development that even she raised in her autobiography. For instance, she claimed (and it is obvious) that her father, John Addams, had the most extensive influence on her humanitarianism. A devout Hicksite Quaker man, John Addams instilled in Jane the principle of always being honest with oneself and to others, as well as the value of restoring equality among people. Father and daughter would have religious discussions as on the occasion when young Jane questioned her father about the concept of predestination. John Addams’ reply was that it made little difference whether one understood such doctrines, but what mattered was that one not pretend to understand when one did not (Addams 27). Because of this type of reply, Merle Curti argues, "In Jane Addams’ view of human nature there was a large place for the contemplation of life’s mysteries" (243). Even at this early stage in her life, Jane was confronted with the reality of uncertainty and ambiguity.
And Jane seemed to internalize her moral struggles. Apparently affected by John Addams’ ideals, Jane worried about the state of her soul quite often as a child. She recalls her inability to sleep after telling a lie. When she would confess such a transgression to her father, he would respond that if he had a daughter who told lies, he was very glad that she "felt too bad to go to sleep afterward" (Addams 20). Though she did not articulate it in this manner, Addams proved true the insightful words of Hannah Arendt: "Conscience is the anticipation of the fellow who awaits you if and when you come home." 
Yet Jane Addams’ moral consciousness extended beyond feeling guilt over wrongdoing. She felt a positive obligation "to do something important in the world," as Gioia Diliberto tells us. In the Victorian era when doctors routinely prescribed women on the edge of insanity to do nothing for several weeks on end, Addams effectively challenged the popular notion of abstinence from the world as a pathway to health. Since the age of six, she had a recurring dream that tells us much about her feelings of responsibility to the world (Addams 22):
I dreamed night after night that everyone in the world was dead excepting myself, and that upon me rested the responsibility of making a wagon wheel. The village street remained as usual, the village blacksmith shop was ‘all there,’ even a glowing fire upon the forge and the anvil in its customary place near the door, but no human being was within sight…I alone remained alive in the deserted world. I always stood in the blacksmith shop, darkly pondering as to how to begin, and never once did I know how, although I fully realized that the affairs of the world could not be resumed until at least one wheel should be made and something started.
What is interesting about her recounted nightmare is that the desertion and isolation Addams felt frightened her. Bringing the community back essentially depended upon her ability to create a wagon wheel. As absurd as the dream may sound to us, I believe it transmits at least two necessary components for Addams’ later activism and our own sense of ethics. First, the emotional component should not be excluded from an attempt at a moral life. We could surmise that without certain fears and desires, Addams might have never imagined the Hull House, let alone have built it. Second, the importance of being in relation with a community, nay, with humanity, is crucial to Addams’ sense of what is only natural and good.
It wasn’t until the spring and summer of 1888 that Jane Addams’ feelings about the impoverished in society began to create a restlessness within her. In the same way that she was unable to sleep after telling a lie as a child, she found herself ill at ease after witnessing "hands reaching in supplication for garbage" on a trip to London’s East End (Levine 32). On this trip to Europe, Addams was already seeking her moral purpose in the world, but this particular experience called to her moral sensibilities. The romantic notions of poverty she had once held were suddenly lost, and a depth of misery replaced the romanticism.  Upon return from Europe, Jane Addams would begin work on the creation of Hull House. What resulted from the experience in London and other similar awakenings was what Addams termed a "subjective necessity" to form this social settlement, to do something. As we shall see, it is Jane Addams’ conception of subjective necessity that proves our moral interactions with humanity must recognize the importance of emotions just as it must honestly embrace the natural contingency surrounding those personal relations. To understand the revolutionary nature of Addams’ social ethic proposal, we must examine, in closer detail, the philosophical history of the role of emotions and the nature of interacting with others. Although Addams herself never imposed an ethical theory on a situation but rather discovered her social ethics in its context, the question remains for us: How must we perceive ourselves and the world we live in to sustain a responsible social ethic?
