Nate Smith

Altruism (and things sometimes labeled as such)

63 posts in this topic

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?

I have written:

I defined what I meant by subjective and gave plenty of examples which illustrate that aesthetic evaluation is not arbitrary. Betsy Speicher commented that she had issue with my use of "subjective". While I don't think that dictionary definitions should be left at the door, I understand that in an Objectivist forum the word carries a unique connotation.

My objection to your use of the word "subjective" was not because it was not properly defined. It was that the concept as defined was invalid because it package-dealed characteristics that do not always occur together in reality. The given definition was "Subjective means subject to the observers interpretation" and it was contrasted to "objective" as if anything that is personal and/or subject to an observer's interpretation was NOT objective. This isn't true.

Personal values can be chosen and pursued objectively. Emotional reactions can be based on true premises. It is important, especially when defending one's most important personal values to not allow them to be dismissed as "subjective," but to make the distinction between the personal and the subjective.

For more discussion of this point, see this and this and this or use THE FORUM's search engine to lookup posts by me containing the word "subjective."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
... 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.

Why?

Resulting behavior compared to what, which he could or should have done instead?

Are you reacting to the shear fact that something was accomplished or as a demonstration of benevolence, without regard to the context? -- did the person deserve it, was it a scacrifice? Would you smile if someone helped an old lady across the street if you knew that the helper had left his dog on the side of the road and he was just run over and that the helpee had kicked the dog on the way into the street?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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?

Self interest is not hedonism.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.

I wouldn't say that one shouldn't feel good about making that choice. The issue, as I see it, is why that choice would necessarily be better. In "The Ethics of Emergencies," Ayn Rand points out that one of the consequences of altruism is a focus on the negative--in order to be virtuous, one must constantly seek out the worst either in humanity or situations, and then sacrifice oneself to it.

In the case of adoption, if one has the means to raise a child, then it likely won't matter where the child comes from or his characteristics. The act of adoption will raise the child's quality of life and isn't a sacrifice for the adoptive parents. So, there isn't necessarily altruism in the act itself. However, it's the focus on and judgment of which child to adopt that can have an altruistic quality. The focus in your example seems to be negative; it is looking for the worst of the two circumstances and choosing it because it is worse. And that's why it "smacks of altruism" to me. The act of adoption itself is not necessarily altruistic, but the choice of which child to adopt has an altruisitic quality.

Perhaps an analogy would be a situation in which two high school seniors are competing for a full-ride scholarship to a top university. Both are equal candidates in terms of the essential criteria for the scholarship. However, one comes from a middle-class family and the other a poor family. If the choice to give the scholarship to the student from the poor family is made strictly because his family is poor, then again that would smack of altruism to me. The people who award the scholarship can feel good about it, but they could have also felt good about awarding it to the other student. In other words, there is no reason to feel bad in choosing the student from the middle-class family (or the child from the better circumstances in the adoption example).

I emphasize that last part because altruism isn't about how good you feel for making a given choice. Indeed, Kant said that feeling good about yourself even for self-sacrifice meant that you weren't being genuinely altruistic. You should feel nothing. But short of feeling nothing, altruism wants you to feel bad about not sacrificing yourself. To committed altruists, if you adopt the child from the better circumstances or award the scholarship to the middle class student, you should feel bad about it. That's the key. It's not that you shouldn't feel good about adopting the third-world child; it's that you should feel bad if you don't.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
... 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.

Why?

Resulting behavior compared to what, which he could or should have done instead?

Are you reacting to the shear fact that something was accomplished or as a demonstration of benevolence, without regard to the context? -- did the person deserve it, was it a scacrifice? Would you smile if someone helped an old lady across the street if you knew that the helper had left his dog on the side of the road and he was just run over and that the helpee had kicked the dog on the way into the street?

I'm not arguing that in all situations charity is just. Rational principles are always necessary for deciding courses of action. I'm simply saying that at the times when charitable behavior is acceptable, there can be reason to admire the person who desires to be charitable--if the motive is good will towards man. I think this motive originates from something good within us. I would not argue that the action itself is moral though.

Let me use a couple concrete example: I recently watched some of the NOVA special on the trapped Chilean miners. The rescuers were aided by a mining company from Pennsylvania, and someone from the company (the owner perhaps?) was part of the program. Now I won't pretend to know his true motives, so I'll use a fictional account to make my point.

