Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design


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Ellen Wrote:

"Instead -- as in the case of aspects of 20th-century physics -- she'd have assumed that the scientific view was in error, with the errors resulting from bad philosophy.

So I don't think it's the case that she avoided evolutionary theory; I think she just wasn't much interested, since she didn't see its relevance to the "essential" characteristic, in her opinion, of the human, i.e., the human type of consciousness (as she saw that type of consciousness).

"

Second point first. It's hugely relevant, especially to the tabula rasa concept. While there's still argument over extent, the nature vs nurture debate is firmly in the 'nature' corner. Intelligence, character, and personality traits are very highly heritable. While the details wouldn't have been exposed as clearly in Rand's time, relevance is huge.

And for the first point, that's precisely the attitude that throws her, sometimes deservingly and sometimes not, onto the quack heap. It's unfortunate because some of her ideas are worth thinking about at least.

Bob

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William, The thing I like most about the article is the method: Q: Are you for A? A: No. Accusation: Then you are for B. Q: Are you for B? A: No. Accusation: Then you are for A. Final answer: Wrong

Laure,

I think one can overstate the importance of evolution. Most of what we know and believe would be the same if evolution isn't true.

Except that core concepts in Objectivism are proven wrong if Evolution is correct.

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Sure, there's ton's of academic evidence on the nature side of the debate, but what strikes me most absurd is how we can so easily speak of things like dog breeds and how they're bred intentially (and successfully) for physical AND personality traits, but that somehow humans are so different. We're not.

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Except that core concepts in Objectivism are proven wrong if Evolution is correct.

Bob,

Which core concepts? Here are a few (in layman's terms):

Existence exists.

Things are what they are.

Conceptual consciousness is the human means of knowing them.

How about one stage up axiom-wise?

Entities are causes.

Life is self-generated action.

Man is an end in himself.

That's pretty good for starters. Which of those are proven wrong by evolution? If none, what do you have in mind?

(If it is tabula rasa, I agree with you. Biology influences many things in a human being, even on the conceptual level. Babies might be born tabula rasa in terms of developed content, but I agree that there are seeds of knowledge that develop on their own with growth and without volition. Volition itself is one of them.)

Michael

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Incidentally, after WWII, nativist ideas on character and intelligence were widely rejected due to the horrors of Nazism (or so I've read). In the 60s and 70s conventional wisdom said that IQ tests are bunk and that there is no relationship between race and intelligence. So I don't think Rand had much reason to believe her racial egalitarianism would be threatened by evolution. I suspect her concern about the implications of evolution were directed at other areas.

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Except that core concepts in Objectivism are proven wrong if Evolution is correct.

Bob,

Which core concepts? Here are a few (in layman's terms):

Existence exists.

Things are what they are.

Conceptual consciousness is the human means of knowing them.

How about one stage up axiom-wise?

Entities are causes.

Life is self-generated action.

Man is an end in himself.

That's pretty good for starters. Which of those are proven wrong by evolution? If none, what do you have in mind?

(If it is tabula rasa, I agree with you. Biology influences many things in a human being, even on the conceptual level. Babies might be born tabula rasa in terms of developed content, but I agree that there are seeds of knowledge that develop on their own with growth and without volition. Volition itself is one of them.)

Michael

Yes, tabula rasa for one and the downstream effects if incorrect.

Also is the idea of life as the standard of value. Evolution says no, or at the very least it's not nearly so simple.

Next is the more complex ideas (not available to Rand in her time) of inherent 'genetic' altruism and how in an evolutionary sense, a certain amount of non-reciprical altruism makes sense - or in other words - altruism is part of who and what we are.

Bob

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What I find interesting in all this is that Ayn Rand's ignorant musings are "part of Objectivism" because she mused them. This wasn't quite her attitude ("consistent with Objectivism") but it sure is an ARI attitude. If orthodox Objectivism was once a box of chocolates it is now a box of stale chocolates. Go on, take a bite.

--Brant

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Michael,

I gotta agree with Laure on this one.

Charley Reese's article is hardly the worst thing I've seen on the subject of evolution and intelligent design. But it's still pretty bad.

