Generosity and Self-Interest


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>I wish I had the time and ability to dig up the bit in Rand's work where she says that others are like us and that it is natural and desirable to want to see others do well. Everything you say above is completely consistent with that particular work, and with the body of her work as a whole.

Oh of course. My point is that this would hardly be a distinctively Objectivist position.

>Somehow I find it hard to believe that Rand would have condemned professional or amateur lifeguards.

Hey, I report, you decide. :)

>Daniel, you're attacking a specific essay or two. They're written, as I've said before, in a specific context. As you said, it's important to look at what Rand actually said. But the essay isn't THE BIBLE. This is getting ridiculous.

It's not 'ridiculous' in the least. This is exactly how serious criticism is done. You can't examine a whole body of work all at once! You have to examine specific essays, and specific statements in those essays. In this case I don't have to make any great 'interpretation.' It's there in black and white. The part about it being "immoral" to risk one's life to help strangers is distinctively Randian. As it happens I am very familiar with most of Rand's work, though I admit I am first and foremost interested in her epistemology. The statements here don't clash seriously with any other parts of her work that I can recall.

> We're arguing interpretation and exegesis, and the woman was a fallible mortal who wrote in a context and didn't express her final intent for all time perfectly in those particular essays. The body of her work and the study of her life bears that out.

What you're saying here is that the position she expressed in "the Ethics Of Emergencies" is simply wrong, and that the true Objectivist position on risking one's life for a stranger is expressed elsewhere in her work and biography.

OK, but where? I don't know of anywhere. No-one else on this thread has suggested any contrary examples. You may in fact be right, and I may be wrong, but without evidence it is difficult to know (your other examples were not strangers).

You should also at least consider the possibility that you are wrong too, and that on closer examination the Objectivist ethics might not be quite what you think they are.

Edited by Daniel Barnes
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What you're saying here is that the position she expressed in "the Ethics Of Emergencies" is simply wrong, and that the true Objectivist position on risking one's life for a stranger is expressed elsewhere in her work and biography.

No. Considered in light of everything she wrote it's not wrong. Considered specifically in view of her passionate need to counter altruistic ethics, it's certainly not wrong.

I believe that she had in mind, while writing the essay, a vision of the kind of person that she frequently tore to pieces, and rightly so, in her writings. "Your child and your neighbor's child are of equal value; don't discriminate if both are drowning." "Your wife is no more important than anyone else; life is measured by the pound; who are you to expect special medical treatment?" "Son, take your best toy and give it to the poor boy down the street." Etc., etc., etc.

I agree with her that it would be wrong to fail to place the value of one's own life and well-being or the value of the lives and well-being of those for whom one cares over those of strangers.

In emergencies, most people don't sit down to consider these things; they tend to jump into action, often less than prudently. I once read a news article about a guy in the middle east who jumped into a well to save his chicken. He got into trouble, so a neighbor jumped in to help him. The neighbor also got into trouble, so someone else also jumped in to help HIM. All told, about twelve people ended up drowning. The chicken lived. Now, had the first guy sat down and done a Randian analysis, he might have concluded that the chicken wasn't worth the risk.

But here's the thing: rescuers usually don't expect to die. They just jump into action thinking they can help, when sometimes they're actually endangering themselves and not helping at all. It's almost an instinctive reaction, as others have discussed hereinabove. Is that reaction of moral significance? I'd say it simply distinguishes those who are impulsive from those who are more cautious.


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

Read the rest of the article at TOC...

Could it be Empathy galloping through the Village?

Man may be the rational animal (at times) but he is ruled by emotion almost always.

I have spent the last thirty-five years of my life hardening my heart with regard to strangers. That is a lot of time and I have still not succeeded perfectly (damn!). I find myself having three to four decent impulses a year despite my best efforts. And I still get weepy when I watch -Dumbo- (the scene where Dumbo's ma is saying goodbye to her baby). When logic collides with primordial genetically in-wired emotion, logic almost always loses.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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  • 11 months later...
Where principles and rights break down

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

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

Michael -

I periodically read your articles on here. I enjoy them very much, and I get a lot out of them. The quirkiness of this one especially caught my attention. I even went back and read the second half of the original RoR thread to understand the context in which it was written (talk about a headache).

I know this article is dated, but I'd still like to make a comment, assuming that you still hold the same position. You got me thinking, and this is my way of thanking you.

I would hold that evil SoB down while you attacked him, but the NIoF principle doesn't break down.

It takes more to starve a child than refusing to feed them. You need to restrict their freedom of movement to prevent them from obtaining food anywhere. For instance, you may have to lock up the child in a cage or drop the child off in the middle of a desert. The child never chose to be imprisoned or abducted. It was done against their will by force.

Since a child is not fully capable of acting in their own interest, they do not have full rights. An adult can morally and legally subordinate a child's will to their own. However, the adult must not forget why they have this privilege in the first place -- to help the child pursue their own interest. Using this privilege for anything else is self-contradictory, evil, and criminal.

Now, a baby in a desert had to have been brought there against its will. It wouldn’t just crawl into this predicament. So, if I find a baby in a desert, I should be required by law to notify the authorities ASAP, because I know that somebody wrongfully initiated force against this child to the detriment of their interests. Otherwise, I’d be participating in the crime.

Either way, I can't starve the baby to "ill health or death on purpose." It would be both immoral and illegal to simply walk away. If I don’t feed the baby (I would), the authorities will.


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