Let's say the owner of this company lent aid to the miners because he was taught that he ought to do so. He reluctantly helps out because he is getting pressure by those around him, and though part of him doesn't want to, he believes it is moral to help, so he does so. Clearly this would be altruism in action, and we would not praise him for this.

But on the other hand, let's say he was motivated by the desire to help those trapped in the mine, not because he believes it is moral and he will be good to do so, but simply because he knows he is one of a few people in the world who can help, and he sees the opportunity to help other men in need. I admire this motive. I admire good will towards men, not because of the fact that someone wants to help another, but because I see its origin in the love of oneself. And I place no moral worth on the action itself.

A second example: The other day my son (who's 8) and I were at a restaurant, and as we were leaving, he saw one of those stands with quarter-slots in it and a boy's picture on it. He asked me what it was. I told him it was to raise money for a missing child. He asked me if he could get a quarter from his wallet in the car and put it in. I was proud of him for this--not because he was acting altruistically, but because he wanted to help another person. He is a very benevolent and kind person while at the same time he lives very selfishly (in the proper sense of course). I see benevolence as having its origin in selfishness, and when it does, I admire it.

(P.S. I realize the risk in using my son as an example; please don't hesitate to comment on his behavior or on mine as a parent. I welcome any comments.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I wouldn't say that one shouldn't feel good about making that choice. The issue, as I see it, is why that choice would necessarily be better. In "The Ethics of Emergencies," Ayn Rand points out that one of the consequences of altruism is a focus on the negative--in order to be virtuous, one must constantly seek out the worst either in humanity or situations, and then sacrifice oneself to it.

That's a good point.

In the case of adoption, if one has the means to raise a child, then it likely won't matter where the child comes from or his characteristics. The act of adoption will raise the child's quality of life and isn't a sacrifice for the adoptive parents. So, there isn't necessarily altruism in the act itself. However, it's the focus on and judgment of which child to adopt that can have an altruistic quality. The focus in your example seems to be negative; it is looking for the worst of the two circumstances and choosing it because it is worse. And that's why it "smacks of altruism" to me. The act of adoption itself is not necessarily altruistic, but the choice of which child to adopt has an altruisitic quality.

Perhaps an analogy would be a situation in which two high school seniors are competing for a full-ride scholarship to a top university. Both are equal candidates in terms of the essential criteria for the scholarship. However, one comes from a middle-class family and the other a poor family. If the choice to give the scholarship to the student from the poor family is made strictly because his family is poor, then again that would smack of altruism to me. The people who award the scholarship can feel good about it, but they could have also felt good about awarding it to the other student. In other words, there is no reason to feel bad in choosing the student from the middle-class family (or the child from the better circumstances in the adoption example).

The second example is a good one. In the adoption example, since I don't care where the adopted child comes from, I would choose the one from the lesser background. Either way I get what I want. But in the case of the scholarship competition, I don't feel that same inclination to award the poorer student. The scholarship has the potential to greatly benefit both, and the more deserving child ought get the scholarship. If it was the choice between a very rich child vs a poor one, and their resumes were nearly identical, I might lean towards the poor student. Though I acknowledge that just because a child comes from a rich family, that doesn't mean his parents would be funding his education. I guess I would be gambling that they are. With the potential adoptees, I guess I'm assuming that a child from America has a much higher chance of adoption, therefore I would lean in the other direction.

Interesting comments, helpful in thinking this through.

Indeed, Kant said that feeling good about yourself even for self-sacrifice meant that you weren't being genuinely altruistic. You should feel nothing. But short of feeling nothing, altruism wants you to feel bad about not sacrificing yourself.

Yeah, that sounds crazy. ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
... 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.

Why?

Resulting behavior compared to what, which he could or should have done instead?

Are you reacting to the shear fact that something was accomplished or as a demonstration of benevolence, without regard to the context? -- did the person deserve it, was it a sacrifice? Would you smile if someone helped an old lady across the street if you knew that the helper had left his dog on the side of the road and he was just run over and that the helpee had kicked the dog on the way into the street?

I'm not arguing that in all situations charity is just. Rational principles are always necessary for deciding courses of action. I'm simply saying that at the times when charitable behavior is acceptable, there can be reason to admire the person who desires to be charitable--if the motive is good will towards man. I think this motive originates from something good within us. I would not argue that the action itself is moral though...

