Ask a Rutgers Philosopher: Nine Thoughts on Holiday Gift-Giving


Newswise — New Brunswick, N.J. (Dec. 18, 2018) – What’s the best way to give gifts this holiday season? Should you do it anonymously? Does your motivation matter?

If these sound like philosophical questions, don’t fear. Larry Temkin, Distinguished Professor in Rutgers University–New Brunswick’s philosophy department in the School of Arts and Sciences and an expert on ethics, draws on many centuries of philosophical thought on gift-giving to suggest nine points worth thinking about this holiday season.

A few examples are below. You can find the full list here, along with a 58-second video of the crucial points.

Repay debts of gratitude  The great British utilitarian philosopher Henry Sidgwick noted that nearly all people and cultures recognize the need to repay debts of gratitude. Gift-giving has arisen in part to reflect this universal value. So people often give gifts to show their gratitude for kindnesses or benefits they’ve received from others.

Give to worthy causes – But they must be worthy During the holidays we often give to worthy causes. Philosophers and others have long applauded the intensions of such gifts – especially when they actually make a difference. However, according to the philosophical movement called Effective Altruism, giving to an ineffective charity can be just as wrong, or even worse, than not giving to charity at all.

Be a thoughtful gift-giver A thoughtful gift-giver makes a serious effort to give a gift the recipient would actually use, enjoy, or benefit from. Too often, we get caught up in the performance of giving. We say “It’s the thought that counts” – but too often, gift giving is thoughtless. When we merely go through the motions because we’re expected to, the value of gift-giving is largely lost.

Give anonymously Many believe anonymous gifts are the most praiseworthy. The giver can’t get something in return if they hide their identity.

Show appreciation But when given as expressions of love or friendship, non-anonymous gifts are valued precisely because they express an appreciation for the other person. Such gifts can be a way of creating, building or buttressing a relationship that one values. In many societies, gift-giving is hugely important to preserving the social fabric, improving the general welfare, and building trust.

 

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Broadcast interviews: Rutgers University–New Brunswick has broadcast-quality TV and radio studios available for remote live or taped interviews with Rutgers experts. For more information, contact Neal Buccino neal.buccino@echo.rutgers.edu

 

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