A Post-Randian Thinker Has Found His Home (Maybe)


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You missed the point. If humans are "naturally partially altruistic" -- i.e., if altruism is hardwired into their brains -- then how did Rand escape this natural tendency? The same could be said of many other people. Are all such people abnormal?

Lots of evidence

Not in the abstracts you posted. Cooperation, including "indirect" cooperation, is not the same thing as altruism.

With respect George, your term "cooperation" isn't fair and it is not what I'm talking about. I thought that was clear.

From the abstract:

"signalling benefits of altruistic acts can establish a stable generosity by high-quality individuals that no longer depends on the probability of future reciprocation or punishment."

is NOT simple cooperation. This is a behaviour that COSTS the initiator and BENEFITS the recipient with NO EXPECTATION of reciprocation.

You posted three abstracts; I was referring to the "indirect reciprocity" mentioned in the third. It reads:

Natural selection is conventionally assumed to favour the strong and selfish who maximize their own resources at the expense of others. But many biological systems, and especially human societies, are organized around altruistic, cooperative interactions. How can natural selection promote unselfish behaviour? Various mechanisms have been proposed, and a rich analysis of indirect reciprocity has recently emerged: I help you and somebody else helps me. The evolution of cooperation by indirect reciprocity leads to reputation building, morality judgement and complex social interactions with ever-increasing cognitive demands.

Note how the "indirect reciprocity" of "altruistic, cooperative interactions" is here contrasted with "the strong and selfish who maximize their own resources at the expense of others." This is a false dichotomy, period. And any research project that begins with muddled, poor-defined assumptions will end with muddled, poorly-defined conclusions.

But let's put this aside for now. Give me a few specific examples of (non-kin) "altruistic" behavior that are supposedly genetically hardwired into human beings. All I have seen so far are glittering generalities.

The only significant difference between this and Randian altruism is that Rand emphasizes the "evil" of having this type of behaviour as the statically highest moral ideal. And that, in and of itself, is tough to disagree with.

As other OL members have pointed out, what biologists call "altruism" is not what Rand -- who adopted the precise meaning assigned to "altruism" by Auguste Comte, the man who coined the word -- meant by "altruism." Again and again, Rand states that "altruism" is the "ethical theory" according to which "self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value." (Introduction to VOS.) Thus, as both Comte and Rand conceived "altruism," it is a theory of moral duty . I assume biologists are not foolish enough to claim that we are born with an innate, genetically-determined sense of the moral duty of self-sacrifice. And if my assumption is correct, then Rand and your biologists are talking about apples and oranges.

The problem as I see it is again, the false dichotomy that the self, or man's own life qua man, is the only alternative. It is not the only alternative, and neither is the value hierarchy static. Both have implications.

To the extent I can make sense of this passage, I don't see how it applies to Rand at all.

You asked: " if altruism is hardwired into their brains -- then how did Rand escape this natural tendency? "

We can escape practically any tendency we can identify, even starve ourselves to death, but that's not the point. The point is if we are to live a "proper" moral life - whatever that is - with Objective ethics, the partially altruistic nature of man MUST be incorporated - because that's reality. You don't have to agree obviously, but do you at least understand what I'm saying?

Well, this is very convenient, is it not? A certain tendency is declared to be innate, and when some human beings don't exhibit this tendency, they are said to be struggling, in effect, against human nature.

For many centuries, the belief in at least one god (i.e., some kind of superior being) has been declared to be inherent in human nature. Consequently, atheists were seen as unhappy people who were struggling against their own natures. (I discuss this common belief at various places in ATCAG.) According to you, biologists have now placed Rand and other egoists into the same category as atheists.

We don't need dubious research programs to prove that hunger is an innate drive in human beings. Have biologists managed to isolate an "altruism" gene? I seriously doubt it. So, until and unless they do, pardon me for being skeptical. I am no more impressed by the honorific title of "biologist" or "social scientist" than I am by the honorific title of "physicist." No such title exempts one from the conceptual mess that results from using poorly-defined terms.

