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william.scherk

Have your fiance tested for the 'ruthlessness' gene

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[W]ith regard to altruism, I have no objection, when discussing it in the context of biology, to accepting a definition generally used in that field (although I might point out that it is not the philosophical-moral definition);

Very convivial of you, Barbara! Thank you.

The operative words in several of the papers I cited range widely: trust, affliative behaviour, pair-bonding, generosity, benevolence, pro-social behaviour, helping behaviour, universalistic behaviour . . .

f I'm discussing [altruism] in the context of philosophy, to use the generally Comtean understanding. But in all such cases, the one absolute has to be that the definition of the concept under discussion is agreed upon.

Does this clarify my view?

Sure. I put below another small excerpt from the online Science Encyclopedia, re: Comte's definition, which adds another log on the fire. I will put my further Comte musings and baffledom on another thread, though, and hope to tease out some other research for your possible interest here. As you know from earlier exchanges, my primary interest in these matters is human nature. I find it astonishing that a genetic test can suggest who and who is not predisposed to give more in the Dictator Game, and that an aerosol blast up the nostril can make me more benevolent.

I really like the idea of a genetic test for Objectivists along with the self-report measures. -- how interesting it would be to check the same genetic variables of the Ebstein et al experiments on a cohort of meat-eating, firebreathing hardliners of the Randian orbit.

In the Comtean system, "altruism" stood for the totality of other-regarding sentiments. The new cerebral science of phrenology, Comte said, proved that altruistic sentiments were innate. He heralded this as one of the most important discoveries of modern science and contrasted it with what he presented as the Christian view, namely that human beings are, by nature, entirely selfish (because of the taint of original sin). Comte's hope was that through the institution of a new humanistic religion based on a scientific understanding of human nature and society, civilized nations would develop to a stage where altruistic sentiments prevailed over egoistic ones. Working out how to bring such a society about, Comte taught, was the greatest problem facing humanity. In his view, one of the keys to increased altruism was a recognition of the fact that women, because of their maternal instincts, were more altruistic than men. They therefore should have supreme moral and religious authority (although only within the domestic sphere). Thus the Religion of Humanity, as he called it, encouraged a particular emphasis on feminine moral virtues and the great sanctity of motherhood.

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Some further kindling re definitional confusions.

I agree with William's verdict:

[...] that it will be difficult if not impossible to purge the non-O meanings [of "altruism"] from scientific discourse.

I'm afraid we're stuck with the term in its biology usage.

But I agree with Ted that the usage is most confusing and most unfortunate and was politically motivated *, in a similar way to "Social Darwinist" having resulted in unfortunate confusion and having been politically motivated as a pejorative and then applied to, of all people, Herbert Spencer, who, though he did coin the phrase "survival of the fittest," wasn't a "Darwinist" of any stripe, "social" or "non," but instead a Lamarckian and who decried the sort of thinking which has come to be called "Social Darwinism."

Now there's a long sentence.

Here's some quick info on the misrepresentation of Herbert Spencer:

Link

From:

Rad Geek People’s Daily

"Herbert Spencer Anti-Defamation League (Part 423 of ???)"

2 April 2008

I’d like to point out that Dawkins’ characterization of Herbert Spencer — the 19th century radical libertarian sociologist and philosopher — is completely wrong on two different counts.

First, Spencer was not a "Social Darwinist." He was not, in fact, a Darwinist at all; he published his most famous work on evolution and society, Social Statics, in 1851, eight years before Charles Darwin first published On the Origin of Species. His ideas about evolution, especially as applied to society, were Lamarckian, rather than Darwinian; which is not ultimately that surprising, since he came up with them independently of Darwinian evolutionary theory, and before that even existed in published form.

Second, Dawkins is completely wrong about Spencer’s radical political views, which bear virtually no resemblence to the belligerent Rightism and economic royalism of Thatcher, Bush, Nixon, or Rockefeller. Spencer was in fact a feminist, a labor radical, and a vehement critic of European imperialism (which he described as bearing "a very repulsive likeness to the doings of buccaneers"). Contrary to the most popular, and most wildly inaccurate, caricature of his social views, Spencer did not believe in cutting off charitable relief to, or mutual aid among, the poor, sick, or other folks whom the powers that be might marginalize and dismiss as "unfit," in the name of "survival of the fittest." (That is his phrase, but it is being misapplied.)

