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The Complexities of Calling Philanthropy a Moral Act

January 23, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

By Samuel Phineas Upham

If you watch a lot of nature documentaries, you will inevitably come across scenes of something dying alone in the wilderness or getting caught by a predator. The camera crew merely captures this moment while a detached voice narrates the romanticized version of that struggle. The death is simply part of nature, but some of have begun questioning the morality of these camera crews. Should they not intervene?

We tend to think of philanthropy as a purely financial act these days. We give to breast cancer or Alzheimer’s charities hoping that our donations will lead to some good in the world. But philanthropy extends to everything we do, including those camera people out there in the wilderness. For these reasons, calling philanthropy a purely moral act is not something easy to defend.

Giving as “Right”

If giving is right, is not giving wrong?

Are you complicit in a wrongful act because you are not on the ice trying to save that little penguin from its inevitable doom? It’s certainly possible, but Buddhism teaches us suffering is inevitable. Are we guilty of the suffering of others, even if we had no hand in their situation? This debate is a large part of what fuels our democracy today, and determines where taxpayer money ultimately goes. Plus, we may not have the effect we intend. What if saving this penguin causes someone else (who was also trying to save the penguin) some unintended harm?

There are both good and bad reasons to do something as there are to do nothing.

Samuel Phineas Uphamis an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Samual Phineas Upham website or Twitter page.

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