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Can You Be a Good Billionaire?

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Billionaires and their lesser cousins are generally lauded in American society. But there are some who condemn them simply for being billionaires. This leads to the moral issue of whether a person can be both morally good and a billionaire. The issue is whether, in general, you could be a billionaire and still plausibly be a good person. I am, of course, laying aside crazy philosophical examples such as a person being a billionaire because they are the only person left on earth. A proper resolution of this issue requires, as always, determining which moral theory (if any) is correct. But we can, as always, rely to some degree on our moral intuitions and some basic logic. One key concern is the way the billionaire makes their wealth. Virtue theorists, such as Confucius, generally agree that acquiring wealth is not inherently evil. Their concern is with how the wealth is obtained and the impact on the person’s virtues. As Confucius says, “Wealth and rank are what every man desires; but if they can only be retained to the detriment of the Way he professes, he must relinquish them. Poverty and obscurity are what every man detests; but if they can only be avoided to the detriment of the Way he professes, he must accept them.” While we could debate endlessly about ethical and unethical ways of becoming wealthy, we can probably agree that there are at least some ways of acquiring wealth that would be inconsistent with being good. As an appeal to intuition, I ask you to imagine something you regard as being the evilest thing a person could do. Now imagine someone who finds a way to monetize that and thus manages to become a billionaire. You would probably agree that they would not be a good person. We can also probably agree that there are ethical ways to become a billionaire that no sensible person would see as evil. For example, imagine a writer of such incredible appeal that they can sell enough books at perfectly fair prices that they are able to become a billionaire.. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

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