Can Philosophy Make People Generous?

Schwitzgebel and Rust famously found that professors of ethics are no more ethical than other professors. Peter Singer being perhaps a famous exception to the rule. In follow-up research Schwitzgebel and psychologist Fiery Cushman tried to find philosophical arguments to change people’s willingness to donate to charity. They were unable to find any. But perhaps they just weren’t good at coming up with effective philosophical arguments. Thus, they challenged moral philosophers and psychologists to a contest:

Can you write a philosophical argument that effectively convinces research participants to donate money to charity?

By a philosophical argument they meant an argument and not an appeal to pity or emotion. No pictures of people clubbing baby seals. The contest had 100 entrants which were winnowed down in a series of tests.

The test had people read the arguments and then decide how much of a promised payment they would they like to give to charity. An average of $2.58 was contributed to charity (of $10) in the control group (no argument). The best argument increased giving by 54% to $3.98. Not bad.

Here’s the argument which won:

Many people in poor countries suffer from a condition called trachoma. Trachoma is the major cause of preventable blindness in the world. Trachoma starts with bacteria that get in the eyes of children, especially children living in hot and dusty conditions where hygiene is poor. If not treated, a child with trachoma bacteria will begin to suffer from blurred vision and will gradually go blind, though this process may take many years. A very cheap treatment is available that cures the condition before blindness develops. As little as $25, donated to an effective agency, can prevent someone going blind later in life.

How much would you pay to prevent your own child becoming blind? Most of us would pay $25,000, $250,000, or even more, if we could afford it. The suffering of children in poor countries must matter more than one-thousandth as much as the suffering of our own child. That’s why it is good to support one of the effective agencies that are preventing blindness from trachoma, and need more donations to reach more people.

Now here’s the kicker. The winning argument was submitted by Peter Singer and Matthew Lindauer. Singer is clearly screwing with Schwitzgebel’s research!

You can read some of other effective arguments here. I don’t think it’s an accident that the winning argument was the shortest and also the least purely philosophical. I’m not saying Singer and Lindauer cheated, but compared to the other arguments the Singer-Lindauer argument is concrete and by making people think of their own children, likely to arouse emotion. That too is a lesson.

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There was a good study some years back of students in a seminary who were assigned to give a talk about being a Good Samaritan and then tested to see whether they would be willing to help a stranger in need on the way to the talk. It turned out that the students’ philosophical beliefs and disposition had no effect on whether the students would help the person in need—instead the main predictor of whether they would help the person in need is whether they were told they had time before the talk started or whether they were running late.

Similarly, I’d bet the biggest predictor of financial generosity is probably how secure someone feels in their own finances rather than any philosophical beliefs or arguments.

What the world needs is a charity to support the clubbing of baby seals. Or, even better, otters. The otterophobe charity could be called Friends of the Salmon.

Or an anti-puffin charity called Friends of the Sand Eel.

Hey, I think I may be onto a winner here.

A friend of mine worked for the "Red Squirrel Preservation Project" or some similar name, the staff referred to it as the "Grey Squirrel Eradication Project".

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The US tax system that subsidizes charitable giving by high tax backer individuals more than low tax bracket individuals must play a role. We should use partial tax credits rate than deductions to subsidize charitable giving.

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This question has caused division within the Christian community since, well, there was a Christian community. On one side are Catholics, who are taught that doing good works is necessary for the Great Reward. On the other side are Protestants, who are taught that faith alone is sufficient for the Great Reward. I'm Episcopalean, which means I believe in both sides. I suppose the two sides are theological not philosophical, but what it takes for the Great Reward is damn important.

In my Lutheran upbringing the loop was closed thus:

You come to salvation by Faith alone, but if you have Faith, obviously you will do good works.

As you likely know, the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church entered an alliance in 2001 that allows sharing between the two (of clergy, etc.). Our Articles of Religion are creative too. According to Article XI, "that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine", while Article XII states that good works "cannot put away our sins, . . . yet they are pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, . . . insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit". In other words, a rich man's sins aren't forgiven solely on account of the sinner's good works, but piety won't get one to the good place either.

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I'm pretty sure you are wrong about everything you said here.

