Settling the debate on Altruism


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"Subjective" truth - what's that? :D

Michael was being facetious of course, trying to direct the debate to something like "truth is always objective, and therefore it automatically is an objective value". But imo this is confusing a fact with valuation of the fact.

But I don't want to run off topic here, see you on the other thread.

Xray,

You already channel Ayn Rand incorrectly. But she's dead. When you channel me, it's different because I am alive and can say you got it wrong. And you did. I was not being facetious at all and I was not intending to pontificate dogma in your style like you illustrated.

That was a nice sidestep you did, too. Especially when you slipped in fact in the place of truth.

My question remains. Is the truth a value to you?

Michael

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The Reason Why Altruism Will Always Be Misunderstood

By definition, empathy is not a consciously-egoic experience. However, ontologically empathic evaluations and experiences are a part of the self as a biological unit. Equally, values that arise from empathy are self-values; but these values are never ascribed to the self because of what empathy represents (see definition). When Objectivist philosophers assert that self-sacrifice is unethical and antithetical to human life, they are consistently met with boisterous opposition. Many Objectivists fail to recognize the source of this opposition, often concluding that society teaches a truly selfless set of ethics. However, this conclusion is premature.

To individuals who experience empathy, valuing others before the self is a conscious ascription of the events that are occurring. When Brother John helps the homeless Macy Gray by giving her his food, Brother John will always assert that he has sacrificed his needs for another. He will add that the motivation for his behavior was a result of empathy. Although Brother John asserts that he has placed another above himself, the ontological truth is that he has placed his values embedded in feelings of empathy above values embedded in his ego. When Brother John later reports that putting others before himself provides a sense of fulfillment, we can be sure that Brother John’s sacrifice, unbeknownst to him, was indeed an act of putting himself first. Thus, because empathic values and fulfillment arise from the self, perceptions of sacrifice in the context of empathy are actually consistent with the ethics of Objectivism.

Individuals who practice ontologically selfish altruism will always consciously report their actions as “putting others before the self,” which on the surface would appear to contradict Objectivism. Now we know better though! The next question becomes: how does an Objectivist distinguish between ontologically selfish altruism and ontologically selfless altruism? The answer is determined by how the practitioner feels. If an act of altruism yields no emotional reward, no fulfillment, it might be considered selfless. If Brother John himself feels like a victim every time he gives his food to Macy Gray, he might be operating through selfless altruism. But without evidence of the altruists inner experience, we can never know. Jesus, Mother Teresa, and many saints. To me, they represent altruists in the most virtuous sense. Their words and behaviors were filled with intention, with passion, with commitment. These characteristics are not the attributes of selfless individuals, they are a function of an individual who is self-full.

Therefore, beware before hastily judging self-attributed altruists as unethical. The fact is that empathic benevolence will never be self-described in comfortable and selfish Ojectivist terms.

Indeed "empathic benevolence" is hard to be self-described in such Objectivist terms! Consider the following "comfortable" Objectivist phrase from The Fountainhead; the quote is relevant to your post because it is an obfuscated way of saying who the object of self-interested action should not be:

"I think that the cardinal evil is placing your interests in other men." (I am quoting now from memory)

What? So a surgeon who takes pleasure in achieving a satisfactory level of health of his patients is evil? He does not get his hands wet in stone and geometry in order to build buildings like the architect; he does not deal in metals and metallurgy in order to create a new metal like Hank Reardon: he literally judges his self-esteem by how "good" he can make the health of a person who is not himself!

Of course, the surgeon is not evil. His interest in helping the patient is not that the patient will go on to live a happy life after he leaves the hospital; his interest is not the patient's self-interest in becoming healthy as a result of the surgery (to vindicate the quote). Rather, the surgeon's interest in helping the patient is that the former has an interest in repairing human health, which he regards as a wonderful sight, and the achievement of which he finds inspiring. He merely has a passion for observing the proper internal workings of the body, no matter whose the body. Internal parts of the body and normal biology are to him what metal and metallurgy are to Rearden. Psychologists may be seen as self-interested in the same way.