We, as mortals with short life spans, would not even be concerned about the origins of life, except the evolutionists wish to use their theory to destroy religion, and religious people want to use their theory to defend religion.

Apparently, our desire to understand ourselves and our world can't lead us human beings to try to understand the origin of life? There has to be a scheme to discredit some of our peers? It has to be rivalry between "hegemonic discourses"?

There are people who want to use science to destroy religion. There are people who want to use religion to destroy science. It doesn't follow that evolutionary biology as an enterprise keeps going on account of a desire to destroy religion.

There are people who do science in order to grab up government grants. It doesn't follow that evolutionary biology as an enterprise keeps going on account of a desire to grab up government grants.

Some individual actors want one or more of these things; some factions want one or more of these things. But Reese is claiming to know what motivates every individual scientist, plus every non-scientist who seeks to inform himself or herself about these issues.

There is nothing wrong with a person believing that a dinosaur evolved into a canary, but there is also nothing wrong with someone believing that God created the first man and woman. I've never seen any physical evidence to support either belief, and one is no more improbable than the other. The only fact is that some beliefs have to be accepted on the basis of faith, and that goes for evolution as well as creationism.

If "nothing wrong with" means "no crime in," of course Reese is correct.

If "nothing wrong with" means "no likelihood of serious intellectual error in," that's a whole different ball of wax.

I won't assume that Reese means by "faith" what Rand did, or what many religious believers do, because there is too little to go on here. I have no idea what his standards of evidence are, or why he thinks they're good standards of evidence.

What is clear is that Reese doesn't know any relevant evidence concerning the evolution of canaries from dinosaurs; doesn't see any need to learn what evidence exists, or to critique any claimed evidence put forward by others; and doesn't think that those who have labored to obtain or carefully consider such evidence understand the matter any better than he does.

Nor does Reese seem to know, or care, or think it matters, why the "intelligent design" advocates claim to believe in intelligent design.

Which makes the guy anti-intellectual, at the very least. Some of his rhetoric goes beyond anti-intellectual; it gets close to the postmodernist dismissal of science per se (hence my use of the phrase "hegemonic discourse").

I'm a developmental psychologist by training. Developmental psychology would not exist, were it not for the rise of modern evolutionary thinking. Reese is writing off my field as uninformed mythologizing or idle speculation. I doubt he even realizes that he is doing it.

Robert Campbell

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Robert,

Glad someone else is seeing the article the way I do. One thing, though. You say, "There are people who do science in order to grab up government grants." I think there are very few of these, and they're far outnumbered by people who grab up government grants in order to do science! ("I have clients in order to build." :) ) Of course, I admit that some scientists tell the granting bodies what they want to hear in order to get more grants, and that's not a good thing.

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Laure,

I didn't mean to imply that there are a lot of people who do science in order to grab up government grants.

But I didn't want to deny their existence, either. Some of them become academic administrators...

Robert Campbell

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Neil,

I had figured that Harry Binswanger tried to educate Ayn Rand about evolution. So what the anonymous commenter said on Larry Arnhart's blog makes sense.

But I don't believe the story that Dr. Binswanger convinced her that some account of biological evolution is true.

Here is what she said during her last Ford Hall Forum talk, less than a year before her death. In her blasts at the Ronald Reagan administration and its supporters, she includes a condemnation of those who want creationism taught in public schools ("intelligent design" was not the preferred term back then):

To claim that the mystics’ mythology, or inventions, or superstitions are as valid as scientific theories, and to offer this claim to the unformed minds of children, is a moral crime.

I must state, incidentally, that I am not a student of biology and am, therefore, neither an advocate nor an opponent of the theory of evolution. But I have read a lot of valid evidence to support it, and it is the only scientific theory in the field. The issue, however, is not the theory of evolution: this theory serves merely as a rabble-rousing excuse for attacking science, for attacking reason, for attacking man's mind. ("The Age of Mediocrity," The Objectivist Forum, Vol 2 issue 3, June 1981, p. 6).

She no longer claims to be ignorant of evolutionary biology, but still refuses to take a stand on the issue.

This particular speech has never been anthologized by the Estate of Ayn Rand.