In addressing the importance of the emotions as one of the components of the (socially) ethical life, we must first closely consider Addams’ notion of subjective necessity. She contended that "young people feel nervously the need of putting theory into action" (Addams 95). In realizing her privileged beginnings and in reflecting on the fact that education for her had become too theoretical and unemotional, Addams simply attributed this "nervous need to act" to a lack. That is, she (and other prosperous, educated young people) had been too removed from the harsh reality of the world and its peoples, and this disconnection was felt. For this reason, a movement like the Hull House is based, according to Addams, "not only upon conviction, but upon genuine emotion, wherever educated young people are seeking an outlet for that sentiment of universal brotherhood" [italics added] (91). She continues in describing the nature of the lack: "They feel a fatal want of harmony between their theory and their lives, a lack of coordination between thought and action" (91). One must take note of the particular wording in Addams’ description of subjective necessity: "Nervous," "genuine emotion," "sentiment," and "feel" all indicate a non-rational element in the compulsion to act. But this observation makes perfect sense, though it is overlooked by most traditional ethicists.
Before I further articulate the necessity of emotions for moral acting, I believe it is worthwhile to acknowledge the traits of the Quaker faith that may illuminate such an emphasis on emotions. Religion in general is often associated with matters of the heart rather than the mind, and the Quakers in particular emphasize the mystical over the rational. Admittedly, Jane never professed to belong to the Society of Friends as an adult, and never, in fact, professed to be "religious." In fact, during her time at the Rockford Seminary, Addams had to endure being singled out by her teachers at evening church services and then pressured to declare her faith, simply because she had never been baptized. According to Diliberto, "Jane found such attention ‘unspeakably’ embarrassing," and had no intention of "abandon[ing] herself to religion" (65). But it is doubtful that her father’s strict adherence to the Society of Friends had no effect on her moral conceptions. For instance, Quakers are wary of doctrines, dogmas, and theories; rather, mysticism and meditation are embraced, and it is believed that "the sustenance of one’s spiritual life must first come from within" (Alexander 4). At meetings, Friends assemble for an hour that "may be completely silent," or someone might be "moved" to express verbally a concern that has arisen during meditation (2). However, "if there is rational comment or dialectical counter-statement, the sense of the meeting has been violated" (3). The Quaker philosophy of detaching from dogma probably was inherited by Jane Addams in her view of religion. In writing to her friend Ellen Gates Starr, Jane expressed this pragmatic take on religion (Diliberto 67):
You long for a beautiful faith, an experience…I only feel that I need religion in a practical sense, that if I could fix myself with my relations to God and universe, and so be in perfect harmony with nature and deity, I could use my faculties and energy so much better and could do almost anything.
As we know, Addams was able to use her faculties to do almost anything. After the settlement project’s inception, many of its workers were forced to defend the religiosity of the experiment because the settlement was largely seen as a "spiritual movement" (Stebner 45). While its founder was, in fact, moved to build Hull House, the spirituality of the place was apparent, not through declarations of faith from its founders, but through the actions of beneficence taken towards the community. Dean George Hodges, in commenting on the "religion of the settlement," asserts (Stebner 45),
Its faith is made evident by its works. We may know whether it is really religious or not by looking at it…we need not be greatly troubled about the settlement, for beneath its roof the blind begin to see and the lame begin to walk, and they who have been palsied take on strength, and the poor hear the good news of the gospel, that blessed gospel of the love of God which is interpreted by the service of man.
If Addams’ "subjective necessity" was inspired by her father’s religion, it was in the sense that the Friends generally distrusted theories and doctrines as being the parents of dogma. In the Hull House "religion," actions become the testimony of faith, and emotions are credited with being the parents of those actions.
Traditionally, emotions have been denigrated by philosophers as the demons over which we have little control; at best, emotions only serve to muddle truth. Reason, on the other hand, has been upheld by the Western mindset as the North Star of the soul. But when it comes to ethics, David Hume reminds us of the dangers of this mindset: "’Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger" (Turski 140). John Dewey has most recently articulated our need of emotion for the moral life. In understanding his view of the affective, I believe the validity and importance of Addams’ concept of subjective necessity will become more evident for formal philosophers  .