I am fairly sure that the context of Rand's quote did not imply that surgeons and psychologists are evil in this way; surely the context was a defense of first-handedness in any profession. But this conclusive statement could have surely been worded better.

One question worth examining is why Rand did not portray doctors, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists as heroic figures in her novels. And is being a social worker, or a relief worker for victims of natural disaster (provided that their work is privately funded) so bad, assuming that the workers like health? As to releif workers, what is so wrong with seeing the mass preservation of human life? I don't think anything is wrong with either occupations, provided the workers are motivated by his distanced vision of the successful workings of mind and body, and not the recipient's vision of or happiness in his self-interest.

Thank you for an easy-to-read post Christopher; it condensed a complicated challenge to literal Objectivist theory into enjoyable and straightforward language, as if it was the content of a discussion over coffee at a bookstore cafe.

[The follow up posts which I read (those on the first few pages) were great too!]

Sincerely,

John

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Hey John,

Thanks for the nice comment!

If little else, I do have a way with words, don't I? :)

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One question worth examining is why Rand did not portray doctors, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists as heroic figures in her novels.

The surgeon Dr. Thomas Hendricks is one of the (admittedly minor) heroes in AS.

Why not more like him in her fiction? I want her to show how social workers and releif workers and soup kitchen directors can be heroic. But as she allegedly said in the Playboy interview: "Charity is not a major vitue" (or she said something to that effect).

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One question worth examining is why Rand did not portray doctors, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists as heroic figures in her novels.

The surgeon Dr. Thomas Hendricks is one of the (admittedly minor) heroes in AS.

Why not more like him in her fiction? I want her to show how social workers and releif workers and soup kitchen directors can be heroic. But as she allegedly said in the Playboy interview: "Charity is not a major vitue" (or she said something to that effect).

I suspect that for Rand the best example of a "social worker" is a businessman offering employment in his community, and the best example of a "relief worker" is the construction worker offering his services for pay in the rebuilding effort. Rather like Maimonides' ranking of the eight degrees of charity.

http://judaism.about.com/od/beliefs/a/charity_nine.htm

1. The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.

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Thank you for an easy-to-read post Christopher; it condensed a complicated challenge to literal Objectivist theory into enjoyable and straightforward language, as if it was the content of a discussion over coffee at a bookstore cafe.

I don't think it's that complicated and Rand's ideas on altruism can be described and evaluated scientifically. Because of man's life as the standard of value idea, Rand's sacfrices and altruism are very much in line with that of Evolutionary Biology.

Altruistic acts are acts that confer a survival advantage to another individual at the cost of a survival disadvantage to the individual performing the act. I think this fits well with Rand's concept. Unfortunately evaluation of her ideas in this context mean her ideas don't hold up to scrutiny.

Also, with regards to X-ray's ideas about sacrifice being impossible (ie acts are by definition always in self interest). I think both Rand's take on altruism AND X-ray's ideas are true.

IIRC, Human Action Theory is a basic tenet of Austrian Economics which basically states that whenever a person chooses between alternatives, a preference is displayed. If a person has a choice and chooses A over B, by definition they prefer A. The ACT is everything, because it's the only thing we can see and measure. To criticize the decision is to substitute your values. Actions, in their view are always in ones self interest regardless of how twisted or destructive we may judge them to be. The drug addict has his own reasons to choose the drug over recovery.

Therefore while it might be impossible not to act in self interest, it is certainly possible to perform an act that is altruistic. I don't see is as exclusive.

Bob

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I don't think it's that complicated and Rand's ideas on altruism can be described and evaluated scientifically. Because of man's life as the standard of value idea, Rand's sacfrices and altruism are very much in line with that of Evolutionary Biology.

Altruistic acts are acts that confer a survival advantage to another individual at the cost of a survival disadvantage to the individual performing the act. I think this fits well with Rand's concept. Unfortunately evaluation of her ideas in this context mean her ideas don't hold up to scrutiny.

