Nate Smith

Altruism (and things sometimes labeled as such)

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I’d like to lay out some thoughts and questions I have on the subject of altruism. Here’s the first:

A friend recently said to me that one of the actions that most impresses him is when someone adopts a child from an underdeveloped nation, that is, when someone “saves” the life of a child that probably would have had a pretty low quality of life.

My friend is a devout Christian, and obviously this comment is largely (if not solely) driven by an altruistic morality. It would have been easy for me to dismiss this comment as nothing more than that. But I do feel some sympathies to this sentiment. After thinking about it for a while, I found it difficult to completely dismiss his evaluation. I too on some level “like” if someone is motivated to adopt a child that is in that situation. I have considered that I have some lingering altruistic tendencies, but I don’t think that is the case (though I haven’t ruled it out).

But I don’t want to evaluate this action as moral--for two reasons:

1) It does not satisfy the standard of promoting the adopter’s life.

2) Once we label an action as “moral,” it falls under the category of “something that we ought to do.”

A thought on the second point: One might concede that this action is still moral or good, but if it falls low enough on one’s hierarchy of values, that action could be put off. As an analogy, I think it would be good to learn Latin, but that value is low enough on my list of values that I may never do it. There are other things I’d rather do first. I see this as the only way that an action deemed good or moral cannot be taken. Otherwise anything I deem moral, I ought do.

The problem with this concession is that one could argue that those that have significantly more resources could and therefore should save many of these lives. Bill Gates could adopt many of these types of children, and even if he doesn’t want to raise these children personally, he could even pay others to do so. I don’t feel comfortable agreeing with this as all, so I am very comfortable holding to both reasons 1 and 2.

So that leaves me wondering why I still am sympathetic with my friend’s evaluation. Here’s my theory:

We probably all know someone that is benevolent, generous and that we find admirable. Maybe it is a family member or maybe a teacher we had. Most people would praise this person for being altruistic. But I think there is another cause for admiration. I think this type of benevolence is motivated by a respect for oneself and by happiness in one’s own life. People who are happy and enjoy their lives seem to want the same for others and act accordingly in proportion to the value others are to them. The implicit principle in action is “my life is good, therefore life is good.” This seems to motivate a lot of charitable (or “altruistic”) behavior.

What’s admirable about this type of person is not that they are helping other people, but that they have developed the character prerequisite for benevolent behavior, i.e., genuine self-love. In other words, it’s selfishness, not altruism that is really being admired here.

I’m pretty confident in saying that what most people admire as kind, benevolent, charitable, or “altruistic” behavior is really a reversal of cause and effect. Successful rational selfishness is the cause of the positive moral evaluation, and the benevolent behavior is the effect. Most people mistakenly label the effect (the benevolent behavior) as the primary, as that which is morally praiseworthy. This would explain why altruism, which has no rational foundation, has such a broad superficial appeal.

Looking at the adoption example in this light, I can admire the person who has the desire to help another human being. The behavior reflects this person’s view towards human life. That I admire. Choosing to adopt is the form in which their sentiment (sense of life?) manifests. And as so far as adopting is within their means, it is acceptable, but not praiseworthy in and of itself.

So here are my first questions:

Do you have sympathies for admiring this behavior, as I do? Or when you hear my friend’s statement, do you place no moral worth on this behavior? (I wonder if some Objectivists believe that they ought not admire this, when there might be room for some admiration. And I also wonder if I do have some lingering altruistic tendencies.)

Does my account of these sympathies seem correct?

Are there any other disagreements with any of these comments? I’d like to know what seems correct and incorrect in what I said.

Thanks.

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... Do you have sympathies for admiring this behavior, as I do? Or when you hear my friend’s statement, do you place no moral worth on this behavior? (I wonder if some Objectivists believe that they ought not admire this, when there might be room for some admiration. And I also wonder if I do have some lingering altruistic tendencies.)

Does my account of these sympathies seem correct?

Are there any other disagreements with any of these comments? I’d like to know what seems correct and incorrect in what I said...

My reaction when I here of such adoptions is to be leery of any claims to morality of the action by people who don't what morality is or how to justify their actions. I do not take it for granted that they know what they are doing in such an adoption.