Dewey believed the dualism between the emotions and reason to be false because he proposed that the emotional aspects of experience are "the result of a transaction between the organism and the environment" (Pappas 80). That is, the emotional responses are just as much a part of the objective experience as our cognition of physical objects and other sensory material. This view obviously contradicts the traditional notion of rationality where an emphasis on impartiality "assumes that the rational agent is the detached spectator, wary of any type of emotional involvement" (Pappas 82). Dewey starts from a new paradigm of the self, however. He believes that the self is "relational, interactive, and processional," and if this is true of the self, then we are always one with our activity, i.e., we are naturally participators (Pappas 86). Furthermore, in moral deliberation/imagination, the affective is constantly active. Usually, it takes the form of a prereflective, direct "valuing" which gives meaning and value to our moral judgments. Without this direct appreciation, Dewey says, "the data for subsequent thought will be lacking or distorted. A person must feel the qualities of acts as one feels with the hands the qualities of roughness and smoothness" (Pappas 79). This sensitivity to a situation or to another is arguably the most important trait to arise out of an appreciation for the emotions. Needless to say, without sensitivity, a person is "callous, indifferent" (79). And while Dewey advocates pairing sensitiveness with "conscientiousness" and "intelligence" to avoid an extreme of sentimentality, sympathy is an affection that must be actively preserved in a truly moral character. As Gregory Pappas writes, "To put ourselves in the place of another emotionally is the one way to widen our intellectual horizon in moral situations and to determine effectively what others need and value" (83).
For Addams, sympathy clearly supports the notion of subjective necessity. In describing what she believes is only human nature, Addams asserts,
Nothing so deadens the sympathies and shrivels the power of enjoyment as the persistent keeping away from the great opportunities for helpfulness and a continual ignoring of the starvation struggle which makes up the life of at least half the race. To shut one’s self away from that half of the race life…is to live out but half the humanity to which we have been born heir and to use but half our faculties (92).
Part of having an active and engaged self in humanity is having direct and personal relationships. While this ingredient may seem obvious, this point raises the important distinction between sympathy and charity, which will soon be addressed. But the importance of cultivating personal relationships as a basis for a sound social ethic cannot be overstated. A person who has a direct interest in the welfare of others for their own sakes will naturally be a better sympathizer, but this person will also experience growth and a richness of life that is absent from the person who views others as a means to her own ends. "The generous self," says Dewey, "consciously identifies itself with the full range of relationships implied in its activity" (Pappas 87). This identification with the Other  is essential to give us a jump-start to moral acting, for sympathy is immediate. Dewey notes that a person with a "keen intellect" but devoid of sympathy "would have no spontaneous sense of the claims of others" (Pappas 84). Why must one sympathize, however, if one is capable of being charitable and of performing the same works that a sympathizer would anyway?
In answering this question, we must determine what charity involves that could be objectionable. According to John Cobb and David Ray Griffin, "charity" is derived from the Latin word caritas, the equivalent of agape love. Agape love is traditionally conceived as "totally outgoing, having no element of responsiveness to the qualities of the loved one" (46). Thus, this type of love, this caritas, is devoid of sensitiveness to the needs of the so-called "beloved." Cobb and Griffin also point out that "do-gooders," or those guilty of caritas as opposed to sympathy, are often seen in a negative light because they presumably impose their own notions of good on people without ever asking what the true needs are. Through personal relationships, such impersonal "do-gooding" could be avoided.
Yet we must not make the mistake of limiting our personal relationships to those with whom we have much in common. If we choose to do so, says Addams, "We not only circumscribe our range of life, but limit the scope of our ethics" (Seigfried: SD 209). In coming into association with the other Other, we cannot necessarily guarantee true democracy if misunderstanding, indifference, or hatred is present instead of sympathy. In fact, Addams links our problems of democracy "to the lack of imagination which prevents a realization of the experiences of other people" (209). If sympathy is essential to a good social ethic, then imagination is essential to sympathy. Dewey notes that if we are to be successful in expressing our experiences to others, then we must be able to see the experience as others do and to find points of common ground. We should be able "to assimilate, imaginatively, something of another’s experience in order to tell him intelligently of [our] own experience" (Dewey: SD 216). Without such imagination, one is essentially incapable of sympathy, and however well-intended acts of charity may be, they will never measure up to the spontaneous acts of understanding.
In Democracy and Social Ethics, Addams explains the general view of charitable organizations from the standpoint of those whom they aim to benefit:
When [the beneficiaries] see the delay and caution with which relief is given, it does not appear to them a conscientious scruple, but as the cold and calculating action of a selfish man. It is not the aid they are accustomed to receive from their neighbors, and they do not understand why the impulse which drives people to "be good to the poor" should be so severely supervised. They feel, remotely, that the charity visitor is moved by motives that are alien and unreal (22-23).
Addams notes that many of us who are successful in the material world have a hard time grasping this mentality. Why should the poor not simply be grateful for a handout and disregard the motives of giving? The reason that the charity visitor is regarded with suspicion is that "success does not ordinarily go, in the minds of the poor, with charity and kind-heartedness, but rather with the opposite qualities" (DSE 24). Addams gives the example of a rich landlord, who never accepts late payments and makes no exceptions, as being a source of irritation and bitterness for the tenants. On the other hand, the kindly landlord who is more sympathetic is also seldom rich. In this way, the motives of beneficence are more likely to be trusted coming from a person who could better imagine the situation of distress.