Also, with regards to X-ray's ideas about sacrifice being impossible (ie acts are by definition always in self interest). I think both Rand's take on altruism AND X-ray's ideas are true.

IIRC, Human Action Theory is a basic tenet of Austrian Economics which basically states that whenever a person chooses between alternatives, a preference is displayed. If a person has a choice and chooses A over B, by definition they prefer A. The ACT is everything, because it's the only thing we can see and measure. To criticize the decision is to substitute your values. Actions, in their view are always in ones self interest regardless of how twisted or destructive we may judge them to be. The drug addict has his own reasons to choose the drug over recovery.

Therefore while it might be impossible not to act in self interest, it is certainly possible to perform an act that is altruistic. I don't see is as exclusive.

Bob

I'm steppping into the middle of this discussion, but just reading this post, I think the difference is what one is defining a sacrifice in regards to. Rand's view, if I understand it correctly, is there are objective values and, what's more, there is a hierarchy of these objective values. So, a sacrifice in her terms would be giving up something of greater value for something of a lesser value (or, at the limit, of no value or negative value if such is imaginable) -- which is how Rand defined altruism too.

Now, she doesn't posit that people automatically know these objective values, so from a Misesean approach -- i.e., looking at action without objective values -- one will see people simply acting -- i.e., pursuing their values and one might think an altruist act is not really a sacrifice. After all, someone is exchanging one situation for another -- and via the Mises view, the actor is always acting for a betterment. So, per Mises, it always looks like the actor is never sacrificing -- even if the end result either goes against objective values (per Rand and others who hold similar views of values) or later has regrets (in which case, the action was always directed toward betterment and so wasn't intended toward regret). (And Rand does define her concept of "value" neutrally as something which one acts to gain or keep. Thus, her concept of value doesn't presuppose her particular moral system. Instead, this is more a case of defining the term and her moral system would be a way of answering the question of what one should value. One can look at this as food for "rational reconstruction" -- as in one already has values and tries to rework them to make them more rational or objective.)

And here one can and must distinguish, I think, between the Misesean economic point of view and the Randian moral point of view. In the former, I think sacrifice is literally defined out of existence -- or has no place. In the latter, it's a real thing but this in the context of an objective scale of values. (The fear some libertarians might have here is, of course, armed with an objective morality, some would want to enforce it. But that's another issue and a problem of overlooking the value of autonomy in action -- which, I believe, is an objective value.)

Why is this topic under epistemology? I know it touches on it, but the core issue seems to fall more closely under ethics...

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I don't think it's that complicated and Rand's ideas on altruism can be described and evaluated scientifically. Because of man's life as the standard of value idea, Rand's sacfrices and altruism are very much in line with that of Evolutionary Biology.

Altruistic acts are acts that confer a survival advantage to another individual at the cost of a survival disadvantage to the individual performing the act. I think this fits well with Rand's concept. Unfortunately evaluation of her ideas in this context mean her ideas don't hold up to scrutiny.

Also, with regards to X-ray's ideas about sacrifice being impossible (ie acts are by definition always in self interest). I think both Rand's take on altruism AND X-ray's ideas are true.

IIRC, Human Action Theory is a basic tenet of Austrian Economics which basically states that whenever a person chooses between alternatives, a preference is displayed. If a person has a choice and chooses A over B, by definition they prefer A. The ACT is everything, because it's the only thing we can see and measure. To criticize the decision is to substitute your values. Actions, in their view are always in ones self interest regardless of how twisted or destructive we may judge them to be. The drug addict has his own reasons to choose the drug over recovery.

Therefore while it might be impossible not to act in self interest, it is certainly possible to perform an act that is altruistic. I don't see is as exclusive.

Bob

What about the effect of emotions in all this? I think in many cases one's emotional states are so overpowering that one can make choices that defy reason. We humans cannot separate reason from emotion completely and there are emotional factors in all our reasoning and our emotions are influenced by our reasoning. In example of the former is indicated in the saying "sleep on it" because why would sleeping on some idea help in the decision making process other than on an emotional level?