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/are-good-works-necessary-for-salvation

Justification by Faith was the creation of St. Paul (who many identify as the father of the Christian faith, not the Messiah), not surprising given his history of persecuting Christians before his conversion: I'd want the Father to look to my faith rather than my works if I were Paul. As for publications such as Catholic Answers, beware (although what you link concludes with this: "there is more to this justification thing than faith alone"). Raymond Arroya, the Catholic television network (EWTN) personality, repeatedly hosted torture advocates, including Mark Thiessien, shocking not only because torture is horrible but Messiah Jesus Himself was tortured to death. This isn't a criticism of Catholicism but an acknowledgment that the Church has many factions, some I would describe as anti-Christ.

I'm not sure what your non-sequitur is arguing. You presented two seemingly mutually-exclusive statements: That Catholics believe that salvation can only come from good works, and that Protestants, by contrast, believe you can only be saved by faith alone.

An article appearing on a site called "catholic.com" argues that your conception of the teachings of the catholic church are wrong. your reply does nothing to address it, and just brings in unrelated topics in an attempt to deflect and confuse.

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For those who have difficulty reading, for Catholics good works is a necessary but not sufficient condition for going to the good place, whereas for Protestants faith alone is a sufficient condition for going to the good place.

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I don't think it is that simple. I have spent a few days in Laos in January this year and I have noticed that the Lao People's Revolutionary Party, under General Secretary Bounnhang Vorachith's correct leadership, have been able to mobilize the energy of the Laotian people in order to create a fairer, increasingly prosperous society. I have been solemnly humbled by the dazzling achievements of the Laotian people under General Secretary Bounnhang Vorachith's correct and belevolent leadership.

So we can conclude that General Secretary Bounnhang Vorachith is a PLA agent. Good to know, "Thiago".

No, he is not! General Secretary Bounnhang Vorachith is a life-long fighter for Laotian national independence, freedom and prosperity. He joined the national struggle against the feudal regime and its imperialist backers when he was 14. Besides fighting the feudal forces, he has been entrusted by the party with many important administrative tasks he has fulfilled brilliantly and dutifully. He was Governor of Savannakhet Province, Deputy Prime Minister, Chairman of the Lao-Vietnamese Cooperation Committee, Minister of Finance, Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Vice-President and President. He is now the General Secretary of Lao People's Revolutionary Party. General Secretary Bounnhang Vorachith is widely considered the wise, indefatigable and invincible leader of the Laotian revolution a d is followed by the close ranks of Laos' working class along the path to build a free, democratic, fair and prosperous socialist society.

Thiago you sound a lotta like that John Candy in "volunteers"
if you need help buddy
give us a signal
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZ6UuF85ENA

First: My name is not Thiago. I am Mr. Jackson from Plevna, Montana. Second: I do not sound like comedian John Candy at all. I am just an American impressed by the way Laos, previously a poor, oppressed and underdeveloped country, has, been able to, under General Secretary Bounnhang Vorachith's correct and wise leadership, forge ahead on the road of national rebuilding, true freedom and shared prosperity. I think we, Americans, have much to learn from Lao People's Revolutionary Party's General Secretary Bounnhang Vorachith.

Before me was the Japanese - who even talks of the Chinese.

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Greater-East-Asia-Co-prosperity-Sphere

I am not talking about beer. I am talking about the struggle for national liberation against the feudal monarchist clique and its imperalist backers.

Thiago,
we are not saying you are wrong (except about beer) but you could have eyeball worms. Its time for your academic eye exam. can you spot any of the obvious half dozen bigly flaws in reasoning in this leftist marginal revolutionary commentariat assertion from yesterday-

"throwing a water bottle at the police is purely a symbolic act if the police are wearing protective gear?"

the lumpen intelligentsia have "disappeared" cornpopsrustyrazor and the swedish cannibals. we are worried about you & await your reply

Love,
Addie

You are not making sense. I am Paul Jackson from Plevna, Montana.

Thiago,
if you are having a little trouble with the academic eyeball test it doesn't always mean you have eyeball worms. Try the hypothetical eyeball test.
-you are a low paid masked positive macy's employee whose mask has failed to filter the unmasked marxist blm "aggression". the police have been abolished and you cannot afford 4500 American dollars for private security. what is your next move?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfnOlcbvA6s
Love,
Addie

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I enrolled in an introductory philosophy class in college, expecting to learn about Aristotle et al., but got a full quarter dedicated to Animal Liberation instead. No thank you, stuck to STEM after that.

