My Objections


bmacwilliam

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Could you elaborate a little bit more on why you disagree with them?

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Here's a partial list

I disagree with the following Objectivist ideas and derivatives thereof

d) Dismissal of altruism

Where to start? Thoughts?

Let me just touch on this one.

For me, 'altruism' is the forced service/sacrifice of others. I separate them from 'doing good' or 'doing service' or 'help others' because YOU wish to do so.

Ex: forcing kids to do service work to graduate. That's altruism and that's wrong. As opposed to encourging kids to do service work because they think its the right thing to do, and allowing them to decide what, if any, service they will do. That's not altruism.

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d) Dismissal of altruism

Let me just touch on this one.

For me, 'altruism' is the forced service/sacrifice of others. I separate them from 'doing good' or 'doing service' or 'help others' because YOU wish to do so.

Ex: forcing kids to do service work to graduate. That's altruism and that's wrong. As opposed to encourging kids to do service work because they think its the right thing to do, and allowing them to decide what, if any, service they will do. That's not altruism.

Good, let's start here. First we need to agree on what altruism is. Your definition 'forced service/sacrifice' sounds more like slavery. I wouldn't argue in favour of slavery.

How about we discuss altruism in this context:

"Objectivism holds that self-sacrifice is the evil and that self-interest is good. " or at least the idea that "Objectivism holds that nobody should be bound/required to self-sacrifice."

Does either of these work?

Bob

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How about we discuss altruism in this context:

"Objectivism holds that self-sacrifice is the evil and that self-interest is good. " or at least the idea that "Objectivism holds that nobody should be bound/required to self-sacrifice."

Does either of these work?

Are you saying that you still disagree with condemnation of altruism if it's in that context?

If you're helping other people, and it's bringing you joy, it IS self-interest. For instance, one of my friends was writing a paper recently and I spent a lot of time discussing the ideas in it with him - a lot of time, that, technically, I didn't have - that I should've been spending on doing homework or practicing piano. Undoubtedly it cut into those things and a little part of me suffered as a result. But that wasn't self-sacrifice, because I wanted to talk to him MORE than I wanted to work on school or music at that time. Helping him brought me MORE happiness than ignoring him would have. It was just a prioritizing of interests. Self-interest in Objectivism doesn't mean that your interests deal exclusively with your self - they can include others' interests, too, if those interests of other people COMPOSE a part of your self.

Basically, altruism = ew because it translates to: disregarding your own values for ones you disagree with = good.

Which is dumb.

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Bob,

I will look it up for you to get you exact quotes, but going on memory, altruism in Objectivism means a philosophical doctrine used as a basis for morality. It does not mean simply helping people. The philosophical doctrine claims that when you help others, your action has moral import. When you do something to help yourself, it has none. And when you sacrifice something in order to help others, principally if it brings no value to you or causes loss, it has even higher moral import.

Do not confuse this with empathy or benevolence. I admit that lots of Objectivists certainly do.

Michael

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Bob,

I will look it up for you to get you exact quotes, but going on memory, altruism in Objectivism means a philosophical doctrine used as a basis for morality. It does not mean simply helping people. The philosophical doctrine claims that when you help others, your action has moral import. When you do something to help yourself, it has none. And when you sacrifice something in order to help others, principally if it brings no value to you or causes loss, it has even higher moral import.

Do not confuse this with empathy or benevolence. I admit that lots of Objectivists certainly do.

Michael

Yes, I get it.

As I see it, there's two ways this can go.

1) I could argue that Rand's view of altruism is deliberately misleading. Often she describes it even harsher than your terms - basically slavery. I can't argue for slavery. I can only argue that what she means by altruism, isn't altruism.

2) The simpler, self-sacrifice bad, self-interest good meaning.

So to be clear, I'd rather criticize Rand's position in the #2 form.

Bob

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I think Rand was harsh on altruism (as Michael explains it-- a moral doctrine) because she experienced so much of it in its institutionalized, fully-evolved form. I agree with Michael's definition of altruism, which I consider to be a racket run by politicians and certain religious institutions.

The thing that gets missed by some Objectivists is just as was said earlier-- if giving/helping/whatever gives you pleasure, achieves your purposes, that's in your self-interest. Instead, some go to the other side. There's good selfishness and there's stupid selfishness. The overly-selfish end up being just as ineffective as the uninformed selfless type.

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I think Rand was harsh on altruism (as Michael explains it-- a moral doctrine) because she experienced so much of it in its institutionalized, fully-evolved form. I agree with Michael's definition of altruism, which I consider to be a racket run by politicians and certain religious institutions.