You wrote :

"The notion that there is some indiscriminate altruism gene, one that operates independently of our reason, would have struck them as absurd. It strikes me the same way."

Interesting... and I mean that. For someone with a little bit of a background in the biological sciences, it seems completely absurd that it wouldn't be there. I suspected as much before I was aware of direct evidence.

The reasoning is simple: Genes affect behaviour, behaviour affects survival, stable behaviour patterns evolve right alongside physical traits and generally have a genetic root.

To say that a behavior pattern has a "genetic root" is merely the modern way of saying what has been said for many centuries, namely, that a given behavior or belief is "innate," i.e., inherent in human nature. In the 17th and 18th centuries, social philosophers began to question this kind of facile explanation for all occasions. For example, Adam Smith challenged his predecessors, such as Francis Hutcheson and David Hume, who posited an innate "moral sense" in human beings. In his Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith argued that "conscience" (which he charmingly dubbed "that little man within") is essentially the result of the social development of individuals -- something that emerges as we learn to interact with others.

Smith and other critics of the moral sense school did not deny that we have innate drives and tendencies. But they understood that to dub complex social phenomena "innate" (or "genetic," in modern terms) is an epistemological dead-end. It doesn't really explain much of anything, because even when we can trace a complex phenomenon to a basic human drive, the specific manifestations of that natural tendency are so variable and complicated that we don't truly understand what we wish to explain by simply calling it "natural."

Ghs

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You missed the point. If humans are "naturally partially altruistic" -- i.e., if altruism is hardwired into their brains -- then how did Rand escape this natural tendency? The same could be said of many other people. Are all such people abnormal?

Lots of evidence

Not in the abstracts you posted. Cooperation, including "indirect" cooperation, is not the same thing as altruism.

With respect George, your term "cooperation" isn't fair and it is not what I'm talking about. I thought that was clear.

From the abstract:

"signalling benefits of altruistic acts can establish a stable generosity by high-quality individuals that no longer depends on the probability of future reciprocation or punishment."

is NOT simple cooperation. This is a behaviour that COSTS the initiator and BENEFITS the recipient with NO EXPECTATION of reciprocation.

You posted three abstracts; I was referring to the "indirect reciprocity" mentioned in the third. It reads:

Natural selection is conventionally assumed to favour the strong and selfish who maximize their own resources at the expense of others. But many biological systems, and especially human societies, are organized around altruistic, cooperative interactions. How can natural selection promote unselfish behaviour? Various mechanisms have been proposed, and a rich analysis of indirect reciprocity has recently emerged: I help you and somebody else helps me. The evolution of cooperation by indirect reciprocity leads to reputation building, morality judgement and complex social interactions with ever-increasing cognitive demands.

Note how the "indirect reciprocity" of "altruistic, cooperative interactions" is here contrasted with "the strong and selfish who maximize their own resources at the expense of others." This is a false dichotomy, period. And any research project that begins with muddled, poor-defined assumptions will end with muddled, poorly-defined conclusions.

But let's put this aside for now. Give me a few specific examples of (non-kin) "altruistic" behavior that are supposedly genetically hardwired into human beings. All I have seen so far are glittering generalities.

The only significant difference between this and Randian altruism is that Rand emphasizes the "evil" of having this type of behaviour as the statically highest moral ideal. And that, in and of itself, is tough to disagree with.

As other OL members have pointed out, what biologists call "altruism" is not what Rand -- who adopted the precise meaning assigned to "altruism" by Auguste Comte, the man who coined the word -- meant by "altruism." Again and again, Rand states that "altruism" is the "ethical theory" according to which "self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value." (Introduction to VOS.) Thus, as both Comte and Rand conceived "altruism," it is a theory of moral duty . I assume biologists are not foolish enough to claim that we are born with an innate, genetically-determined sense of the moral duty of self-sacrifice. And if my assumption is correct, then Rand and your biologists are talking about apples and oranges.