The irony of a shark complaining about animal liberation.

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Did your STEM classes teach you about Galen and Democritus, or did they focus on contemporary knowledge and issues?

ours did both

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Bad argument. Moral philosophy does not "progress" like science. Aristotle is the best advocate of "virtue ethics" as opposed to deontological and consequentialist moral systems.

Actual Moral don't "progress" like science either. We improve in some areas, but it's hard to argue that the 20th century was any triumph of morality.

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Singer- if being more ethical means advocating the killing of seriously disabled people but when his own mother was by his definition not worth keeping alive due to dementia he did all he could for her. If that is what you call ethics I'm glad I don't move in your circles.
https://realphysics.blogspot.com/2005/03/peter-singer-hypocrite.html

It illustrates how narrow the definition of "ethics" is here.

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"Ethics" is what people chatter about when they are strangers to morality.

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I understand eating meat is bad for the environment, but I do it anyway. There is a difference between setting an ideal and stringently following it; humans aren't perfect.

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Singer's argument that elicited higher contributions was based on a high reference point.

If you want to look at filed experiments on charitable giving, and what works, tested by economists, visit Econ Prof. John List's Science of Philanthropy Institute: https://spihub.org

Evidence based research on charitable giving. Very interesting work.

You might also want to keep up with Prof. John List's research in this area: https://voices.uchicago.edu/jlist/

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By the way, Singer's solicitation (by including a very high reference point) is consistent with other research:

"People respond to those who ask. Within the charitable fundraising community, the power of the ask represents the backbone of most fundraising strategies. Despite this, the optimal design of communication strategies has received less formal attention. For their part, economists have recently explored how communication affects empathy, altruism, and giving rates to charities. Our study takes a step back from this literature to examine how suggestions-a direct ask for a certain amount of money-affect giving rates. We find that our suggestion amounts affect both the intensive and extensive margins: more people give and they tend to give the suggested amount. Resulting insights help us understand why people give, why messages work, and deepen practitioners’ understanding of how to use messages to leverage more giving."

"Toward an Understanding of why Suggestions Work in Charitable Fundraising: Theory and Evidence from a Natural Field Experiment" https://voices.uchicago.edu/jlist/research/charitable-giving/

Singer is more of a marketer than a philosopher in this case.

Philosophers think Singer is more of a marketer than a philosopher in many cases.

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Of course, this blog post by Tabarrok relates to Cowen's blog post about Nate Silver. The point of the philosophical argument isn't to reach the correct answer (that would be theological) but to engage in critical thinking. Silver is a graduate of the Univ. of Chicago (he majored in economics), which is known for teaching students critical thinking skills through its core curriculum that is in large part a study of philosophy and the ancients. Is it possible for one to have such refined critical thinking skills that one can reach decisions like a computer churning through all the data? I suppose it's theologically possible, but unlikely to be philosophically possible.

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I'm not saying Singer and Lindauer cheated either, but...ultimately this was a test not of the philosopher's art, but rather the art of the marketer. The one thing "a philosopher who happens to be a good marketer" knows, and that his fellow philosophers don't know, is that if you TELEGRAPH a philosophical argument as a philosophical argument then you'll have a hard time persuading normal people to do anything.

As soon as I got to the part about bacteria getting in eyes I knew that there was at least a consciousness of human emotion in play.

And then hot and dusty conditions?

But that of course doesn't make it bad, it just explains why people do give.

Empathy is not bad. Where would the world be without it?

We'd be pretty much Peter Singer.

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Singer pretty much cheated. Only reason to introduce the hypothetical about treating your own child is to get some emotion in play. Not a real reference point. Plus it plays on people’s urge to remain at least somewhat consistent. Change it to what a healthcare service actually needs to treat cataracts or something. Will lower that contribution right down.

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More than anything, Singer arguments have always been simple, clear and his analogies always bring minds to "local" that easily evoke visceral reactions than elitist abstractions.

Montaigne is loved for the same reasons while Aristotle 's of the world failed spectacularly to connect with the masses and to a larger extend to reality itself.

Feed your french fetish till Le Pen burns you alive, Jeanne d'Arc.

