Title

Selfless Giving: Charity as an Ontological Reality

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2010

Abstract

Charity is an exceedingly fascinating institution, one whose complexities are rarely discussed with the appropriate rigor. There is a certain advantage to be gained by engaging in charitable actions, a certain self-satisfaction that accompanies altruism. This reflexivity, this economy of charity, is rather counterintuitive, as charity is traditionally conceived of as our flagship of generosity. It is easy to write off the self-interestedness of charity as a product of greed or egocentrism, but such rationalization is too superficial. It can be argued that charity loses its unidirectionality and collapses into exchange before it even occurs. In fact, charity is compromised on the level of language. In Martin Heidegger?s Being and Time, language, or as Heidegger puts it, discourse, is how we as humans constitute our Being. Through discourse, one receives, one takes, an understanding of one?s Being while simultaneously giving, that is to say, revealing, Being-with, or existential participation in a community. As soon as we speak, we initiate a giving that is at the same time a taking. This paradox can be called an economy of metaphysical violence, a phrase coined by Jacques Derrida. Language is, by nature, equiprimordially appropriative and donative. It takes other people and delivers them to the speaker and it gives meaning to what is otherwise meaningless. These dual functions of language serve as the foundation of human community, and, if charity arises out of community, the paradox found in the operation of language undoes the institution of charity.

Advisor

Malek Moazzam-Doulat

Department

religious_studies

Support

Ford Research Endowment

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