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Why EVER donate to private charity?

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clayk32
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I am just beginning to learn about Objectivism, and I have hit what seems to be a major snag. Objectivists support private charity as a means to help the needy, unfortunate, or helpless. However, donation to private charity is not required or even considered virtuous. Why would any objectivist EVER donate to private charity? It seems impossible to justify donating money under the constructs of Objectivism.

It is in direct contradiction to one's self interest to donate money to a fund that would help tsunami victims thousands of miles away because no direct benefits could be derived from those unfortunate individuals. Taking it a step further, it is unlikely that benefits could even be derived from those assisted by local charities. So, in the end an objectivist would never have a valid reason to donate, and the disabled and helpless would remain in the gutter. What gives here?

I can only come up with two reasons that an objectivist would support private charity:

1. "Giving" makes one feel good, regardless if the results of the donation are ever seen. Increased self-esteem is the benefit of donating.

2. It is rational to donate to private charity because one never knows when he will need it himself. Supporting the system is like buying insurance.

Both of these arguments seem weak. Please enlighten me...

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  Why would any objectivist EVER donate to private charity?  It seems impossible to justify donating money under the constructs of Objectivism. 

Simple. I feel that those suffering from multiple sclerosis are unfortunate through no fault of their own. I see their value as human beings (potential businessmen, singers, musicians, actors, soldiers, etc.) I then conclude that it would be nice if they could live their lives to fruition. I then realize that I don't have the knowledge or the time to develop a cure for them by myself. So then I give my money to those who can develop a cure.

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I am just beginning to learn about Objectivism, and I have hit what seems to be a major snag.  Objectivists support private charity ...

This has been discussed before and a web site search should result in some useful information. Please search first next time (see forum rules), though I will help you this time.

However, in general, helping other people isn't always a bad thing. Think about your values, and the value that the charity may provide that you can benefit from and you may find additional reasons. Alternatively, you may not find other reasons based on YOUR values.

Previous threads that may contain useful information (though not all):

http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.p...1828&hl=charity

http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.p...32&hl=charities

http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.p...50&hl=charities

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Simple.  I feel that those suffering from multiple sclerosis are unfortunate through no fault of their own.  I see their value as human beings (potential businessmen, singers, musicians, actors, soldiers, etc.)  I then conclude that it would be nice if they could live their lives to fruition.  I then realize that I don't have the knowledge or the time to develop a cure for them by myself.  So then I give my money to those who can develop a cure.

I feel the same

I am generally not a charitable person, but if I feel sympathy for a person because of an illness they cannot help, or a tragedy that has stricken them (like tsunami killing their family and destroying their house) I would have no moral problem donating my money to help these people get back on their feet. Perhaps I have a soft spot for families who inadvertantly run into financial trouble (such as their father being killed accidently in a police shooting). I would have no problem helping out these people, or donating money that would help these people if it was on my own free will, and I reasoned that it was in my best interest to help these people (seeing their values as human beings that is).

I do have a problem, however, when money is stolen from my paycheck and redistributed without my consent.

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In reading the responses to the initial question, it seems reasonable to say that if the responses so far reflect an accurate understanding of Objectivism, then Objectivism, at least in this area, is no different than some mainstream strains of conservatism. Most of my friends are conservatives, and they would express the exact sentiments, reasons, etc. that are given above. I am curious: in what other areas would Objectivism and conservatism be in essential agreement? I guess that's a topic for a new thread...

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In reading the responses to the initial question, it seems reasonable to say that if the responses so far reflect an accurate understanding of Objectivism, then Objectivism, at least in this area, is no different than some mainstream strains of conservatism. Most of my friends are conservatives, and they would express the exact sentiments, reasons, etc. that are given above.  I am curious: in what other areas would Objectivism and conservatism be in essential agreement? I guess that's a topic for a new thread...

This is only one minor aspect of the Ojectivist philosophy though, I am quite sure we would find some aspects of Objectivism that agree with other parties as well.

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1.  "Giving" makes one feel good, regardless if the results of the donation are ever seen.  Increased self-esteem is the benefit of donating.

By the way, this is not a valid argument, since emotions are not causeless absolutes, but come from our values.

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clayk32:

Since, as you say, you are a beginner. I’d like to point out a few errors in the basic understanding of Objectivism.

Objectivists support private charity as a means to help the needy, unfortunate, or helpless. 

Many Objectivists may support private charity but I sincerely doubt they would do so simply because of need. They would have to derive some value from helping. Need is of no concern. Remember what happened in Atlas Shrugged when the principle was “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”?

donation to private charity is not required 

As an Objectivist you must always be wary of contradictions, do you see one here? Hint: [donation...required]

1.  [...] Increased self-esteem is the benefit of donating.

