Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

The Good Billionaire, Revisited

Philosophy News image
In a rambling essay, I looked at the question of whether a good person could be a billionaire. I concluded that, in general, the two are not compatible. The gist of the argument is that if a person is good and they have vast resources, then they would use those resources to do good. I, of course, also used an analogy: could a good person on a derelict ship sit on a vast trove of supplies while other people suffered and died from a lack of supplies? The answer would seem to be obvious, a good person could not do that.   In thinking a bit more about this matter, I realized I had omitted some important ethical considerations. In moral philosophy, philosophers make an important moral distinction between doing harm and not doing good. As philosophers such as Mill have argued, our intuitions tend to favor the idea that people do have an obligation to not do harm to others. That is, we generally consider harming others to be wrong—although there can be exceptions. So, a billionaire who becomes rich by doing harm to others or who uses their wealth to cause harm would seem to be a bad person—or at least not good. But one can make a case that people have no moral obligation to help others and can withhold their assistance and still be good. Immanual Kant considers just such a scenario in his moral philosophy. He asks us to imagine a person who is very well off and could easily help people. This person considers their options and elects to not harm others but also decides to withhold all assistance. Kant considers that such a person would be more honest than those who speak of good will and charity but do nothing to help—this person makes no bones about charity and good will. Kant being Kant, he believes that this person would be acting immorally. Interestingly, Kant uses a method that I call reversing the situation: he asks us to imagine what the person would want if they found themselves in dire straits and in need of assistance. Kant claims that the person would want the. . .

Continue reading . . .

News source: A Philosopher's Blog

blog comments powered by Disqus