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Towards Social Generativity: Rethinking the relationship between Generosity and Human Flourishing

Sat, August 12, 4:30 to 5:30pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 520A


Considerable research in the social sciences establishes generosity as a vital ingredient for human well-being. Yet generosity is not always and necessarily conducive to human flourishing. Generous behavior can stem from pathological motivations; its effects on recipients may not always be genuinely beneficial; and it can be rendered fragile in the context of a consumer society. In this paper, we propose the concept of social generativity, which we argue offers important considerations that can overcome these pitfalls and better harness the potential of generosity to contribute to human flourishing: First, it implies a type of generosity that is rooted in desire and attraction, rather than a moralistic self-abnegation that characterizes certain modes of altruism. Second, it is a model of generosity that is empowering rather than dominating. Third, it implies a long-term, intergenerational horizon, which is future-minded and rooted in an awareness of tradition. Finally, it is a model of generosity that is not self-determined, but needs to be publicly accountable to communities that recognize its contributions as exemplary. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of social generativity for organizations that are driven by generosity, particularly in the fields of philanthropy and development.


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