[para. break inserted]

Spencer opposed government welfare programs — because he opposed all forms of government command-and-control — but he believed that voluntary charity and mutual aid were not only a positive moral obligation, but in fact were features of the highest forms of social evolution (Social Statics, pp. 291-2), as the old "militant mode" of hierarchy and command was supplanted by the new "industrial mode" of solidarity and voluntary co-operation. Spencer devoted ten chapters of his late work, Principles of Ethics, to the duty of "Positive Beneficence." He advocated the organization of voluntary labor unions as a bulwark against exploitation by capitalist bosses, and favored an economy organized primarily in free worker co-operatives as a replacement for the "slavery" of capitalist wage-labor.. For those — like the cartoon "Social Darwinist" that Spencer is so often portrayed to be — who advocated indifference or harshness towards the poor and blamed poverty on the ignorance, folly, or vices of the poor people themselves, Spencer himself had nothing but contempt:

--

*

The motivation for the use of the term altruism in biology was political - a reaction to the overblown claims of Social Darwinists in the other direction:

Ellen

___

Edited by Ellen Stuttle

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Many, though not all, of Spencer's works are available in fulltext versions at the Online Library of Liberty -- for those who are mildly obsessive like me, and hoped to find the original sources . . .

Ellen links to a page by the Rad Geek, in order to correct what some see as a misapprehension about Spencer.

Link

I’d like to point out that Dawkins’ characterization of Herbert Spencer — the 19th century radical libertarian sociologist and philosopher — is completely wrong on two different counts.

[ . . . ]For those — like the cartoon "Social Darwinist" that Spencer is so often portrayed to be — who advocated indifference or harshness towards the poor and blamed poverty on the ignorance, folly, or vices of the poor people themselves, Spencer himself had nothing but contempt:

This conclusion is untrue. Unfortunately, the Rad Geek conflates two differing classes of people that do not actually overlap (the indigent, diseased, weak, feeble, versus the labouring classes). Here is a passage from Chapter 25, Poor Laws in Social Statics [1851] in which Spencer discusses how we must not interfere with the progression of evolution, with the winnowing of the human race.

The development of the higher creation is a progress towards a form of being capable of a happiness undiminished by these drawbacks. It is in the human race that the consummation is to be accomplished. Civilization is the last stage of its accomplishment. And the ideal man is the man in whom all the conditions of that accomplishment are fulfilled. Meanwhile the well-being of existing humanity, and the unfolding of it into this ultimate perfection, are both secured by that same beneficent, though severe discipline, to which the animate creation at large is subject: a discipline which is pitiless in the working out of good: a felicity-pursuing law which never swerves for the avoidance of partial and temporary suffering. The poverty of the incapable, the distresses that come upon the imprudent, the starvation of the idle, and those shoulderings aside of the weak by the strong, which leave so many “in shallows and in miseries,” are the decrees of a large, far-seeing benevolence. It seems hard that an unskilfulness which with all his efforts he cannot overcome, should entail hunger upon the artizan. It seems hard that a labourer incapacitated by sickness from competing with his stronger fellows, should have to bear the resulting privations. It seems hard that widows and orphans should be left to struggle for life or death. Nevertheless, when regarded not separately, but in connection with the interests of universal humanity, these harsh fatalities are seen to be full of the highest beneficence—the same beneficence which brings to early graves the children of diseased parents, and singles out the low-spirited, the intemperate, and the debilitated as the victims of an epidemic.

