Reading 01

Trying to rank the ethics of people without intimate knowledge of their actions seems to be a troubling task, especially when for the most part our only information about them relevant to the readings is the sum of their charitable givings.

The ability to give a large percentage of your wealth to others is possessed only by the extremely wealthy. Almost everyone (even in rich, developed nations) is incapable of giving up 50% of their income to philanthropic endeavors. And furthermore, for the Jobs/Zuckerberg/Gates of the world, giving up 50% of their wealth (the minimum for The Giving Pledge) has no material impact on the quality of their lives.

Additionally, it’s tough to judge the morality of someone based on how successful their charitable givings are. The Gates article spends quite a bit of time criticizing the The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for it’s choices. Specifically, their public education work has been viewed harshly. While it is completely acceptable to push for more efficient and successful philanthropic spending to maximize the good done in the world, it’s hardly a moral flaw to make a poorly thought out charitable gift when the intention was noble.

We can however look at their decisions at the highest level. While the impact of their decisions are greater, they still face choices that we all have to face at much smaller scales.

Jobs, for instance, is well known for his struggles to admit the paternity of his daughter (to his credit he later remedied this situation and became far more active in her life). This is a far more realistic scenario for many American males (i.e. whether to be active in the role of your child from an unwanted pregnancy). It’s tough to defend Jobs in this case, even as he righted his wrong. This example is a far more realistic ethical dilemma that Jobs faced.

Stallman is also an interesting figure. The best way to describe him as a crusader for his moral view. If we take the word morality as “A particular system of values and principles of conduct” ( than it’s fair to call Stallman the most moral person in our list. He holds certain principles dear and acts on them without sway. However, his moral code restricts him from using products from just about every major tech company around today. His reason for not using Gmail is laughable, “Gmail was planned from the start as a massive surveillance system, to make psychological profiles not only of Gmail users but of everyone who sends mail to Gmail users”. I find his moral compass admirable but far too extreme. He apparently is only able to see the world in black or white.

I don’t know if I can say if any one of the listed men are most ethical. However, my main concern is that we are using philanthropy to decide whether they are moral people.

Looking at who has had the more powerful impact on the world is a far different matter. Here we can more easily consider their philanthropic endeavors, but also we must take into account their business careers. Through Microsoft, Bill gates made the personal computer mainstream. And through his foundation, Gates has donated billions of dollars to numerous worthy causes, particularly in their work increasing immunization in poor countries. To me as an individual he has had probably the greatest positive impact on the world.

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