Formspring: Donations

by Jason Stotts

Question: If a person is a laissez faire capitalist is it morally acceptable for that person to request or accept altruistic donations to maintain a business venture / lifestyle choice such as this website?

Well, yes and no.  The problem is that your question is loaded.  Donations that were actually altruistic, where the person had to sacrifice to give it, would not be moral (for the person making the donation).  On the other hand, capitalists operate by the trader principle, or the principle of Justice.  This principle says that one should give value for a value.  So, if I want your skills and labor, I need to give you something to make it worthwhile to you, like my skills, merchandise, or money.  The trader principle is the application of Justice into Economics. How does this relate to your question?  If a person finds value in my skills, like my writing, then they should want to trade value with me by doing something in return.  Since most of you don’t personally know me to buy me lunch, or something tangible, donations are the most convenient way to do this.

On the other hand, I put this blog and my essays into the public sphere with no expectation that someone will actually pay me for them.  I do it selfishly to practice my writing, test out ideas, and generally make a web presence for myself, for when my book comes out.  So, it’s not like I was expecting to be making lots of money through blogging (and I haven’t!).  In fact, I’ve only ever had one person donate (thanks Chris!).

So, is it moral to request and accept donations?  Yes, especially where one is offering a value in exchange.

Is it moral to make altruistic donations?  No, a person should never trade a higher value for a lower one.

As one final thought, I’ve never thought of blogging as a “lifestyle choice” before. Personally, I think that’s kind of a weird way to think about it.  It was certainly a “choice,” but I’m not sure I’d consider it a “lifestyle.”

1 Response to “Formspring: Donations”

  1. Bob

    I suppose the term ‘donation’ can have different interpretations. I would classify donation as making a gift, normally associated with charitable institutions. From this perspective one would not expect to recieve any goods or services in return for the donation. This in turn would cancel out the trader principle which appears to be the mainstay of Capitalism. But I take your point.

    ‘Lifestyle’ ~ I still feel there is a certain amount of ‘lifestyle’ when people choose to blog, for example you say you are creating a ‘web presence’ to practice your skills and writing for when your book comes out. Again, perhaps it wasn’t quite the correct term to use.

    I find this confusion with definitions is more pronounced in philosophical discussions than most others. All philosophies / philosophers base their arguments on logic. This being the case all philosophies should have reached a common consensus – which they haven’t.

    Therefore philosophy cannot be based purely on logic but on definitions and perhaps more importantly strong cultural roots which impacts on the philosophy which in turn impacts on the culture.

    You used the example of Capitalism being immoral from an altruistic perspective such as Christianity. Yet there are very strong arguments in favour of Christianity having shaped Western Capitalism, particularly the Calvanist protestants. Your view of Christianity would undoubtedly be very different to a Calvanist Christian, and this is why I have difficulty when all philosophers say they have reached their conclusions from a point of logic, yes they have used logic, but they appear to ignore the social environment and culture which has brought them to their starting point.

    I realise this is a bit all over the place, but as I have said earlier I am not a philosopher and perhaps lack the logical rigour to sift the arguments.