There is nothing wrong with adopting such a child provided you can afford it in time, money and the attention it takes, provided you want to raise a child, and provided that reasonable care is made in being selective. If you are adopting someone else's child you should have the opportunity to select one you know to be healthy, reasonably intelligent, and worthy of your help -- including his appreciation.

Anything less by anyone is most likely a sacrifice and motivated by altruism. Ayn Rand advocated benevolence and did not object to charity, but only under certain conditions, and emphatically opposed regarding charity as a "major virtue".

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Nate, benevolence, in its original meaning (and the way I use it today) referred to a state of mind. It's that emotional state of mind which one has when, in supreme confidence and pressing freely onward toward a personal goal, one wishes success and well-being to every one, and that implies "well-being to the best of their own ability", just as one's self is pressing on to the best of one's own ability. Only in the last hundred years or so has "benevolence" been altruistically tied to "helpful action toward others". Though you will notice that "benevolence" is not a verb.

Just as "selfish" has been twisted to mean "stepping on other people's toes to get what you want" (as Ayn Rand pointed out), so there has been a twist given to "benevolence". bene=good, volence=wishes---simply, I wish you well--that is benevolence.

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I, too, grew up in a very Christian household. I heard a lot of these same statements and assertions. And it took me a long time to fully recognize what I had believed for a long time.

I see several parts to this. There is the person's behavior who has adopted the child, the person's belief about it, and the statements they make. Then there are the observer's thoughts.

I don't believe there is any true altruism. Deep down, we can only act in our own self-interest, regardless if our statements and our beliefs match. If a person appears to act against himself, that is from the perspective of the observer. More likely his values are such that he values the result he is going after, or thinks he will gain. As an example, let's take your adoptions scenario and twist it a bit. A very Christian couple who are barely making ends meet with their own two children decide to adopt a child from Russia. They state to everyone who will listen that they are selfless, giving, and only think of others. Their own actions show that is false, though. They selectively think of others, when it is in their best interest. Have they provided security and safety for their children? Have they secured good health, home, and advantages for them? Deep down, whether they share the truth with others or not, they adopt to fill a need in their own lives. And there are many reasons why they choose this child from Russia, or some other country. Some want drama, some want a story, some feel they are helping the neediest of the needy and feel much better about themselves and their life's accomplishments, and to some it is just easier than adopting in the US. I would first question if it really is altruistic or in their own self-interest and selfishness, which you concluded. I would argue for the scenario I put forth it is an irrational self-interest.

When I see somebody who has acted in a rational self-interest and done something consistent with their own interests, I support them. I frequently have read stories of people choosing to help others in ways that they determine, and it puts a smile on my face. In the scenario you outline, I would add the details that the couple adopting have sufficient funds, have genuinely considered their options, the problems they will encounter, have researched the ways to best handle those problems, and have prepared themselves so that they will be successful in raising this child. They realize their adopting is filling their own need, but that the child will benefit as well - and they are pleased with that. A couple with the financial and emotional latitude and the time necessary to devote to this are as well set up for success as anyone could be, and all benefit. That's wonderful. It's mutually beneficial and everyone is better off for the transaction.

I have to say that I, personally, do not see this as any higher value than consciously deciding to have a child with your spouse. It would put just as much of a smile on my face and warmth in my heart to hear a couple detail how they have thought, researched, and prepared themselves for that.

The definition of "moral" as you described is off. You might as well say that it is moral to have children. Now what do you do with an OctoMom? She has fulfilled the stated moral imperative to the nines, or the eights. Is she super-moral? ;) Of course not. She is irrational. Having children isn't any more moral than not having children. Adopting a child isn't any more moral than not adopting a child. And adopting a child in need isn't any more moral than not adopting a child in need.

For one of your other topics, I think you are confusing values and values :) By that I mean you are confusing morals and priorities. Speaking Latin isn't any more moral than speaking Aramaic or English or Japanese. So while you might think speaking Latin to be beneficial to you, good for your own abilities, or revealing about the world around you and therefore valuable, it is not an issue of morals. Latin, therefore, becomes an issue of priorities as with any other goal. And Latin is an excellent underpinning to so many things. I heartily support you in learning some amount of Latin!