There are many very amiable people—people over whom in so far as their feelings are concerned we may fitly rejoice—who have not the nerve to look this matter fairly in the face. Disabled as they are by their sympathies with present suffering, from duly regarding ultimate consequences, they pursue a course which is very injudicious, and in the end even cruel. We do not consider it true kindness in a mother to gratify her child with sweetmeats that are certain to make it ill. We should think it a very foolish sort of benevolence which led a surgeon to let his patient’s disease progress to a fatal issue, rather than inflict pain by an operation. Similarly, we must call those spurious philanthropists, who, to prevent present misery, would entail greater misery upon future generations. All defenders of a poor-law must, however, be classed amongst such. That rigorous necessity which, when allowed to act on them, becomes so sharp a spur to the lazy, and so strong a bridle to the random, these paupers’ friends would repeal, because of the wailings it here and there produces. Blind to the fact, that under the natural order of things society is constantly excreting its unhealthy, imbecile, slow, vacillating, faithless members, these unthinking, though well-meaning, men advocate an interference which not only stops the purifying process, but even increases the vitiation—absolutely encourages the multiplication of the reckless and incompetent by offering them an unfailing provision, and discourages the multiplication of the competent and provident by heightening the prospective difficulty of maintaining a family. And thus, in their eagerness to prevent the really salutary sufferings that surround us, these sigh-wise and groan-foolish people bequeath to posterity a continually increasing curse.

This is wonderfully put -- a greater beneficence is shown by the decease and decrease of the 'less fit' when evolution winnows out the weaklings and the failures. This is why Spencer's thought was taken up by the following Social Darwinists. In any case, Spencer's approbation of charity was only extended to the deserving . . . the purifying process would brook no charity to the defective.

Contrast this with the words cited by Rad Geek (found in context here), but note first that Spencer is not talking about the mendicant, or other subjects of the Poor Laws which he reviled -- the context is denying the labouring classes political representation. Two distinct items of discussion entirely:

It is very easy for you, O respectable citizen, seated in your easy chair, with your feet on the fender, to hold forth on the misconduct of the people – very easy for you to censure their extravagant and vicious habits …. It is no honor to you that you do not spend your savings in sensual gratification; you have pleasures enough without. But what would you do if placed in the position of the laborer? How would these virtues of yours stand the wear and tear of poverty? Where would your prudence and self-denial be if you were deprived of all the hopes that now stimulate you …? Let us see you tied to an irksome employment from dawn till dusk; fed on meager food, and scarcely enough of that …. Suppose your savings had to be made, not, as now, out of surplus income, but out of wages already insufficient for necessaries; and then consider whether to be provident would be as easy as you at present find it. Conceive yourself one of a despised class contemptuously termed "the great unwashed"; stigmatized as brutish, stolid, vicious … and then say whether the desire to be respectable would be as practically operative on you as now. … How offensive it is to hear some pert, self-approving personage, who thanks God that he is not as other men are, passing harsh sentence on his poor, hard-worked, heavily burdened fellow countrymen ….

The motivation for the use of the term altruism in biology was political - a reaction to the overblown claims of Social Darwinists in the other direction:

Maybe, maybe not. Is there much beyond the truncated quote from Wikipedia to illustrate this contention? I submit that altruism, as drawn from Comte, is a perfectly serviceable extension of the meaning, and well-within the scope of Comte's meaning.

I note, again, that we have read here only what Rand, Peikoff, Kelley and Thomas tell us what Comte meant. A fairer rendition would be to show Comte's usage, I figure -- but that can be lodged in the other thread.

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Thanks for the Library of Liberty link.

The political motivation for misusing the term altruism is evinced every time one reads an article on the matter in the popular press. I majored in Biology and Philosophy, the two subjects always having fascinated me (biology first) and have come across the equivocation over and over in the literature. Of course most biologists have no idea of the mistake they are making, or its implications. Again, biologists are just as subject to adopting phrases because they are fashionable as are other people.Just think about all the absurd phraseology we have adopted such as "grow the economy" since the Clinton administration. Bush did not drop the term - he now uses it too. If philosophers don't stand up for proper usage, we can hardly blame rhetorically untrained scientists.

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reply to post #28.

In a way Rand was a Social Darwinist (of a kind) when she urged (through the words of her plot character John Galt) that people stop supporting their destroyers. They way you get rid of the destroyers and the users is not to feed them or provide them with the means of destroying or looting the values of their betters. The negative types in and of their own power cannot undo their betters. They need the energy and aid of their betters.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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The hormone/neurotransmitter vasopressin and its receptors are best illustrated in differences between the monogamous prairie vole and its close relative the montane vole (the prairie rodent is monogamous, the montane vole not). The hormone is believed to play a part in 'communication, aggression, sexual behavior, and social memory.'

