masked

Confused about enlightened self-interest

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I've been reading about enlightened self-interest and it sounds like it promotes the same actions as Objectivism, but with the focus on benefiting the group as opposed to focusing on benefiting the individual.

So is it similar to altruism, Objectivism, or is it something completely different? Thank you in advance for your explanation!

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Well, if it's focused on benefiting "the group" as opposed to "the individual", philosophically it's the opposite of Objectivism, regardless of what it advocates.

The standard answer to that question is "what colour of pants does society wear"? Which is to say, we (Objectivists) don't believe there is such a thing as "the group", only collections of individuals. You respect individuals' rights, and prosper by mutual exchanges of value (which may not only be material). This has the side-effect of producing highly prosperous societies with very high levels of happiness and fulfillment, so quite a few movements (e.g. libertarians) have picked on the side-effect and claimed it to be the goal.

Try Philosophy: Who Needs It by Ayn Rand.

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I've been reading about enlightened self-interest and it sounds like it promotes the same actions as Objectivism....

Is "enlightened self-interest" an expression prevalent among Libertarians (or some other intellectual group)? Do not assume that contributors to this website are familiar with such groups and their termminology. Please specify where you have been reading about that expression, especially if it isn't concern primarily with one's own interests, or if it claims to favor both self-interest and non-self-interest at the same time and in the same respect.

The question mentions "focus on benefiting the group as opposed to focusing on benefiting the individual." If this is to be regarded as "self" interest rather than self-sacrifice, then the implicit premise (or claim) is that dependence on a group is man's essential means of survival. I.e., it is an implicit claim that man survies only through others. That, of course, is thoroughly contrary to Objectivism's identifications of reason as man's basic means of survival, and of reason as an individual process. For detailed concretization of Ayn Rand's view of the individual versus the collective, refer especially to The_Fountainhead and Atlas_Shrugged. The latter work focuses broadly on the whole issue of the role of the mind in man's existence.

We've probably all heard the exhortation, "Live for others, because it's in *your* interest." But there is a whole view of the mind and it's implicitly alleged impotence (qua individual) lurking behind that exhortation -- as well as a blatant contradiction and rejection of reason involved in claiming that one's own interest comes "first," and therefore others should come first. A religious book that I still have advocates "JOY," an acronym for "Jesus, Others, Yourself." If that is the alleged "ideal," then clearly it puts yourself last, not first.

Letting others come second after oneself does not, of course, mean reducing them to zero. Second is not zero. Objectivism identifies trade -- voluntary mutual exchange for mutual benefit -- as the proper way for people to deal with each other, with the potential for traders to benefit themselves enormously by doing so.

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I've been reading about enlightened self-interest and it sounds like it promotes the same actions as Objectivism, but with the focus on benefiting the group as opposed to focusing on benefiting the individual.

So is it similar to altruism, Objectivism, or is it something completely different? Thank you in advance for your explanation!

What is it that who is calling "self interest" and "enlightened" and why?

The standard of ethics for Ayn Rand is the requirements for the individual to live in accordance with his nature, as an individual human being who requires use of his rational faculty in order to live; the purpose is his personal happiness. There have been all kinds of opposing views in the history of philosophy that could be related to what you (vaguely) describe, including pragmatism and utilitarianism. You should listen to Leonard Peikoff's lecture series on the history of western philosophy to understand how ethics and other branches of philosophy have evolved and why, and how they are similar or different than Ayn Rand's philosophy.

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Thank you for the responses!

The following passage by Alexis de Tocqueville in his book Democracy in America sums up the concept of enlightened self-interest:

The Americans, on the contrary, are fond of explaining almost all the actions of their lives by the principle of interest rightly understood; they show with complacency how an enlightened regard for themselves constantly prompts them to assist each other, and inclines them willingly to sacrifice a portion of their time and property to the welfare of the state. (Ibid., 647)

Enlightened self-Interest poses the question of whether or not it is to the advantage of a person to work for the good of all. Murphy asserts that it is not a natural inclination to do so, but learned through practice (2002). Yet, the answer may lie in the evidence that the virtue of working together is useful to those involved.

If this is to be regarded as "self" interest rather than self-sacrifice, then the implicit premise (or claim) is that dependence on a group is man's essential means of survival. I.e., it is an implicit claim that man survies only through others. That, of course, is thoroughly contrary to Objectivism's identifications of reason as man's basic means of survival, and of reason as an individual process.

