Money for Life Purpose

In the book Global Values 101, which happens to be edited by someone I really like, there is an interview by bioethicist Peter Singer. Though sometimes I think Singer is crazy, his interview discusses his decision to give 20% of his yearly financial gain away to charity. He has plans to move it to 30% very soon. We clearly don’t bat our eyes at 10%, or if we do we try not to let our neighbors see the batting, but what about 20 or 30?

I was interested in one his reasons which seems mostly self-serving. He said that it gives him a feeling of purpose in his life that he can’t get from anything else. Making decisions, knowing that he is choosing to live well below what he earns, makes him feel good about himself and his place in the world. Do you think this could be true? Why would it be? Do you think he just needs to find God and His purpose for his life?

I do believe that living on less, especially when you’re sharing the extra with those in need, gives us purpose but why is that? Is this a universal feeling or just something that people from rich, developed countries can feel?

I have goals to live my life this way but I’m not always sure why I want to.


  1. MikeInWeHo says:

    Does he specify which charities will receive his double tithe?

    I think I get his point, although I don’t see myself doing something similar anytime soon. It does feel really good to help other people. Why that is, I’m not sure.

  2. It’s pretty well known that giving or providing service for other people gives a person warm feelings and makes them happier. A naturalistic explanation might be that these warm feelings developed as a biological response to maintaining a good social order.

    Singer, and apparently other people, might interpret these warm feelings as a sense of purpose. A sense of one’s place in a society. I think that makes sense.

    Of course, these warm feelings and sense of purpose might also just be a spiritual manifestation that what we are doing is good.

    It’s interesting to hear Singer talk about the good feelings he has as one of his reasons for charity. His philosophy, I think, stands strongly on its own to support giving. I’m happy he’s not totally a cold-hearted, calculating utilitarian.

  3. MikeInWeHo,

    To be consistent with his philosophy, I believe he gives most of his money to animal rights and world hunger organizations.

  4. Eric Russell says:

    Actually, Peter Singer is crazy. As such, attempting to decipher his motives for anything would seem to be a fruitless effort.

  5. Mike, he didn’t say specifically, just that he researched a lot and chose charities that were doing something he approved of.

    I know part of the reason it gives me purpose is that living on less and giving money to those that need are both things I deeply believe in. Purpose then because I would be living as I believe.

    Some of what Singer says convinces me he’s a really good man. Other stuff makes me shake my head at his severity. Human I guess.

  6. John Mansfield says:

    Living on less than we earn generates a feeling of security because we believe we could get by if something should dimimish our earnings. There is also the fun of being a big shot whose wealth exceeds one’s needs so much that he can just give it away. Benefitting others positions us as benefactors above the run of humanity.

  7. Mark IV says:


    It isn’t Singer’s severity or humanness that confuses me. It is his attitude towards this sort of thing that makes me shake my head.

  8. IIRC, “compassion” means “suffering with” another, and includes a desire that another’s suffering end.

    Sounds to me like Singer has found the same value in compassion that others have from all walks of life and all cultures, no matter what their various net worths might be.

    That experience and perception is not found only in theistic belief sets. “Finding God” IMO, doesn’t have much to do with it. For those who follow that path, God will take care of the finding: That is, I think, the message embedded in the questions of Matthew 25:38-39 (When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?)

  9. Next time you see Singer tell him for a mere 25% of his income I can help him find a feeling of purpose for his life AND he’ll get to save 5%. It’s a win/win situation.

  10. To be fair, I think the graphic content of the article offends more people than the philosophical principle behind it. Singer is often unfairly criticized by his “support” of bestiality, euthanasia and infanticide. It’s not that he supports these things, he supports the idea that these things might be morally acceptable. He’s not as radical as he wants people to think.

  11. Wow Mark. Heavy petting. Maybe that’s why he advocates vegetarianism.

    I’m going to brag about my betrothed who will be ticked if he reads this but while he was in grad school living on 20K a year, he gave away almost 15% of his income and finished without debt (this is sciences not humanities, folks) He makes me believe we will not have a problem doing this, even though we’ll never be wealthy.

  12. Ronito, they should have type sites for this don’t you think? Wealthy people want to give away their money to get a sense of purpose matched with people who want to be paid to give people a sense of purpose.
    Stapley, Evans, can you two set this up?

  13. amri, I’ve been trying to set it up for years, but no one sends me their money.