But on the other hand, let's say he was motivated by the desire to help those trapped in the mine, not because he believes it is moral and he will be good to do so, but simply because he knows he is one of a few people in the world who can help, and he sees the opportunity to help other men in need. I admire this motive. I admire good will towards men, not because of the fact that someone wants to help another, but because I see its origin in the love of oneself. And I place no moral worth on the action itself.

You haven't answered the original question, "why?", and you haven't addressed the requirement for assessing context and alternatives. Instead you repeat that the essence is the "opportunity to help other men in need. I admire this motive." What does that have to do with an alleged "origin in love of oneself"? You claim the "action itself" has no moral meaning to you, but that fulfilling someone else's "need" because it is a need is "good".

You previously qualified that "at the times when charitable behavior is acceptable, there can be reason to admire the person who desires to be charitable--if the motive is good will towards man. I think this motive originates from something good within us. I would not argue that the action itself is moral though." And then in every example you drop that context and revert back to saying that it's based on "helping other men in need" as such, and describe reacting without regard to context in every example. You can't have it both ways.

If you advocate fulfilling someone else's need because it is a need, without regard for the context of whether the person deserves it or the person giving the help is sacrificing then you are advocating altruism whether or not you deny calling it a moral issue while believing that the help given "comes from something good within us".

"Good will towards men" in the abstract, meaning man as he ought to be in accordance with his nature, is not the same thing as good will towards any and all comers -- any specific person without regard to what he is, whether he deserves it, and whether it is a sacrifice to give it to him.

A second example: The other day my son (who's 8) and I were at a restaurant, and as we were leaving, he saw one of those stands with quarter-slots in it and a boy's picture on it. He asked me what it was. I told him it was to raise money for a missing child. He asked me if he could get a quarter from his wallet in the car and put it in. I was proud of him for this--not because he was acting altruistically, but because he wanted to help another person. He is a very benevolent and kind person while at the same time he lives very selfishly (in the proper sense of course). I see benevolence as having its origin in selfishness, and when it does, I admire it.

A proper benevolence does have its origin in a kind of selfishness, as a pro-humanity outlook, but not without regard to context. You say you are proud "not because he was acting altruistically, but because he wanted to help another person". Without considering the context they are the same thing and denying calling it "altruism" doesn't change that.

Your son may not be old enough to realize that, and may identify with the boy and automatically assume that a missing boy is worthy of saving and a quarter is not a big loss to him, but that is not the same as "wanting to help another person" as such and out of context.

Minor acts of kindness that are not sacrifices often do assume the best rather than investigating the person, and we do that all the time -- that is a normal way of interacting with people on a daily basis, not a sacrifice. But where does it stop for your son -- and for you? There are billions of boys in need all over the globe. At what point does his attitude become selective? When does he want to stop "helping others" and pursue his own life? Does Mother Teresa also bring a smile to your face? If you make the distinctions in thought and attitude, then you can't characterize it only in terms of fulfilling someone else's "need" or "helping another person" because it is a need and with no qualification.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
You haven't answered the original question, "why?"

I'm not exactly sure what your "why" is directed at, but I think I have. What I respect about charitable behavior is when it comes from a "pro-humanity outlook."

and you haven't addressed the requirement for assessing context and alternatives.

I agree with Ayn Rand's criteria: "There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them."

Instead you repeat that the essence is the "opportunity to help other men in need.

I think you are reading an altruistic motive into what I was saying. I was referring again to the "pro-humanity" motivation, not simply the desire to help another.

You claim the "action itself" has no moral meaning to you, but that fulfilling someone else's "need" because it is a need is "good".

I've said multiple times that the action is not good. What passage are you referring to?

"Good will towards men" in the abstract, meaning man as he ought to be in accordance with his nature, is not the same thing as good will towards any and all comers -- any specific person without regard to what he is, whether he deserves it, and whether it is a sacrifice to give it to him.

...

Minor acts of kindness that are not sacrifices often do assume the best rather than investigating the person, and we do that all the time -- that is a normal way of interacting with people on a daily basis, not a sacrifice. But where does it stop for your son -- and for you? There are billions of boys in need all over the globe. At what point does his attitude become selective? When does he want to stop "helping others" and pursue his own life? Does Mother Teresa also bring a smile to your face? If you make the distinctions in thought and attitude, then you can't characterize it only in terms of fulfilling someone else's "need" or "helping another person" because it is a need and with no qualification.

