According to Wallace, a generous person is a person that has certain attitude towards other people and a certain attitude towards his/her own things. This definition appears to imply that a generous person has two characteristics.
First, this person has a certain attitude towards the things he/she owns meaning that the person attaches a certain value to the things he/she gives to other people. The implication is that if a person does not attach a certain value to the things that he/she gives out to other people, then the person is not generous. In order to clarify this issue, Wallace gives an example of a person that gives potatoes out to other people to prevent them from spoiling (Haber 341). He claims that if a person does this simply to prevent potatoes from spoiling, then that person does not qualify to be generous. He further gives another example of a person that in the process of discarding clothes finds someone that likes those clothes. He claims that if this person gives these clothes to the person in need of them, the person does not qualify to be generous. The argument is that the person was in the process of discarding the clothes thereby he/she does not attach any value to those clothes. The implication is that a person does not qualify to be generous because he gives out things generously, but because in the process of doing so he attaches a certain value to the things he gives out. The fact is that the intention of giving something should not be to discard that it, but rather to help other people and in the process of helping those people, give them valuable things. Consequently, a person does not qualify to be generous because of giving things generously, but because of giving valuable things.
Second, a generous person has a certain attitude towards other people. The attitude according to Wallace is that of benefiting other people by making them happy, comfortable and promoting their well-being (Haber 340). This means that in the absence of the attitude that Wallace highlights the person will not be considered to be generous. As a result, in order for a person to be considered generous, that person should portray the attitude that Wallace highlights. Otherwise, the person’s act of generosity will not be considered to be generous despite fulfilling the first characteristic. This attitude motivates a person to be concerned about the well-being of other people (Haber 341).
Measuring the value of generosity
With regard to measuring the value of generosity, Wallace suggests that one needs to consider the monetary value of what he/she gives out to other people. For a person to be considered generous, he claims that one needs to give more than what one is supposed to give under normal circumstance. For customary giving, Wallace claims that this giving can only qualify to be generous if it goes beyond direct concern for the well-being of other people (Herzog and Price 4). The implication is that it should exceed expectations. Consequently, despite concern for giving, generosity should be measured in terms of what one loses as he/she gives. If one does not lose something significant, then the giving does not qualify to be generous. On the contrary, if one loses something significant meaning that he/she loses more than expected, then that act can be considered to be generous (Haber 342). The idea is that generosity should be measured in terms of the value of what one loses and the value of what one loses should be measured in monetary terms.
For the actions that cannot be measured in monetary terms, Wallace claims that generosity can be measured in terms of evaluating the failings of other people as well as merits. This is all about making judgments based on what one can see or evaluate. Merits in this case involve looking at what other people are able to do whereas failing involves looking at what those people are not able to do. For efficiency, one should try as much as possible to see the positive side of what other people do rather than to see the negative side of their actions (Haber 344). This helps a person to measure generosity by looking at aspects that might be overlooked. In effect, it discourages one from finding faults in other people thereby promote generous acts. By so doing, it helps one to measure the value of generosity. It also helps one to act generously.
Relationship between generosity and altruism
Before looking at the relationship between altruism and generosity, it would be important to look at two aspects. First, it would be important to look at the definition of the two terms. Second, it would be important to look at the manner in which Wallace uses these terms in his book.
Starting with definition, the oxford dictionary defines altruism as a selfless and disinterested concern for the well-being of other people (Altruism n. pag.). As a result, an altruistic person ought to show both selfless and disinterested concern towards other people. Selfless concern in this case means that as the person shows concern towards other people the person does not show concern for himself/herself. Disinterested concern, on the other hand, means that the person is not influenced by personal advantage as he/she shows concern to other people. The same dictionary defines generosity as an act of being ready to give more than one is expected to give (Generosity n. pag.). This means that a generous person goes beyond what is expected of him/her under normal circumstance.
Looking at the definition of the two terms, it appears that the two terms focus their attention on the well-being of other people. It also appears in the process of focusing ones attention on the well-being of other people one goes beyond the ordinary. With regard to generosity, one gives more than what he/she is expected to give under normal circumstance. For altruism, one shows more concern to other people than to himself/herself. Based on this fact, the two concepts are related to one another because of the extra effort that generous and altruistic people put in their actions for the well-being of other people. This basically means that even if in altruism one does not lose something physical, one loses something valuable as he/she strives to show concern for other people. More importantly, one is not influenced by personal gains, but the gains of other people.
Although Wallace does not address altruism directly, he in a way manages to show its relationship with generosity in different instances. First, while highlighting the attitude that a generous person should have towards other people, he claims that a generous person is generally concerned about the good of other people. He further claims that an act full of generosity might be done simply to help or please someone without necessarily expecting anything beyond helping or pleasing that person. Looking at the definition of altruism, it is clear that an altruistic person is usually concerned about the well-being of other people without necessarily being concerned about personal well-being (Sarkar and Pfeifer 9). This means that as it is the case with generosity that a generous person gives things out without expecting something out of that act, an altruistic person shows concern for other people without expecting anything from those people. In both instances, the focus is on helping other people without expecting anything from them or in return.
Second, while addressing the basic characteristics of a generous person, Wallace claims that a generous person does not give things out as a way of discarding them. He also claims that a generous person does give things that he/she does not attach value to. The implication is that one does not become a generous person because of giving invaluable things generously. Instead, a person is said to be generous if he/she gives valuable things to other people. In the process of making this point, Wallace gives an impression that a generous person does not give because he/she wants to discard invaluable things, but because he/she wants to help other people. This impression highlights some attributes of altruism in the sense that it emphasizes the motive of giving, which in this case is that of helping other people. Under altruism one does not show concern for other people because of personal gain, but because one wants to help other people (Sarkar and Pfeifer 9). In both instances, the motive is not self-centered, but it is centered on the benefit of other people. For these reasons, both generosity and altruism are related to one another
“Altruism.” Oxford dictionaries. 2016. N. pag. Oxford dictionaries. Web. 28 July, 2016.
“Generosity.” Oxford dictionaries. 2016. N. pag. Oxford dictionaries. Web. 28 July, 2016.
Haber, Joram. Doing and Being: Selected Readings in Moral Philosophy. New York: Macmillan Pub. Co, 1993. Print.
Herzog, Patricia and Price Heather. American Generosity: Who Gives and Why. New York: Oxford university Press, 2016. Print.
Sarkar, Sahotra and Pfeifer Jessica. The philosophy of science. New York: Psychology Press, 2006. Print.