The thing that gets missed by some Objectivists is just as was said earlier-- if giving/helping/whatever gives you pleasure, achieves your purposes, that's in your self-interest. Instead, some go to the other side. There's good selfishness and there's stupid selfishness. The overly-selfish end up being just as ineffective as the uninformed selfless type.

Rand was, to my mind, pretty clear on how she defined altruism. Yes, her definition uses the term to define , specific type, if you will, of altruism.

For me, I've always used 'altruism' in her sense, and separate it from other forms of service/benevelence/help, etc. As others have noted in this thread.

I have to say that Rich is right in that too many O'ist don't fully get it, which I blame partially on Rand's personality. Her 'harshness' and strident view of altruism too often seems to color how some O'ist behave. (they don't seem to be able to separate the philosophy of Rand from her personality/behavior). And the sad part is that many outside of O'istm have picked up on this and view O'ism and thus O'ist in a negative light of being self-centered in the extreme, care only for themselves, and would never help others.

Sort of a view that an O'ist would walk right past someone lying in the street hurt, because helping them would be altruistic, and altruism is evil.

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Sort of a view that an O'ist would walk right past someone lying in the street hurt, because helping them would be altruistic, and altruism is evil.

Ok, so...

The question is, if helping them causes you any risk, inconvenience, time, or money, should you be required (morally) to help?

Bob

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Hi,

To offer an impartial voice, a basic philosophical dictionary offers up this:

“The promotion of the good of others…a selfless and benevolent love for mankind humankind and dedication toward achieving the well-being of people and society.”

And: “Altruism may be motivated by (a) a disinterested sense of duty to humans and society, or (B) the disciplined attempt to overcome one’s self-centeredness.”

And: “Altruism may involve self-abnegation or self-denial, and selflessness.

Altruism: (L, alter, “another” or “other.”)

**

I would argue that Ayn Rand was right on the money when she argued against altruism as an moral ideal, and I would agree with MSK that altruism is not to be confused with benevolence, which can be distinguished from self-sacrifice. Of course, I would argue for a rational selfishness that incorporates the well-being and happiness of those who are of value to me. I wouldn't call that altrusim though.

-Victor

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I help my friends all the time. Why? Because they're my friends and I need no reason other than that. I directly benefit from my friends being happy, especially with me, because I enjoy their company more when they are happy. So, there's nothing altruistic about me helping my friend.

As far as some perceptibly altruistic actions go, they are not always as they seem. You see a person getting mugged on the street and you help out, you are doing little more than trying to make the place in which you live a little safer. Also giving the massive amounts of media coverage given to just such cases, I would say that it is valid do think that you are going to influence others to do the same.

How about some elaboration on some of the other ideas. You said the philosophy is "full of holes" then proceeded to point out all the areas where you hold a separate opinion with no explanation or backup.

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I define altruism as an ideological tool for the purpose of control. People are told to not think of themselves first, but others; to give, to sacrifice. But what they are never told (at least in rational terms) is why. This usually involves "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." It is an authoritative act, one that is successful through relying on blind faith and/or ignorance and/or fear. It's a very crafty power move that can generate critical mass very quickly. Like I said before, it's a racket, a scam.

The question is, if helping them causes you any risk, inconvenience, time, or money, should you be required (morally) to help?

Required by whom? Is it not a question that one asks only to one's self? That's the only way I ever have figured out how to do it, when the decision is at hand. What do I feel? What do I want to try and make happen? If I save someone and lose myself, that means my loved ones lose me. And even then sometimes the answer still might be yes.

We had a very, very extended discussion similar to this based on a scenario MSK came up with involving a child in the woods.

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I don't know if we're supposed to take these on one at a time or not, I was looking at the list.

There has been a lot of discussion on tabula rasa here too. I guess in brief I will say that I disagree with tabula rasa. One, because of things that have come out of evolutionary psychology. Two, because even were tabula rasa to be entirely the case, I'm not sure it matters because the board gets drawn on by pretty much anyone who has a piece of chalk as soon as you're squirted out of the womb. So in a respect, I consider it to be kind of a non-issue, if it's there at all (and I don't think it is).

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1) I could argue that Rand's view of altruism is deliberately misleading. [....]

Bob, a quarrel with that sort of statement. I've seen you make statements of that form about Rand elsewhere as well. For one thing, it's doing to her what she was prone to doing to others: assuming if the person says something she finds wrong that the person is badly motivated not simply mistaken. For another thing, I see no evidence at all -- either in her writing, or from personal observation of Rand, or from any report of Rand I've heard (multiple reports) from people who were close associates of hers -- of ANY attempt ever on her part deliberately to be misleading. Instead, she was a writer who took excruciating pains attempting to be clear. I'll agree with you that despite those pains, there are numerous issues on which she is not clear. But simply stating that what she wrote is misleading or unclear is adequate. There's no need to accuse her of having attempted to mislead or to muddy the waters.