The problem as I see it is again, the false dichotomy that the self, or man's own life qua man, is the only alternative. It is not the only alternative, and neither is the value hierarchy static. Both have implications.

To the extent I can make sense of this passage, I don't see how it applies to Rand at all.

You asked: " if altruism is hardwired into their brains -- then how did Rand escape this natural tendency? "

We can escape practically any tendency we can identify, even starve ourselves to death, but that's not the point. The point is if we are to live a "proper" moral life - whatever that is - with Objective ethics, the partially altruistic nature of man MUST be incorporated - because that's reality. You don't have to agree obviously, but do you at least understand what I'm saying?

Well, this is very convenient, is it not? A certain tendency is declared to be innate, and when some human beings don't exhibit this tendency, they are said to be struggling, in effect, against human nature.

For many centuries, the belief in at least one god (i.e., some kind of superior being) has been declared to be inherent in human nature. Consequently, atheists were seen as unhappy people who were struggling against their own natures. (I discuss this common belief at various places in ATCAG.) According to you, biologists have now placed Rand and other egoists into the same category as atheists.

We don't need dubious research programs to prove that hunger is an innate drive in human beings. Have biologists managed to isolate an "altruism" gene? I seriously doubt it. So, until and unless they do, pardon me for being skeptical. I am no more impressed by the honorific title of "biologist" or "social scientist" than I am by the honorific title of "physicist." No such title exempts one from the conceptual mess that results from using poorly-defined terms.

You wrote :

"The notion that there is some indiscriminate altruism gene, one that operates independently of our reason, would have struck them as absurd. It strikes me the same way."

Interesting... and I mean that. For someone with a little bit of a background in the biological sciences, it seems completely absurd that it wouldn't be there. I suspected as much before I was aware of direct evidence.

The reasoning is simple: Genes affect behaviour, behaviour affects survival, stable behaviour patterns evolve right alongside physical traits and generally have a genetic root.

To say that a behavior pattern has a "genetic root" is merely the modern way of saying what has been said for many centuries, namely, that a given behavior or belief is "innate," i.e., inherent in human nature. In the 17th and 18th centuries, social philosophers began to question this kind of facile explanation for all occasions. For example, Adam Smith challenged his predecessors, such as Francis Hutcheson and David Hume, who posited an innate "moral sense" in human beings. In his Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith argued that "conscience" (which he charmingly dubbed "that little man within") is essentially the result of the social development of individuals -- something that emerges as we learn to interact with others.

Smith and other critics of the moral sense school did not deny that we have innate drives and tendencies. But they understood that to dub complex social phenomena "innate" (or "genetic," in modern terms) is an epistemological dead-end. It doesn't really explain much of anything, because even when we can trace a complex phenomenon to a basic human drive, the specific manifestations of that natural tendency are so variable and complicated that we don't truly understand what we wish to explain by simply calling it "natural."

Ghs

Make no such assumptions about the limits of the foolishness of biologers. Biologers are almost always as ignorant of philosophy as philosophists are of biology. The word altruism was simply appropriated because of its latinate prestige by people who couldn't conjugate a verb with a bottle of champagne and a prescription for viagra. No need actually to know what altruism means, since the unity of knowledge is a hoax, there is no need to begin from first principles, and everyone knows that philosophy is basket weaving anyway.

Philosophy? Who needs it?

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No need actually to know what altruism means, since the unity of knowledge is a hoax, there is no need to begin from first principles, and everyone knows that philosophy is basket weaving anyway.

Philosophy? Who needs it?

Philosophy? Who needs it? No one. For a philosophy is like a head: everybody has one. :)

Which is why statements like 'All philosophy is nonsense' mark a philosophical position as well.

Whether one agrees with a philosophical position or not is another story, and imo at the root of every "Philosophy - Who needs it?" question lies the personal opinion that the philosophy allegedly "needed" is the type of philosophy this person believes to be the "right" one.

