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Saturday, October 9, 2004 - 7:24amSanction this postReply
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Great article, Joseph — and written in terms that even the most altruistic and philosophically naive person person can understand.

If moral purity can be attained by self-sacrifice then how can the recipients of the beneficence also become moral?  Answer: They can't. They are condemned by their very 'benefactors'. 

Sam


Post 1

Saturday, October 9, 2004 - 2:18pmSanction this postReply
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Sam,

The only actual benefactors of such a system of morality is actually the criminal who is content to take and not persue any form of moral life.  With everyone diving over one another to get a chance to help them, the criminal lives like a king.

~E.


Post 2

Saturday, October 9, 2004 - 7:16amSanction this postReply
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I've always considered the point of altruism to be "not me".

While Rowland's article is a good analysis of one aspect of the irrationality of altruism, his conclusion is based on a non-altruist perspective. From the altruist's perspective the altruist *does* have a point -- the destruction of the self.

Post 3

Saturday, October 9, 2004 - 7:28amSanction this postReply
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I have a question pertaining to this, one which is implied by quite a bit of Rand's criticism of altruism as a goal:

Do ethical egoists (this term defined rationally) tend, on a regular basis, to defer to ethical altruists?

If so, then our deference is precisely what makes altruism seem to be a better way to stuff one's shirt.


Post 4

Saturday, October 9, 2004 - 2:28pmSanction this postReply
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Rick,

But is the destruction of self a goal?  a goal is something you do because there is a point to it.  A purpose to achieveing this goal. 

What purpose does the destruction of self serve? 
How does the destruction of self make you moral?

Joe's point, I think, is that Altruism as an ethical system has no way to answer the question of "what should I do? and why?".  If it tells you to destroy the self then it should also be able to answer the two above questions.

what do you think?

~Eric.


Post 5

Saturday, October 9, 2004 - 3:37pmSanction this postReply
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Good article Joe, but I'm not sure I entirely agree.

Maybe I just spend too much time with them, but I have to say that in my experience, many altruists (as opposed to altruism) do have a goal, which is to help others who are less fortunate. While Objectivists know that altruism ultimately doesn't achieve any kind of benevolent result, many do believe themselves to have a benevolent aim.

MH


Post 6

Saturday, October 9, 2004 - 4:28pmSanction this postReply
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Eric is right.  The "Why" is the elusive part, which shapes the "How should I act".  If you don't have a "why", you can't choose between your goals.

MH says that altruists do have a goal, and that's to help the less fortunate.  I don't like the phrase "less fortunate", because it implies those who are successful at living are just lucky.  But the real problem with this goal is that it's not an ultimate goal.  There's still no reason behind it.

If someone says "I'm going to college", you could legitimately ask "why?".  They might say to get their degree, in which case you'll say "why?".  They'd then say to have their pick of jobs, to which you'd say "why?".  They'd then say so they can make money, and you'd say "why?".

The point is that the degree is not the purpose in one's life...it's the means to something else.  Same with a job.  Same with money.  A rational egoist could claim their own happiness is their goal, giving meaning to all of these things, and setting their priority for him.

But what about an altruist.  "I want to help people."  Why?  Uh...because it's the right thing to do.  Why?  Uh...because helping people is good.  That's circular.

"I want to help people."  Why?  So they'll be better off.  Why?  So the world will be a better place.  Better for whom?  The recipients of my help.  Why does that matter to you?  Cause I'm benevolent!  Isn't that just saying you think you're doing a good thing and if so, why is it good?

"I want to help people."  Why?  Because they need it.  So?  It's my duty.  Why?

Here's an example of what I mean by pointless.  Dig a ditch.  Then fill it back in.  Then dig it again.  The fill it again.  Repeat forever.  It's making the term "pointless" meaningless if you attribute the goal of alternatively digging and filling to this action.  It doesn't accomplish anything.  What if you were just digging a ditch without any reason or motivation.  Does the fact that something happened (i.e., a ditch was created) give it a point?  No.  Saying that you intended to dig a ditch doesn't confer upon it the status of having a point.  If you scoop up the dirt from the hole and throw it outside, does it have a point?  You can stretch and say the point is to dig the hole.  But if the greater goal is pointless, only by ignoring the context can you say the intermediate steps have a point.

