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Do Objectivists support charities, and if so, isn't that directly opposed to selfishness? Shouldn't Objectivists keep every penny for themselves?

asked Sep 17 '10 at 20:55

rationaljenn's gravatar image

rationaljenn ♦

Questions of this kind can often be better understood by non-Objectivists by replacing the term "selfishness" with "self-concern", or "self-interest", "self-respect", "self-actualization", etcetera.

Someday, the term "selfish" will be properly understood ... but for now, it's a word which carries with it a lot of false identifications.

Of course, it's the need to gain and spread a proper understanding of self-interest that makes it vital to reclaim the concept "selfishness".

(Sep 18 '10 at 11:32) Robert Nasir ♦ Robert%20Nasir's gravatar image

Robert N. is correct, and I would add: it really depends on the context. What kind of charity are we talking about here? What is the aim you intend to accomplish by supporting it? Is it a foundation to support urban achievers (and proud we are of all of them)? Is it something you just give to out of a sense of "duty" devoid of context? I know AR said she didn't contribute to charity, but she was also known to be very generous with those she knew, and responded to their demonstrated virtues (see the 'Letters' for examples). Blindly giving money to some cause is not virtuous.

(Sep 22 '10 at 22:21) Chris Cathcart Chris%20Cathcart's gravatar image

Not necessarily. Objectivism does hold that you should act selfishly... but that selfishness consists of doing what is in your long-range best interest. If you find that a particular charity works for some cause which is important to you, then it's entirely proper for you to donate to it. For example, a past girlfriend of mine died of Cystic Fibrosis some years ago, and I donated to the CF foundation for some while afterwards in her memory. In that case, the value she represented to me was sufficient cause for me to want to donate some money towards finding a cure. The essential point is that you aren't morally obligated to donate to any cause, and that any cause you donate to must be for some selfish reason.

answered Sep 18 '10 at 02:58

Andrew%20Miner's gravatar image

Andrew Miner ♦

Your money is yours to do what you want with. Helping others is often the right thing to do. Nobody's kids ever left my house hungry. But, no one forced me to help either. The idea of no use of force being the key. Volunteer or don't. It's up to you.

answered Sep 18 '10 at 11:27

adamsdad's gravatar image

adamsdad ♦

Yep ... though, of course, unless you live "off the grid", you are being forced to help ... just imagine the beneficence you could afford under Capitalism!

(Sep 18 '10 at 13:32) Robert Nasir ♦ Robert%20Nasir's gravatar image

No blanket concrete-level statement can be made about all charities as such. Some charities may be worthy, so long as who’s in charge at the time is decent, and others by their nature are to be avoided like the plague. You have to ask if a donation to the charity in question is consistent with both Objective values in principle for man and with your own values in the context of your own life, which must include consideration of the whole context of that charity and not just its outward concrete goals.

To begin with, some education charities, some scientific & medical research charities, some emergency-oriented assistance charities, and so on, have goals that are conceivably consistent with the values that could be held by an Objectivist as instances of objective values, and so a donation of an amount that does not impinge on your quality of life might actually be nicely selfish. The ARI itself is among these. Others can be such as the Cystic Fibrosis group mentioned above, and others such as the Royal Flying Doctor Service (dedicated to providing emergency medical transport for Australians living and working in our country’s remotest corners), and so on. What are to be avoided are charities with goals that are inherently contrary to objective values, such as environmental and religious charities, or the kind of general welfare charities that seek to shield people from the need to make an effort or to change destructive aspects of their lives, and so on. Examples of charities to stay the heck away from include the World Wildlife Fund and St Vincent de Paul Society.

Assuming the expressed goals are consistent with Objective values, you also have to consider the context surrounding that particular charity and what exactly you would be sanctioning by supporting that particular charity at that point in time. If there were two charities with exactly the same goals but where one recognised that people were not morally obliged to help others as an end in itself whereas the other did, then donating to the other would be out of the question even though the concrete goals themselves might be worthy in a better context. For example, if – as staggeringly unlikely as it is – were a new Director of the ARI to say it is our moral obligation to support the ARI for the sake of The Future independent of our own lives in that future, to give until it hurts and then still keep on giving, and so on, then its revenues would and should crash in a heap. Then, two seconds later, that new Director would be asked to leave, and a new new Director would return the ARI to its proper focus of showing how affordable donations are in donors’ own interests, whereupon revenues would resume. Therefore, take note that such a judgement you make can change simply because of a change in who runs the charity and the tack taken by their advertising & promotion in their fund-raising campaigns. Assuming the goals themselves of the two types of charities in that contrasted pair are otherwise worthy as above, a good charity can turn bad if it turns from being like the first into being like the other, and a bad charity can likewise turn good by converting from the other to the first.

Once you’ve considered all that, the amount you donate should be an amount consistent with the entire context of your own values. You should only give an amount you can afford, this being an amount that will not compromise your enjoyment of other parts of your life. For instance you most likely shouldn’t be giving away your entire college fund to the ARI even though it is the ARI, but something a bit more than what you might spend on fast food or movies wouldn’t go astray, and you should seriously consider featuring the ARI highly in your will (if you have one) if you have more than enough to set your family up satisfactorily after your death (check out their Atlantis Legacy program for more information), and so on.

That’s all there is to it: is it consistent with objective values as such, and, if so, is it consistent with your own personal hierarchy of values? If yes on both counts, then it is perfectly selfish to donate, and where you decide how much by determining the amount where it is no longer a yes on both.

answered Sep 19 '10 at 18:21

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JJMcVey ♦

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Asked: Sep 17 '10 at 20:55

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Last updated: Sep 22 '10 at 22:21