In coming to be good with people, we inevitably learn alternative ways of thinking and acting, and broaden our ethical horizons. Addams herself was continually learning in the midst of the Hull House project. Daniel Levine recounts a situation Addams was faced with in the early days of the settlement. A very young child was deserted in the nursery of the house, and its mother and father could not be found. Within a few days, the child unfortunately died, despite every sort of attention being paid to it. Jane Addams recalled her decision to bury it in the country, but rumor of this decision spread to the residents and neighbors, and out of their poverty, they collected enough money to hold a small funeral. Addams recalls her naïveté (Levine 42-43):
We were then comparatively new in the neighborhood. We did not realize that we were really shocking a genuine moral sentiment of the community. In our crudeness, we instanced the care and tenderness which had been expended on the little creature when it was alive…we even intimated that the excited members of the group had not taken part in this and that it now lay with us to decide that the child should be buried, as it had been born, at the county’s expense. It is doubtful whether Hull House has ever done anything which injured it so deeply in the mind of some of its neighbors. We were only forgiven by the most indulgent on the grounds that we were spinsters and could not know a mother’s heart.
This recollection of Addams points to the enhanced sympathetic capabilities of the poor for one another. And Addams herself realizes this fact when she admitted, "No one born and reared in the community could possibly have made a mistake like that" (Levine 43). Addams suggests that this capability for genuine sympathy is "heightened" by the consciousness that one may be in distress the next week. The precariousness of existence undoubtedly commands our moral imagination into activity.
Addams’ move into Hull House was an action which symbolically embraced the uncertainty and contingency of life. If the notion of subjective necessity implies feeling of lack of humanity and detachment from the world, then the sensible resolution to this tension will involve the precise goals of Hull House: to live with humanity at large. According to Dewey, "The very process of living together educates" by enlarging our realm of experience, strengthening our moral imagination, and making us more responsible for the accuracy of our words and thoughts (SD 207). One may speculate as to why such projects have not been more popular among academics if the resulting moral and intellectual edification is so inevitable. So why might philosophers have depreciated action in contrast to theory? We assume that philosophy itself began in leisure and relied upon the toil of slaves to make that leisure for thinking possible, but this answer does not seem so relevant in our society today.
Our magical safeguard against the uncertain character of the world is to deny the existence of chance, to mumble universal and necessary law, the ubiquity of cause and effect, the uniformity of nature, universal progress, and the inherent rationality of the universe (229).
We devise ways of comforting ourselves, Dewey adds, and I believe this is evident in Addams’ view of charitable organizations. To belong to such an organization usually prevents the formation of a close and meaningful relationship with a beneficiary, and in avoiding such a relationship, one is not forced to rethink one’s long-held beliefs and assumptions about human nature and justice. If limits and boundaries are "safe," then how could personal relationships and interactions with the Other ever been seen as desirable?
In taking Dewey’s definition of the self as a relational, processional, and inherently active entity, we should therefore come to see the engaged self as having "no fixed boundaries" (Pappas 86). The expansive self, then – the one that is truest to its nature – has direct interest in forming personal relationships with those who may be quite different from him/herself. Addams describes a trend among mostly middle-class white women who have become dissatisfied with being confined to the home and its domestic life. These women are experiencing growing desires to participate more fully in the world around them. Seigfried adds, "It is their growing consciousness of wider social obligations that creates the conditions for recognizing the inadequacy of an individualistic ethics that limits their obligations to family and personal integrity" (SD 220). Confirming Addams notion of a subjective necessity, these middle-class women are finding the expansive self more honest and rewarding than the narrower conception.
However, assertions of ontological and moral self-sufficiency permit the belief in a freedom unhindered by reactions of fellow humans. According to traditional Western thought, freedom is reduced once a person decides and acts; choices are narrowed since a person’s actions invariably select and exclude. In this sense, the only way to avoid necessity and maintain the free, autonomous individual is to "condemn action, the spontaneous beginning of something new, because its results fall into a predetermined net of relationships, invariably dragging the agent with them" (Arendt 234). This is clearly what the pragmatist and social ethicist fears and again affirms the fear of uncertainty as a motive for denigrating practice. Action, especially with regards to other persons, is inherently unpredictable. It only makes sense that as the self (according to Dewey) is an agent and by nature active and therefore expanding, so too action itself has the quality of "boundlessness" (Arendt 191).