Edited by Xray
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No need actually to know what altruism means, since the unity of knowledge is a hoax, there is no need to begin from first principles, and everyone knows that philosophy is basket weaving anyway.

Philosophy? Who needs it?

Philosophy? Who needs it? No one. For a philosophy is like a head: everybody has one. :)

Which is why statements like 'All philosophy is nonsense' mark a philosophical position as well.

Whether one agrees with a philosophical position or not is another story, and imo at the root of every "Philosophy - Who needs it?" question lies the personal opinion that the philosophy allegedly "needed" is the type of philosophy this person believes to be the "right" one.

A head, who needs one? Everybody has one, with one or two exceptions, I suppose.

--Brant

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As other OL members have pointed out, what biologists call "altruism" is not what Rand -- who adopted the precise meaning assigned to "altruism" by Auguste Comte, the man who coined the word -- meant by "altruism." Again and again, Rand states that "altruism" is the "ethical theory" according to which "self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value." Introduction to VOS.) Thus, as both Comte and Rand conceived "altruism," it is a theory of moral duty . I assume biologists are not foolish enough to claim that we are born with an innate, genetically-determined sense of the moral duty of self-sacrifice. And if my assumption is correct, then Rand and your biologists are talking about apples and oranges.

George, I have agreed with this, we are in agreement here. I am in agreement with Rand too obviously, a long part of the way. The "biological" altruism I describe (again - cost to individual, benefit to another) leads to big trouble when extended to a "moral duty", or more specifically as an exclusive or highest moral duty. What's wrong with 10% altruism and 90% selfishness as a moral goal? A balance.

If you're building an objective morality, based on reality, we must indeed include the "reality" of what man is in order to come up with a model. We MUST care about "innate" characteristics if we wish to root something in reality. We don't hold on to a physics equation if reality contradicts a prediction.

I assume biologists are not foolish enough to claim that we are born with an innate, genetically-determined sense of the moral duty of self-sacrifice.

Indeed they are claiming this! Yes, this is exactly the claim. I really don't understand the objection. Where else but genetics would any aspect of morality possibly come from? Is a coincidence that so many characteristics of morality exhibit such robust temporal and geographic stability? No way.

Has there been some type of metaphysical divorce between human behaviour and evolution?

More later...

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Philosophy merely is reflective of human volition. No volition, no philosophy is needed or even possible. If needed, it had best be a good one, not that of the barbarians at the gates of Vienna or Mr. Hitler, for philosophy is the software of the human mind.

--Brant

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George,

I missed that quote: "Natural selection is conventionally assumed to favour the strong and selfish who maximize their own resources at the expense of others."

This is incorrect according to how I learned evolution. The theory is not survival of the fittest, but species survival and trait survival of the most reproductive. Although the person you quoted does not adhere to survival of the fittest, his explanation of altruism as "indirect reciprocity" doesn't fit anything, either. (I actually practice "pay it forward" as I consider it to be a good idea in life for many reasons. Natural selection is not one, though.)

But going back to altruism as a genetic program. To be strictly scientific, you have to get laid to reproduce. And if there is an "altruistic gene," that means the altruists are getting laid more than the selfish people are!

That doesn't make any kind of sense to me...

:)

Michael

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Smith and other critics of the moral sense school did not deny that we have innate drives and tendencies. But they understood that to dub complex social phenomena "innate" (or "genetic," in modern terms) is an epistemological dead-end. It doesn't really explain much of anything, because even when we can trace a complex phenomenon to a basic human drive, the specific manifestations of that natural tendency are so variable and complicated that we don't truly understand what we wish to explain by simply calling it "natural."

Ghs

This very well be true, but IF, and that's a big IF, we are to construct an objective morality at all we must look to what's really there. Rand did nothing more than to PROCLAIM what should be man's standard of value based on nothing. If you base it on real man, Rand's reasoning leads to very different conclusions. If you don't believe objective morality exists, then that's a whole other argument.