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People, being primates nor computers, emotional appeals are overall, for the majority, most of the time, more effective than logic (see COVID-hysteria and reaction to Floyd George's self-inflicted death for recent examples).

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Philosophy being a muscular exercise of throat, jaw, tongue, and brain, philosophers merit being paid at least as much as unskilled manual laborers.

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The logical flaw is to assume that a foreign baby is worth one thousandth of your own. There is no reason to suppose it is. That baby may grow up to hate you and inflict massive damage on you and yours.

So a small sleight of hand there.

I see. So we need a final solution for the foreign babies issue.

Hi J. How is the hysterical over-statement working out for you?

No. We have to learn from the distant and ancient civilizations of the Orient. Confucius had something to say on this subject and he said you should start by loving those near and dear to you. Work out from there. He might also have said you got to be careful of giving money to charity because like Biden's Cancer Charity they can pay the people who run it 65% of the money they take in.Giving does not mean anything useful happens.

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Have you ever heard the idea that 5% sociopathy is stable in a population? I think it might come from Pinker.

The idea is that at 5%, that many can free ride, or even prey, on a "normal" empathic population. Any more than that though, and things start breaking down, because the necessary trust to make it all work disappears.

It is kind of interesting that 5% sociopaths is within spitting distance of 3% libertarians .. joking not joking.

Because obviously a deficit of some kind that made you blind to the general sympathetic cohesion of society (nay, humanity), could move you politically in opposition to it.

"Because obviously a deficit of some kind that made you blind to the general sympathetic cohesion of society"

Children in Africa are not part of my society. I'm all for giving to me family first, and fellow citizens second.

I'm completely open to there being a hierarchy of sympathy. Family first, then community, then nation, then world.

But should anyone say that actually strikes the world off?

I think the "normal" answer is no.

I did not strike the world off. I just said it could be less than a thousandth of your own child

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Because obviously a deficit of some kind that made you blind to the general sympathetic cohesion of society (nay, humanity), could move you politically in opposition to it

Humanity has no cohesion. Society may but it is used too often in a cynical manner by the Left to foist their pet power grabs on us all for it to be convincing.

But let's grant that there is such a thing as society and it coheres. We need to be aware of the limits of that society and that cohesion. If I need a baby sitter, I am not going to ask a homeless person I meet on the way home, or even a random stranger. I might ask the daughter of someone I know from Church or the PTA or the Rotary.

Which makes sense. A baby born in a foreign land has no reasonable claim over me. I would not entrust my child to his parents for baby sitting. To say otherwise is to misunderstand words like trust and even community.

Because, in the end, if everyone is entitled to my sympathy then no one is. Which may explain why the Left gives so little to charity.

Try rereading your own paragraphs objectively, and see if you see a hint of a person with a deficit.

One who calls people without the deficit "left" because they are operating with .. greater connectivity.

Well no. People who describe themselves as being o n the Left also report giving less to charity than people who describe themselves as on the right.

You need to feel better about yourself is noted.

Kinda

https://nonprofitquarterly.org/republicans-give-more-to-charity-than-democrats-but-theres-a-bigger-story-here/

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This triggers a memory. When I was young there was still a Soviet Union. There was a very liberal radio station out of Santa Monica called KPFK. There was a disc jockey on that show called Susie Weissman. She had a show called Inside the Soviet Union. I listened to that show, as a Reagan Republican, just because it was so weird. What I came to understand was that Susie supported the Soviet socialism because she was rooted in the emotional view "why can't we all just love each other?" Now the interesting thing is that she would have guests on the show which would name Soviet atrocities, and she would acknowledge them, before saying "but shouldn't we just love each other..."

So there is definitely a flip side, and too much emotional connectivity may blind one to harsh realities.

A moderate, moral, pragmatism tries to balance all that.

(I like Google voice recognition spell Susie Weissman, it may not be correct.)

It's not a good way to run the world (because everyone won't love everyone else) but it' a good way to run a liberal talk show.

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Nothing wrong with donating to help people , but when faced with the post’s request, I would first ask myself these questions.
What kind of country is this , that cares so little about its own children that spending $25 to effect a large improvement in the life of a child is too much.
Was it befallen by a natural disaster, or is it governed by corrupt rapacious leaders who do not care about their own people.
How many other problems does it suffer from, if spending 25 on a child’s life doesn’t make the cut on their list of priorities.
If it has decided it has so many worthier causes to fund, how likely is it that my money will be used for its intended purpose?

