Generosity and Self-Interest


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Generosity and Self-Interest

by David Kelley

From the December 2004/January 2005 issue of the Fraser Forum.

People do generous things. They give directions to strangers, contribute to charities, volunteer in hospitals, send food and supplies to earthquake victims. Actions like these are usually described as altruistic, in contrast to the pursuit of self-interest. In a free society, most of our interactions with people involve trade: we provide values to others only on terms that benefit ourselves. Generosity, however, means providing someone with a value that is not part of a definite trade, without the expectation of a definite return.

But this dichotomy between self-interest and generosity is a false one. Trading and giving are different, to be sure, but the conventional view overstates and misrepresents the difference. The chief cause of this confusion is a narrow definition of self-interest as the satisfaction of short-term desires, particularly for material gain. A rational person knows that what serves his interest in a given situation depends on his long-term goals; that it is in his interest to take responsibility for achieving his goals through productive effort; and that he is more likely to gain the values of living in society—everything from economic exchange to intimate personal relationships—by dealing with others fairly and honestly than by cheating.

What role could generosity play in the pursuit of enlightened self-interest?

One role pertains to emergencies where people are in trouble and we can help at little cost to ourselves. This serves our long-term interests in part because of the potential value that the other person represents. He might become a friend, or a partner in an economic exchange. But there's a more fundamental reason for aiding others in emergencies.

Read the rest of the article at TOC...

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I'm glad I found this piece. I remember being quite upset over ARI's reaction to the Tsunami, and even people on the other forum when the hurricanes hit. If Objectivism teaches that we should be indifferent to human suffering in the wake of natural disasters, I want no part of it. I don't believe that it does though.

Now the ethics in allowing children die is being discussed again on RoR and MSK is again being made the strawman for keeping his sense of human decency intact. I must say that I am truly disturbed at how people would ignore another human being's suffering in the name of practicing Objectivism. It seems contrary to human nature to let a child starve when you could easily help without sacrifice to yourself.

How can one just stand there looking stupid and not act in such a situation? To add insult to injury they are trying to justify their indifference on the basis of Objectivist principles. Sorry, I ain't buying that nonsense.

If a child is there without their parents and obviously abandoned and neglected, I would not hesitate to step in and help the kid. I think most people would, and I agree with Michael that it would be criminal not to. They are witnessing a crime against a child and have the responsibility to step in. As an Objectivist, I hold human life as the standard of value. If other Objectivists consider it a governmental initiation of force to compel its citizens by law to act in the interest of saving a child's life, they are putting a political principle (non-initiation of force) ahead of an ethical principle (man's life as the standard of value). All I can say is that is totally all fucked up. Politics is built on ethics, not the other way around.

Kat

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Kat,

I agree with you. It doesn't seem all that complicated. I'm certain most people's sense of humanity would compel them to help in the situation mentioned on RoR. None but a confirmed sociopath would refuse to help a starving child at no sacrifice to themselves. No wonder objectivists aren't taken seriously when they make those kinds of arguments. As always, these kinds of "emergency" situations don't justify a welfare state or other intrusions on individual rights. Context.

Thanks for an "island of sanity".

Mike E.

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Where principles and rights break down

This is going to be one of the shortest articles I have ever written.

If some evil son-of-a-bitch wants to starve a child to ill health or death on purpose, irrespective of the reason, he better not do it in front of me or near me, because no principle or right on earth is going to keep me off him.

Michael

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This shows the naïveté of the idea that you can create a system that automatically will give you always the right answers. Life isn't that simple. But I'm afraid that for many people this is an important reason for the attractiveness of Objectivism as a closed system and that it is one of the factors that foster the cult mentality we see so often in Objectivist groups. Now I'm not sure Rand herself would have said that you would have the "right" to do nothing in this case; didn't she say somewhere something like "spare me the Randians"? I think it would have been appropriate in this case.

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Hi folks:)

I'm generous because I have additional time, money, or skills available to me that I don't immediately use. Given that abundance, I need an appreciative audience, someone like me (or so I fantasize) to whom I can give this overflow who apparently needs it at that time.

