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Philanthropy's Function: A Neo-Classical Reconsideration

Rob Atkinson Jr.

Florida State University - College of Law

September 8, 2011

FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 538

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 demand 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.

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Date posted: September 9, 2011  

Suggested Citation

Atkinson, Rob, Philanthropy's Function: A Neo-Classical Reconsideration (September 8, 2011). FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 538. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1924434 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1924434

Contact Information

Rob E. Atkinson Jr. (Contact Author)
Florida State University - College of Law ( email )
425 W. Jefferson Street
Tallahassee, FL 32306
United States
850-644-4503 (Phone)

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