Moral Pluralism and Philanthropy

The idea of moral pluralism generates a dilemma for the practice of philanthropy. Characteristically, the practice of philanthropy assumes unity, coherence, or convergence among the diverse virtues and moral aims that it pursues. In the philanthropic tradition, it is recognized that the goals of a particular philanthropy will vary. Yet, if these are sincere expressions of the philanthropic will, each represents some portion of the manifold activity of “doing good” according to particularized choice or style. The relevant analogy should be drawn to the slogan of “giving to the college of your choice” or to worship of the one god in your own way, where the plurality of expression is not only consistent with the residual value of education or of religion, but articulates the pragmatic way to realize the underlying values of a pluralistic society. Historically, this reflects the place of a unifying religious vision of the nature of the good or of a secular conception of a public philosophy which recognized the common good. Even etymologically, the love of mankind suggests a single passion that is directed beneficently to the shared values of mankind. The theory and practice of contemporary philanthropy is necessarily pluralistic, however, and it reflects the range of decisions by individuals with different interests and values in a pluralist, democratic society. The legitimized and recognized range of philanthropies in modern societies demonstrates divergent and even conflicting perceptions of the common good or the public interest. Thus, the range of philanthropies includes support for bird watching and for business opportunities of minorities, which may require some decisions on “comparable worth” and competitive allocation of resources
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DOI 10.1017/S026505250000056X
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