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“Philanthropy for the Disenfranchised” by Dr. Jacob Barrett
24 Apr 2023

Online Research Seminar

Most discussions of philanthropy focus on the ethics of charitable giving: how much should you give, and where? But philanthropy is also a topic for political philosophy: what role should philanthropy play in a democratic society? In this talk I begin with the latter question and argue that while philanthropy often undermines or conflicts with democracy, certain forms of philanthropy are nevertheless democratically complementary or even enhancing. I then tie my discussion back to the individual ethics of philanthropy and explore some social and political implications. Ethically, democratic values suggest a greater focus on benefiting disenfranchised groups, which yields a considerable convergence with effective altruism at the abstract level of “cause areas,” but a divergence when it comes to concrete interventions. Politically, we should reform the institutions governing philanthropy to make them better serve disenfranchised groups. This suggests a reform program of “differentiation”—trying to encourage some types of philanthropy while discouraging others—which contrasts with the more familiar program of “democratization,” which aims to equalize philanthropic power throughout society.

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