I can't help but feel that you're reading a lot of my comments out of context. Have you read the thread from the beginning? I've addressed most of these points already, and I am in agreement with Ayn Rand's assessment of charity and altruism. I do not admire Mother Teresa's behavior, and I have not advocated helping boys all over the globe.

The original intent of my question was to try and figure out why altruism is so prevalent, and if there are any facts of reality which might mistakenly lead people to be so sympathetic towards it. When my friend brought up the adoption example, I wanted to determine if there is anything valid in his sentiment at all (acknowledging that there is much mistaken in it).

I do not believe that out-of-context charity is admirable, and I think altruism is always wrong. But I do think that a lot of peoples' desire to be "altruistic" or charitable comes from something good within them. And there is something to admire about that (again, not the action, but that which is good within them). Understanding this for me is helpful in trying to understand people and therefore help them transition from altruism to egoism. Anyway that I can show someone that what they value as "altruistic" can actually be properly understood in a different and better way is helpful in changing minds.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I do not believe that out-of-context charity is admirable, and I think altruism is always wrong. But I do think that a lot of peoples' desire to be "altruistic" or charitable comes from something good within them. And there is something to admire about that (again, not the action, but that which is good within them). Understanding this for me is helpful in trying to understand people and therefore help them transition from altruism to egoism. Anyway that I can show someone that what they value as "altruistic" can actually be properly understood in a different and better way is helpful in changing minds.

It is very important to distinguish between altruism (self-sacrifice) and benevolence (projecting one's own self-value onto others and valuing them as a result). Most of the altruist racket consists of making a package-deal of altruism and benevolence and you have to challenge that.

One good way is by showing how egoism fosters benevolence and the self-esteem from which it comes and how self-sacrifice leads to resentment and hostility between people and thus destroys benevolence.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
You haven't answered the original question, "why?"

I'm not exactly sure what your "why" is directed at, but I think I have. What I respect about charitable behavior is when it comes from a "pro-humanity outlook."

But that is not the way you describe it because you write it in the reverse. You write as if helping others as such and without qualification implies being "pro-humanity" rather than saying why "pro-humanity" to leads to the actions under what circumstances. This is accompanied by unqualified examples, including the one about your son in which there was nothing said about the worthiness of the recipients, what else could be done with the money, or whether he could afford to give it away, in that fashion as a matter of principle, to anyone in similar circumstances.

and you haven't addressed the requirement for assessing context and alternatives. Instead you repeat that the essence is the "opportunity to help other men in need. I admire this motive." What does that have to do with an alleged "origin in love of oneself"? You claim the "action itself" has no moral meaning to you, but that fulfilling someone else's "need" because it is a need is "good".

I agree with Ayn Rand's criteria: "There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them."

You add that intellectually after others notice it missing, but it plays no essential role in the examples you give and the emotional reactions you describe having about them.

Instead you repeat that the essence is the "opportunity to help other men in need.

I think you are reading an altruistic motive into what I was saying. I was referring again to the "pro-humanity" motivation, not simply the desire to help another.

But again, that doesn't square with the way you express it, especially when giving examples. You see the act alone, and conclude that you are seeing "pro-humanity". That does not follow.

You claim the "action itself" has no moral meaning to you, but that fulfilling someone else's "need" because it is a need is "good".

I've said multiple times that the action is not good. What passage are you referring to?

The one quoted just above it:

But on the other hand, let's say he was motivated by the desire to help those trapped in the mine, not because he believes it is moral and he will be good to do so, but simply because he knows he is one of a few people in the world who can help, and he sees the opportunity to help other men in need. I admire this motive. I admire good will towards men, not because of the fact that someone wants to help another, but because I see its origin in the love of oneself. And I place no moral worth on the action itself.

I also explained:

You previously qualified that "at the times when charitable behavior is acceptable, there can be reason to admire the person who desires to be charitable--if the motive is good will towards man. I think this motive originates from something good within us. I would not argue that the action itself is moral though." And then in every example you drop that context and revert back to saying that it's based on "helping other men in need" as such, and describe reacting without regard to context in every example. You can't have it both ways.

