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Post 0

Saturday, January 12 - 9:46amSanction this postReply
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But what about friendship, affection and love? Are these altruistic values -- values where the interests of others outweigh your own interests? Ayn Rand says no to that:
The practical implementation of friendship, affection and love consists of incorporating the welfare (the rational welfare) of the person involved into one’s own hierarchy of values, then acting accordingly.
http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/love.html

Recap:
Merely acting for the interests of others is not a hallmark feature of altruism (it's not proof of altruism), it depends upon whether their interests are incorporated into your hierarchy of values or whether they supercede (or dominate) your hierarchy of values. As Rand said, a man spending his fortunes to save a dying wife is not acting altruistically. If you are more concerned with their interests than your own interests, then you are an altruist. If not, you are a non-altruist (e.g., for example, an egoist).

Ed




Post 1

Sunday, January 13 - 7:05amSanction this postReply
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Thinking aloud.

Consider an example of a woman, who has a husband, children, and works part-time. Assume she estimates that in recent months 51% of her waking time or efforts are for her own interests, and 49% for the interests of others -- her husband, children, and employer. The 51% makes her interests primary. She seems to qualify as an egoist on your terms.

Then suppose her circumstances change. An elderly parent becomes more dependent on her, so she starts devoting more of her waking hours tending to said parent and reduces her part-time job hours. She then estimates that only 40% of her waking time or efforts are for her own interests. Thus 60% is for the interests of others. By one reckoning, she has become an altruist. You might insist she could still an egoist by dividing that 60% among other individuals, e.g. 20% to her husband, 20% to her children, 10% to her parent, 10% to her employer. If so, her 40% to herself remains "primary" in the sense the second highest number is 20%. Of course, we could imagine her circumstances changing again to the point where her own interests become secondary to somebody else's.

Maybe you will respond that all these details don't matter. However her efforts are allocated, they are "her interests" because she chose them. She did not compromise the authority of her own mind in deciding what to do. However, that in my opinion is a slippery slope, and may slide into psychological egoism.

You might go further. She might be an independent thinker (even an Objectivist). On the other hand, she might not be an independent thinker, and she acts according to what she believes is her duty as prescribed by some other authority, e.g. a religion. She may have nearly the same concrete circumstances -- before adding the dependent parent and you may consider her to be an altruist -- and might actually say that much less than 51% of waking time or efforts are for her own interests.

(Edited by Merlin Jetton on 1/14, 3:43am)




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Post 2

Sunday, January 13 - 10:27amSanction this postReply
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Merlin,
However her efforts are allocated, they are "her interests" because she chose them.
I'd say that the reason she chose them to be her interests is the key. Why did Sister Teresa chose her life? Because she believed that the well-being of those she served mattered more than her well-being. She had accepted a moral belief that compelled her to make sacrifices. I have accepted a moral belief that the well-being of others does not arise higher than my well-being. I think that this is the way to answer the question of whether an act, or a chosen "interest" is altruistic or not. What is the moral belief behind the choice of the interest, or the act?
---------------

When you talked about the percentage of interests in your example:
Consider an example of a woman, who has a husband, children, and works part-time. Assume she estimates that in recent months 51% of her waking time or efforts are for her own interests, and 49% for the interests of others -- her husband, children, and employer. The 51% makes her interests primary. She seems to qualify as an egoist on your terms.
I'd say this woman was an altruist because she appears to have accepted, and acted upon, the belief that she has a moral obligation to sacrifice some part of her life for others. If this is the case, the particular percentages are more an accident of her schedule, than a determiner of whether or not she is an altruist. Now, if she loves her husband and kids, and enjoys taking care of them, then she is behaving egoistically - and those numbers would be meaningless.

If she believes that her husbands well-being is more important than her own, but she enjoys cooking his dinner, then it just gets harder to categorize that act. It would have to be a very sad altruist that finds no enjoyment in any of their acts, and a very unusual egoist that whose acts have never benefited anyone else.

I think it has to be the conscious or subconscious belief that drives a person's particular action that determines if they are behaving altruistically. This moves the issue towards measuring the belief system as opposed to the individual action. The action just can't be measured in the absence of the belief that prompted it - especially since most people have mixed motives - one time acting on rational self-interest (which might help another person, who they value, or not) and another time acting out of a sense of duty to another's well-being over their own. And the motivation, or driving force behind the act matters, since some acts are more difficult than others and must be compelled by the moral belief.

As to labeling a person an altruist... that gets complicated.
  • It could mean "Someone who advocates altruism" - whether they actually practice it or not.
  • It could mean someone who believes that they have a duty to act for the well-being of other over self - again, whether they actually practice their beliefs or not (some people tell themselves lies so they can pretend they are following their beliefs when they really aren't).
  • It could mean someone whose acts are motivated by altruistic beliefs greater than 50% of the time.
But there are other issues like how intensely they hold their beliefs, do they compartmentalize their altruistic beliefs so they only apply in certain areas of their life, and, being into psychology, I'm always curious about an altruist's self-esteem. Do they experience themselves as less worthy than others? Is a strong sense of duty held in a quasi-heroic fashion, or is it held more like a burden they are punishing themselves with?

I think that the bottom line on judging an act altruistic is going to require that there be a sense of sacrifice. There must be acts that bring their well-being into conflict with another's. Without that a person could be enjoying helping another in some way that isn't costing them as much as the enjoyment they are experiencing. [Another measure in all of this might be where a person chooses to make their whole life about helping others - like a nun, or priest. There the sacrifice is not just in this or that act... but also in the life they could have experienced and the person they could have been. In other words, altruism can be more than a standard for choosing in a given instance, but it can also be a goal... something where the person actively seeks instances to be altruistic, and where the person seeks to become more altruistic in their nature. That's a different level, but it is still about their belief and their motivation.]