At the time I give of myself, I may not be aware of the need for appreciation. I may seem to be giving in order to strictly help an individual. However, if I take a moment then and ask myself, "Mike, how do you feel about about me this moment?," what comes out is a variant of "I really love you this moment, Mike." Sometimes that appreciative audience is me, appreciating my acceptance of a common bond of humanity.

From this perspective, talking about it, as Kelley does, in terms of an investment in society or some type of indirect social exchange is wildly beside the point.

best wishes,

MikeJoyous

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Hi Michael:)

Oh, when I talked about Kelly's theories of benevolence, I should have said "David Kelly." Hope you didn't think I meant you!

Me happy? Well...sometimes:)

I think everyone should take time out to judge themselves, Michael. Not in a harsh critical way, but in a way that Rand never mentioned and I believe did not countenance: talking to one's Inner Child. Asking the Inner Child how he (or she, as the case may be) feels about you right now in response to what you just did or did not do.

In my thinking about personality, the Inner Child is about more than present emotionality. My own Inner Child cuts through the tremendous repressed pain of early years, letting me know immediately the effect of my action upon my self-esteem.

Yep, an artist needs his audience, alright. But Michael, suppose when Rand finished the Fountainhead, there *were* no audience, no interested publisher? Somehow she'd have had to look within herself and her husband and maybe a friend or two for spiritual nourishment.

best always, amigo,

Mike

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If Objectivism teaches that we should be indifferent to human suffering in the wake of natural disasters, I want no part of it. I don't believe that it does though.

Generosity is "icky" in Objectivist terms because the self-interested roots of generosity are in one's very personal empathic experience. And God knows we must disown our empathic experience so it doesn't weaken our self-interest.

NB mentioned somewhere that he learned from Devers about the discipline of generosity. I think the roots of this discipline are to be found in self-respect. In particular, I think we need to learn how to respect the empathic perspective in ourselves. Making it a disciplne is what happens when we bring focus and reason and an action plan to our empathic perspective.

Paul

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If Objectivism teaches that we should be indifferent to human suffering in the wake of natural disasters, I want no part of it. I don't believe that it does though.

Here's a question. What would be in our self-interest about allowing the people in our country to die and suffer because of a natural disaster that was no fault of their own. (Unless you believe in Global Warming) Besides, most charitable donations are tax deductible anyways so it's not like you're taking a large chunk out of your wallet. A reason to give money that is in your self interest is because, in cases such as Katrina, a city like New Orleans is a major city with large amounts of people with large amounts of income that is lost if they are lost and die.

Also, this doesn't necessarily fall into the hands of private charities. Wouldn't saving people from a natural disaster fall under the jurisdiction of a nation protecting it's people?

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Where principles and rights break down

This is going to be one of the shortest articles I have ever written.

If some evil son-of-a-bitch wants to starve a child to ill health or death on purpose, irrespective of the reason, he better not do it in front of me or near me, because no principle or right on earth is going to keep me off him.

Michael

Interesting. May I ask why? I assume you are not related to that hypothetical child. Do you have a dog in this hunt? If so, what is it? Would you react strongly (or even violently) simply because you disapprove? Why is your approval or disapproval substantive? Is it substantive?

I would caution you as an apparently decent and reasonable fellow that appointing yourself guardian of interests that at not rightfully or factually yours and without invitation or permission leads you down a dangerous path: the Path of the Buttinsky.

This is not to say that I don't understand your emotional charge. I really do. But emotions, per se, are not proper warrants for actions. Have a care, lest ye become dangerous to your fellow humans.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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I have to say I agree with both Michael and Ba'al. I would hope people would reread the article from the Objectivist about the obligations of parents and children. I can't remember who wrote so I can tell you if it is on the CD. I'd like to hear more about children without parents.

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Generosity and Self-Interest

by David Kelley

From the December 2004/January 2005 issue of the Fraser Forum.

People do generous things. They give directions to strangers, contribute to charities, volunteer in hospitals, send food and supplies to earthquake victims. Actions like these are usually described as altruistic, in contrast to the pursuit of self-interest. In a free society, most of our interactions with people involve trade: we provide values to others only on terms that benefit ourselves. Generosity, however, means providing someone with a value that is not part of a definite trade, without the expectation of a definite return.