New-ish research on the monogamous prairie vole suggests that 'consolation behaviour' is present in rodents, not only so-called higher mammals, and is mediated by ocytocin. From Nature World News.

Prairie Voles Show Empathy For Stressed Relatives

By Samantha Mathewson Jan 24, 2016

A new study suggests that feelings of empathy are not unique to humans. Researchers from the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University discovered that prairie voles console their loved ones when they appear distressed. [...]

Prairie voles are small rodents known for forming lifelong, monogamous bonds and sharing parental care of their young. In the latest study, prairie voles were temporarily separated from some of their closest relatives and given mild shocks. When the voles were reunited, researchers found the non-stressed individuals immediately comforted the stressed voles by grooming and licking them. It turns out that oxytocin, the famous "love hormone," plays a major role in this behavior, according to a news release.

Consolation behaviors have been noted among nonhuman, social species such as elephants, dolphins and dogs. However, this is the first study to prove such behaviors exist in rodents.

Since individuation is much greater with a conceptual faculty than with any other life form, see a preponderance on the individual side, my 80% in the 80-20 thing.

Altruism in biology is no more altruism than Homo floresiensis is a Hobbit. It's a mistake to draw serious conclusions from lose and trendy language, even if the speakers are biologists.

What I get out of this paper is a strong sense that genetic differences under study undergird a whole suite of pro-social, generous, benevolent, cooperative behaviour -- it can certainly be argued that the suite of behaviours is not altruism at all, but I don't think that undermines the significance or interest in the work. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I would be very interested in your comments on Ebstein et al as well as the whole notion that the Dictator Game concerns 'altruism' in any way.

Sometimes I wonder what happened to Ted since he departed the online O world.

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The hormone/neurotransmitter vasopressin and its receptors are best illustrated in differences between the monogamous prairie vole and its close relative the montane vole (the prairie rodent is monogamous, the montane vole not). The hormone is believed to play a part in 'communication, aggression, sexual behavior, and social memory.'

New-ish research on the monogamous prairie vole suggests that 'consolation behaviour' is present in rodents, not only so-called higher mammals, and is mediated by ocytocin. From Nature World News.

Prairie Voles Show Empathy For Stressed Relatives

By Samantha Mathewson Jan 24, 2016

A new study suggests that feelings of empathy are not unique to humans. Researchers from the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University discovered that prairie voles console their loved ones when they appear distressed. [...]

Prairie voles are small rodents known for forming lifelong, monogamous bonds and sharing parental care of their young. In the latest study, prairie voles were temporarily separated from some of their closest relatives and given mild shocks. When the voles were reunited, researchers found the non-stressed individuals immediately comforted the stressed voles by grooming and licking them. It turns out that oxytocin, the famous "love hormone," plays a major role in this behavior, according to a news release.

Consolation behaviors have been noted among nonhuman, social species such as elephants, dolphins and dogs. However, this is the first study to prove such behaviors exist in rodents.

Since individuation is much greater with a conceptual faculty than with any other life form, see a preponderance on the individual side, my 80% in the 80-20 thing.

Altruism in biology is no more altruism than Homo floresiensis is a Hobbit. It's a mistake to draw serious conclusions from lose and trendy language, even if the speakers are biologists.

What I get out of this paper is a strong sense that genetic differences under study undergird a whole suite of pro-social, generous, benevolent, cooperative behaviour -- it can certainly be argued that the suite of behaviours is not altruism at all, but I don't think that undermines the significance or interest in the work. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I would be very interested in your comments on Ebstein et al as well as the whole notion that the Dictator Game concerns 'altruism' in any way.

Sometimes I wonder what happened to Ted since he departed the online O world.

Yeah, me too. He and I stayed in touch pretty well, but he seems to have fallen off a cliff since late 2013. Yet, I note that he is still listed as living in Bronx, New York. So, he's alive and doing something - just not posting in the Objectiverse.

REB

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