Post 3

Sunday, January 13 - 11:34amSanction this postReply
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Merlin,

I agree with Steve that it's the motivation that matters, thus making the moral calculus "ordinal" (and your percentages meaningless):

Egoism: concern for your own interest (hierarchy of value) outweighs your concern for the interests (hierarchy of values) of others
Altruism: concern for the interests (hierarchy of values) of others outweighs your concern for your own interest (hierarchy of values)

Here is some imaginative dialogue showing this to be the case:

Eddie Egoist: What are you doing?

Amber Altruist: I'm doing my taxes.

Eddie Egoist: Oh, can I help you out with that?

Amber Altruist: Sure, I have questions about these 2 boxes.

Eddie Egoist: Well, if you check this box right here, then you will donate $5 to the National Wildlife Fund. And, if you check that box over there, you will donate $5 to the Campaign Fund.

Amber Altruist: Well, I can't afford it, but I feel like donating to both of them, because wildlife and political campaigning are more important to me than my own means of furthering my survival.

Eddie Egoist: Amber, let me share something with you. If I were doing my own taxes, I wouldn't check those boxes. Those enterprises are better supported by free market principles.

Amber Altruist: Really? It is part of your hierarchy of values to not support them in this manner?

Eddie Egoist: Yes, it's important to me that my actions work to maximize all expected utility with regard to my rational welfare and the rational welfare of those who I care about.

Amber Altruist: It's really that important to you?

Eddie Egoist: Yes.

Amber Altruist: Okay, then I won't do it. I will refrain from checking the boxes because that would contradict your hierarchy of values, which I have now come to value even higher than my own.

Eddie Egoist: Oh, Amber, what am I going to do with you?

Amber Altruist: I don't know, but whatever it is, it would be better than what I want to choose to do with my life. My hierarchy of values sucks and I'm not interested in working toward moral perfection.

Eddie Egoist: You know, Amber, it's really not that hard to become moral. All you have to do is start with some little accomplishments that allow you to earn your own self-esteem, and then these will allow you to become inspired to create the experience of a growing efficacy, eventually culminating in the sublime experience of feeling fit for reality.

Amber Altruist: You make it sound so easy to be moral, but I don't have the discipline to even remain concentrated on self-improvement for any length of time. I'd rather just give away my values to others and therefore get myself off of the hook from being morally responsible and from the process of moral progress. I'd rather take the easy way out, selling my soul, piecemeal, to any vagrant or beggar with the gall to approach me. In that way, I'm purchasing the psychological freedom to ignore the whole enterprise of moral improvement. Sure, I'll never be as happy as someone who chases their dreams, but I can get away with being and feeling immoral because my altruism absolves me of the moral responsibility of addressing my character flaws in a fruitful, problem-solving manner.

Eddie Egoist: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh!

:-)

Ed

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 1/13, 11:40am)




Post 4

Monday, January 14 - 3:52amSanction this postReply
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Steve wrote:
I'd say this woman was an altruist because she appears to have accepted, and acted upon, the belief that she has a moral obligation to sacrifice some part of her life for others.
How so, without knowing her motivations? Also, to remind you of my last paragraph in post 1:
1. She might be an independent thinker (even an Objectivist).
2. A woman in nearly the same concrete circumstances who is truly an altruist would likely say that much less than 51% of her waking time or efforts are for her own interests.



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Post 5

Monday, January 14 - 8:59amSanction this postReply
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Merlin,

I used the phrase "she appears to have accepted" because one needs to know her motivation to say she is actually an altruist. And, I pointed out that, "If this is the case [that she has altruist beliefs]" that the percentages of time involved don't matter.

Then in the next sentence I said, that if she is devoting over 50% of her time to her family without any sense of duty or obligation, and that it is her selfish interest, again, the numbers don't matter.
-----------

In the last paragraph of your post you wrote:
She might be an independent thinker (even an Objectivist). On the other hand, she might not be an independent thinker, and she acts according to what she believes is her duty as prescribed by some other authority, e.g. a religion. She may have nearly the same concrete circumstances -- before adding the dependent parent and you may consider her to be an altruist -- and might actually say that much less than 51% of waking time or efforts are for her own interests.
I agree with the heart of you've put into that paragraph - that it is her beliefs that make the determination. In my post I was pointing out that numbers, the percentages, aren't how the issue is decided.



Post 6

Monday, January 14 - 2:45pmSanction this postReply
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I used the phrase "she appears to have accepted" because one needs to know her motivation to say she is actually an altruist.
You also said she "was an altruist" (my bold), but I will accept that was not what you really intended.
Then in the next sentence I said, that if she is devoting over 50% of her time to her family without any sense of duty or obligation, and that it is her selfish interest, again, the numbers don't matter.
If she were devoting over 50% of her time to her family and considered that to be her selfish interest, then she might also give a much high percent of her time as self-interested (sort of like Rand did when asked about doing something for her husband and she said it would be a "selfish" act).




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Post 7

Tuesday, January 15 - 4:09amSanction this postReply
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In my short story above about the altruist doing her taxes, the egoist gave of himself to others but the altruist refused to (although under altruistic premises). A surface inspection of the ostensive actions are:

1) the egoist gave his limited resources of time, physical energy, and mental attention to his friend
2) the altruist wouldn't even give $5 to the National Wildlife Fund or to the Campaign Fund (because she was putting the egoist's interests ahead of her own)

On the surface, the altruist was acting "selfishly" -- but sufficient analysis reveals this not to be the case. This integrates with what Steve has said above, and with what Rand said about the subject.

Ed




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