TOC...

I think a case for generosity can be made on the basis of a generalized trader principle. Let us assume your acts of uncalculated generosity do not put you to excessive trouble or place you at hazard. If you want someone to grant you an unpurchased and unrequited favor, it seems fair that you be willing to do and actually do the same sort of thing. If I expect someone to give me directions if I ask them (it isn't all that troublesome to the person being asked) I feel obliged to do the same if I am asked. In any case, acts of minor generosity promotes an ambiance of helpfulness that we can all benefit from. And it promotes a generally friendly and cordial attitude to boot. There is nothing wrong with cordial relations with one's fellow humans.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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I'd like to take this generosity bit somewhat further. It seems that plenty of Objectivists agree that it's okay, as long as it doesn't amount to any altruism.

But what if it does? For example, I ride the damned Chicago bus system every day. Each day, the "handicapped" seats are taken by twenty-year old tuned into their Ipods. I've seen old men and women, prgnant women, people on crutches, a man with two artificial legs, and more, left standing. If I have a seat, obviously I'll give it up. Now, let me explain that I have arthritis in my knee and standing can be extremely painful. Obviously, it's a sacrifice for me to give a seat to someone elderly, etc. BUT I DO IT! It's only courtious. If any philosophy advocates my staring at some eighty year old woman who can barely stand while I sit, I say the philosophy be damned. Just color me altruistic.

Another example, two years ago on New Years Eve, my friend and I left a restaurant. We parted from our friends and went to look for her car. It had been towed. She told me to just go on ahead without her. She'd be fine. Well, no way am I leaving anyone alone at 2:00 in the morning, stranded and waiting for a ride. A waited with her, although I was dead tired. Altruistic. Yeah, sure. Guess I wouldn't have it any other way.

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If any philosophy advocates my staring at some eighty year old woman who can barely stand while I sit, I say the philosophy be damned. Just color me altruistic.

ginny,

There is no philosophy that advocates a given position on something this specific. I am continuously amazed to see how so many people (Objectivists included) can’t simply separate the concept of altruism from benevolence in their thinking.

Hey, you are a kind person who has made an exception—and I hesitate to call it a sacrifice. If you wish to describe it as such that is your prerogative. But am I correct to assume that “self sacrificing” is not your standard way of operating in the world? Why not?

Am I correct that you do not subscribe to this premise: “my life does not belong to me; the only justification I have in living is the service I render to others in which I am to receive nothing, or else that would contaminate the purity of my moral action.”

-Victor

edit:

I quote you here, and I bolded one word. Can you tell me why?

"Another example, two years ago on New Years Eve, my friend and I left a restaurant. We parted from our friends and went to look for her car. It had been towed. She told me to just go on ahead without her. She'd be fine. Well, no way am I leaving anyone alone at 2:00 in the morning, stranded and waiting for a ride. A waited with her, although I was dead tired. Altruistic. Yeah, sure. Guess I wouldn't have it any other way."

:turned:

Edited by Victor Pross
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Okay, Victor, you caught me on the FRIEND thing. Guilty.

You are also correct in assuming that I don't live my life in a state of sacrifice. Still, I would say most objectivist interpret the philosophy so that the mere word is a gateway to hell. What I'm saying is that there are times in life when one does sacrifice a higher value (a seat on the bus) for a lesser one (letting a total stranger sit because that stranger appears needier). Nothing wrong with that. A lot of times it's just common courtesy, and I do wish objecivism had a better grip on THAT particular issue.

Ginny

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Interesting. May I ask why? I assume you are not related to that hypothetical child. Do you have a dog in this hunt? If so, what is it? Would you react strongly (or even violently) simply because you disapprove? Why is your approval or disapproval substantive? Is it substantive?

Bob,

Here is mini-tour with some links to some VERY LONG threads to give you the context of that post of mine. I am particularly pleased to give you this tour because I finally cut through the Gordian knot today of something that has been bugging me for a long time. It started innocently enough as a complaint about the categories of philosophy. On another forum, a person was proposing that politics was a subset of ethics and I objected. Before I get to that, I do have a problem with "human nature" being excluded from the divisions of philosophy. Even ARI had detected this problem. Below is part of a post where I discuss this.

