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Unpublished Paper
Philanthropy's Function: A Neo-Classical Reconsideration
ExpressO (2010)
  • Robert E. Atkinson, Florida State University

This essay lays the groundwork for a “new unified field theory” of philanthropy. That theory must have two complementary parts, an account of philanthropy’s core function and a measure of its performance, a metric for comparing philanthropic organizations both among themselves and with their counterparts in the for-profit, governmental, and household sectors. The essay first explains the need for such a measure, in both theory and practice. It then considers the critical shortcomings of today’s standard theory of philanthropy, which accounts for the philanthropic sector as subordinate and supplementary to our capitalist market economy and liberal democratic polity. Chief among the limits of standard theory is taking the ends of that economy and polity, satisfying aggregate consumer damand and majority voter preference, as given. After showing how this critical assumption begs the basic normative questions of classical political and ethical theory, this essay outlines a way of reconciling the two in a neo-classical theory of philanthropy. In that theory, the goal of both the market and the state, guided by philanthropy, would be to ensure all citizens the fullest possible development of their best abilities. That regime would require no one to agree with its goals and values, but it would give everyone every possible opportunity to be able to appreciate them.

Publication Date
March 15, 2010
Citation Information
Robert E. Atkinson. "Philanthropy's Function: A Neo-Classical Reconsideration" ExpressO (2010)
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