"Good will towards men" in the abstract, meaning man as he ought to be in accordance with his nature, is not the same thing as good will towards any and all comers -- any specific person without regard to what he is, whether he deserves it, and whether it is a sacrifice to give it to him.

...

Minor acts of kindness that are not sacrifices often do assume the best rather than investigating the person, and we do that all the time -- that is a normal way of interacting with people on a daily basis, not a sacrifice. But where does it stop for your son -- and for you? There are billions of boys in need all over the globe. At what point does his attitude become selective? When does he want to stop "helping others" and pursue his own life? Does Mother Teresa also bring a smile to your face? If you make the distinctions in thought and attitude, then you can't characterize it only in terms of fulfilling someone else's "need" or "helping another person" because it is a need and with no qualification.

I can't help but feel that you're reading a lot of my comments out of context. Have you read the thread from the beginning? I've addressed most of these points already, and I am in agreement with Ayn Rand's assessment of charity and altruism. I do not admire Mother Teresa's behavior, and I have not advocated helping boys all over the globe.

Yes I have read the whole thread. I began in the second post by responding to your opening post and have followed through throughout the rest. The problem with your appeal to 'context' is that the qualifications don't mesh with the actual context of your original formulations and descriptions. Your later intellectual qualifications are not consistent with your examples and apparent emotional reactions to them. You say now, correctly, that you do not admire Mother Teresa and don't advocate helping boys "all over the globe", but your original examples and appeals as a matter of principle don't rule that out, and the way they are phrased make no such discriminations. Rather, the appeals to 'humanity' are explicitly based on observing the acts themselves without regard to context or limitations.

The qualifications of explicit concern for the worthiness of the recipient, his appreciation, and your ability to afford what you are giving away are essential in any description or assessment. They are inherent in any proper assessment of what it means to be motivated as "pro humanity". Yet they are consistently missing in initial descriptions of what is important to you, including the example you gave of your own son and your reaction to what he did.

The original intent of my question was to try and figure out why altruism is so prevalent, and if there are any facts of reality which might mistakenly lead people to be so sympathetic towards it. When my friend brought up the adoption example, I wanted to determine if there is anything valid in his sentiment at all (acknowledging that there is much mistaken in it).

From the way you describe and assess these scenarios I didn't get the impression that the only issue is questioning the basis of the sentiments of others. You appear to be advocating something that you feel.

But yes there are facts that mistakenly lead people to be sympathetic towards altruism: It has been beaten into their heads since they were old enough to understand words, and it has been done so in a way that obliterates benevolence and rational relationships in favor of duty as it exploits and distorts legitimate benevolence, all posed as if relationships between individuals are by nature and should be sacrificial. By the time they are through with that, the victim has no means left to correctly assess benevolence in human relations and you cannot infer anything proper about a person's motivations by observing acts of charity alone. You have to know a lot more about a person to know if he has some remnants of actual 'pro-humanity' in a legitimate, not a collectivist, sense, and that he may be seeking to express non-sacrificial acknowledgment and support for worthy fellow creatures struggling to live and prosper -- or at the very least is granting the benefit of the doubt in an emergency.

I do not believe that out-of-context charity is admirable, and I think altruism is always wrong. But I do think that a lot of peoples' desire to be "altruistic" or charitable comes from something good within them. And there is something to admire about that (again, not the action, but that which is good within them). Understanding this for me is helpful in trying to understand people and therefore help them transition from altruism to egoism. Anyway that I can show someone that what they value as "altruistic" can actually be properly understood in a different and better way is helpful in changing minds.

In as much as charity is not a major virtue even when granted in the best of circumstances, if you have to appeal to someone's desire to give it, on that basis you aren't going to change their minds on anything important. You can acknowledge benevolence when you see it and when it is real, not falsely inferred or imagined from charity, but that acknowledgment is not enough. You have to make the distinction between sacrifice and non-sacrifice -- and that is the emotional hurdle for most people that blocks consideration of a radically different moral code. If they don't already have a collectivist 'pro-humanity' attitude then you don't have that as so much of a problem to begin with and you are probably dealing with concerns about what is 'practical' for them to live in a properly construed non-sacrificial social system.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I appreciate your comments; you make some useful distinctions and points. I'll begin by saying that I think I agree with what you're saying. And I acknowledge that some of what I said is unclear or ambiguous. That's largely due to the fact that I raised this topic to help me think a lot of this through. As I have, I do see how some of my posts could be misinterpreted or were simply poorly worded. Since I think I'm in agreement with the responses I've read, I don't have a huge desire to rehash all that I've said, but I will respond just in case I there still is disagreement or I am missing some subtle yet important distinction.