[...] Both of these arguments seem weak.

Increased self-esteem would be one of the best arguments an Objectivist could make.

In any case, since you are “just beginning to learn about Objectivism” don’t let this issue be a “major snag” right now. Learn the basic principles and structure of Objectivist Philosophy first. After you have integrated them, relatively minor issues like this will be easy.

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Before I give to anything or anyone I ask “Will my money be used to further my own ideals and values?” For example: There are homeless shelters that give food and shelter to anyone who comes up to them and asks for shelter, which encourage drug addicts and those unwilling to work to stay where they are. But there are also shelters that are designed in such a way that the people in the shelter (usually single parent families who lost a job or suffered from medical problems not their own fault) are required to work at least 40 hours a week, save at least 50% of their earnings for the security deposit of an apartment, and perform upkeep on the shelter. If they slip up with drugs, alcohol, or violation of the other rules the entire family is thrown out and a new one is brought in.

The first shelter I would never give a penny too willingly, however my taxes do support a large part of it because of the state I live in. The second is privately owned and run and teaches those who have made poor choices how to become productive and support themselves instead of waiting for others to support them. The second shelter is actively spreading values that I support and I would like to help support them (but I am not financially capable of giving anyone anything).

Also, I would like to donate money to the research of certain medical conditions that I am predisposed to acquire. Not to help those that I don’t know, but because when better treatments and cures are found they could be used to improve the quality and quantity of life for my loved ones and myself. However, I would not give to help the medical bills of a specific person I do not know only because they cannot pay.

As for your direct questions:

1. I don’t feel good watching money I earned disappear to help people I don’t know. My self esteem would go down because I would see myself as a fool.

2. When my mother was in need after her heart attacks those she helped emotionally and financially never showed their faces. Sacrifice is giving money (and the life spent earning it) without any benefit for self. Those who expect it to work as an insurance policy are fools and need to look up the word “sacrifice.”

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Ask: What can you do with your money? If you donate 100$ to the food bank, will it fufill your values more than donating to ARI, taking your girl on a date, buying a textbook on a course of interest, or saving it for a new computer? To answer, you need to know exactly what your values are. If your main value is to live among all men as brothers rather than have a productive life, it is probably not rationally based. If slaving yourself to others makes you feel good, you're probably headed in the wrong direction too. If you merely get a special feeling from giving to charity, first learn to understand why you felt it. An isolated, ungrounded feeling does not itself justify an action.

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I am just beginning to learn about Objectivism, and I have hit what seems to be a major snag.  Objectivists support private charity as a means to help the needy, unfortunate, or helpless.  However, donation to private charity is not required or even considered virtuous.  Why would any objectivist EVER donate to private charity?  It seems impossible to justify donating money under the constructs of Objectivism. 

...

Here's an example. I knew someone who died of cancer through no fault of her own. I think it is a terrible disease and that people who have it are undeserving (for the most part, smokers with lung cancer are an arguable issue, but beside the point). I want to work on treatements for cancer when I graduate college. I would (and have) donated to charities related to cancer research because:

1. I think the charities are honest and their cause is worthwhile.

2. If there is no money for cancer research, I will not have a job when I graduate.

Now for this bit:

Objectivists support private charity as a means to help the needy, unfortunate, or helpless.

I would say this instead: Objectivists support private charity as a means to help honest, rational people who are in a poor situation that they did nothing to deserve.

The key bit here is that they don't deserve it. They are honest people who fell on some hard luck. (such as an illness or a natural disaster) If someone is "needy" because they are lazy or irrational or incompetent, then that's their problem.

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I haven't read everything and someone else has probably said this, but...

It is justifiable if you value innocent human life. If you don't value the lives of the people hurt by the tsunami, it would be immoral to donate. If you value their lives, it is morally proper to donate. I, for one, value the lives of total strangers, and, provided that they are innocent, I would love to donate money to the tsunami relief. One thing prevents me from doing it:

I am a poor college student, and the paltry amount that I could afford to donate wouldn't buy so much as a single meal. If I were rich, I might be tempted to donate a substantial amount of money, so I could feel as if it's actually making a difference.

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Why donate to cancer research when you can buy shares of a company that researches cancer cures? I don't see a need for any donations at all.

A lot of companies that do cancer research that are non-profit, thus there are no "shares" to be purchased. If you think your money would be best spent in a non-profit organization and the cure, not the profit is your primary goal, a donation would make more sense than an investment.

Not knowing anything about the companies currently doing cancer research and lacking a selfish interest in a cure for cancer, I have no idea where the best place to put money would be.

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I am just beginning to learn about Objectivism, and I have hit what seems to be a major snag.  Objectivists support private charity as a means to help the needy, unfortunate, or helpless.  However, donation to private charity is not required or even considered virtuous.  Why would any objectivist EVER donate to private charity?  It seems impossible to justify donating money under the constructs of Objectivism. 