Thanks System Builder, I think that this makes perfect sense.

ewv, I would love to hear Leonard Peikoff's lecture series on the history of western philosophy! Do you know where I can get them for free?

This is a bit off subject, but do you guys look over other philosophies too? I like to argue so I always feel empowered when reading over other viewpoints and preparing my responses in advance. Perhaps intelligent people like Ayn Rand can do it on the spot, but I need time to think things over. That is actually how I ended up finding Ayn Rand's writing and changing all of my beliefs :D

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Masked, what is it that you are trying to state or question?

Ewv already stated that man must act and "live in accordance with his nature" if he is going to achieve his own happiness. This cannot be achieved by acting in the best interest of a group. A rationally selfish person can work within a group to achieve values that all group memebers might share, but that is not putting the group above one's own happiness. In other words, a rationally selfish person does not sacrifice his values for other people's values, he trades value for value whether within a business/group setting or personal such as friendships.

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RaynK, I just asked a second off topic question.

My first one was answered in full.

Sorry if I didn't make that clear.

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ewv, I would love to hear Leonard Peikoff's lecture series on the history of western philosophy! Do you know where I can get them for free?
:D ROFL!

I understand the question; the lecture set is expensive, but it's an ironic question in a thread about enlightened self-interest. Should not Leonard Peikoff display some?

However, if you are a student or around a university, esp. one with an Objectivist student organization, they often buy sets of these courses and you can attend a study group or rent them for relatively cheap.

As far as 'enlightened self-interest' itself, your quote from de Toqueville is a good observation on his part, but is from the viewpoint of an 'enlightened altruist'. He speaks of the 'willing... sacrifice' of Americans, when, in fact, the point is that ones actions in supporting a state that protects his freedoms is anything but a 'sacrifice'. That is exactly the point. So putting a button on the discussion with that quote tells me that you may need to mull it over a little further.

"Man is an end in himself". "Life is the standard of value". These are Rand's statement of the issue and the fact that a nation of individuals, each acting in his own rational self-interest, is tremendously productive, benevolent, and beneficial for all involved is not its justification, though it is a consequence. It is an important distinction, as that justification of 'enlightened' self-interest is the Utilitarian viewpoint of John Stuart Mill (who quite consequentially ended up a Socialist) and many other false defenders of Capitalism and Freedom. Accepting an evil in the service of the good produces a bad result.

'Enlightened' self-interest is not the term Ayn Rand used precisely because of the package deal, the loaded nature of the word 'enlightened': Whose definition of 'enlightened'? Enlightened has often been used in the past -- and is still generally used -- to refer to a 'transcendence' of ones own personal interest in service of society, not just a level of knowledge or refinement. It is smuggled in as a means of co-opting self-interest, while preaching its opposite. 'Rational' means just that, arrived at via reason. Rand was nothing if not precise. Be precise in your choice of words and know, explicitly, their exact definition and the precision of your thinking will improve exponentially.

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I think that there is a logical reason that the idea of "enlightened self-interest" seems so seductive to people, even leaving aside the fact that they have been influenced by all the indoctrination with altruism whcih goes on.

It *is* in a man´s interest to benefit others, as long as they benefit him (although he should not benefit them to the point of sacrificing his own values). After all, if you benefit others, it stands to reason that they will be friendly to you afterwards in return, rather than be hostile. And if you go around harming other people, they are going to resent it, and retaliate. Which will be to your detriment.

But a lot of people probably forget, that it is only rational to benefit other people when they are *good*, rational people. If you benefit men who harm you, they will not respond to that by becoming kind to you in return. Instead they will only take advantage of your generosity. So when other people *harm* you, you should harm rather than benefit them in return.

In other words, you should practice the rational virtue of justice rather than the altruistic "virtue" of charity. If you do that, you will probably find yourself spending most of your time benefiting other people, rather than harming them. At least if you live in a relatively free society. Because, at least in free societies, most men are not vicious.

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ewv, I would love to hear Leonard Peikoff's lecture series on the history of western philosophy! Do you know where I can get them for free?
:D ROFL!

I understand the question; the lecture set is expensive, but it's an ironic question in a thread about enlightened self-interest. Should not Leonard Peikoff display some?

