Stingy, Unkind People Are More Generous by Giving Less

If Scrooge gave away just a few pennies, he would suffer a big loss of well-being; for Mother Teresa to suffer a comparable loss she would have to give until she were nearly penniless.

With tax day just behind us, my guess is that, when taken nationally, charities experience a sizable bump shortly before the April 15th deadline. Giving to charity is even framed as a strategy for reducing your taxable income by companies like TurboTax.


Does this make the act of giving any less charitable? Certainly some would argue yes. It's no longer doing the right thing if your motivation is selfish, they might say. Still, this seems a poor reason to remove charitable incentives from the US tax code.

But what if morality actually requires that stingy, unkind people do less for their fellow citizen? That's the hard-to-swallow proposition put forth by Theron Pummer at the University of Oxford's Practical Ethics page:

"If Scrooge gave away just a few pennies, let’s suppose he would suffer a big loss of well-being; let’s suppose that for Teresa to suffer a comparable loss she would have to give until she were herself nearly penniless."

Instead of measuring someone's intention or motivation, Pummer measures the amount of loss a person experiences when they act charitably. This contrasts sharply with the Widow's Mite, a morality lesson in which a poor woman's offering of her last pennies is worth more than a rich man's contribution of half his entire wealth.

If that is true, we might be thankful, but measured, in our praise of billionaires who commit a majority of their wealth to charity. But on the other hand, expecting everyone to be a martyr for their cause is too harsh. As Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Big Think expert Sheryl WuDunn explains, there are specific approaches to giving to charity that can make you feel good without compromising your motivation.

Read more at Ethics in the News.

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