You haven't answered the original question, "why?"

I'm not exactly sure what your "why" is directed at, but I think I have. What I respect about charitable behavior is when it comes from a "pro-humanity outlook."

But that is not the way you describe it because you write it in the reverse. You write as if helping others as such and without qualification implies being "pro-humanity" rather than saying why "pro-humanity" to leads to the actions under what circumstances.

You are correct. The desire to help others certainly does not imply any particular philosophy. My question could have better been stated as, "does the desire to help others imply the possibility of a proper philosophy?" I was/am curious how exactly this desire fits exactly into Objectivism.

This is accompanied by unqualified examples, including the one about your son in which there was nothing said about the worthiness of the recipients, what else could be done with the money, or whether he could afford to give it away, in that fashion as a matter of principle, to anyone in similar circumstances.

In the case of my son, the worthiness of the recipient isn't particularly relevant to what I was curious about. I was curious about why we sometimes see such benevolent and generous behavior from children. Is it primarily due to altruism, or does it (can it) come from something better? I think often times it is the latter; I might go so far as to say most times. (In my experience, young children are not very altruistic; selfishness is very natural.) And yes, I agree, the considerations you mention are important to consider and to teach children as they grow.

You claim the "action itself" has no moral meaning to you, but that fulfilling someone else's "need" because it is a need is "good".

I've said multiple times that the action is not good. What passage are you referring to?

The one quoted just above it:

But on the other hand, let's say he was motivated by the desire to help those trapped in the mine, not because he believes it is moral and he will be good to do so, but simply because he knows he is one of a few people in the world who can help, and he sees the opportunity to help other men in need. I admire this motive. I admire good will towards men, not because of the fact that someone wants to help another, but because I see its origin in the love of oneself. And I place no moral worth on the action itself.

When I said "not because he believes it is moral and he will be good to do so" the not applies to both clauses. In other words, "not because he believes it is moral and not because he will be good to do so"

The problem with your appeal to 'context' is that the qualifications don't mesh with the actual context of your original formulations and descriptions. Your later intellectual qualifications are not consistent with your examples and apparent emotional reactions to them. You say now, correctly, that you do not admire Mother Teresa and don't advocate helping boys "all over the globe", but your original examples and appeals as a matter of principle don't rule that out, and the way they are phrased make no such discriminations. Rather, the appeals to 'humanity' are explicitly based on observing the acts themselves without regard to context or limitations.

I don't know what you mean by this.

The original intent of my question was to try and figure out why altruism is so prevalent, and if there are any facts of reality which might mistakenly lead people to be so sympathetic towards it. When my friend brought up the adoption example, I wanted to determine if there is anything valid in his sentiment at all (acknowledging that there is much mistaken in it).

From the way you describe and assess these scenarios I didn't get the impression that the only issue is questioning the basis of the sentiments of others. You appear to be advocating something that you feel.

I'm not advocating anything that I feel. I'm trying to use feelings as clues to what I think, and therefore to see if there are any circumstances under which the feelings are proper.

But yes there are facts that mistakenly lead people to be sympathetic towards altruism: It has been beaten into their heads since they were old enough to understand words, and it has been done so in a way that obliterates benevolence and rational relationships in favor of duty as it exploits and distorts legitimate benevolence, all posed as if relationships between individuals are by nature and should be sacrificial. By the time they are through with that, the victim has no means left to correctly assess benevolence in human relations and you cannot infer anything proper about a person's motivations by observing acts of charity alone. You have to know a lot more about a person to know if he has some remnants of actual 'pro-humanity' in a legitimate, not a collectivist, sense, and that he may be seeking to express non-sacrificial acknowledgment and support for worthy fellow creatures struggling to live and prosper -- or at the very least is granting the benefit of the doubt in an emergency.

Good point.

In as much as charity is not a major virtue even when granted in the best of circumstances, if you have to appeal to someone's desire to give it, on that basis you aren't going to change their minds on anything important.