Try doing a Google search on philosophical categories. I did and I was astounded. Apparently Objectivism (and direct derivatives) is the only philosophy in the world and in history that breaks philosophy into the five branches of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics and aesthetics. I don't believe this was arbitrary on Rand's part, but seeing as how this was her division, not anything she gleaned from anywhere else in human history, I certainly see that it is a premise worth some serious checking. You know, maybe she missed something and maybe her focus was so strongly on one slant that she simply did not deal with other aspects.

I also noticed that in her division, there were only four branches for years. You can clearly see this in her writings. Aesthetics was tacked on later.

Then I read David Kelley in The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand. He gave a good summary of the fundamental principles of (pp 81-84), but then stated outright (p. 84):

But notice what I have left out. I omitted a number of points in epistemology, ethics, and politics. I omitted the entire field of aesthetics, just as Ayn Rand did in her summary. I haven't said anything about the role of philosophy in history, or the identification of Kant as an arch-villain.

I've omitted these things, not because I disagree with them, or because they are unimportant, but because they are not primary.

Well, you do see the four usually mentioned among others in a Google search.

My own view, admittedly influenced by Nyquist, is that a couple other branches should be added to the Objectivist divisions of philosophy: Human Nature, and History (specifically, Philosophy of History). I have argued this with people at times - but I usually come up against the attitude that five is all there is. Why? Well, because. That's why.

Apropos, I came across an extremely interesting item while researching for an article. Get a load of this from the ARI site: Essentials of Objectivism.

There you have Human Nature just as big and bold as all get out - right in between Epistemology and Ethics. Here is a direct quote, but leaving out most of the text for copyright reasons (you can read it at the linked page).

Metaphysics

(...)

Epistemology

(...)

Human Nature

Man is a rational being. Reason, as man's only means of knowledge, is his basic means of survival. But the exercise of reason depends on each individual's choice. "Man is a being of volitional consciousness." "That which you call your soul or spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call 'free will' is your mind's freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom. This is the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and character."Thus Objectivism rejects any form of determinism, the belief that man is a victim of forces beyond his control (such as God, fate, upbringing, genes, or economic conditions).

Ethics

(...)

Politics

(...)

Esthetics

(...)

My own view of what human nature is does not agree with ARI's oversimplification, but the part that ARI gets right is right. (I also don't agree with the ham-handed "rejections" for the same reason - oversimplification.) In ITOE, Rand defined man as a "rational animal," with "rational" being the differentia and "animal" being the genus. The ARI blurb on Human Nature starts thus: "Man is a rational being." They left out the "animal" part, thus oversimplified. They used the differentia only as his nature.

They airbrushed the genus!!! :)

The important thing, though, is that the lack of a philosophical category for Human Nature was perceived even at the ARI level.

Dayaamm!

This is the orthodoxy!

History might not be too long in coming. (There is that little thing Rand wrote called For the New Intellectual...)

Now back to that politics being a subset of ethics thing. There was an article called "Altruism Against Freedom" by Joe Rowlands. The discussion started here and there are 360 posts on that thread to date. Two main things were discussed on that thread, the first was that silly subset stuff and the second was the issue of the right to life of infants, especially seeing how infants cannot fend for themselves. (This is known by people who are aware of it as the "Starving Baby in the Wilderness Affair" or something along those lines.)

I gave a Rand quote from the "Ethics of Emergencies" here, and another about the rights of children here. The quote of mine you found interesting was posted on this thread here. By then I was sick and fed up with trying to defend the position that it was wrong to starve babies to death, so out popped that "let's take this outside and resolve it" post.

There was an enormous amount of e-mail activity going on, I was under a huge amount of criticism, some of it political, and I had been called a whole slew of nasty names in that environment and was being falsely set up as an altruist (in the Atlas Shrugged mold), so I transferred this discussion to OL in the following thread: The Ayn Rand Love/Hate Myth – Part 2 – Moral Ambivalence. There was some overlapping, but the atmosphere and general level of discussion vastly improved on OL. A couple of posters came in at the end on the RoR discussion, but I felt the environment was too hostile to really continue the discussion there.