And that's altruism for you.  There's a thousand ways to pursue it, but there's no point to it at all.  Or to put it one more way, how can you answer the question of which of these variants of altruism is better?  How do you say that helping the poor is better than helping the rich, or instance.  If you knew what the ultimate goal of altruism was, you could say that one doesn't achieve it.  But since there's no actual point, you can't.


Post 7

Saturday, October 9, 2004 - 4:41pmSanction this postReply
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Joe,

Point taken regarding the "less fortunate" phrase. 
But what about an altruist.  "I want to help people."  Why?  Uh...because it's the right thing to do.  Why?  Uh...because helping people is good.  That's circular.

Ok. How about "I want to help people" Why? "Because I want to live in a benevolent society where people help each other" Why? "Because that way everyone, myself and my family included, will be better off"

(Edited by Matthew Humphreys on 10/09, 4:43pm)


Post 8

Saturday, October 9, 2004 - 4:53pmSanction this postReply
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Mathew: "Why? "Because I want to live in a benevolent society where people help each other" Why? "Because that way everyone, myself and my family included, will be better off""

Then why not short-cut this circuit and work directly to make yourself and your family better off (better off in order to ...) and to enjoy the fruits thereof, and in your spare time (when you're not pursuing your passions) and with your spare dosh (should there be any) you can then be as benevolent as you're able to afford.

Tibor makes the point that even airlines recognise the immorality of altruism (the immoral being the impractical) since they always advise that when oxygen masks fall from the roof you should put your own on first before you try and  help others; the point being that no matter how much you love the person sitting next to you you're no use to either them or to yourself if you're sucking vacuum too.

Which leads to a further point made by PJ O'Rourke, which is that the best way to help the poor is to make sure that you're not one of them. :-)


Post 9

Saturday, October 9, 2004 - 6:17pmSanction this postReply
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Peter is exactly right.  There are those who try to justify altruism by saying it's indirectly in your self-interest.  So the question is, why is it morally acceptable to indirectly benefit yourself, but not directly?

Post 10

Saturday, October 9, 2004 - 6:39pmSanction this postReply
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Objectivist promote benevolence as a value or a virtue (true?) and righteously denounce Altruism as evil. What puzzles me is what makes helping an old lady cross the street, for example, be a benevolent act and not an altruist act. In other words how does an Objectivist go in his daily life in dealing with others that is different from the acts of a religious person for example; don't they end up doing the same thing (both help a lady cross the street) but the Objectivist label his action as benevolent while the other considers it a duty?



Post 11

Saturday, October 9, 2004 - 6:57pmSanction this postReply
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Hi Majhoul,

Let me answer your question by offering an amusing example. A few years ago on the way to a talk at Auckland University given by Roger Kerr, the head of the Business Roundtable (a gentleman whom snarling leftists routinely describe as a 'cold-hearted fascist' etc.), an old woman collapsed while crossing the road at a traffic island while surrounded by about a dozen people.

Both I and the Objectivist friend with me immediately looked at our watches and thought that we were running late anyway, but we knew what we were likely to hear at the talk and so leant down to pick her up and carry her off to the campus doctor.  Neither of us stopped to discuss it, the response was obvious. By contrast, the snarling leftists with whom we were surrounded (many of whom were on the way to denounce Roger Kerr once again as a cold-hearted fascist) to a man (and a womyn) they all looked the other way and hurried off.

As my friend said to me afterwards, it reminded him of the scene in which Peter Keating (who had described Howard Roark as a man who would walk over corpses to get what he wants) effectively kills Lucius Heyer in order to get what he wants.

I'll let Joe answer you more directly - after all, it is his thread. :-)


Post 12

Saturday, October 9, 2004 - 8:36pmSanction this postReply
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This is a very interesting thread. Altruism versus benevolence. If one does not distinguish betweenthe two, there is no benevolence, because Rand identifies altruism as the driving force behind the culture of evil. That is why many new Objectivists get freaked out by the fringe Objectivists who believe that Objectivism is a philosophy which provides a moral basis for being an asshole (it doesn't).

