Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Department 1



Elsewhere I have argued that, historically, the public and private funding of health care has been fueled primarily by four mixed motives, namely, the redemptive, the utilitarian, the prudential, and the charitable motives. In this paper, I further explore what I call the unifying moral force of the philanthropic imperative. The philanthropic imperative interfaces these four motives by potentially appealing to the consciences of wealthier Northern countries to provide medical resources to the sick and hurting in the typically poorer South. This, as a matter of our collective duty to others consistent with the teachings of Immanuel Kant, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Peter Singer, among others.

Essentially, the philanthropic imperative states that we have a duty to reduce sickness and suffering and promote, as generously as possible, the health of our fellow human beings. The philanthropic imperative thus invites individuals and governments to ponder the related questions: How ought we proceed to effectively and sustainably relieve the suffering of others? And why ought we give away valuable medical resources to the hurting in foreign countries, resources that we may eventually need for the welfare of our own citizens at some future date?

I conclude by confronting the twin objections from futility and from limited medical resources. At bottom, I indicate how the philanthropic imperative both transcends and overrides these objections and, in so doing, potentially strengthens the funding of both national and transnational public health care programs. Finally, the philanthropic imperative is shown to complement the environmental and public health goals of The Earth Charter.



Required Publisher's Statement

The full book can be purchased on the publisher's website:

Included in

Philosophy Commons