Giving, Philosophy of

Charitable giving is considered to be an act of altruism in human societies across the world. This is not just a phenomenon of today; the history of giving goes back to 2500 BCE when the Hebrews used a mandatory tax or ‘tithe’ (literally translated as one-tenth of one’s earnings), to help the poor. A lot of us who understand or are familiar with the economic and political structure of modern societies would often wonder: is it not the Government or the States’ role to give to the poor? Why would one depend on the altruism within some people for others to maintain a basic standard of living? The answer, however, lies within the question of why one does charity.

A study undertaken by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation in 2012 published its findings specifying that there are 3,174,420 non-profit institutions in India. On an average, there is an NGO in India for every 600 people, and the number could just as easily be higher. This could be attributed to higher wages, economic liberalisation resulting in better standards of living, and a global acceptance/encouragement of giving to charity.

But the question remains: why do people give to others? Not all people with means and privilege do charity or give to others more than mandated by the Government. The inherent reason why a person does the selfless act of giving is an individual moral inclination to do so, and hence it is irrelevant how much wealth one has encompassed for them to do charity. Many philosophers such as Aristotle in his Nichomachaen Ethics and Emmanuel Kant in his Groundwork on the Methaphysics of Morals have spoken about looking beyond one’s own benefit or pleasure. Where they both differ in their thoughts on altruism: Aristotle believes that an act of charity can be considered good even when done out of a myriad of motives, including self-pleasure. Kant on the other hand would refute this vigorously stressing that an act done out of obligation or the wellbeing of oneself, even when it is a by-product, is not praiseworthy. Both of their points of view coincide, however, that actions that benefit others are necessary for society to function.

Such actions might be the result of a need for praise for some, and a moral obligation for others. For many, these acts are inherently linked to their religious faith. For example, the concept of seva holds religious value for followers of Sikhism, as is the theory of karma for Hindus, and the promise of a pleasurable afterlife for Abrahamic faiths such as Christianity and Islam.

One of the most vulnerable categories of the Indian populace, at the moment, is children, and it is no surprise that there are numerous child education NGOs working relentlessly. It is an important responsibility of society to not only support a child’s education, but their wholesome development, including health, nutrition, education, and skill development. SOS Children’s Villages of India strives to achieve this goal through its work in the domain. In addition to other funding sources, its work relies on the ethical responsibility that individuals in the society should donate to poor families. Each of us within our means, hold this responsibility. To do your bit, sponsor a child in India at