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I'm steppping into the middle of this discussion, but just reading this post, I think the difference is what one is defining a sacrifice in regards to. Rand's view, if I understand it correctly, is there are objective values and, what's more, there is a hierarchy of these objective values. So, a sacrifice in her terms would be giving up something of greater value for something of a lesser value (or, at the limit, of no value or negative value if such is imaginable) -- which is how Rand defined altruism too.

Now, she doesn't posit that people automatically know these objective values, so from a Misesean approach -- i.e., looking at action without objective values -- one will see people simply acting -- i.e., pursuing their values and one might think an altruist act is not really a sacrifice. After all, someone is exchanging one situation for another -- and via the Mises view, the actor is always acting for a betterment. So, per Mises, it always looks like the actor is never sacrificing -- even if the end result either goes against objective values (per Rand and others who hold similar views of values) or later has regrets (in which case, the action was always directed toward betterment and so wasn't intended toward regret). (And Rand does define her concept of "value" neutrally as something which one acts to gain or keep. Thus, her concept of value doesn't presuppose her particular moral system. Instead, this is more a case of defining the term and her moral system would be a way of answering the question of what one should value. One can look at this as food for "rational reconstruction" -- as in one already has values and tries to rework them to make them more rational or objective.)

And here one can and must distinguish, I think, between the Misesean economic point of view and the Randian moral point of view. In the former, I think sacrifice is literally defined out of existence -- or has no place. In the latter, it's a real thing but this in the context of an objective scale of values. (The fear some libertarians might have here is, of course, armed with an objective morality, some would want to enforce it. But that's another issue and a problem of overlooking the value of autonomy in action -- which, I believe, is an objective value.)

Why is this topic under epistemology? I know it touches on it, but the core issue seems to fall more closely under ethics...

I think I'm in agreement. One has to distinguish between the two when applying lables, but they aren't really conflicting. Self-interest does not preclude altruism if you define altruism objectively.

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I don't think it's that complicated and Rand's ideas on altruism can be described and evaluated scientifically. Because of man's life as the standard of value idea, Rand's sacfrices and altruism are very much in line with that of Evolutionary Biology.

Altruistic acts are acts that confer a survival advantage to another individual at the cost of a survival disadvantage to the individual performing the act. I think this fits well with Rand's concept. Unfortunately evaluation of her ideas in this context mean her ideas don't hold up to scrutiny.

Also, with regards to X-ray's ideas about sacrifice being impossible (ie acts are by definition always in self interest). I think both Rand's take on altruism AND X-ray's ideas are true.

IIRC, Human Action Theory is a basic tenet of Austrian Economics which basically states that whenever a person chooses between alternatives, a preference is displayed. If a person has a choice and chooses A over B, by definition they prefer A. The ACT is everything, because it's the only thing we can see and measure. To criticize the decision is to substitute your values. Actions, in their view are always in ones self interest regardless of how twisted or destructive we may judge them to be. The drug addict has his own reasons to choose the drug over recovery.

Therefore while it might be impossible not to act in self interest, it is certainly possible to perform an act that is altruistic. I don't see is as exclusive.

Bob

What about the effect of emotions in all this? I think in many cases one's emotional states are so overpowering that one can make choices that defy reason. We humans cannot separate reason from emotion completely and there are emotional factors in all our reasoning and our emotions are influenced by our reasoning. In example of the former is indicated in the saying "sleep on it" because why would sleeping on some idea help in the decision making process other than on an emotional level?

Not sure this matters. All I was saying that I basically agree that all people act out of self-interest - every act - rational or not, doesn't matter - still self interest. The act turns out to be altruistic or not depending on what happens (survival advantage or not) which is in line with Rand's views more or less (life qua man).

But there's a big flaw in this connected to the life qua man thing. I'll explain a little later.

Bob

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I think I'm in agreement. One has to distinguish between the two when applying lables, but they aren't really conflicting. Self-interest does not preclude altruism if you define altruism objectively.