I suspect that Harry Binswanger would be opposed to anthologizing it because she disappointed him by clinging to her agnosticism about evolution.

Leonard Peikoff, on the other hand, doesn't seem to care much about evolution, but surely wouldn't want to wave around evidence of irrationality on his mentor's part. (By Peikovian standards, it is flatly irrational to say that genuine evidence supports a claim and then refuse to take a stand on it. Indeed, agnosticism is one of the worst epistemological sins.)

Robert Campbell

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We, as mortals with short life spans, would not even be concerned about the origins of life, except the evolutionists wish to use their theory to destroy religion, and religious people want to use their theory to defend religion.

Apparently, our desire to understand ourselves and our world can't lead us human beings to try to understand the origin of life? There has to be a scheme to discredit some of our peers? It has to be rivalry between "hegemonic discourses"?

There are people who want to use science to destroy religion. There are people who want to use religion to destroy science. It doesn't follow that evolutionary biology as an enterprise keeps going on account of a desire to destroy religion.

Robert,

As you stated below regarding another passage, this all depends on how you read this guy. If you are reading the article as a scientific or religious assertion of truth, I agree with your objections. I don't read it that way, though. If you are reading it as a general description of observed behavior (which is how I read it), especially the behavior of what has transpired very loudly in the press (and even on discussion forums), I think he is spot on.

I don't take Reese to be commenting on all persons who believe in evolution or all persons who believe in ID. I take him to be criticizing those intellectuals who clamor to make laws. Robert Ringer (in I think it was Looking Out for No. 1) called this kind of person an Absolute Moralist, i.e., a person committed to a cause who insists (usually loudly and obnoxiously) on committing everyone around him or her to it. And if that doesn't work, then commit them by force if possible. I certainly have seen crusaders on both sides of the ID debate try to use the issue to bash the other and behave in precisely the manner Reese describes. I have seen any number of Absolute Moralists par excellence on both sides.

In my mind, these people are Reese's target, not reasonable people who look at the evidence and draw conclusions.

I must make one reservation. I do not know the work of this guy so I don't know if he is religious or not, anti-intellectual or not, a fanatic or not, a bonehead or not, friend or foe. I have seen his name appear at times, so I know is is an author in the Lew Rockwell orbit who gets read. My comments pertain to this one article and if there is a wider context, I am at this moment not familiar with it. I might change my mind if I learn that he normally has a bias I disagree with.

There is nothing wrong with a person believing that a dinosaur evolved into a canary, but there is also nothing wrong with someone believing that God created the first man and woman. I've never seen any physical evidence to support either belief, and one is no more improbable than the other. The only fact is that some beliefs have to be accepted on the basis of faith, and that goes for evolution as well as creationism.

If "nothing wrong with" means "no crime in," of course Reese is correct.

If "nothing wrong with" means "no likelihood of serious intellectual error in," that's a whole different ball of wax.

I read the article according to the first meaning for the reasons I gave. If Reese is actually saying the second, I do not agree with him.

Like I said, I don't think Reese was making a scientific judgment so much as making an observation about the behavior of people who bash each other in the name of their theories and beliefs. I know I see it far too often and I get tired of the constant bickering (and I am not talking about OL discussions). I admit I might be in error, but for the present, I still understand the article to be with the first meaning. I also understand this slant to pertain to the entire article. That's one of the reasons I called it an op-ed kind of article.

Michael

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Also is the idea of life as the standard of value. Evolution says no, or at the very least it's not nearly so simple.

Next is the more complex ideas (not available to Rand in her time) of inherent 'genetic' altruism and how in an evolutionary sense, a certain amount of non-reciprical altruism makes sense - or in other words - altruism is part of who and what we are.

Bob,

I know where you are coming from, but there is a nuance I would like you to ponder a bit. Rand considered healthy human life to mean a person who has a conceptual and volitional faculty—a mind—in addition to a body. Her characterization of volition and so forth often reminds me of the religious version of soul, except it can't be disembodied.