Nathaniel Branden wrote me a letter to post, highlighting the dilemma. So I started a new thread in the "Ethics" section here on OL in order to highlight it: Letter from Nathaniel Branden on Morality.

I continued to clash periodically on RoR, not wanting to be combative or cantankerous, but from genuine perplexity. Once I got into a scrap because I objected to the goofball position that Mother Teresa was more evil than Hitler. I kept wondering what made otherwise intelligent people who adopted Objectivism think like that.

Recently I had a final conflict that I think showed me the answer. Some people rationalize Objectivism from a selfishness/altruism premise, rather than do it like the ancient Greeks used to do (and even Rand did), i.e., look at reality, make observations and then think about it. They get the selfishness/altruism emotional blast from Atlas Shrugged and everything else falls into second place in the hierarchy of premises. I covered the conflict in a recent thread in the "Politics" section: Thoughts on rights (children and human nature). I specifically covered my final insight in a post in that thread.

Now I know what happens and why so much hostility. Getting back to my original post, I have a great deal of empathy for small children, so if I did see a person purposely starving a child to death, I would get very angry. I have lived many years in Brazil and I do not have any sympathy for the extremely wealthy people who use government privilege to maintain their wealth and live near places where children actually do starve to death. This only happens in the extremely arid and desert-like places there, but I still get angry about it. If I lived near by, I definitely would do something about it. We are not talking about producers like in Atlas Shrugged, but "members of the court" type people who even charge the poor under oppressive laws backed by armies. Let's call this emotional reaction I have "empathy." Yes, when I see a baby starving in the midst of abundance and it is easily avoidable, I feel extreme outrage.

There is another issue, species solidarity. Rand wrote about this only once and I think it was one of the few places, if not the only one, where she actually mentioned the genus of "rational animal" in moral terms. We are not just individuals. We are individual human beings and a lot comes preprogrammed at birth.

But if one wants to concentrate on the Trader Principle (which I have found is easier for Objectivists to digest), there is a case to be made concerning a debt we all have. Every one of us. We were all infants at one time. This is a metaphysical fact, not an opinion or interpretation of something. I recently wrote about this in an e-mail to a person I like very much:

What happens to a person who has received value but has not paid for it? Does the debt simply go away? A person who is an adult received a huge amount of value from other adults, parents or not. He did not pay for that value in the manner another adult would have to pay for it (money or labor or goods). Yet he ate, had shelter, medical care, etc.

Either he received these benefits as charity, or a debt has been constituted.

There is no way a person can repay his parents in kind unless he cares for them at the end of their lives when they are helpless. This is a good enough reason for an adult to see benefit in caring for an infant (creating a debt he will collect later in life), but it is not a good enough reason to recognize an infant's right to life, since the infant cannot provide for itself. Left alone, it will die, so such a right means nothing as a "negative right."

But there is another principle that is occurring to me based on my experience as an addict. The strangers who extended their hand to me created a debt I could not repay to them in kind. The only thing they asked of me was to pass it on to another who had fallen. Do the same for that person. And I do. And I also request as payment that they pass it on to another person who has fallen. I owe my life to strangers and I repay them by making other strangers owe their life to me. In a weird kind of math, this cancels the debt.

Now we go back to "species solidarity" (Rand wrote about this in the Ethics of Emergencies") and look at this issue from that angle. If we identify ourselves as being members of a species, what happens to our species is a selfish concern. As a member of this species, we received value at a time we needed it and could not produce it. We can repay that debt by providing value to members of our species who also need it and cannot produce it in their metaphysical state. I am not talking altruism here. I am talking about a person who is in a condition imposed by the reality of what he is. An infant is in a metaphysical state of development as a member of our species, yet he cannot fend for himself. I see an adult taking care of him as that adult repaying a debt the adult owes for value received when he was an infant. The claimant of the debt is the species, or more precisely, the group of individuals who are members of the species when they live in a social setting, since their species is thus perpetuated.