Your other topic of sufficient financial resources to adopt many children ignores two things - what that person wants and what his highest and best use for those resources is. You offered Bill Gates as the example. So the question is, what does Bill Gates want to do with his money? Apparently, he wants to give it away :) That's great, and good for him - he is choosing how he wants to spend his money and his time. He has a whole set of projects and organizes for those. None of them, as far as I know, involve adopting children. Is he immoral? Is it less moral to invest in vaccinating children where they are than in adopting them? Is that the conclusion this would arrive at? When you state "promoting the adopter's life" you are ignoring the quality of that life. One person would be miserable for adopting that child, while another would feel they had missed out on much of life without that experience. As long as Bill Gates is spending his money as he wants and according to his own self-interest, and not against the rights of others, I will cheer him in that.

Let's say all he cares about in life are cars. He decides to purchase one of everything. Great! And good for him. Imagine the jobs he has just created in producing cars, polishing cars, building garages for them, maintaining them. What a wonderful way to create work that others enjoy doing. Is it immoral? Nope. Certainly not spending as I would, but he is following his own rational self-interest. And, as a bonus, others benefit! What a country. :) Even if all he wanted to do was to light each bill on fire and watch it burn, all I could do is shrug and comment that at least he enjoyed it.

I have sympathies for warm and fuzzy feelings when they are deserved, when they are earned through rational self-interest. I'm not certain if I could write that phrase any more times if I tried, but it is precisely what underpins this. It is the application of reason in the furthering of the person's own interests that makes something moral. An action that appears to run against that is most likely irrational. I would be hard pressed to genuinely find an example when it is true altruism.

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I don't believe there is any true altruism. Deep down, we can only act in our own self-interest, regardless if our statements and our beliefs match.

There are no consistent altruists because if they try it they are dead. But that doesn't mean we can only act in our own self interest. To do that takes knowledge of what one's self interest is, how to attain it, and the commitment to do it. Most people do not act in their self interest nor are they committed to wanting to.

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I don't believe there is any true altruism. Deep down, we can only act in our own self-interest, regardless if our statements and our beliefs match.

There are no consistent altruists because if they try it they are dead. But that doesn't mean we can only act in our own self interest. To do that takes knowledge of what one's self interest is, how to attain it, and the commitment to do it. Most people do not act in their self interest nor are they committed to wanting to.

The issue I have is with the rational or irrational part. I would argue this is an irrational act, not necessarily self-interested or against one's self-interests, or against one's long term self-interests.

I agree that there are no true altruists. So we're in agreement there.

I'm thinking through your statement that we may not act in our own self-interest. I'm thinking of a number of examples and where I believe they break down. From the initial example, a person adopting a child, or a person without sufficient means adopting a child. What about a person who gets angry at their boss or walks out on their job. Or a person who claims financial hardships and sees bankruptcy on the horizon, all the while maintaining their level of cell phone plan, cable plan, entertainment expenditures, etc... Each of these people has defined their self-interests. They have defined them very narrowly and short-sighted, and their priorities are set different from what I would set them. Is this really not self-interest? It would happen to be irrational, but still self-interested.

Do I have a definition different from yours?

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It's a fact that self interest entails long range considerations and giving up lesser values for greater ones, such as studying to pass the exam in 2 weeks instead of having fun right now, or saving up for a new LCD monitor instead of taking a 20% interest loan so you can get it right now. To invert this is to sacrifice.

Many things concerning self interest are personal, such as for optional values, but they are never subjective (a distinction made by Betsy, by the way). That is, what is in one's self interest is not determined by wish or whim. Unlike Ayn Rand, you may prefer licorice over chocolate but that does not mean it is legitimate for you to prefer short term gains over long term ones and then call that self interest.

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Grey, One cannot act in a selfish manner without first acting in a rational manner. In other words, if one's choices are irrational then they cannot be selfish.