To explore the notion of boundless action further, we may contrast it, as Hannah Arendt demonstrates in The Human Condition, to "fabrication" (188). Fabrication, or the making of something, may possibly exist in isolation, except that nature is required. Action, on the other hand, requires the presence of others; "to be isolated is to be deprived of the capacity to act" (188). To confuse fabrication and action in believing that something can be made in the realm of human affairs is a very dangerous mistake. This is not to deny that persons have been treated as "material" before, and as Arendt points out, a man who believes that he alone is responsible for his strength and power is guilty of the delusion that his fellow men can be manipulated and that his own actions are self-contained. The truth of the matter is that since action is in relation to beings who are capable of their own actions, these beings react, and this reaction is a new action that in turn affects others. This chain of action and reaction is endless, boundless, and thus, among humans, action and reaction "never move in a closed circle and can never be reliably confined to two partners" (190). To be an actor, then, is simultaneously to be a sufferer, because one makes oneself vulnerable and open with every action. It is no surprise then, that Arendt contends, much like Dewey: "Action, moreover, no matter what its specific content, always establishes relationships and therefore has an inherent tendency to force open all limitations and cut across all boundaries" (190). For this reason, deeds, unlike products of fabrication, have a quality of endurance that may be a blessing or a curse. Deeds bear "the burden of irreversibility and unpredictability," and we are quite aware of this fact. It takes no stretch of the imagination to assume that this nature of actions is precisely what keeps philosophers abstaining from them and perpetuates the habit of merely theorizing.
Philosophers, and humans in general, do long for a stable existence. However, John Dewey reminds us of the value of contingency and unpredictability:
While the precarious nature of existence is indeed the source of all trouble, it is also an indispensable condition of ideality, becoming a sufficient condition when conjoined with the regular and assured…We long, amid a troubled world, for perfect being. We forget that what gives meaning to the notion of perfection is the events that create longing, and that, apart from them, a ‘perfect’ world would mean just an unchanging brute existential thing (241) 
We need, it seems, to embrace the unpredictable nature of acting, of personal relationships, and of the emotions. Without fully appreciating this contingency, a social ethic will be, at best, unrealistic, and at worst, deadly, in believing that persons can be treated as material. Persons are not materials. Dewey articulates a more truthful portrayal of persons when he says, "Human society represents a more perfect organism" (192).  In this vision, the society and individual mutually depend upon each other; the individual essentially becomes "the localized manifestation of [society’s] life" (192). What results from this view is that class distinctions must fall away; there can be no "strong man" in isolation from the rest of society. There can be no fixed benefactor and beneficiary, for if society is really organic, there is unity, "and all distinctions must occur within and on account of this unity" (193). Action, emotion, and personal relationship need not be feared in this context since all are working for a common purpose, and society itself concentrates on the unique individual who is not merely the image of the whole.
But beyond this theory of organic society, we must realize that these traits of democracy that Dewey proposes were actually lived at Jane Addams’ Hull House. As Seigfried writes, "[Hull House] went beyond the merely physical and organic ‘association…that is a condition of the creation of a community’ to embody the moral dimension necessary to a genuine community" (SD 213). Addams exposed the class divisions that most in her class preferred to ignore or detach themselves. She herself did not know what to expect in beginning the experimentation of the social settlement. But the contingency of the situation is precisely what Addams recognized as real and living. She so strongly felt a need to reconnect with the organism of humanity, that Hull House was necessary. And her actions, in deepening sympathy and widening an understanding of the Other, did not limit her freedom, but liberated her.
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---. Twenty Years at Hull House. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1961.
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 Except in duties to protect those with little or no legal voice, as in the requirement to report cases of child and elder abuse.
 (Sept. 6, 1860 – May 21, 1935)
 From the "Thinking" portion of Arendt’s The Life of the Mind, New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1978.
 From notes taken in Dr. Genie Gatens-Robinson’s seminar, Philosophical Perspectives on Women.
 But in citing Dewey, I realize I am doing Addams a disfavor; the virtue of her concept was precisely that it was an active concept, and she would never impose a theory on a situation.
 Especially, in this context, the Other who is less fortunate than we are.
 Pardon the intentional irony.
 From "Existence as Precarious and Stable."