Bob

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The so-called altruistic impulse is indeed hard-wired into the human brain, but everybody has different manifestations of this subject to some modifications to the individual by the individual. A sociopath or psychopath may have no manifestation of altruism at all. Altruism as an excuse for screwing over people and for making them compliant for the screwing over is another matter.

--Brant

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No need actually to know what altruism means, since the unity of knowledge is a hoax, there is no need to begin from first principles, and everyone knows that philosophy is basket weaving anyway.

Philosophy? Who needs it?

Philosophy? Who needs it? No one. For a philosophy is like a head: everybody has one. :)

Which is why statements like 'All philosophy is nonsense' mark a philosophical position as well.

Whether one agrees with a philosophical position or not is another story, and imo at the root of every "Philosophy - Who needs it?" question lies the personal opinion that the philosophy allegedly "needed" is the type of philosophy this person believes to be the "right" one.

A head, who needs one? Everybody has one, with one or two exceptions, I suppose.

--Brant

Close to fifty percent (50%) of the population has two (2) heads.

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Close to fifty percent (50%) of the population has two (2) heads.

Yes, but both cannot function at the same time.

Team tag?

--Brant

Not exactly. More like opposing wrestlers. And the bald-headed contender always wins. He goes by many names -- e.g., Admiral Winky, The Bishop, Captain Howdy, The Early Riser, and Vlad the Impaler -- but he always wins.

Ghs

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Philosophy? Who needs it? No one. For a philosophy is like a head: everybody has one. :)

Close to fifty percent (50%) of the population has two (2) heads.

I had to look up "head" in a slang dictionary, and have to concede you are correct on that. Thanks for pointing out the error. :D

So in the future, I'll refrain from using "head" in that context. I could use "navel" instead, but will check with a slang dictionary first, to avoid putting putting my foot in it again. :o

And the bald-headed contender always wins.

Oh my Galt, what would a Randian hero reply to this statement, which fundamentally contradicts the Objectivist portrayal of the "rational" man. ;)

Edited by Xray
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As other OL members have pointed out, what biologists call "altruism" is not what Rand -- who adopted the precise meaning assigned to "altruism" by Auguste Comte, the man who coined the word -- meant by "altruism." Again and again, Rand states that "altruism" is the "ethical theory" according to which "self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value." Introduction to VOS.) Thus, as both Comte and Rand conceived "altruism," it is a theory of moral duty . I assume biologists are not foolish enough to claim that we are born with an innate, genetically-determined sense of the moral duty of self-sacrifice. And if my assumption is correct, then Rand and your biologists are talking about apples and oranges.

George, I have agreed with this, we are in agreement here. I am in agreement with Rand too obviously, a long part of the way. The "biological" altruism I describe (again - cost to individual, benefit to another) leads to big trouble when extended to a "moral duty", or more specifically as an exclusive or highest moral duty. What's wrong with 10% altruism and 90% selfishness as a moral goal? A balance.

If you're building an objective morality, based on reality, we must indeed include the "reality" of what man is in order to come up with a model. We MUST care about "innate" characteristics if we wish to root something in reality. We don't hold on to a physics equation if reality contradicts a prediction.

As I indicated before, it's nearly impossible to comment on any of this unless you present some specific examples of the "altruistic" behavior that you believe are genetically based.

I assume biologists are not foolish enough to claim that we are born with an innate, genetically-determined sense of the moral duty of self-sacrifice.

Indeed they are claiming this! Yes, this is exactly the claim. I really don't understand the objection. Where else but genetics would any aspect of morality possibly come from? Is a coincidence that so many characteristics of morality exhibit such robust temporal and geographic stability? No way.

No such claim about a moral duty was suggested by the abstracts you posted, which referred only to altruistic behavior. "Moral duty" is a concept, and a complex concept to boot -- so you are in fact defending a theory of innate ideas. Do you really think people are born with the idea -- or principle, to be more precise -- that self-sacrifice is a moral duty? If so, why not argue that many other moral principles, such as honoring agreements, are also innate? The sky is the limit, especially if the principles are found, in some form, in every culture.