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Here in Sweden I have not seen such an awful lot of generosity towards individuals from poverty-stricken countries in the Third World. Quite the opposite. An awful lot of my fellow Swedes earnestly urge our politicians to send even more of the immigrants and refugees from the Third World back to a doubtful future. An awful lot of Swedes are awfully hard-hearted towards those brave individuals who often risk everything (which is usually not a lot) they have in order to get a chance to build themselves a better future in Sweden.

I ask myself - what if most Americans had been like so many of today´s Swedes back in 1926, when Ayn Rand came to America in order to escape the hell on earth which was the Soviet Union? And I ask myself - does it not stand to reason that at least some of the immigrants and refugees who are "sent back" by my niggardly and callous fellow Swedes are probably the same kind of individuals as that young, ambitious Ayn Rand? Surely few, if any, of them are world class geniuses like her. But many of them might be her moral equals. Is it not a monstrous evil to break their hearts by sending them back, just when they thought that they had reached a once-in-a-lifetime chance to escape destitution and tyranny?

I say that socialist Sweden is *not* full of goodwill towards our fellow men. Socialism does *not* breed benevolence and kindness. Today´s egalitarian Sweden is a cesspool of human depravity. It seems that almost everyone here hates the good.

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I don't believe there is any true altruism. Deep down, we can only act in our own self-interest, regardless if our statements and our beliefs match.

There are no consistent altruists because if they try it they are dead. But that doesn't mean we can only act in our own self interest. To do that takes knowledge of what one's self interest is, how to attain it, and the commitment to do it. Most people do not act in their self interest nor are they committed to wanting to.

The issue I have is with the rational or irrational part. I would argue this is an irrational act, not necessarily self-interested or against one's self-interests, or against one's long term self-interests.

I agree that there are no true altruists. So we're in agreement there.

I'm thinking through your statement that we may not act in our own self-interest. I'm thinking of a number of examples and where I believe they break down. From the initial example, a person adopting a child, or a person without sufficient means adopting a child. What about a person who gets angry at their boss or walks out on their job. Or a person who claims financial hardships and sees bankruptcy on the horizon, all the while maintaining their level of cell phone plan, cable plan, entertainment expenditures, etc... Each of these people has defined their self-interests. They have defined them very narrowly and short-sighted, and their priorities are set different from what I would set them. Is this really not self-interest? It would happen to be irrational, but still self-interested.

Do I have a definition different from yours?

I think that there *are* a lot of people out there who do *truly* believe that the ideal of altruism, i.e. self-sacrifice *is* the moral ideal. But they find themselves unable to practice that moral ideal, since they do not have the stomach to commit suicide. And consequently they go through life feeling guilty, damning existence and trying to *harm* others. I see that all the time here in Sweden. A society whose culture is, of course, permeated by the altruist doctrine of morality.

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Grey, One cannot act in a selfish manner without first acting in a rational manner. In other words, if one's choices are irrational then they cannot be selfish.

I was thinking about this last night and think you and ewv are saying the same thing. Self-interest, by definition, is examined and rational, that it cannot be irrational, and "rational self-interest" is redundant.

I had drawn a different distinction - as long as the decision is a free decision (not coerced), it is in the self-interest of the person making the decision, it is reflecting their priorities and values, at least at that moment. Then the examination can be made as to how rational the decision was.

I have to say I prefer this separation of the two elements. Having self-interest, by definition, contain rationality makes it complicated to discuss greed, hedonism, and other concepts. Those are all driven by self-interest, but an irrational, immature, and short sighted self-interest, even a destructive self-interest. It becomes easier to understand motivations and decisions to have self-interest as the underlying foundation for them all.

If we take the compound definition of "self-interest," how would that change the assessment of Nate's situation he shared?

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It makes no sense to refer to self interest as being independent from rationality. This would imply that interest is subjective, i.e. that which is good for you is whatever you claim it to be. Of what use is the term, then?

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Grey, for one to act in a selfish manner, they must first be rational and for one to be rational they must be tied to reality/existence. That which enhances life is the good and that which destroys life is the bad, remember the moral standard that guides one's choices is life, not what feels right. So a person cannot be acting in a selfish manner unless they can tie their thoughts and actions to reality and the positives that those actions bring.

