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The Conflicted Lottery Winners: Self-interested or Sympathetic?

April 2, 2011

I came across an article on entitled Should lottery winner share with colleagues? by Jason Marsh, and I immediately began thinking about the values of many of the political philosophers we have read in the course especially Hobbes and Rousseau. The title seems to provoke the ideals of selfishness and pity in regards to sharing money. Basically, the opinion article comments on a group of New York state employees claiming their lottery jackpot on Thursday. The dilemma, though, is that some of the people who usually participate in the pool did not this time around. They are now left to decide whether or not to share the winnings with their “normal” pool of people even though those people did not contribute money for the winning ticket.

This article seems to examine human psychology and the nature of people. The author, Marsh, believes that by splitting up the money among the seven coworkers, there will be a greater chance of present and future happiness. “Albany Seven, take note: Grateful people are happier, enjoy better health and have stronger relationships.” He advocates for a more selfless nature that focuses on the importance of giving.

“Altruism activates the same regions of the brain that light up when we have sex, eat chocolate or indulge in other pleasures, according to scientists at the National Institutes of Health.”

With past lottery winners, it has often been shown that by winning the lottery, they become more unhappy over the years. Money ultimately creates problems. From Marsh’s point of view, money should not be an indicator of happiness. It is much more common for people to be happy through altruistic actions than through more money. Due to this, he advocates for them to split up the money among the normal pool because even if there is some conscientious consideration of doing so, they should carry out this action. In the long run, everyone will be happier.

Applying the views of Hobbes to the argument, would he approve of the lottery winners sharing the money with the others? I believe that Hobbes would not want them to share the money. He writes in Leviathan, “To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequent that nothing can be unjust” (159). It is the nature of society that should put man against each other. Hobbes advocated for self-interest and self-preservation, too. It seems as though Hobbes’s ideal person is someone who looks out for his own best interests, not others, and is relatively competitive. He also advocates, however, for equality amongst everyone when he writes “no man require to reserve to himself any right, which he is not cent should be reserve to every one of the rest” (169). If everyone has a right to everything, how would he view sharing the lottery money? Would that imply that he is in favor of sharing in a certain sense?

Rousseau, on the other hand, would approach this situation much differently. Rousseau believes that man in the state of nature needs to balance self-preservation and pity, which is the basis of the predicament with the coworkers who won the lottery. Either they are self-interested and will not share the money with their fellow coworkers, or they feel pity and sympathize with the situation. “Instead of the sublime maxim of reasoned justice, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ pity inspires all men with another maxim of natural goodness, much less perfect but perhaps more useful than the preceding one: ‘Do what is good for you with as little harm as possible to others’” (392). It is vital for individuals to have a sense of balance in the state of nature according to Rousseau; however, does this balance imply that the lottery winners have an obligation to give their money to the coworkers? I believe that Rousseau would think so. Furthermore, Rousseau might look into the reasons driving the desires to give the money to the coworkers. He develops an argument that would question whether or not their act of giving is selfless or selfish. Rousseau claims that people developed self-esteem and “egocentrism” over time, and this state of nature is the best for man. That being said, I feel as though Rousseau would approve of the act of altruism in order for the people to feel happier about themselves.

After reading this article and analyzing its relationship to Hobbes and Rousseau, one of my main questions is still whether or not the lottery winners should share the money with the others according to my own views, Hobbes’s views, and Rousseau’s views. Do the coworkers have an obligation (conscience, moral, etc.) to share the money, or is this conflicting with their own self-interest?  Furthermore, by donating the money to the other coworkers are they do so for their own selfish reasons?

Works Cited

Hobbes, Thomas. “Leviathan.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzshe. Ed. David Wooton. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 2008. Print.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. “Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzshe. Ed. David Wooton. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 2008. Print.

  1. alex permalink
    April 3, 2011 2:42 AM

    You can’t take money with you. I say, share it.

  2. Emily Slaga permalink
    April 3, 2011 3:44 PM

    I was just talking with my family about this yesterday! We debated it, and I decided that the winners shouldn’t feel obligated to split the money equally, because after all, they didn’t buy the ticket. But they have been playing for so long together and it was just random that the time they didn’t play, their group won. Therefore, I think they should be a little generous and give the coworkers who didn’t win at least 1 million dollars. That way, they get something, but they don’t get a huge portion since they didn’t play. I think this advice has a little Hobbes in it, because you can be selfish, not splitting it evenly, as well as Rousseau-like aspects. We want to be well liked by people, and in this case, keeping all the money to themselves might make their self image among others very ugly. So to preserve that, so people love them and they can retain pride, they might give some away. If they happen to give away a little, it will also show that not everyone is as cut throat as Hobbes believes we are. That’s reassuring to me that there’s nice, at least seemingly selfless people out there!

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