You should donate to a charity that works directly, not through the host government, to avoid issues with corruption and the like. GiveDirectly and such often avoid the most corrupt countries where they can't operate and focus on countries that are still very poor but have decent governments, like GiveDirectly focused a lot on Kenya initially. And $25 can be a lot for an extremely poor country--there are lots of countries with nominal per capita GDP of less than $1,000. If you were living on $1,000 a year, you'd find it hard to come up with $25 too.

Perhaps, what you suggest is useful but I am still skeptical because to get to the downtrodden you often have to go through the powerful.
Some prominent economists such as Angus Deaton believe that helping poor people in developing countries encourages corruption and slows their growth.

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-10

Every comment of yours is culture war bullshit “Boo outgroup!” This time in the form of “my outgroup is literal sociopaths” who are potentially destroying society.

(Ironically he does this while arguing with a conservative nationalist.)

Nothing can fail the Turing Test so consistently and not be a bot.

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So Skeptical, buddy. Do yo not read the news before you visit?

It's kind of a ripe day to talk about implied "outgroups" when serious and dangerous ones stare us in the face:

Trump shares video where supporter yells 'white power'

But sure, let's not try for a more nuanced analysis of sympathy and compassion.

But sure, let's not try for a more nuanced analysis of sympathy and compassion.

In the last three days you have spammed on an academic economics blog 20-30 tweets and comments to the following effect:

1) everyone who doesn’t vote for your partisan in-group is a subhuman animal devoid of human and moral worth

2) everyone in your political outgroup is a zombie, a monster devoid of thought

3) everyone in another of your political out groups is a literal sociopath destroying society

Now you spam more bullshit tweets to try to change the subject.

Nuance? Public service? Lmao. Are you f’ing senile Boomer?

That's what moral bankruptcy looks like.

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As a public service, here are my propositions. None are in my opinion a heavy lift:

1) People vary in their level of compassion for fellow man.

2) Those levels probably arise from a combination of nature and nurture.

3) However they arise, in adulthood people probably sort themselves into politics compatible with their own outlook.

4) At the extremes, those with least (or most) compassion will sort themselves into political frameworks which emphasize the least (or most) compassion in their policies.

When I look at it that way (and I do) it leads me to trust democracy to (on average) return a median politics for a median human nature.

Your sanctimonious preening is the antithesis of a public service. See reference to Nietzsche below.

I did not advance my own beliefs, I explicitly endorsed the median.

Prophets claim to be speak on behalf of the gods, which you have secularized and democratized by replacing them with the median human. Saying that they are "my propositions" reveals their true nature.

Propositions for peer review .. and I didn't see you take any on directly.

Which, item 1-4, is wrong?

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+1

Blind people are less capable of invading my country and if they're somehow able to evade the border guards, are less able to cause damage and prey upon my people. The value I put on this cause is actually negative.

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+1. Arguing for positive moral duties (and opposed to negative ones like doing no harm) to the abstraction of "humanity" invariably run into the problems of lack of attachment and information.

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Or he may grow up to invent something that will improve the lives of everyone, or trade wit us, or immigrate to our country. On balance, we are better off with more foreign babies than fewer.

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What happened to "an argument and not an appeal to pity or emotion?" Using blind kids with trachoma sure sounds like an appeal to emotion.

how bout
theres a lotta marginal utility to eyesight.
merck fixed a lotta river blindness with a moderate number of amercian dollars.

Why are we the only ones noticing this marginal utility? Surely in the country these kids live in , the welfare of their own children should be more important to them than to us.

are catlike reflexes a social construct
do you see the flaw in your reasoning? or we gonna have to
Krugmansplain it to you

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Philanthropy has surged during the pandemic. Is that counter-intuitive, given the volatility in stock prices? https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/26/your-money/philanthropy-pandemic-coronavirus.html

wayward,
whats counterintuitive
supply meet ze demand
demand meet zem supply

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A good argument, but blatantly cheating since the comparison about the relative value of children is an overt emotional appeal (to shame, guilt, and self-regard).

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By the way, was the idea that you give to poor people to improve your own karma a brilliant cultural hack, or what!