For one to say they are going to claim bankruptcy and keep spending their income on irrational activities and items is not a selfish act. Short term they may still get to keep some of their values, but in the long term reality always wins. This type of person is attempting to fight or escape the facts of reality which is harmful to their life not beneficial.

To be selfish is an amazingly demanding thing to do as one's thoughts and actions have to be integrated toward enhancing one's life; long-term, mid-term and short-term and in that specific order.

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Grey, One cannot act in a selfish manner without first acting in a rational manner. In other words, if one's choices are irrational then they cannot be selfish.

I was thinking about this last night and think you and ewv are saying the same thing. Self-interest, by definition, is examined and rational, that it cannot be irrational, and "rational self-interest" is redundant.

I had drawn a different distinction - as long as the decision is a free decision (not coerced), it is in the self-interest of the person making the decision, it is reflecting their priorities and values, at least at that moment. Then the examination can be made as to how rational the decision was.

I have to say I prefer this separation of the two elements. Having self-interest, by definition, contain rationality makes it complicated to discuss greed, hedonism, and other concepts. Those are all driven by self-interest, but an irrational, immature, and short sighted self-interest, even a destructive self-interest. It becomes easier to understand motivations and decisions to have self-interest as the underlying foundation for them all.

If we take the compound definition of "self-interest," how would that change the assessment of Nate's situation he shared?

A person being "irrationally selfish" comes down to this - such a person *wants* to benefit himeslf, he may very well be *trying* to be selfish. But he is *not* succeeding at actually being selfish.

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It makes no sense to refer to self interest as being independent from rationality. This would imply that interest is subjective, i.e. that which is good for you is whatever you claim it to be. Of what use is the term, then?

"Irrational selfishness" might be said to be "an unsuccessful attempt to be seflish". And often, it is not even an *honest* attempt.

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A friend recently said to me that one of the actions that most impresses him is when someone adopts a child from an underdeveloped nation, that is, when someone “saves” the life of a child that probably would have had a pretty low quality of life.

My friend is a devout Christian, and obviously this comment is largely (if not solely) driven by an altruistic morality. It would have been easy for me to dismiss this comment as nothing more than that. But I do feel some sympathies to this sentiment. After thinking about it for a while, I found it difficult to completely dismiss his evaluation. I too on some level “like” if someone is motivated to adopt a child that is in that situation. I have considered that I have some lingering altruistic tendencies, but I don’t think that is the case (though I haven’t ruled it out).

One could assume that a primary reason for giving up a child for adoption is that the parents don't believe they can provide a quality life for the child. On that assumption, every child available for adoption would be in a difficult situation and the adoptions would elevate their circumstances.

However, undoubtedly the difficulty of the situations across children up for adoption will differ, with some being in far worse situations than others (e.g., children in third-world countries vs. America). An adoption of a third-world child by, say, an American couple would vastly improve the child's situation as compared to being adopted into a less free or poorer country (although I'm not here considering the personal characteristics of the parents, which are just as, if not more, important as wealth or freedom).

If the American couple who wishes to adopt a child has essentially equal access to children across the world, but chooses the child from the third-world country because it is a third-world country, then the primary criteria they seem to be using is the pitiability of the child's situation (if not the child himself). That smacks of altruism to me.

However, if they choose that child because the adoption processes and wait times are very difficult in their own or other countries, then they might choose the child from the third-world country simply for those reasons. In other words, it's not about how pitiful the child or his circumstances are; it's about what they want and how quickly and reasonably they can get it.

But I don’t want to evaluate this action as moral--for two reasons:

1) It does not satisfy the standard of promoting the adopter’s life.

That's difficult to say. Most parents I know consider their children as promoting their lives. Their children are at the top of their value hierarchies, and the joy they received in having them is rationally selfish. However, if, as others have pointed out, they adopt the child without the means to support it, as a matter of self-sacrifice to allegedly elevate the child from an otherwise miserable fate, then that is selfless.

2) Once we label an action as “moral,” it falls under the category of “something that we ought to do.”

A thought on the second point: One might concede that this action is still moral or good, but if it falls low enough on one’s hierarchy of values, that action could be put off. As an analogy, I think it would be good to learn Latin, but that value is low enough on my list of values that I may never do it. There are other things I’d rather do first.