Has there been some type of metaphysical divorce between human behaviour and evolution?

People like different kinds of music. Some like classical, some like jazz, and some like rock. Should we therefore posit the existence of a classical music gene in some people, a jazz gene in others, and a rock gene is still others?

I don't care for Scrabble, but some of my friend like the game. I do like chess, however. Is this because my friends were born with Scrabble genes and I was born with a chess gene?

If the above examples go too far, even for you, then I reply: What? Has there been some type of metaphysical divorce between human behavior and evolution? How can you possibly explain these differences in personal preferences without supposing that each is genetically determined?

There is no good reason to posit the existence of an "altruism gene" in order to explain why so many people are concerned about the welfare of others. The principle of "sympathy" discussed by 18th century moral philosophers -- a theory that I summarized in a previous post -- does the job quite well.

Ghs

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Smith and other critics of the moral sense school did not deny that we have innate drives and tendencies. But they understood that to dub complex social phenomena "innate" (or "genetic," in modern terms) is an epistemological dead-end. It doesn't really explain much of anything, because even when we can trace a complex phenomenon to a basic human drive, the specific manifestations of that natural tendency are so variable and complicated that we don't truly understand what we wish to explain by simply calling it "natural."

Ghs

This very well be true, but IF, and that's a big IF, we are to construct an objective morality at all we must look to what's really there. Rand did nothing more than to PROCLAIM what should be man's standard of value based on nothing.

This is truly absurd. You write as if you have never even read Rand.

Ghs

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Smith and other critics of the moral sense school did not deny that we have innate drives and tendencies. But they understood that to dub complex social phenomena "innate" (or "genetic," in modern terms) is an epistemological dead-end. It doesn't really explain much of anything, because even when we can trace a complex phenomenon to a basic human drive, the specific manifestations of that natural tendency are so variable and complicated that we don't truly understand what we wish to explain by simply calling it "natural."

Ghs

This very well be true, but IF, and that's a big IF, we are to construct an objective morality at all we must look to what's really there. Rand did nothing more than to PROCLAIM what should be man's standard of value based on nothing.

This is truly absurd. You write as if you have never even read Rand.

Ghs

He might start with "We The Living."

--Brant

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Then there is also the work in evolutionary psychology, like on the so-called "empathy gene."

http://www.tricityps...s-empathy-gene/

Generally speaking, I find this more plausible than the existence of an altruism gene. As I explained before, when 18th century philosophers spoke of "sympathy," they generally meant what we would call "empathy" today.

That the basic emotional mechanism of human beings is genetically based is obvious enough, And we find that some individuals are more empathetic than others, depending on the their particular emotional configurations. All of this suggests, to me at least, that empathy is a natural concomitant of our emotional make-up. And if this is the case, then it is not necessary to posit the existence of a separate and distinct "empathy gene." Nevertheless, it is correct to say that our ability to empathize is innate rather than learned.

Moreover, our ability to empathize with others can fully explain the "altruistic" tendencies described by some biologists. Thus to posit an altruism gene to explain behavior that can be explained more simply by other means is a gross violation of Occam's Razor.

Ghs

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Then there is also the work in evolutionary psychology, like on the so-called "empathy gene."

http://www.tricityps...s-empathy-gene/

Here is a passage from the article you linked. I have added some italics.

In the experiments, one mouse observed as another mouse was placed in a test chamber and trained to associate a 30-second tone with a mild foot shock. Upon experiencing the shock, the test mouse emitted a short distress call or squeak.

Though having no direct knowledge of the foot shock, observers from a very social mouse strain learned from the distress calls to associate the test chamber and tone with something negative. When later placed in the test chamber and presented with the tone, they exhibited clear physiological signs of aversion, such as freezing in place, even though no shock was delivered.

In contrast, observer mice from a less gregarious strain — less likely to seek the company of other mice — showed no response to the tone when they were placed in the test chamber.