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The argument is so outrageous that I giggled at it. Are they serious? How can the lives of African children be worth 1/1000 that of my own children?

That would imply that I would trade my child's life for that of 1000 African children. I wouldn't trade it even for a billion, literally and not figuratively speaking.

Not really, because your action there becomes immoral.

The proper analysis is, would your child be happy with 1/1000 less spending this year?

And hell's bells, wouldn't a normal kid be happy to share 1/1000th with a poor kid somewhere?

The first question is silly, and doesn't consider the marginal trade off which was the entire intent of that argument.

As for the second question, that is precisely what I am saying. Who on earth would accept such a trade off???

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"The proper analysis is...."

This presupposes a very specific moral framework. There are others. Under several the lives of my children are in a very different category from those of children in Africa, and therefore no comparison can be made.

That's the problem with this sort of debate: there is tremendous debate about how to figure out the proper answer. Everyone has their assessment, and in a society where we're allowed to make our own choices that's fine--but in one where a single entity makes the decisions (ie, where "doing something" necessarily means "the government does something") this becomes a serious problem.

Why should YOUR views on ethics dictate MY actions?

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Nobody said there was a trade-off. It was a comparison, but it wasn't a situation where you had to choose between the two.

Joking, right? Resources are not infinite and this is a economics blog. Life is about trade-offs.

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I am always amazed by those who support philanthropy in third world countries but not in the U.S. In the low country community where I have spent much of my time, the local churches are reliable and generous supporters of philanthropy. In third world countries. Not to take anything away from their good works, but the level of poverty in our community, especially the black community, is appalling. No, I don't believe it's a matter of racism (many of the beneficiaries in third world countries are black), but there's a sense that the poor in the U.S., the poor in our community, are responsible for their own fate. Thus, I'm not surprised by the framing in Tabarrok's blog post.

It's because you can actually make a big difference through philanthropy in third world countries with limited resources, like $25 to prevent a case of blindness. $25 isn't going to make a difference in any poor person's life in the US.

And in terms of moral desserts, it is true that poor people born in the US have far more opportunity to improve their own lives than poor people born in third-world countries. Poverty in the US is maybe 50% the result of the poor choices of the individual poor person and 50% are structural obstacles that are beyond the individual poor person's control, whereas poverty in South Sudan is probably less than 1% individual choice and more than 99% structural factors that are bigger than the individual poor person.

+1 Two good answers. I'd add that when you build a welfare state, like the US, it's expected that the state takes care of our poor, and it's no longer our responsibility.

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Bill Gates made the point somewhere that his net worth including that of his foundation is about equal to the annual budget of the California K-12 education system. The combined resources of the federal, state, and local governments in the U.S. dwarf those of even the wealthiest individuals and most well-funded charities. Whether one wants to donate domestically or internationally, the key is in finding causes that are generally underfunded and have the chance of leading to big impact.

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+1 to Z, TMC and Ricardo

This is Marginal Revolution. Compare the marginal dollar impact for malaria nets vs whatever domestic charity you wish.

Malaria nets wins every time

True. malaria nets can often used for other more urgent purposes such as fishing nets.

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The US provided 93 M of foreign aid to South Sudan in 2019. The North and south have been in conflict for I think 20 years. There's a fair amount of intercommunal violence.They also rank 179 out of 198 on the World corruption perception index. Perhaps these factors are the problem, not the lack of philantropy ?
Is there an end to this aid. Are these countries making their way out of poverty or are they getting more dependent on aid ?

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"$25 isn't going to make a difference in any poor person's life in the US."

Anything times ten to the ninth becomes significant. If a million people donate $25, that's $25,000,000. You can do a lot with that amount of money. And a million people isn't that many; 0.3% of the population or less. $25 isn't much, either--it's the cost of a book.

The problem isn't that $25 can't do much; it's the attitude of the people. People don't want thugs accomplished in the USA, they want someone else to do them. This is not a small distinction. If you want something accomplished, you're willing to get your hands dirty and spend the money. If you want someone else to do it, you want it to magically appear without any effort on your part. Guess which is more popular.

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The winning argument was clearly in violation if the conditions by getting people to think of their own families with that condition and this triggering empathy. Nothing to do with reason. An argument in bad faith like Singers own research. P
Modern philosophy is a worse intellectual game than Economics since the latter has had a few useful and empirically persuasive arguments at least, despite its lack of intuitive appeal to most people.

