Philanthropy for Philosophy: Fleeting Fad or Fertile Future?

“Are we on the cusp of a philosophy giving golden age?”

That’s a question asked in a recent article at Inside Philanthropy. Noting two recent large gifts to philosophy departments ($75 million to Johns Hopkins University and $25 million to UCLA)  Mike Scutari writes that they add to the existing evidence that

Donors remain steadfast in their support for the liberal arts. What’s more, corroborating evidence suggests that these donors increasingly see themselves as a kind of philanthropic bulwark against a gathering storm of technology-driven forces sweeping modern society… Both sets of gifts come during a precarious time in history in which higher ed donors find themselves concerned with nothing less than the humanity (for lack of a better term) of the body politic.

Concerns about social media, the future of civil discourse, robotics, artificial intelligence, and other technologies appear to be spurring donations to the humanities.

Scutari writes:

The larger philanthropic climate is a lot different than it was even five years ago. Civic-minded donors—like a lot of other people—are increasingly fretting about a technology-driven, socially balkanized, and, dare I say it, dystopian future. Philosophy’s role in helping humanity form “a better society,” as [UCLA’s Seana] Shiffrin put it, is appealing to these kinds of donors… At the same time, research indicates the STEM gold rush may start to lose steam, at least in those parts of the country where the supply of skills outpaces demand. 

An additional “encouraging” factor in possible increased philosophy giving may be that many of those in a position to be especially giving. “As [JHU donor Bill] Miller himself noted, very rich people like Carl Icahn, Leon Black, Peter Thiel and Reid Hoffman once studied philosophy. Miller said it would be “great” if they followed his lead by giving money to this timeless field.”


You can read the whole article here.

As I noted in a previous post about the UCLA gift, there has been quite a bit of philosophy-related philanthropy over the past few years, in addition to two already mentioned, including:

If you know of other donations since, say, 2014, that belong on this list, please mention them in the comments. Also welcome are thoughts on experiences you’ve had soliciting donations for philosophy-related projects, and especially on what motivates donors.

Owl dollar art by Mark Wagner

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