There are charities for saving lives (call it type A). Then there are charities (do we call them that, though?) for making lives worth living (type B). There’s a subtle difference. Most people agree that charities for saving lives from things like malaria and malnutrition (A) are more worthwhile than those for supporting the symphony or the arts (B).

I disagree.

When type A initiatives are successful, they result in more lives that need saving from the same problems. This is not an improvement. If we think of charity as an investment in a better world, then type A gives negative returns.

Now, consider type B. I value those more because a thing of beauty is a joy forever.

In fact, B doesn’t even have to be a charity. It can even be an ostentatious display of wealth, like Hearst Castle:

But it’s a better way to spend money because the beauty of the result will bring joy to countless others forever. Just think of what the Medici money did for the Italian Renaissance. Positive return on investment.

This is how I use my infallible logic to argue that consumerism is morally superior to feeding starving orphans. You’re welcome.

4 thoughts on “Charity

      1. I read this and started to get frustrated by where you were going with rationality, thinking that rationality shouldn’t be able to lead you to unpleasant conclusions. But then of course I stopped myself, because that’s not the way rationality works: if you have a good argument, then whether it agrees with my intuitive notions of the way the world is supposed to work or not is irrelevant. I wasn’t sufficiently motivated to figure out whether I could refute your argument or not, but if I can’t do so, then I have to accept it as correct.

        A few years ago, Sam Harris posted an article called “The fireplace delusion” on his blog at, with the aim of doing basically the same thing as you just did: presenting a rational argument for a position that he expected his readers wouldn’t like. I appreciated his effort, but since I don’t use fireplaces anyway, I had no vested interest in this debate.


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