Yes, that's correct.

So that leaves me wondering why I still am sympathetic with my friend’s evaluation. Here’s my theory:

We probably all know someone that is benevolent, generous and that we find admirable. Maybe it is a family member or maybe a teacher we had. Most people would praise this person for being altruistic. But I think there is another cause for admiration. I think this type of benevolence is motivated by a respect for oneself and by happiness in one’s own life. People who are happy and enjoy their lives seem to want the same for others and act accordingly in proportion to the value others are to them. The implicit principle in action is “my life is good, therefore life is good.” This seems to motivate a lot of charitable (or “altruistic”) behavior.

I agree with this, too. As you point out, people either mis-label as altruism what is actually rationally selfish behavior, or they simply don't know the distinction and so go with the commonly used expression.

Do you have sympathies for admiring this behavior, as I do? Or when you hear my friend’s statement, do you place no moral worth on this behavior?

For me it depends on the motivations: do they adopt the child because they want it, or because they want others to view them as moral and get pats on their backs for supposed benevolence? Those in the latter category are not genuinely benevolent or, at best, have a mix of benevolence and contempt for the object of their affections.

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I don't believe there is any true altruism. Deep down, we can only act in our own self-interest, regardless if our statements and our beliefs match. If a person appears to act against himself, that is from the perspective of the observer.

I disagree with this point. People can, and do, act against their best interest. Just because I choose to do something, that doesn't mean it's in my best interest. What I want and what's good for me are not necessarily the same thing.

I frequently have read stories of people choosing to help others in ways that they determine, and it puts a smile on my face.

This is getting to the heart of my question. Why does it put a smile on your face? Most of us grow up being told that this is good because it helps someone else. If that is the only reason you like this, then you are an altruist.

If you like this simply because someone is acting in a way of their choosing, you are a relativist. That standard doesn't necessarily render it as either egoism or altruism. If we follow our whims, we may end up acting either egoistically or altruistically. A rational standard is needed to help us decide.

I am contending that you can be a (rational) egoist and still get a smile on your face from some of these behaviors. My contention is that if charitable behavior is the result of good will towards man qua man, there is reason to admire that behavior. (That being said, I agree with everyone who has pointed out that is often not the primary motivation.)

The definition of "moral" as you described is off. You might as well say that it is moral to have children.

I didn't exactly give a definition of morality. I am assuming the morality that Ayn Rand gave. The brief standard I gave was meant to stand in its place, not to restate it all. And I don't know what I said that would lead you to conclude that it is moral to have children.

For one of your other topics, I think you are confusing values and values ;) By that I mean you are confusing morals and priorities. Speaking Latin isn't any more moral than speaking Aramaic or English or Japanese. So while you might think speaking Latin to be beneficial to you, good for your own abilities, or revealing about the world around you and therefore valuable, it is not an issue of morals. Latin, therefore, becomes an issue of priorities as with any other goal. And Latin is an excellent underpinning to so many things. I heartily support you in learning some amount of Latin!

The purpose to morality is to help us decide which values to choose and which actions to take in obtaining those values. I do treat the choice to be educated as a moral decision. And learning Latin has the potential to be valuable towards learning things that have an impact on my life, so I place some moral worth on it. But since I evaluate that impact as relatively small, in comparison to other things I could choose, it is very low on my hierarchy.

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But I don’t want to evaluate this action as moral--for two reasons:

1) It does not satisfy the standard of promoting the adopter’s life.

That's difficult to say. Most parents I know consider their children as promoting their lives. Their children are at the top of their value hierarchies, and the joy they received in having them is rationally selfish. However, if, as others have pointed out, they adopt the child without the means to support it, as a matter of self-sacrifice to allegedly elevate the child from an otherwise miserable fate, then that is selfless.

You're right; I wasn't very clear on this. I certainly didn't mean to say there's no value in either adopting a child of having your own. There certainly is. What I meant was that adoption is something that does not necessarily promote one's life, and therefore isn't something all people ought do.