When Rand defined ethics, she was defining a code of choices man should make according to his values. (She called it a code of values to guide man's choices, but that is the same thing.) She was more or less providing an instruction manual for exercising his volition. So when she claims that man is an end in himself, I get the feeling she is often talking about that soul (the Objectivist version) as the starting point and source. I would have to look, but I don't remember her making that statement (end in himself) about other living beings. Thus, by extension, I don't think it would even apply to permanently severely mentally impaired people, which she considered subhuman. (I am not saying that this is right or wrong, merely that this is the standard I think Rand used.)

Altruism in the meaning she meant was in the sense of how one should choose ones values, how one should exercise his volitional faculty—not the actual choices so much as the method, the standard. According to altruism in the philosophical sense, the highest good is always others, never oneself. In Objectivism, the highest good is always oneself, never others. Note that this does not mean all acts will be short-term benefits. This is merely one standard among several standards that must be used in making choices. Other standards are more animal-like and pertain to terrain, evaluation of success or failure of an action, etc.

Using other words, Rand was against altruism as a conceptual standard for governing the code of values and how to choose (which is a conceptual act in ethics). You refer to biological altruism, but this has another meaning altogether. Even then, say with animals, the instances of actual altruistic behavior are vastly fewer within a lifespan than instances of self-serving action.

If you are going to talk about something disproving Rand, we should start by making sure her meanings are clear and are the ones she used. Otherwise, that something is probably disproving someone, but not Rand. :)

Michael

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I don't care what's taught in schools. The purpose of schooling is not to teach anybody anything, but to learn socialization and its inevitable injustice, boredom, spectacle and heartache.

:)

Well, at least you're an optimist ;)

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In my evaluation, this is an outstanding article.

[ . . . ]

Here are a few quotes that I endorse.

There is nothing wrong with a person believing that a dinosaur evolved into a canary, but there is also nothing wrong with someone believing that God created the first man and woman. I've never seen any physical evidence to support either belief, and one is no more improbable than the other.

This might rankle some people and collide with their serenity or beliefs, but I think it is eloquently stated.

Michael, your words collide with my serenity, dang you.

Please tell me you now see that Reese offers an argument from ignorance. He has "never seen any physical evidence" to support the evolution of birds from dinosaurs. Hmmm. Has he inquired? If not, then his ignorance of any evidence is hardly supportive of his conclusion: that bird evolution is as probable as gawd creating the first man and woman.

I put it another way: do you actually believe that the two events being compared are more or less equally improbable?

You write "I take him to be criticizing those intellectuals who clamor to make laws," and "I certainly have seen crusaders on both sides of the ID debate try to use the issue to bash the other and behave in precisely the manner Reese describes."

Hmmm. Reese precisely describes what behaviour? You mean "[evolutionists] wish to assert their theory as fact and to employ government power to ban discussion of creationism and intelligent design"?

Who are you talking about, Michael? What is the context? Where is the banning of discussion? Can you name a couple of intellectuals "who clamor to make laws"?

I don't understand why you praise a shoddy, murky, tendentious argument from ignorance.

I recommend an antidote to the ignorance of Reese -- a helping of Richard Dawkins, specifically his book Climbing Mount Improbable.

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~ I agree with MSK's view that the article (especially as an 'op-ed') was worth reading; in its own way it was 'thought-provoking' in many ways. Prob is: it provoked me thinking down lines not yet brought up in this thread.

~ Reese starts off talking about 'science' and 'religion' (which conflict in more territories than mere Creationism & Evolution do), then focuses in on C&E only, as being representative of the general conflict, hinting an argument that the opposing ideas are rationally eqivalent (ergo, he has an 'open' mind [ahem!] and he's therefore an agnostic on the questions.) I find his argument(s), hinted and stated, as a bit disingenuous.

~ I agree with MSK re evolution: I tentatively accept it as 'explanatory' (whatever its internal details-debates.) --- Interesting that no one's argued alien-seeding as an 'alternative' theory for *our* beginnings, (though such does push the basic question of life-origins back.)

2Bcont

LLAP

J:D

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~ However, Reese seems to be doing what so many 'religionists' do: argue that 'science' and 'religious teachings (aka Reason and Faith) are on the same rational-debate par for discussion.