I agree. But we both know how an ethics of "selfishness" is perceived by most people at first. If you can paint a picture of how true benevolence is only possible under this philosophy and show people what underlies it, that is useful and important.

I've always wondered, what does Ayn Rand mean when she says charity is not a major virtue? Does she consider it a minor virtue? And if so, doesn't that imply one ought do at least some charity? Why doesn't she say, "I do not consider charity a virtue."?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Nate, I think you should read The Virtue Of Selfishness again. Ask What is a virtue? What value does it seek to attain or sustain? What place has charity among the virtues? How would it be of practical aid in the achievement of that end-in-yourself which is your own life? No one else can do this for you, or give you helpful answers. You must do it entirely independently, on your own.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Nate, I think you should read The Virtue Of Selfishness again. Ask What is a virtue? What value does it seek to attain or sustain? What place has charity among the virtues? How would it be of practical aid in the achievement of that end-in-yourself which is your own life? No one else can do this for you, or give you helpful answers. You must do it entirely independently, on your own.

I will eventually re-read that. But I find it peculiar that you say that no one can give me helpful answers. I've gotten many helpful answers from this site. Perhaps it isn't possible to give a full answer in a post but certainly some sort of answer must be possible.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Nate, I think you should read The Virtue Of Selfishness again. Ask What is a virtue? What value does it seek to attain or sustain? What place has charity among the virtues? How would it be of practical aid in the achievement of that end-in-yourself which is your own life? No one else can do this for you, or give you helpful answers. You must do it entirely independently, on your own.

I will eventually re-read that. But I find it peculiar that you say that no one can give me helpful answers. I've gotten many helpful answers from this site. Perhaps it isn't possible to give a full answer in a post but certainly some sort of answer must be possible.

Nate, I offer that you think/re-think about what Objectivist consider virtues to be. A virtue is an action(s) one takes to acheive their values. So, is giving someone something (charity) something you apply with every person you meet to achieve your values? Is being charitable something that you have to do for the enhancement of your own life? Finally, I offer that before one can consider being charitable a major virtue (such as religious groups) they must first have people living in misery which they constantly strive to be charitable to. In other words, for a person to be considered virtuous (in more traditional/irrational ideas) they must live off of the misery of others. Do you still think that charity is a virtue?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Nate, I think you should read The Virtue Of Selfishness again. Ask What is a virtue? What value does it seek to attain or sustain? What place has charity among the virtues? How would it be of practical aid in the achievement of that end-in-yourself which is your own life? No one else can do this for you, or give you helpful answers. You must do it entirely independently, on your own.

I will eventually re-read that. But I find it peculiar that you say that no one can give me helpful answers. I've gotten many helpful answers from this site. Perhaps it isn't possible to give a full answer in a post but certainly some sort of answer must be possible.

I cannot answer for Brian, but I think I understand what he is stating. The reason no one can give you help, in a certain context, is that no one knows exactly what your values are and whether or not making certain choices and taking certain actions will enhance your life. You must define your own purpose in life and you must define your own path on achieving that goal/purpose.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Nate, I offer that you think/re-think about what Objectivist consider virtues to be. A virtue is an action(s) one takes to acheive their values. So, is giving someone something (charity) something you apply with every person you meet to achieve your values? Is being charitable something that you have to do for the enhancement of your own life? Finally, I offer that before one can consider being charitable a major virtue (such as religious groups) they must first have people living in misery which they constantly strive to be charitable to. In other words, for a person to be considered virtuous (in more traditional/irrational ideas) they must live off of the misery of others. Do you still think that charity is a virtue?

I don't see charity as a virtue at all. What I wonder is why Ayn Rand qualified it with the word major. Why doesn't she just say, "I do not consider charity a virtue."? Does Ayn Rand consider charity a virtue in any way? And if so, in what way and why?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Nate, I offer that you think/re-think about what Objectivist consider virtues to be. A virtue is an action(s) one takes to acheive their values. So, is giving someone something (charity) something you apply with every person you meet to achieve your values? Is being charitable something that you have to do for the enhancement of your own life? Finally, I offer that before one can consider being charitable a major virtue (such as religious groups) they must first have people living in misery which they constantly strive to be charitable to. In other words, for a person to be considered virtuous (in more traditional/irrational ideas) they must live off of the misery of others. Do you still think that charity is a virtue?