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I worked for an "ethicist" who, to-date, has not paid his research assistants for nearly a year (this is especially disturbing considering the current state of our economy). I'm overcome with disgust every time I read a paper about morals written by this person. As Nietzsche argued, preachers of morals tend to be frauds.

+1 for the Nietzsche reference, who still tends to be under-rated among non-humanities types in the U.S. Nietzsche engaged in an ad hominem argument against moral philosophers by asking who they were as individuals and what were the motives behind the particular systems of ethics they were promoting. Not necessarily bad questions to ask in light of the above.

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Seems to me the winning argument was very much about emotion, don’t understand how it made it through the contest’s own criteria.

With some benefit of hindsight, I would have made this argument: Choose a cause that you care about. We will make sure that 100% of any money you contribute will actually be directly used for that cause.

When I look at myself and people around me, the willingness to give to charity has less to do with moral values and more with how cynical one gets about the way most charities are run.

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If you’d like an actual data point I was slightly acquainted with this person and trachoma alleviation program targeted primarily at native people which became very well known and supported in Australia:

Frederick Cossom Hollows, AC (9 April 1929 – 10 February 1993) was a New Zealand-Australian ophthalmologist who became known for his work in restoring eyesight for thousands of people in Australia and many other countries. It has been estimated that more than one million people in the world can see today because of initiatives instigated by Hollows, the most notable example being The Fred Hollows Foundation.

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I think there are two separate things being investigated in this contest. One is the economic structure that supports altruistic activity between parties, and secondly the ethics of who should receive and provide charity. They are not the same. I wrote more thoughts on structure of the trade done out of a sense of group belonging here: https://aethelontis.wordpress.com/2020/06/28/philosophy-and-philanthropy/

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Problem is that giving to charity is often incorrectly conflated with helping other people. Give to the Komen Foundation and you're financing another cancer walk, but not really cancer research. There's no compelling philosophical argument for giving to charity because, without a great deal of specifics, the act of donating to charity doesn't necessarily help anyone other than the charity.

The root of this problem, from a philosophical sense, is that "giving to charity" assumes an outcome that is helpful to someone who needs help. But that just an assumption.

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https://tomkow.typepad.com/tomkowcom/2009/04/the-good-the-bad-and-peter-singer.html

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Demonstrate that the specific charity is worth the individual's money.

The fact that charity is addressed as a whole, and that the author is looking for The One True Argument, which assumes all people are identical and interchangeable, demonstrates that the author doesn't understand philosophy, psychology, or sales. This is akin to trying to paint a picture while blindfolded and with complete indifference to what the subject of the painting is!

AUDIENCE MATTERS. An argument must necessarily take both the speaker and the listener into account. Anything else is mere mental masturbation.

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This was less about philosophy than rhetoric, hortatory rhetoric in particular. In other words, it was an exercise in what they call copy writing, an old and, now and then, honorable profession.

With that definition of philosophical as not appealing to emotion, it's hard to think of a possible argument. After all, an appeal to one's reasoning abilities would just be an appeal to one's emotional feeling about one's personal preference for arguments with a logical basis. People often feel very smug about their logical reasoning.

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More moral clarity is needed. Why can't everyone just do the right thing?

We've been trying to define "the right thing" for at least three thousand years. And attempts to do the right thing often end in disaster. Take water. Everyone needs it--it's a biological imperative--and obtaining water is a major risk factor in many people's lives. As late as the Victorian Era people drowned every day getting water for their family. So providing clean water is the right thing, right? Find a remote village and install a well and everything's great! And that's what a lot of charities do. Except that once the charity leaves, the village doesn't have anyone to care for the well. And many don't understand (lacking the knowledge of germ theory) why they can't put the privies next to the well. And suddenly incidents of disease start going up, and continue to rise until the pump stops working--at which point, lacking the knowledge of how to fix it and the infrastructure to obtain parts anyway, the village is back to where it was in the beginning, minus a fair number of people from novel diseases. All told, such charities do vastly more harm than good in terms of human lives lost and human suffering.

It's easy to say "Do the right thing". Defining what IS the right thing? Much, much harder.

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