(This was poorly worded; just to be clear, I meant to say: "Shouldn't Dr. Peikoff, acting in his own rational self-interest, expected to be paid for his efforts?")

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The following passage by Alexis de Tocqueville in his book Democracy in America sums up the concept of enlightened self-interest:

The Americans, on the contrary, are fond of explaining almost all the actions of their lives by the principle of interest rightly understood; they show with complacency how an enlightened regard for themselves constantly prompts them to assist each other, and inclines them willingly to sacrifice a portion of their time and property to the welfare of the state. (Ibid., 647)

The American Enlightenment implicitly adopted egoism but did not explicitly challenge prevailing ethical views the way it challenged political philosophy. See Leonard Peikoff's Ominous Parallels.

Ethics is traditionally regarded as being concerned with one's actions towards others (and usually requiring some degree of sacrifice as the standard of the good). That leaves the realm of what choices to make in regard to your own life unaddressed by ethics.

Ayn Rand raised the fundamental question of what facts give rise to ethics, and consequently based her ethical philosophy on the requirements for the life of the individual. How one acts towards others is secondary to that and a consequence of it. That process is reversed when someone thinks he needs to justify his egoistic ethics by claiming that it helps others and leads to sacrifices to the state. That is hopelessly self-refuting.

It is in one's own interest to cooperate with others to some degree for different purposes and as a matter of principle to respect the rights of others, etc. But you can't reverse the hierarchy; ethical egoism stands on its own, it does not require explanation or justification in terms of benefits to others.

Enlightened self-Interest poses the question of whether or not it is to the advantage of a person to work for the good of all. Murphy asserts that it is not a natural inclination to do so, but learned through practice (2002). Yet, the answer may lie in the evidence that the virtue of working together is useful to those involved.

Working "for the good of all" as the standard of ethics is the opposite of ethical egoism. Helping others under appropriate circumstances can be for mutual benefit, but is not the standard.

It is not any creature's "natural inclination" to sacrifice its life. That does not tell you anything about what is the proper approach. Hedonistically doing whatever you feel like, without regard to objective standards, is also destructive. Learning anything "through practice" doesn't tell you anything about what you should be doing.

Once you have objective standards, you can apply them and decide what you should or should not do in the kinds of circumstances you encounter. Acting in accordance with that is not a matter of "practice" against something "unnatural". You do the right thing because you know why it is right; if you understand why something is the right thing to do why would you entertain doing anything else? Integrity is acting in accordance with your principles, the integration of thought and action. You act out of integrity because you know what ethics is for, not out of duty or mindless "practice".

ewv, I would love to hear Leonard Peikoff's lecture series on the history of western philosophy! Do you know where I can get them for free?

As far as I know the only way to listen to them without cost is if a friend lets you listen to his recordings. Unfortunately they are very expensive to buy. Some of us heard them under arrangements where someone would obtain them temporarily and play them for a group with a fee for each person that was paid to Leonard Peikoff. I don't know if that is being done anymore. If you buy them yourself (or manage to borrow them) you have the advantage of repeat listening. Aside from the benefits of hearing something more than once and going back over something you forgot from the past, this allows you to build up detailed notes on the parts you want to be especially careful about.

This is a bit off subject, but do you guys look over other philosophies too? I like to argue so I always feel empowered when reading over other viewpoints and preparing my responses in advance. Perhaps intelligent people like Ayn Rand can do it on the spot, but I need time to think things over. That is actually how I ended up finding Ayn Rand's writing and changing all of my beliefs :D

How much else you read in philosophy depends on your interests and priorities within a finite life-span. Leonard Peikoff's lectures show you what of some (not many) philosophers he thinks is of value. Otherwise, you will want to know, to some degree, what the influences have been through portions of history you want to understand: to see how progress was made (like the founding of America as a manifestation of the Enlightenment) and how things went bad (like Nazi Germany, the rise of progressivism in the US, etc.). How far you go with any of this depends on your own interests. Understanding Objectivism first provides you with a better frame of reference from which to judge other writers and whether they are worth reading at all. The last thing you need is a smorgasbord approach reading and sampling, without regard to structured understanding, in the name of being "widely read", hoping that it will somehow blend together in your mind making you more intelligent. When you read something have a specific purpose in mind and know what you want to get out of it; if you make a mistake in beginning to explore something, drop it and go on to something else.

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