Dependent on context, it might or might not preclude it. I must also add that I don't believe Rand was completely consistent on this issue. This kind of harks back to the survivalist debate of the 1990s (viz., survival vs. flourishing). Sometimes she sounds like a survivalist (think of her more explicit statements on egoism and on using life as the standard of value) and sometimes she doesn't (think of her talk about the life of man as man and also her depictions of moral action in her novels and stories).

That said, one must be careful here, especially in the context of discussions of Objectivism and Rand to be sure one explicitly states what one means by altruism and self-interest. This is no different were one to be discussing, say, "capitalism" amongst Marxists. In both cases, there are very definite views of the terms in play that'll likely trigger much more misunderstanding if one doesn't clearly define them up front. I'm sure you and most here agree.

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Why is this topic under epistemology? I know it touches on it, but the core issue seems to fall more closely under ethics...

Dan,

You are right. I am moving it.

btw - Welcome to OL.

Michael

Thanks for welcoming me and also for running an interesting site.

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"All people act out of self-interest".

Well I don't think so. My experience of people is that it's not that they don't do what they should do; not even that they don't do what you expect them to do; but that they don't do what they expect themselves to do.

Often, their actions are so self-disinterested, that those are irrational to the point of insane self-damage.

Without, often, the least momentary pleasure or gain that you can point to. Except for perhaps trying to impress other people. (Now, that's altruism and self-sacrifice in my book.)

Tony

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I don't think it's that complicated and Rand's ideas on altruism can be described and evaluated scientifically. Because of man's life as the standard of value idea, Rand's sacfrices and altruism are very much in line with that of Evolutionary Biology.

Altruistic acts are acts that confer a survival advantage to another individual at the cost of a survival disadvantage to the individual performing the act. I think this fits well with Rand's concept. Unfortunately evaluation of her ideas in this context mean her ideas don't hold up to scrutiny.

Also, with regards to X-ray's ideas about sacrifice being impossible (ie acts are by definition always in self interest). I think both Rand's take on altruism AND X-ray's ideas are true.

IIRC, Human Action Theory is a basic tenet of Austrian Economics which basically states that whenever a person chooses between alternatives, a preference is displayed. If a person has a choice and chooses A over B, by definition they prefer A. The ACT is everything, because it's the only thing we can see and measure. To criticize the decision is to substitute your values. Actions, in their view are always in ones self interest regardless of how twisted or destructive we may judge them to be. The drug addict has his own reasons to choose the drug over recovery.

Therefore while it might be impossible not to act in self interest, it is certainly possible to perform an act that is altruistic. I don't see is as exclusive.

Bob

What about the effect of emotions in all this? I think in many cases one's emotional states are so overpowering that one can make choices that defy reason. We humans cannot separate reason from emotion completely and there are emotional factors in all our reasoning and our emotions are influenced by our reasoning. In example of the former is indicated in the saying "sleep on it" because why would sleeping on some idea help in the decision making process other than on an emotional level?

Human action a la Mises would define action as purposive behavior without asking about what motivates that behavior. In this case, the only question would be whether a given behavior is purposive or not -- not whether it's ultimate motivation or goal defies reason in the everyday sense. For instance, imagine what's normally called an alcoholic. He says he doesn't want to drink and yet he drinks. In Misesean terms, he's got a goal inherent in his behavior -- that is, to drink. Hence, it's an action and even though it conflicts with his professed goals, it tells us something about his values -- that he values drinking over not drinking despite what he says to the contrary and even if he admits his value choice here doesn't make sense (e.g., it conflicts with both his other values and his professed goal of not drinking).