This sort of thing drives me nuts. Do we really need a study of mice to tell us that people who are more gregarious (i.e., more social) tend to be more empathetic? Isn't the latter part of what we mean by the former?

What's next? A study showing that students who get straight A's in school tend to be smarter than students who consistently fail? A study showing that people over six feet tall tend to be better basketball players than dwarfs? A study showing that sadistic serial killers tend to be more sociopathic than the average Joe?

Ghs

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Then there is also the work in evolutionary psychology, like on the so-called "empathy gene."

http://www.tricityps...s-empathy-gene/

Here is a passage from the article you linked. I have added some italics.

In the experiments, one mouse observed as another mouse was placed in a test chamber and trained to associate a 30-second tone with a mild foot shock. Upon experiencing the shock, the test mouse emitted a short distress call or squeak.

Though having no direct knowledge of the foot shock, observers from a very social mouse strain learned from the distress calls to associate the test chamber and tone with something negative. When later placed in the test chamber and presented with the tone, they exhibited clear physiological signs of aversion, such as freezing in place, even though no shock was delivered.

In contrast, observer mice from a less gregarious strain â€" less likely to seek the company of other mice â€" showed no response to the tone when they were placed in the test chamber.

This sort of thing drives me nuts. Do we really need a study of mice to tell us that people who are more gregarious (i.e., more social) tend to be more empathetic? Isn't the latter part of what we mean by the former?

What's next? A study showing that students who get straight A's in school tend to be smarter than students who consistently fail? A study showing that people over six feet tall tend to be better basketball players than dwarfs? A study showing that sadistic serial killers tend to be more sociopathic than the average Joe?

Ghs

George:

Academic mice chasing their tails never impressed me either.

Many folks employ "studies" as mental shortcuts to attempt to prove their points or support their arguments. It has always infuriated me because it supports mental weakness in argumentation.

What I like about your affirmative expositions and devastating refutations are that you employ your own words and argumentation.

I would always forcibly challenge my students who would cite a "study" in support of one of their arguments as to 1) the funding source of the study; 2) the structural model of the study; 3) the statistical analysis which resulted in the conclusions; and 4) the relevance of the conclusion of the study to the real world.

Rarely today, do folks perform their due diligence when they cite studies like the one above. A study is no substitute for a reasoned position.

Adam

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On several occasions I have mentioned the principle of "sympathy," as discussed by many 18th century moral philosophers. The following passage is a good summary of this idea. It was written by the "moral sense" philosopher David Fordyce (1711-51), Professor of Moral Philosophy at Marischal College in the University of Aberdeen. Fordyce's book, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, was one of the most widely used texts in American universities, including Harvard, during the second half of the 18th century.

Moreover, a large chuck of Fordyce's book, including the following passage, was excerpted for the article on "Moral Philosophy" in the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (Edinburgh, 1771), and it continued to be used well into the 19th century. Fordyce was a Scottish writer, and the Encyclopedia Britannica was a Scottish publication, so this article reflects the intense interest in moral psychology that was typical of the Scottish Enlightenment.

Man is admirably formed for particular social Attachments and Duties. There is a peculiar and strong Propensity in his Nature to be affected with the Sentiments and Dispositions of others. Men, like certain musical Instruments, are set to each other, so that the Vibrations or Notes excited in one, raise correspondent Notes and Vibrations in the others. The Impulses of Pleasure or Pain, Joy or Sorrow, made on one Mind, are by an instantaneous Sympathy of Nature, communicated in some degree to all; especially when Hearts are (as an humane Writer expresses it) in Unison of Kindness; the Joy that vibrates in one, communicates to the other also. We may add, that tho’ Joy thus imparted swells the Harmony, yet Grief vibrated to the Heart of a Friend, and rebounding from thence in sympathetic Notes, melts as it were, and almost dies away. All the Passions, but especially those of the social kind, are contagious; and when the Passions of one Man mingle with those of another, they increase and multiply prodigiously. There is a most moving Eloquence in the human Countenance, Air, Voice, and Gesture, wonderfully expressive of the most latent Feelings and Passions of the Soul, which darts them, like[ a subtle Flame, into the Hearts of others, and raises correspondent Feelings there: Friendship, Love, Good-humour, Joy, spread through every Feature, and particularly shoot from the Eyes their softer and fiercer Fires with an irresistible Energy. And in like manner, the opposite Passions of Hatred, Enmity, Ill-humour, Melancholy, diffuse a sullen and saddening Air over the Face, and flashing from Eye to Eye, kindle a Train of similar Passions. By these and other admirable Pieces of Machinery, Men are formed for Society and the delightful Interchange of friendly Sentiments and Duties, to increase the Happiness of others by Participation, and their own by Rebound, and to diminish, by dividing, the common Stock of their Misery.