I don't think any single point here taken as stand-alone accounts for the rights of infants, but taken as a group of considerations, they form a very compelling argument to derive rights from human values based on human nature, both as an individual and as a species (differentia and genus), not eliminating either. In this manner, it becomes easy to see where an infant can have entitlements that are denied adults and receive government protection when these entitlements are withheld or abused by the care providers (usually the parents).

At any rate, this is the entire context of my outburst. I have not changed my opinion since then (except for a legal provision I proposed and later withdrew). I have merely increased my understanding.

Incidentally, if you have not noticed, the orientation on OL is to chew on ideas and test Objectivist principles to the limit. The idea is that if a principle stands up to the best arguments from the best minds holding a contrary view, then it is sound and not dogmatic. Those are the principles that really interest me. The rest is Rand-worship and promoting dogma does not interest me in the least. I have no dreams of power. (Rand did enough good and had enough important insights to go down in history as an important thinker, so I even find Rand-worship silly from the angle of "protecting her," whatever that means outside of worship.)

Michael

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If other Objectivists consider it a governmental initiation of force to compel its citizens by law to act in the interest of saving a child's life, they are putting a political principle (non-initiation of force) ahead of an ethical principle (man's life as the standard of value). All I can say is that is totally all fucked up.

If I may be the cool voice of reason amidst many voices of passion, I must point out that our own government does not have such a requirement. It never has, and I hope it never does.

The traditional common law has never compelled an individual to rescue another individual to whom one owed no special duty (such as a parent to a child, a guardian to a ward, a teacher to a student, etc.) unless one was responsible for having put that person in danger in the first place.

So: if you're just walking along and you see a child drowning in a two-feet-deep pond of water, and you can save that child with no apparent risk to yourself, you are under no obligation whatsoever under the law to do a thing.

Why?

Where would such an obligation stop? Who can say where risk begins? What if the bottom of the pond is slippery? What if you have a heart condition? What if you slip and fall? Etc. One can never have an obligation to save another. Period.

Now if you had accidentally knocked the child into the pond, your obligations would be different; you would have an obligation to get him/her out to the best of your abilities.

And if you're a lifeguard over a swimming pool and a child falls in, it's your responsibility to get him/her out.

And if you're the child's legal guardian, you have a responsibility to help.

But if the law were otherwise, no one would have the freedom to go anywhere or do anything without rescuing everyone who crossed his or her path. We would be at the mercy of every victim in the world. Think about it. It's similar to Rand's argument about the poor: you would have no right to buy a second set of clothes until every hungry mouth in the world had been fed.

I'm not saying for a moment that it's not a good idea to help other people, or to take risks to help other people, or to go out of one's way to help other people. I do it myself all the time, sometimes more than is wise. I'm saying that the LAW can NEVER be such as to COMPEL one to help other people.

Judith

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Judith,

I agree fully with what you say, but with one slant to it. I am much more favorable to the common law approach to law (USA, England, etc.) than the paternalistic Roman approach (Brazil and other places). The reason is that it includes context as part of a judge's ruling in enforcing the law.

Let me put a truly horrible (but possible) scenario before you. Suppose a group of people belonging to a Satanic cult or something of this nature is in a park and the members witness a stray child fall into a pond and start yelling for help. Then suppose they gather at the shoreline a few yards away from the child, join hands and pray to Lucifer as they celebrate the impending death of the child and watch him slowly die during, say, a half an hour, while he was yelling for help until he tired out and sank. And suppose there were a security camera film as proof.

I may be off, but I believe that a judge would rule depraved indifference here based on the context that the event was not only noticed by a group, the death itself was used for personal advantage while it was occurring.

As a borderline exception establishing jurisprudence, I would have no problem with such a ruling. I would not want to see it as a formal law, however (the possible abuses make me cringe in the wake of The Patriot Act), and I am sure there are enough rulings of a contrary nature in more-or-less similar cases (well... close enough anyway to establish contrary jurisprudence) to make sure no hard-and-fast law resulted.

In the previous discussions on this issue, Barbara mentioned a case of a person seeing a terrorist with clear intent, having plenty of opportunity to report it and not doing so, and the terrorist causing a high number of deaths. Several other difficult cases were brought up.

