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Unformatted text preview: magazine — that Bill
Gates’s turn to philanthropy was linked to the antitrust problems Microsoft had in the U.S. and the
European Union. Was Gates, consciously or subconsciously , try ing to improv e his own image and that of his
T his kind of sniping tells us more about the attackers than the attacked. Giv ing away large sums, rather
than spending the money on corporate adv ertising or dev eloping new products, is not a sensible strategy for
increasing personal wealth. When we read that someone has giv en away a lot of their money , or time, to
help others, it challenges us to think about our own behav ior. Should we be following their ex ample, in our
own modest way ? But if the rich just giv e their money away to improv e their image, or to make up for past
misdeeds — misdeeds quite unlike any we hav e committed, of course — then, conv eniently , what they are
doing has no relev ance to what we ought to do.
A famous story is told about T homas Hobbes, the 1 7th- century English philosopher, who argued that we all
w w w .ny times .c om/2006/12/17/magaz ine/17c har ity .t.html?_r =0&pagew anted=pr int 2/10 Sho1/l14a1Billionair e Giv e – and What Should You? - New Yor k Times
ud / 3 act in our own interests. On seeing him giv e alms to a beggar, a cleric asked Hobbes if he would hav e done
this if Christ had not commanded us to do so. Y es, Hobbes replied, he was in pain to see the miserable
condition of the old man, and his gift, by prov iding the man with some relief from that misery , also eased
Hobbes’s pain. T hat reply reconciles Hobbes’s charity with his egoistic theory of human motiv ation, but at
the cost of empty ing egoism of much of its bite. I f egoists suffer when they see a stranger in distress, they
are capable of being as charitable as any altruist.
Followers of the 1 8th- century German philosopher I mmanuel Kant would disagree. T hey think an act has
moral worth only if it is done out of a sense of duty . Doing something merely because y ou enjoy doing it, or
enjoy seeing its consequences, they say , has no moral worth, because if y ou happened not to enjoy doing it,
then y ou wouldn’t do it, and y ou are not responsible for y our likes and dislikes, whereas y ou are responsible
for y our obedience to the demands of duty .
Perhaps some philanthropists are motiv ated by their sense of duty . Apart from the equal v alue of all human
life, the other “simple v alue” that lies at the core of the work of the Gates Foundation, according to its Web
site, is “T o whom much has been giv en, much is ex pected.” T hat suggests the v iew that those who hav e
great wealth hav e a duty to use it for a larger purpose than their own interests. But while such questions of
motiv e may be relev ant to our assessment of Gates’s or Buffett’s character, they pale into insignificance
when we consider the effect of what Gates and Buffett are doing. T he parents whose children could die from
rotav irus care more about getting the help that will sav e their children’s liv es than about the motiv ations of
those who m...
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- Spring '11