Still, there might be states one is in where there's no choice involved whatsoever, but these tend to very rare and then I believe we're outside the scope of action: we're no longer talking purposive behavior but just plain old behavior. This is so when there are no imagined alternatives or when the actor literally has no control. (On the latter, thinking of the knee-jerk response.) Of course, in judging such behaviors, one might have to examine the wider context. Going back to the alcoholic example, it might that taking a single drink seems completely out of his choice, but the choice to go near a bar after he's stated he doesn't want to drink today seems to belie that. In fact, a thing people often do to control supposedly irresistable urges is to avoid situations where they'll arise. So, there's a meta-level action going on here: the person who might binge on potato chips doesn't keep them in her cupboard. She acts purposively to avoid putting herself in a situation where she might lose control.

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"All people act out of self-interest".

Well I don't think so. My experience of people is that it's not that they don't do what they should do; not even that they don't do what you expect them to do; but that they don't do what they expect themselves to do.

Often, their actions are so self-disinterested, that those are irrational to the point of insane self-damage.

Without, often, the least momentary pleasure or gain that you can point to. Except for perhaps trying to impress other people. (Now, that's altruism and self-sacrifice in my book.)

Tony

I think one has to be careful about this. I agree that people often behave in ways that startle and surprise themselves. But in any situation this might be for many reasons -- and not just because they momentarily lost control. In fact, it might be that they selected an easier path or weren't aware of the correct course (or made earlier choices to avoid this -- as in people who don't look into something too deeply when they seem to know a conflict might arise).

Also, altruism and self-sacrifice in Rand's terms would need a framework of specific objective values -- specifically, hierarchical ones -- to know when a sacrifice was being made. The problem here might be that what looks like a sacrifice to someone might not look like one to the supposed sacrificer. This doesn't mean it isn't, but one would have to verify this by looking into the aims and motives of the supposed sacrificer. You do mention this, but I just want to be clear that this might not be easy to do in many cases.

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Human action a la Mises would define action as purposive behavior without asking about what motivates that behavior. In this case, the only question would be whether a given behavior is purposive or not -- not whether it's ultimate motivation or goal defies reason in the everyday sense.

This almost sounds like treating a person like a robot. I have doubts about an analysis that doesn't include emotional factors.

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Human action a la Mises would define action as purposive behavior without asking about what motivates that behavior. In this case, the only question would be whether a given behavior is purposive or not -- not whether it's ultimate motivation or goal defies reason in the everyday sense.

This almost sounds like treating a person like a robot. I have doubts about an analysis that doesn't include emotional factors.

I'd have to re-read Mises on this, but I don't think that was the idea -- to treat humans as robots. Rather, it was to isolate specific value considerations from economics -- to avoid economists judging ends or value and focus on describing the general features of human action. For instance, the law of supply and demand applies regardless of what values we plug in -- and regardless of what motivates people -- just as long as actors have values and much choose between values, the law applies. And, in my mind, this is a real gain -- or we end up with an economics constantly overlooking such laws because it's involved in lecturing people on their particular values.

On this, see also Kirzner's The Economic Point of View. This title is available for perusal online at:

http://all.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=304&Itemid=27

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Human action a la Mises would define action as purposive behavior without asking about what motivates that behavior. In this case, the only question would be whether a given behavior is purposive or not -- not whether it's ultimate motivation or goal defies reason in the everyday sense.

This almost sounds like treating a person like a robot. I have doubts about an analysis that doesn't include emotional factors.

No, I don't think it does, quite the contrary. It separates fact from speculation quite nicely. I think it's a very useful way of looking at human behaviour, emotional behaviour included. Dan is doing an excellent job of explaining this and I think this is an important idea. The idea here, and of course correct me if I'm wrong - it's been a little while since I've dug into this - is that we MUST limit ourselves to what we know - or at least our speculations cannot contradict what we know as fact. The motivations/ethics/psychology is still a black box, but the action is perfectly clear.