These kinds of things step outside of normal living and are very tough calls. They are so contextual that only a person of high moral standing like a judge could possibly judge them with any sense of fairness and justice. If it were left up to laypeople, they would form a lynch mob and resolve it right there on the spot.

I am satisfied to allow the professional hired for the job (the judge) a small degree of flexibility for such cases.

Michael

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So: if you're just walking along and you see a child drowning in a two-feet-deep pond of water, and you can save that child with no apparent risk to yourself, you are under no obligation whatsoever under the law to do a thing.

Why?

Where would such an obligation stop? Who can say where risk begins? What if the bottom of the pond is slippery? What if you have a heart condition? What if you slip and fall? Etc. One can never have an obligation to save another. Period.

I think it should be punishable by law if you don't at least try to save the child, supposing your intervention is the only way to save it and if there is no apparent risk to yourself. If you fail to do so, the question is how big the risk to yourself was, and that has to be determined from case to case by the judge, there is no single answer. That is quite normal in jurisdiction, just as in a car accident it has to be determined how much each participant is responsible for the accident. AFAIK in the Netherlands you are indeed legally obliged to help in such cases, as you are also obliged to report mistreatment of children, and I think that is a good thing. Here you can't turn your head the other way, saying: this is not my business. I wouldn't want to live in a country where that is seen as your unalienable right, that attitude makes me really furious.

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So: if you're just walking along and you see a child drowning in a two-feet-deep pond of water, and you can save that child with no apparent risk to yourself, you are under no obligation whatsoever under the law to do a thing.

Why?

Where would such an obligation stop? Who can say where risk begins? What if the bottom of the pond is slippery? What if you have a heart condition? What if you slip and fall? Etc. One can never have an obligation to save another. Period.

I think it should be punishable by law if you don't at least try to save the child, supposing your intervention is the only way to save it and if there is no apparent risk to yourself. If you fail to do so, the question is how big the risk to yourself was, and that has to be determined from case to case by the judge, there is no single answer. That is quite normal in jurisdiction, just as in a car accident it has to be determined how much each participant is responsible for the accident. AFAIK in the Netherlands you are indeed legally obliged to help in such cases, as you are also obliged to report mistreatment of children, and I think that is a good thing. Here you can't turn your head the other way, saying: this is not my business. I wouldn't want to live in a country where that is seen as your unalienable right, that attitude makes me really furious.

Such a "right" would just be rationalism. Anyone claiming such a right in reality--i.e., who actually let a baby drown--would be contemned and shunned. The big problem with orthox-Objectivism is rationalism.

--Brant

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Dragonfly is quite right; the law in some European countries (I believe France is another one) is different.

I think it IS important that the law be such as it is in the United States. One must never forget that rescue is an act of benevolence and not an act of duty. The one being rescued owes the rescuer profound gratitude, not an indifferent, "Oh, you were just doing your job." It is not our obligation to spend our precious lives going around rescuing other people; never, ever forget that. Any time we do it, we are doing someone a favor, not performing a duty.

Judith

edit: where would it end? Not only where one's path crosses those in distress; how would one prove that one's path DIDN'T cross that of the one in distress? Imagine having the burden of proof that one didn't take a particular route down a particular road, or one "didn't see" an accident by the roadside because it hadn't happened at the time one was passing by? What a nightmare! It wouldn't be safe to leave the house for fear of being accused of not rescuing people!

Edited by Judith
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such cases, as you are also obliged to report mistreatment of children, and I think that is a good thing. Here you can't turn your head the other way, saying: this is not my business. I wouldn't want to live in a country where that is seen as your unalienable right, that attitude makes me really furious.

You realize, I hope, that you advocate the imposition of duties where there is no prior contract creating these duties. One has the duty to honor a contract that he has willing assented to. I don't know of any contract requiring us to guard the lives of strangers. We have a legal contract not to endanger the lives of others, but that is an entirely different thing. What you propose is making an -act of omission- in a non-contractual situation actionable. Is that what you really, really want?

Ba'al Chatzaf

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