(I agree with you, btw, that she is misleading in some of what she says about "altrusim" and that unfortunately often Objectivists get the idea that they're not supposed to exhibit common human fellow-feeling benevolent behavior toward others. My objection is only to your saying that she was attempting to mislead.)

Ellen

PS: I realize that you opted for NOT taking that line of argument in your discussion of Rand on altruism and instead for taking the line you called approach 2. However, I still wanted to object to the "deliberately," since I have seen you use that elsewhere, and this one provided a succinct and easy-to-respond-to example.

___

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Bob,

I don't know if the following type of literature appeals to you, but I wrote about a highly intense situation in my life that involved altruism: Letter to Madalena ... An Homage to the Value of Valuing. I found myself in the damnedest situation of going through detox, breaking up with my girlfriend, and witnessing her mother die of cancer while her family essentially jumped ship. I was living with them at the time and when I saw this dear lady facing an ever-approaching death all alone and with hardship, I simply stepped up.

What I did entailed a great deal of sacrifice on my part. I am honestly at a loss to say whether my sacrifice was greater than my gain. I do know that it felt terribly cowardly at the time to walk away and I could not do that. I had to stay and help Madalena. And I know that I would do it all over again in that situation without blinking an eye.

I think the whole issue of altruism has been oversimplified anyway. For example, selfishness comes in 3 basic flavors: short-term, medium-term and long-term. Let's call the childish, "I want it now!" (regardless of what "it" is) the short term version and concern with maintaining a serene spiritual integrity with good health the long-term version as the two ends of a scale. Obviously, there is nothing at all wrong with long-term selfishness, but there can be much wrong with the short-term version. The standard is rationality. Irrational selfishness is mostly bad and rational selfishness is mostly good. I don't say "completely good/bad" because it still depends on the short/medium/long term range and, also, on what one wishes to obtain to manifest the selfishness.

When Rand wrote about the virtue of selfishness, she was writing about long-term rational self-interest tempered by respecting the rights of others. In this sense, selfishness is a virtue.

Also, helping others comes in different flavors. On one end, there is an automatic response to an emergency that psychologists call an altruistic drive. There are too many documented cases of complete strangers putting themselves in harm's way to help a person in a desperate situation, and then having no explanation as to why they did that, to deny that this exists. Often they do not even remember jumping in to help. I call this a "species drive." It is something we are born with and develops automatically. Then there is simple helping others out of benevolence. Morally, there is the golden rule (which I fully endorse) of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Then there is the extreme end where helping others while enduring great suffering is seen as the most noble form of living. Obviously, I do not endorse this one as a way of life, but I can't help observing that in cases of short duration, it seems to help build character in many people.

Probably the worst thing on all sides concerning altruism is oversimplification. When taken to the extreme, on one end you get communism. When taken to the other end, you get anarchy and the resulting gang warfare.

I will get some Rand quotes on all this later to help us chew.

Michael

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Good points by Michael and Rich:

Michael: "altruism in Objectivism means a philosophical doctrine used as a basis for morality"

Rich: "I think Rand was harsh on altruism (as Michael explains it-- a moral doctrine) because she experienced so much of it in its institutionalized, fully-evolved form. I agree with Michael's definition of altruism, which I consider to be a racket run by politicians and certain religious institutions."

On another thread, somebody (Dragonfly maybe?) said they thought Rand started with opposition to Communism and developed her ideas from that. The poster intended this as a criticism of Rand. While I think the statement is essentially correct, I don't see it as a bad thing. The anti-altruism stand came from her identification of the fundamental premise that made Communism possible - and that was altruism, the idea that the welfare of others is more important than your own.

On the Donahue Show in 1980, Phil asked her why she was so harsh on people who would sacrifice for other people. She answered, "Because they don't hesitate to sacrifice whole nations," and goes on to state that Commmunism and Nazism are based on altruism.

I think if it really was possible to practice altruism as a purely personal choice without trying to force it on others, Rand wouldn't have had a problem with it. But once you admit that your own interests are subordinate to those of others, you're defenseless against those who would require you to sacrifice, and they know it.

Rand figured this out early in life, and decided to shine the spotlight on it in her writing.

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Thanks, Laure!

"Shining the spotlight," indeed. Having thought through all this before, it's often occurred to me that she had good reason to crank it up a few notches. Meaning, even in the current era, it can take a bucket of ice water in the face before people actually realize how "assumed" the racket-style altruism still is. It's extremely penetrated into the culture, in childlike terms: Giving=good Selfish=bad. Better to give than receive.