We cannot take the alcoholic's word for it that he wants to stop drinking more than anything else when he cracks open another beer and chugs it. Regardless of what he says, it's his ACTION that tells us that he prefers to drink. See, this helps us understand on a more precise level that although he might VALUE sobriety and understands his destructive behaviour, he doesn't value sobriety enough to put up with the discomfort of getting there. In other words, the price is too high - at least right now. Now perhaps you can see the connection to Economics. Anyway, emotion or not is irrelevant, all we are doing is ordinally ranking a series of values as determined by ACTION, not words, not emotion, not psychology. Why the action was chosen is very deliberately NOT addressed. What it tells us is that A is valued over B if A was chosen, nothing more. Emotion, psychology, whatever can analyze further, but you cannot say that B is more valuable if when given the choice, you don't choose it.

As Dan points out too, it's important to remember that choice indeed must be involved. We can't make a value judgment if there's no choice. There must be an A, B, C.... type of choice, or to act or not to act is also a choice.

Bob

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Human action a la Mises would define action as purposive behavior without asking about what motivates that behavior. In this case, the only question would be whether a given behavior is purposive or not -- not whether it's ultimate motivation or goal defies reason in the everyday sense.

This almost sounds like treating a person like a robot. I have doubts about an analysis that doesn't include emotional factors.

I know this hasn't become a 'what if' scenario (yet!), but to supply just one emotional factor/for instance - I think I would find value in rescuing a stranger from a river.

On two counts - human empathy, and not wanting to face myself later for not rising (diving) to the situation.

(Though if it were the Zambezi in torrent, I'd weigh the odds, likely hold back, and just have to live with the decision.)

The reason I raise this is to illustrate that 1. this doesn't necessarily constitute self-sacrifice (unless I die in the attempt), and is actually motivated by self-interest 2. more importantly, I don't think a SINGLE ACTION represents altruism... or egoism, for that matter.

Therefore, one who is a lifelong egoist by conviction can easily, on conditional occasions, make an unselfish act,or an apparently sacrificial act.

Is there a contradiction with Objectivist ideology? To quote the Galt Oath, "I will never live for the sake of another man..." I think that 'LIVE' answers the question.

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Human action a la Mises would define action as purposive behavior without asking about what motivates that behavior. In this case, the only question would be whether a given behavior is purposive or not -- not whether it's ultimate motivation or goal defies reason in the everyday sense.

This almost sounds like treating a person like a robot. I have doubts about an analysis that doesn't include emotional factors.

I know this hasn't become a 'what if' scenario (yet!), but to supply just one emotional factor/for instance - I think I would find value in rescuing a stranger from a river.

On two counts - human empathy, and not wanting to face myself later for not rising (diving) to the situation.

(Though if it were the Zambezi in torrent, I'd weigh the odds, likely hold back, and just have to live with the decision.)

The reason I raise this is to illustrate that 1. this doesn't necessarily constitute self-sacrifice (unless I die in the attempt), and is actually motivated by self-interest 2. more importantly, I don't think a SINGLE ACTION represents altruism... or egoism, for that matter.

Therefore, one who is a lifelong egoist by conviction can easily, on conditional occasions, make an unselfish act,or an apparently sacrificial act.

Is there a contradiction with Objectivist ideology? To quote the Galt Oath, "I will never live for the sake of another man..." I think that 'LIVE' answers the question.

In my opinion Objectivism's view on Emergency Situations is weak, but judge for yourself.

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I know this hasn't become a 'what if' scenario (yet!), but to supply just one emotional factor/for instance - I think I would find value in rescuing a stranger from a river.

On two counts - human empathy, and not wanting to face myself later for not rising (diving) to the situation.

(Though if it were the Zambezi in torrent, I'd weigh the odds, likely hold back, and just have to live with the decision.)

The reason I raise this is to illustrate that 1. this doesn't necessarily constitute self-sacrifice (unless I die in the attempt), and is actually motivated by self-interest 2. more importantly, I don't think a SINGLE ACTION represents altruism... or egoism, for that matter.

Therefore, one who is a lifelong egoist by conviction can easily, on conditional occasions, make an unselfish act,or an apparently sacrificial act.

Is there a contradiction with Objectivist ideology? To quote the Galt Oath, "I will never live for the sake of another man..." I think that 'LIVE' answers the question.

In my opinion Objectivism's view on Emergency Situations is weak, but judge for yourself.