Would that religious teachers of religion 'X' were so ready to argue with their ilk in religion 'Y.' But, you'll rarely see that.

~ 'Science', whether about Evolution or Nuclear Physics, Plate Tectonics or Cosmology, studies NATURE IN-ITS-OWN-TERMS. Some 'bottom line' is accepted (such as, nowadays so far, whereever there's matter, there's gravity) as a 'fundamental' and used to thereby 'explain' other phenomena.

~ To speak about Creationism is to speak about the 'outside' hypotheticalness of NATURE, whether supernatural 'hypothesis' (or should we say hypotheses?)...or merely alien (as in 'alien Universes'!)

~ This is not 'science', ergo, Creationism should be taught (as alien-seeding)...but...not in a so-called 'science' class.

~ Von Daniken, anyone?

LLAP

J:D

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William,

The thing I like most about the article is the method:

Q: Are you for A?

A: No.

Accusation: Then you are for B.

Q: Are you for B?

A: No.

Accusation: Then you are for A.

Final answer: Wrong on both counts. I am for neither. There is another alternative that falls outside that dichotomy. I use a different standard based on my observation.

I admire this manner of thinking when I perceive it is sincere and is ones best effort. (I think this is Reese's case, but since I do not know the rest of his work, I might be mistaken.) Doing this takes courage when the issue excites strong passion and name-calling on both sides. What's more, such a person is open to rational persuasion (like physical evidence), but not peer pressure.

Incidentally, Kat got me a present: The God Delusion by Dawkins. This will be my first Dawkins read. I look forward to it.

Michael

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William,

The thing I like most about the article is the method:

Q: Are you for A?

A: No.

Accusation: Then you are for B.

Q: Are you for B?

A: No.

Accusation: Then you are for A.

Final answer: Wrong on both counts. I am for neither. There is another alternative that falls outside that dichotomy. I use a different standard based on my observation.

I admire this manner of thinking when I perceive it is sincere and is ones best effort. (I think this is Reese's case, but since I do not know the rest of his work, I might be mistaken.) Doing this takes courage when the issue excites strong passion and name-calling on both sides. What's more, such a person is open to rational persuasion (like physical evidence), but not peer pressure.

Incidentally, Kat got me a present: The God Delusion by Dawkins. This will be my first Dawkins read. I look forward to it.

Michael

-The Ancestor's Tale- by Dawkins is his best book. It will also straighten you out on what the theory of evolution is about.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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According to altruism in the philosophical sense, the highest good is always others, never oneself. In Objectivism, the highest good is always oneself, never others.

And that is a classic false dichotomy problem. Man qua man in reality means being partially inherently altruistic. It's not an A or B situation. Admitedly, Rand probably did not know this, as most of this line of research is post-Rand.

So what we have is the question of what the highest good should be. Well, it looks like, to simplify greatly, that we should be about 80% selfish, and about 20% altruistic (numbers are arguable of course). So there exists no single paradigm. Too much selfishness and we risk peer retribution. Too much altruism and we risk too much detriment to the individual. The right balance maximizes the survival and proliferation of the individual AND the species.

Or heritage, our ongoing 'creation' up to this point, is as gene replicators. This means that survival is important, but some things can be more important than survival. The difference is perhaps subtle, but critically important. This more accurate 'qua man' explains and predicts quite a lot; including, but not limited to, family relationships and behaviour, extended family relationships, charity, tribalism and racism just to name a few.

It is quite clear to me that Rand was very wrong on the 'qua man' thing, the 'life as the standard of value' idea, and the 'tabula rasa' concept and by extension, any ideas that extend from the above.

Bob

Edited by Bob_Mac
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Interesting that no one's argued alien-seeding as an 'alternative' theory for *our* beginnings, (though such does push the basic question of life-origins back.)

Seeding and evolution are not incompatible. Evolution occurs now and in the past and explains current biodiversity - fact. When and where exactly did it start, here or elsewhere? Doesn't really matter to evolutionary theory.