"All you ever think about is yourself!" Well, uh-yeah, duh. How can I do otherwise? And how can I do anything outside of myself if I don't do that first? Charity begins at home, after all.

As simple as that seems, it's actually a very difficult thing for people to grasp, because they've been pounded with the control propaganda. And yes, usually it is from, but not limited to politicians and certain organized religions.

But I've seen control freaks make great use of it in marriages. Teachers over students. Whatever...

So I don't blame her for gunning up on it so much. It just turned on her within the movement. It got simple again. Literal.

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Also, helping others comes in different flavors. On one end, there is an automatic response to an emergency that psychologists call an altruistic drive. There are too many documented cases of complete strangers putting themselves in harm's way to help a person in a desperate situation, and then having no explanation as to why they did that, to deny that this exists. Often they do not even remember jumping in to help. I call this a "species drive."

I'd also relate that "species drive" and the overall desire to help another person to empathy. It's easy, say, in war and such, to pull the trigger and call for the destruction of persons when you dehumanize them, when you think of them in terms of a body and a single "evil" idea. But as soon as you start thinking of a person as what they really are - a creature with desires, with hatreds, with passions and a history and things that make them laugh and make them cry and make them love this earth -- well, simply, you think, "I can relate to that."

And all the sudden helping them - helping even complete strangers - becomes a form of selfishness, as instinctual as pulling yourSELF out of a spot of danger. Now you are not fighting for some formless stranger, but you are fighting for the same ideals which drive your own life, manifested in the life of that stranger.

In context, if you saw a person being mugged and you rushed in to help, even though it was a risk to your own safety, the thought process (at least for me) would go something like this: That person is being mugged. Their hard-earned money is being unjustly stolen from them, and their physical safety might be in danger. I don't believe that people should be able to seize what is not theirs by right; I don't believe that a life should be snatched away at another person's whim; this is not just an attack on that person's material effects, but a personal attack on my principles. Therefore I am compelled by self-defense to intervene and help out that person.

That's the only way it could qualify as a sort of "moral obligation." Obviously it's much more complicated, but there's a diluted look at the morality of helping others. (It really only translates to helping yourself.)

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Liz,

You show much wisdom for such a young person. In regard to helping others and the question of altruism, Angie and I were talking about this subject not too long ago. We discovered what we mean to the other, I can tell you that.

Let me propose this little scene to ponder:

Suppose the love of your life—your dream man—was caught in a burning building and he had a broken leg, so being able to flee is not so easy. Would you rush in to rescue him? Now hold on, I can imagine you would. But once you rescue him successfully and are now safely out of the building, you hear the cry of an infant child still caught in the edifice. But your dream man, you suspect, may still require your assistance as he is coughing up smoke, and resuscitation may be required of you. Do you leave him—on the speculation that he may need you—or do you now save the child? Keep the context in mind: this fantastic man that you love dearly may die (or may not) but the death of the infant is certain if you don’t do something. The man means everything to you. The child is not yours.

This is where you separate the altruists from the rational egoist.

-Victor

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I don't believe there is a static answer for Victor's question. It's a horrible judgment call, is what it is. A situational one, both within the individual, and without. The sadness and the courage.

_________

And Laure:

.. and the unspoken rest of that statement is, "you should be thinking about me instead!"

And at that, the train may or may not leave the station. Basically, altruism is a guilt trip. Healthy self-esteem provides a good innoculation against this kind of nastiness.

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I don't believe there is a static answer for Victor's question. It's a horrible judgment call, is what it is. A situational one, both within the individual, and without. The sadness and the courage.

_________

Rich, I agree. A question like this may cause a deeper exploration of one’s philosophy and values -- instead of answering stock questions with stock answers. Mind you, the situation I asked calls for action NOW, and there is no time to take a stroll down the “philosopher’s lane”, as the townspeople set their clocks to your scheduled stroll, ponderting it. :cool:

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Yeah, I'm with you on that, Victor.

I think that's what gets to me sometimes in O-world. There's some who really, truly are convinced that they can hardwire the decision making process. It's like saying that martial arts kata will function in actual combat (which it surely will not, as you say there is no time, for one). I believe that that static, non-pliant way of thinking can actually cause you to do things that, upon reflection (hindsight=20/20 and all) you can really, really regret. More than once I remember busting out a few by-the-book O-style moves that really made me feel like a piece of it, after the smoke cleared. I was "right." Right.

I'm more about the "using no way as way" approach, as Bruce Lee said it. It doesn't mean I'm a nihilist, it just means I try not to impose predefined limits. That isn't how reality rolls.

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