I feel it'd be good starting place to evaluate whether Rand's view on the "ethics of emergencies" is really consistent with the rest of her views here -- rather than just accepting it as part of Objectivism. (And, in my mind, Objectivism is completely open to revision -- as is any philosophical system. Deciding whether the outcome of any revision is still Objectivism depends on what one means by the term. And all such systems and movements face issues of identity and integrity -- i.e., what alterations are possible that remain inside the pale and which ones push one definitely outside it. I don't have an easy formulaic answer for this... Of course, regardless, I think you'd want to know what the correct position to take on this -- rather than what's the Objectivist one, especially given your comments on this being a "weak" part of the system.)

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Human action a la Mises would define action as purposive behavior without asking about what motivates that behavior. In this case, the only question would be whether a given behavior is purposive or not -- not whether it's ultimate motivation or goal defies reason in the everyday sense.

This almost sounds like treating a person like a robot. I have doubts about an analysis that doesn't include emotional factors.

No, I don't think it does, quite the contrary. It separates fact from speculation quite nicely. I think it's a very useful way of looking at human behaviour, emotional behaviour included. Dan is doing an excellent job of explaining this and I think this is an important idea. The idea here, and of course correct me if I'm wrong - it's been a little while since I've dug into this - is that we MUST limit ourselves to what we know - or at least our speculations cannot contradict what we know as fact. The motivations/ethics/psychology is still a black box, but the action is perfectly clear.

We cannot take the alcoholic's word for it that he wants to stop drinking more than anything else when he cracks open another beer and chugs it. Regardless of what he says, it's his ACTION that tells us that he prefers to drink. See, this helps us understand on a more precise level that although he might VALUE sobriety and understands his destructive behaviour, he doesn't value sobriety enough to put up with the discomfort of getting there. In other words, the price is too high - at least right now. Now perhaps you can see the connection to Economics. Anyway, emotion or not is irrelevant, all we are doing is ordinally ranking a series of values as determined by ACTION, not words, not emotion, not psychology. Why the action was chosen is very deliberately NOT addressed. What it tells us is that A is valued over B if A was chosen, nothing more. Emotion, psychology, whatever can analyze further, but you cannot say that B is more valuable if when given the choice, you don't choose it.

As Dan points out too, it's important to remember that choice indeed must be involved. We can't make a value judgment if there's no choice. There must be an A, B, C.... type of choice, or to act or not to act is also a choice.

Bob

Thanks Bob! I'm only relying on Mises and his Austrian commentators here. I think everyone should give his Human Action a go.

I wanted to expand on costs. I think in Austrian economics the cost of any action is always what the actor imagines she or he is giving up -- not actually what's given up. In the case of our alcoholic friend, he's probably imagining the pain of not drinking, at the moment he decides to imbibe, is more than the pleasure he'll get from taking a drink.

To expand on this a bit more, this also goes for actions we know for which they won't work at all. The alcoholic presumably succeeds in drinking -- even if that goes against his professed goal of sobriety and perhaps his long range plans of maybe maintaining his health and keeping his job or marriage. But what about purposive behavior we know won't actually work, such as -- borrowing an example often used in Austrian circles -- rain dances. Presumably, people do rain dances to bring on rain. It seems to be the case that rain dances have no actual causal relation to rain -- in other words, whether someone does a rain dance has no impact on whether it rains. Yet the rain dancer seem, obviously, to believe it causes rain. This explains why they do they dance and the economist can explain the rain dancer's actions in terms of the latter's preferences -- even if the former believes this will never work and is a total waste of time and effort; that it's, thereby, irrational in terms of how the world actually works.

And the same economics applies to rain dancer as applies to investing money in weather forecasts or grain futures. In a sense, one might say, Mises and those of his school have managed to make a distinction that works in reality and, because of this, probably identifies a valid difference -- i.e., it cuts reality along lines that makes sense rather than merely imposing an arbitrary construct such as classical and neoclassical economists do with their models of human behavior.

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