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So what we have is the question of what the highest good should be. Well, it looks like, to simplify greatly, that we should be about 80% selfish, and about 20% altruistic (numbers are arguable of course). So there exists no single paradigm. Too much selfishness and we risk peer retribution. Too much altruism and we risk too much detriment to the individual. The right balance maximizes the survival and proliferation of the individual AND the species.

Bob,

This aligns with my thinking. I would not call it altruism to avoid confusion with former definitions, but I definitely see some innate behavior develop through growth in human beings (20% seems like a reasonable rule of thumb) that I can only classify as species oriented and not individual oriented.

This brings me to the second point:

It is quite clear to me that Rand was very wrong on the 'qua man' thing, the 'life as the standard of value' idea, and the 'tabula rasa' concept and by extension, any ideas that extend from the above.

If "'qua man'" is not valid for the individual part, if "tabula rasa" is not valid for learned concepts and so on, what are the standards? If these aspects you criticize are claimed across the board and this is a fundamental condition, I can agree with your objections. But, if they apply to the 80% (or whatever standard is used), they are true and insightful.

I think the problem is scope, not right/wrong.

Michael

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So what we have is the question of what the highest good should be. Well, it looks like, to simplify greatly, that we should be about 80% selfish, and about 20% altruistic (numbers are arguable of course). So there exists no single paradigm. Too much selfishness and we risk peer retribution. Too much altruism and we risk too much detriment to the individual. The right balance maximizes the survival and proliferation of the individual AND the species.

Bob,

This aligns with my thinking. I would not call it altruism to avoid confusion with former definitions, but I definitely see some innate behavior develop through growth in human beings (20% seems like a reasonable rule of thumb) that I can only classify as species oriented and not individual oriented.

This brings me to the second point:

It is quite clear to me that Rand was very wrong on the 'qua man' thing, the 'life as the standard of value' idea, and the 'tabula rasa' concept and by extension, any ideas that extend from the above.

If "'qua man'" is not valid for the individual part, if "tabula rasa" is not valid for learned concepts and so on, what are the standards? If these aspects you criticize are claimed across the board and this is a fundamental condition, I can agree with your objections. But, if they apply to the 80% (or whatever standard is used), they are true and insightful.

I think the problem is scope, not right/wrong.

Michael

I'm not sure my use or definition of altruism is different or confusing. You call it "species-oriented". What I mean by an altruistic act is one that benefits another at a cost to the individual. Therefore, extended to a paradigm I think it's not substantially different from Rand's at all.

"But, if they apply to the 80% (or whatever standard is used), they are true and insightful."

I don't think so. I think the 20% in there, logically extended, paints a very different picture than Rand's models.

"but I definitely see some innate behavior develop through growth in human beings"

Interesting choice of words. I see Rand as the sullen, know-it-all perpetual teenager who missed that growth and never quite matured enough to refine her initial self-centered views to encompass the more layered, mature, complex and nuanced human condition.

Bob

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What I mean by an altruistic act is one that benefits another at a cost to the individual. Therefore, extended to a paradigm I think it's not substantially different from Rand's at all.

The rub is the "cost." How much cost vrs benefit? Sacrifice as a moral/intellectual weapon to benefit the state and slavemasters by disarming the victims is the one, big, bad thing. People are first individuals then they are individuals who integrate themselves into relationships with others as they grow and mature even while differentiating themselves from mother and family. The individualistic base is reflective of the atomistic nature of human cognition. If that's not properly honored you get tribalism and your sons march off to fight crazy, stupid, irrational wars while you are taxed to the nines to pay for it.

--Brant

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Sacrifice as a moral/intellectual weapon to benefit the state and slavemasters by disarming the victims is the one, big, bad thing.

This is IT, right here! And I think this is where Rand's views on altruism originated. She saw the results firsthand in Soviet Russia. Rather than see her as a "sullen teenager", Bob, can't you cut her a little slack and see her as someone who saw altruism being used as a club by the Soviet thugs and who stood up and said "NO! I will not sacrifice." Perhaps Objectivism takes it to an extreme, going so far as to say that voluntary altruism is bad, too. But it's telling that when Phil Donahue asked her why it's wrong to be a self-sacrificing person, her response was "because they don't hesitate to sacrifice whole nations."

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