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Philanthropy

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Image Credit When billionaires are criticized for having an excess of unearned wealth, their defenders like to point out that many billionaires are philanthropists. Bill Gates is famous for his foundation, Jeff Bezos has given millions to his charities, and the Koch brothers have spent lavishly in such areas as higher education and medical research. One stock counter to this stock defense is to point out that such philanthropy yields many advantages ranging from tax breaks to buying influence. To use an Aristotelian criticism, if the billionaires are engaging in philanthropy in order to advance their own interests rather than being generous for generosity’s sake, then they are not acting from virtue and should not be praised. To use a non-billionaire example, if I volunteer with an environmental group because I want to impress the liberals, then I am not being virtuous. If I volunteer because I want to do good, then I would be virtuous. A utilitarian would be rather less concerned with the motives and character of the billionaires and more concerned with the consequences. So, if Bezos donates money from a desire to gain advantages for himself, that does not matter—what matters is the effect of the donation in terms of generating happiness and unhappiness. As such, even if a billionaire should not be praised for their motives or character, they should be lauded if their donation does more good than the alternatives. While the motives and character of billionaires and the utilitarian value of philanthropy can be debated at great length, it seems rather more important to get to the heart of the matter. When people point out that the rich give more to charity than the non-rich, they are making what seems to be an obviously true claim. After all, the rich have more resources and hence can give more in total and as a percentage and make less of a sacrifice than those who are poorer. To use an analogy, suppose Sally Bigbucks and I are at lunch. Poor Pete asks. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

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