If the American couple who wishes to adopt a child has essentially equal access to children across the world, but chooses the child from the third-world country because it is a third-world country, then the primary criteria they seem to be using is the pitiability of the child's situation (if not the child himself). That smacks of altruism to me.

This is interesting. If I plan on adopting a child, and I am choosing between adopting a child from America vs. a child from a third-world country, that choice to me boils down to raising the quality of life of a child from a 6 to an 8 vs from a 1 to and 8. All other things being equal, I would choose the latter. That choice does seem altruistic (since the other person is the standard of the choice), but it also seems like the right choice. I would feel good about making that choice.

What I would feel good about is not so much that I am helping another person per se, but because of why I want to help another. If I simply believe it is good to help other people, I am mistaken. That is altruism. But if my desire to help others is the result of my valuing of human life, and my valuing of human life is the result of me valuing my own life, and me valuing my own life is the result of some level of success by me in living a rationally selfish life, then there is reason to admire this choice. I wouldn't say the choice is moral; the choice is the effect not the cause. The cause (living life well) is what is moral; the "altruistic" act is the effect and therefore is neither moral nor immoral.

Henrik reminds us of how non-charitable people actually are living under altruism and socialism. And Objectivism teaches us that what America lacks is the proper moral foundation for individualism and capitalism. I am sure that as America has devolved over the last 200+ years, many identified the benevolent and charitable nature of Americans as rooted in altruism and said that we need to return to that. These people misidentified the cause and effect relationship. What we need to return to is individualism/egoism and be conscious of the fact that charitable behavior is not moral, but is properly rooted in something moral. I think that this is a valuable distinction to keep in mind.

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Many things concerning self interest are personal, such as for optional values, but they are never subjective (a distinction made by Betsy, by the way).

Interesting point. Is there a post on The Forum that elaborates on this?

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Nate, you say, "...if charitable behavior is the result of good will towards man qua man, there is reason to admire that behavior." Note that charitable behavior is not a necessary result. Look at what good will is involved when a man sees a boy struggling with a problem, and out of admiration for the boy's tenacity, does not help him, but lets him struggle alone and finally succeed alone, without anyone's help. How much greater the man's joyous admiration; and how great is the boy's pride. I would rather read a self-help story than an other-help story. In the former I get to view courage and independence, in the latter, not. In fact, I would read the former for personal pleasure; the latter only if you paid me.

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Nate, you say, "...if charitable behavior is the result of good will towards man qua man, there is reason to admire that behavior." Note that charitable behavior is not a necessary result. Look at what good will is involved when a man sees a boy struggling with a problem, and out of admiration for the boy's tenacity, does not help him, but lets him struggle alone and finally succeed alone, without anyone's help. How much greater the man's joyous admiration; and how great is the boy's pride. I would rather read a self-help story than an other-help story. In the former I get to view courage and independence, in the latter, not. In fact, I would read the former for personal pleasure; the latter only if you paid me.

I agree. I am not saying that charitable behavior ought follow given the preconditions I mentioned; that would be altruism. I am simply saying that when it does, there is reason to respect or admire the person performing the action.

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Nate, you say, "...if charitable behavior is the result of good will towards man qua man, there is reason to admire that behavior." Note that charitable behavior is not a necessary result. Look at what good will is involved when a man sees a boy struggling with a problem, and out of admiration for the boy's tenacity, does not help him, but lets him struggle alone and finally succeed alone, without anyone's help. How much greater the man's joyous admiration; and how great is the boy's pride. I would rather read a self-help story than an other-help story. In the former I get to view courage and independence, in the latter, not. In fact, I would read the former for personal pleasure; the latter only if you paid me.

I agree. I am not saying that charitable behavior ought follow given the preconditions I mentioned; that would be altruism. I am simply saying that when it does, there is reason to respect or admire the person performing the action.

I don't agree. Why is he admirable? What if the person he helps could have made it without the help? Wouldn't his action then be damnable?

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I don't agree. Why is he admirable? What if the person he helps could have made it without the help? Wouldn't his action then be damnable?

The character that led to the desire to help is what's admirable. And I'm assuming that we would evaluate the charitable action as actually helpful.

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