  14. Buffet was a no go?

  15. amri: Do you think he just needs to find God and His purpose for his life?

    40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matt 25:40)

    Sounds to me like perhaps he has found God already (whether he fully realizes it or not).

    (I see greenfrog quoted that same passage earlier too…)

  16. Yeah, that’s a little joke I like to call Should Peter Singer find God? joke. I’ve just been seeing those Mormons billboards everywhere with the thoughtful looking Asian woman and the caption Does God have a purpose for my life?

  17. Oh, I don’t think Singer is crazy, or even a bad guy. Although I obviously think that Singer is wrong on many counts, I can’t help but feel that he truly tries to be ethically consistent. He just operates in such a different way than the rest of us that we find what he says shocking. As we should, I suppose, but I can’t help but think of Singer as oddly moral, in a twisted way. He has a very strong sense off right and wrong, and it results in this bizarre system of what morality is in a world with no belief in or concern for a higher power.

    I guess I’ll see how I really feel after I take his Practical Ethics course next semester.

  18. One thing that really bothers me is when people denigrate someone for public giving. Yes, the Bible says that those who seek recognition in this life by their giving have “received their reward” when they gain that recognition, but it does not say it is “bad” to do so. It simply encourages us to give privately without expectation of public recognition and instead hope for eternal reward – while recognizing that “inasmuch as ye have . . . unto me”.

    I think it’s really cool that Singer would contribute so generously. A good friend once told me that he pays tithing as an expression of his willingness to fulfill his duty to building the kingdom and follow the first great commandment, but he pays fast offerings as a token of his attempt to follow the second great commandment. Therefore, every time his income rises, his fast offerings also rise proportionately. I really liked that sentiment, and I see it’s non-Mormon counterpart in Singer’s decision. Personality and opinions aside, I praise him for that decision – wholeheartedly.

  19. Nothing like a misplaced apostrophe to undermine one’s sense of elitism. Yikes!

  20. amri (#11): Maybe that’s why he advocated vegetarianism.

    Because he wants some turnip lovin’?

    On the principle that we are most impressed by those who have skills that we do not, I can’t begin to tell you how impressed I am with your betrothed. By contrast, I finished law school in debt to my eyeballs. Please, do yourself a favor: Do not let him get away! And, is he available for consultations?

  21. “I was interested in one his reasons which seems mostly self-serving.”

    This sentence reminded me of an episode of Friends (I’m pathetically familiar with Friends plotlines). In season four or five, Joey says that there is no such thing as an unselfish good deed and Phoebe tries to prove him wrong (and ultimately fails, I think). Everything she did, she ending up feeling good about. I think it’s hard for any kind of charity to make one miserable – even if it entails misery, the very motivation for charity seems to be some kind of self-satisfaction that comes with it. And, aren’t we charitable, at least in part, because we believe our salvation rests upon our charity toward others? I’m not sure how that is any less self-serving than charity because it simply makes one feel good.

  22. MCQ-I just meant that, you know, you shouldn’t be eatin’ thems with whom yer sleepin’. If you know what I mean.
    Science grad school is different from law school. They give you money to be there. Not a lot, but you had to pay for all yours yes? Plus he used to do drug studies like a maniac and you can get decent money that way. Robert Rodriguez got all the money to make El Mariachi doing drug studies.

    Meg-I know a few Friends episodes myself. You don’t have to be embarrassed. It will be in syndication for eternity, it’s hard to miss.

  23. anon-for-now says:

    There was a time in our poor and struggling years when we were going well beyond that 30% in Church contributions. Most of you won’t remember such times, but there was a time when many not only paid tithing and fast offerings but ALSO ward/stake budget AND contributions to build a new meetinghouse AND a new Church cannery (that one I have never understood, then or now) AND had a kid on a mission (to one of the most expensive missions at the time and before cost equalization.)

    We survived and I am even sure there were blessings, but I also remember it as a horrific time.

    No longer having to pony up for 1/2 the cost of any building in your area–meetinghouses, seminaries, canneries, bishop’s storehouses, church farms etc., and the equalization of missionary funds seems to be a great leap forward.

  24. Gross or net? ;-)

  25. Stephanie says:

    I think anyone who makes more than $100,000 per year should give away any surplus. Seriously, no one needs all that!

    But on a slightly different note, my uncle once decided to pay 20% tithing for a year… and did it. Any thoughts on that?

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