Let's use an example of a drowning man (a stranger, let's say). If you judge it to be in your best interest, you morally let him drown, because you have absolutely ~no~ moral duty to help anyone but yourself. If it is not a threat to life and limb, and you are possessed of a benevolent spirit, you help him short of jumping in the freezing lake yourself. If you are an altruist, the only moral choice is to jump in the freezing lake, and ideally, 'heroically' die while saving the stranger.

SOLO makes much of how important benevolence is to sense of life. Either benevolence is a virtue (moral issue) or not. Helping a drowing man you never met doesn't help you at all, may get your clothes wet, and wastes your time. If there is not ~some~ selfish rationale for doing it, then it is immoral to do so. I understand Matthew on this one--appreciating your own life means you should understand how precious each man's life should be to him. Fostering assistance between men is nice--its nice to think that if the shoe was on the other foot, someone would throw you a rope. But making it a moral imperative is the first step down the road of morally requiring someone to sacrifice something of their own--anything, whether it be a moment of their time, a thought, a telephone call--to others, unearned, and so must to rejected as immoral. Benevolence is immoral. Good thing our forebears were not Objectivists, because the species never would have survived.

Ok, so many of you will know that the above is me being sarcastic.


(Edited by Scott DeSalvo on 10/09, 8:53pm)


Post 13

Saturday, October 9, 2004 - 8:41pmSanction this postReply
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If anyone is intersted in this topic, take a look at David Kelley's "Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence" which treats all of this in detail and does a nice job distinguishing benevolence and altruism (which Rand said were two totally difference things).

Post 14

Saturday, October 9, 2004 - 11:46pmSanction this postReply
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Peter, you wrote: "Australia just voted on the issue and the result was an overwhelming endorsement for Howard and the continuing War on Terror."

I didn't know that, and I'm delighted to hear it.

Barbara

Post 15

Sunday, October 10, 2004 - 2:39amSanction this postReply
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Peter, Joe, Scott,

Thanks for the responses. Just to clarify, the points I made above are the sort of arguments I've heard from altruist friends. What I'm trying to get at is that to them, there is a justification to their moral views, it isn't just a pointless circle. I of course agree with the Objectivist view.

Peter, interesting example you gave us. Just out of interest, what would you have done if you and your friend hadn't known "what [you] were likely to hear at the talk"? ;-)

MH


Post 16

Sunday, October 10, 2004 - 4:24amSanction this postReply
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>>But what about an altruist.  "I want to help people."  Why?  Uh...because it's >>the right thing to do.  Why?  Uh...because helping people is good.  That's >>circular.

But what about an objectivist. "I want to help myself." Why? Uh...because it's the right thing to do. Why? Uh...because helping myself is good. That's circular.



Post 17

Sunday, October 10, 2004 - 4:34amSanction this postReply
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OK - so what if the drowning man is your rival at work and your rival in love.
If you let him drown - you get the promotion and you get the girl.
You would still save him (I hope) - why?


Post 18

Monday, October 11, 2004 - 8:47amSanction this postReply
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Matthew, I heard another reasoning from an Altruist that had me stumped all weekend and I am curious to hear what some other [more expereience than myself] objectivists would have to say. However, when asked what one would gain from helping others and showing the degrading qualities of man kind i was told "Compassion and understanding towards others." This is an interesting subject for myself. Can understanding others and feeling compassion for them, if they want to help themselves, give your life more value?

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Post 19

Monday, October 11, 2004 - 1:58pmSanction this postReply
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Peter; “…Roger Kerr, the head of the Business Roundtable (a gentleman whom snarling leftists routinely describe as a 'cold-hearted fascist' etc.”

Given recent events, I’d say the “cold’-hearted” appellation is way off-base. We now know that under that flinty exterior throbs the, er, heart of a love-struck adolescent.

But shame on his object of affection. As one wag put it: she enters a market where she attracts the bids of two potential investors; but instead of making a rational choice among the options on offer, she appeals to a regulator to intervene and protect her position.


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