The Intellectual Crisis in Philanthropy

SOCIETY 51.1 (2014): 87-96

Abstract:  Defenders of modern philanthropic freedom often defend donor intent and celebrate voluntary action. Nevertheless, donor intent and voluntarism have often undermined the conditions of constitutional freedom. This paper proposes that philanthropy currently suffers an intellectual crisis very much like the intellectual crisis in public administration diagnosed by Vincent Ostrom. The Common Core State Standards initiative is a case study of the problems of epistemic drift in philanthropy and raises questions about whether merely defending donor intent and voluntary action for their own sake is sufficient. To escape philanthropy’s current intellectual crisis requires a clearer consideration of the epistemic choices that shape donor intent and voluntary action.