GBS Switzerland

Why donate

Michael Schmidt-Salomon made the point very clearly: “A humanity that splits the atom and communicates via satellite must possess a corresponding philosophical maturity.” We are in the process of developing biotechnology, nanotechnology and computer technologies that provide us with a never before seen power capacity. At the same time our ethical system is still riddled with traditional, often religiously motivated, dogmas and stone-age tribal thinking that deviate from an impartial guidance on the well-being of all individuals. Of particular concern is the fact that the ethical progress runs the risk of being overwhelmed by technology. Isaac Asimov’s knowledge applies now more important than ever: “The saddest aspect of life right now is science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”

The GBS exists to counteract this dangerous trend and – if possible – to reverse it. Its field is the intersection of ethics and science: It delves into scientific ethics and is committed to an ethical use of the technological power that science will impart to us for better or worse. This work seems to us important and neglected enough to be worth it to be promoted with time and money.

More concrete arguments for effective-altruistic donations were developed in practical ethics: Suppose that you walk past a pond and notice that a child is drowning in it. Next you notice that the (non-) saving of the child depends only upon your decision: you can safely wade into the pond and pull the child out. The only complication: The expensive 500 dollar suit that you wear just by chance would then be ruined – you would have to replace it and so spend 500 dollars that you would have otherwise spent on additional personal luxury. “Sacrifice” the 500 dollars and save the child – or not? Most people would not hesitate to save the child. This expresses the humanistic judgment that owning 500 “luxury dollars” is less important than saving a child. But if we make this judgment, then it would be logically inconsistent and irrational to make a different judgment with respect to the donation question. Even then the question arises as to which good is more important, how to prevent the suffering and death of others or giving additional sums of money for ourselves that we do not need to cover our basic needs and to maintain our productivity. Moral psychology has shown that our intuitive and emotional generosity decreases massively when a natural disaster has not occurred in our area. This decision behavior does not withstand a critical test, that the best option between the decisions will be respectively the same.

As the young subdiscipline of career choice ethics shows, professional donation – ”Earning to Give” – belongs to the careers that are not easy to outperform in terms of ethical and social impact: Instead of directly taking a job at an NGO that would existed anyway, an individual can finance more NGO-positions that would not have otherwise existed. Those who give donations often discuss the extent and the effectiveness of the donations, and encourage others to donate as well can multiply the impact and contribute to a new culture of giving.

Last but not least: we donate 5-10% of our income because we belong to the select circle of the richest people that have ever lived on this planet. Moreover psychological studies suggest that donating is a form of expenditure that also makes the donors themselves happier. Donating therefore seems a comprehensively-productive rational decision.

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