Objectivists support private charity as a means of redistributing wealth if individuals choose to redistribute their wealth to something or someone else. This is a favorable alternative to government extortion where your money is forcibly taken from you and spent in manners that you may not approve of.

It is in direct contradiction to one's self interest to donate money to a fund that would help tsunami victims thousands of miles away because no direct benefits could be derived from those unfortunate individuals.  Taking it a step further, it is unlikely that benefits could even be derived from those assisted by local charities.  So, in the end an objectivist would never have a valid reason to donate, and the disabled and helpless would remain in the gutter.  What gives here?
A large-scale "act of god" such as the tsunami in Asia, seems to be a reasonable cause to donate money to. Donating to a private charity to aid the victims makes a lot more sense then government "tax relief". If you donate to a private charity you have a lot more control on where and how your money is spent.

I can only come up with two reasons that an objectivist would support private charity:

1.  "Giving" makes one feel good, regardless if the results of the donation are ever seen.  Increased self-esteem is the benefit of donating.

I would say the above reason or something along the lines thereof is a valid argument for donating to charity. You can derive personal value from giving to a cause that you feel is just. It is wrong if you give more than you can afford (then it becomes a sacrifice) or give to a cause that you know is unjust (such as a filthy hobo begging on the corner until he has enough nickels for a handle of vodka).

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It is in direct contradiction to one's self interest to donate money to a fund that would help tsunami victims thousands of miles away because no direct benefits could be derived from those unfortunate individuals.

I can only come up with two reasons that an objectivist would support private charity:

1.  "Giving" makes one feel good, regardless if the results of the donation are ever seen.  Increased self-esteem is the benefit of donating.

2.  It is rational to donate to private charity because one never knows when he will need it himself.  Supporting the system is like buying insurance. 

I think you're taking "self-interest" in too concrete a sense, i.e. as requiring a direct physical payoff of some kind. The reward for me is more moral, i.e. for my character, and in suport of my values. That's maybe not the most articulate description, but it gets the essence of my motivation.

I support certain charities because I enjoy it, and because I value helping others. What makes it selfish is that I value being kind, as opposed to doing it because it is my alleged duty.

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Gadfly,

You wrote: "

I support certain charities because I enjoy it, and because I value helping others. What makes it selfish is that I value being kind, as opposed to doing it because it is my alleged duty."

But this is exactly the position of many Christians and conservatives that I know: I have had friends say virtually word-for-word what you just said when we talk about charity, etc. How is Objectivism any different, then, in this area?

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One reason to support private charity in general might be that you are creating an environment where it is hard for politicians to argue for more entitlement programs.

Edit: there are lots of specific reasons to support specific charities of course, I am just saying in general.

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But this is exactly the position of many Christians and conservatives that I know: I have had friends say virtually word-for-word what you just said when we talk about charity, etc.  How is Objectivism any different, then, in this area?

I don't agree with Gadfly. Sherlock, you may want to read "Counterfeit Individualism" in The Virtue of Selfishness. In there, Branden discusses why it isn't necessarily "selfish" to do something that you feel like doing. From my understanding, Objectivist ethics is rational self-interest, which means acting toward values that actually support your life. If one "feels" that an action is a value, it may or may not be unless rationally evaluated.

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How is Objectivism any different, then, in this area?

I gave you the reason. I am doing it because it upholds my values, not out of duty. For example, I may give to the Red Cross because I value life -> I value saving particular lives -> I give money to help them save particular lives.

And just because a Christian says it, is not a reason to object to it.

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I don't agree with Gadfly. Sherlock, you may want to read "Counterfeit Individualism" in The Virtue of Selfishness. In there, Branden discusses why it isn't necessarily "selfish" to do something that you feel like doing. From my understanding, Objectivist ethics is rational self-interest, which means acting toward values that actually support your life. If one "feels" that an action is a value, it may or may not be unless rationally evaluated.

You don't agree with what? If you are suggesting I said that I simply "feel" like donating to charity, then read my post again. That's not what I said. (Edited - yes, I "enjoy" it; what I am pointing out is that I do it because I value it).

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As I remember, Branden's article objects to the idea that simply because I as an individual hold an opinion or value and pursue it (regardless of whether or not is rationally defensible), it makes me an individualist. However, I am not saying that my emotions make it right.

It all depends on what you give primacy. If emotion is your only standard of value, then you are doing it for subjective reasons. If emotion is simply a by-product (which in fact it always is), and you pursue an activity because it supports your rational values, it's fine. Once I have established that something is right, however, there is nothing wrong with doing it for the enjoyment, provided my actions are consistent with my rational values.

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