David Fordyce, The Elements of Moral Philosophy (1754), reprinted by Liberty Fund, ed. Thomas D. Kennedy, 2003, pp. 90-91.

Ghs

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If anyone is interested in one scientific basis for empathy that I find fascinating, here is a Wikipedia article: Mirror neuron.

I have become interested in empathic reactions as part of my Internet marketing studies.There is a load of people now putting systems together based on mirror neuron research. For example, Buyology by Martin Lindstrom.

Ethically (in terms of a chosen behavior value), I believe it is a plus to encourage empathy in ourselves as a form of exercising and honing what we already come with. This is also something that is good for our species in terms of both survival and reproduction. And what is good for the species is generally good for the individual member (with some exceptions).

Where this gets screwed up in philosophy is that the altruistic principle implies that we automatically owe the reaction of empathy (and/or the acts deriving from this) to others just because we exist. And what is the reason? From what I have read so far, it almost always boils down to a command from God or "just because."

To use this kind of language, and using human nature as a basis, we owe it to ourselves to strive for realizing our innate potential (when positive, of course). And mirror neurons are innate. This does not mean that we owe that potential--or the striving--to anyone else.

But philosophical altruism says we do. That's really messed up, too.

I believe my thinking on this puts it in just about the most selfish frame possible, even though other people benefit. They benefit is a result of an individual's selfish interest in his own mental/emotional development, not as a debt they are collecting on.

Michael

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The impression I get from most mature and maturing Objectivists, is not a distancing from humanity that is always suggested by critics. Quite the contrary.

One can unearth as many as these 'latest' genetic finds as possible, and nothing in O'ism is affected.

Being more involved with 'self', an Objectivist recognizes his empathy - even compassion - with others, and develops this into genuine respect for his species.

His awareness leads to a more focused empathy and respect, I believe, than others can achieve.

And this is all accomplished by free choice.

Maybe biologists will do us a real service, and find the 'volition gene' in mice and men.

Tony

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If anyone is interested in one scientific basis for empathy that I find fascinating, here is a Wikipedia article: Mirror neuron.

I have become interested in empathic reactions as part of my Internet marketing studies.There is a load of people now putting systems together based on mirror neuron research. For example, Buyology by Martin Lindstrom.

Ethically (in terms of a chosen behavior value), I believe it is a plus to encourage empathy in ourselves as a form of exercising and honing what we already come with. This is also something that is good for our species in terms of both survival and reproduction. And what is good for the species is generally good for the individual member (with some exceptions).

Where this gets screwed up in philosophy is that the altruistic principle implies that we automatically owe the reaction of empathy (and/or the acts deriving from this) to others just because we exist. And what is the reason? From what I have read so far, it almost always boils down to a command from God or "just because."

To use this kind of language, and using human nature as a basis, we owe it to ourselves to strive for realizing our innate potential (when positive, of course). And mirror neurons are innate. This does not mean that we owe that potential--or the striving--to anyone else.

But philosophical altruism says we do. That's really messed up, too.

I believe my thinking on this puts it in just about the most selfish frame possible, even though other people benefit. They benefit is a result of an individual's selfish interest in his own mental/emotional development, not as a debt they are collecting on.

Michael

Well formulated! :D

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