I don't see charity as a virtue at all. What I wonder is why Ayn Rand qualified it with the word major. Why doesn't she just say, "I do not consider charity a virtue."? Does Ayn Rand consider charity a virtue in any way? And if so, in what way and why?

I think she explains it very well below:

"My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue." [“Playboy’s Interview with Ayn Rand,” March 1964.]

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Nate, I offer that you think/re-think about what Objectivist consider virtues to be. A virtue is an action(s) one takes to acheive their values. So, is giving someone something (charity) something you apply with every person you meet to achieve your values? Is being charitable something that you have to do for the enhancement of your own life? Finally, I offer that before one can consider being charitable a major virtue (such as religious groups) they must first have people living in misery which they constantly strive to be charitable to. In other words, for a person to be considered virtuous (in more traditional/irrational ideas) they must live off of the misery of others. Do you still think that charity is a virtue?

I don't see charity as a virtue at all. What I wonder is why Ayn Rand qualified it with the word major. Why doesn't she just say, "I do not consider charity a virtue."? Does Ayn Rand consider charity a virtue in any way? And if so, in what way and why?

I think she explains it very well below:

"My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue." [“Playboy’s Interview with Ayn Rand,” March 1964.]

When Miss Rand says she doesn't consider charity a major virtue she is speaking to a culture which _does_ regard it as such. She is merely denying that; she is not contrasting "major" with "minor". The same with regard to "primary virtue"---she is not contrasting with "secondary". If she regarded it as a virtue at all she would have said so in "The Virtue of Selfishness". Charity is not a virtue, major, minor or primary, secondary. It is not a means of attaining rational, personal values---values each man needs in order to live a productive, long-range life.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
When Miss Rand says she doesn't consider charity a major virtue she is speaking to a culture which _does_ regard it as such. She is merely denying that; she is not contrasting "major" with "minor". The same with regard to "primary virtue"---she is not contrasting with "secondary". If she regarded it as a virtue at all she would have said so in "The Virtue of Selfishness". Charity is not a virtue, major, minor or primary, secondary. It is not a means of attaining rational, personal values---values each man needs in order to live a productive, long-range life.

You may be correct, but it certainly doesn't seem like it. Not only does she say she does not consider charity a major virtue, she also says she is fighting the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue. Ayn Rand chose her words carefully, and it's hard for me to believe both of these qualifiers have no significance. Is there anywhere where she distinguishes between primary virtues and secondary ones or major and minor virtues?

And you say that "If she regarded it as a virtue at all she would have said so in 'The Virtue of Selfishness'." But the seven virtues she mentions in VoS Leonard Peikoff addresses in OPAR. And he adds that "Miss Rand did not regard this list as necessarily exhaustive" (p251). So presumably there are other virtues that she does not comment on.

I'm not saying she believed that charity is a virtue, but I do wonder why she qualified her statement on charity as she did.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I'm not saying she believed that charity is a virtue, but I do wonder why she qualified her statement on charity as she did.

Probably because sometimes charity is a virtue such as when you give what you can afford to help a needy person or cause that deserves it. In that case, charity is a subclass of the Objectivist virtue of justice.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I'm not saying she believed that charity is a virtue, but I do wonder why she qualified her statement on charity as she did.

Probably because sometimes charity is a virtue such as when you give what you can afford to help a needy person or cause that deserves it. In that case, charity is a subclass of the Objectivist virtue of justice.

And, if I might add, that to make charity a primary virtue would mean one believes in a malevolent universe where misery would be part of man's nature. In other words, pain, suffering and failure would automatically become metaphysically significant if one raises or makes charity a primary virtue. So, charity for a religious person (malevolent universe premise) is done for a totally different reason than that which an Objectivist (benevolent universe premise) would choose to be charitable for. Objectivist do not think that another person's hardships entitle that person to their efforts, most religious people think the opposite.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I'm not saying she believed that charity is a virtue, but I do wonder why she qualified her statement on charity as she did.

Probably because sometimes charity is a virtue such as when you give what you can afford to help a needy person or cause that deserves it. In that case, charity is a subclass of the Objectivist virtue of justice.

But if a virtue is something you want and need to practise to reach a certain end, you would have to go looking for that needy person. Or, if you never came across a deserving, needy person (but only the un-deserving kind) then your "virtue" of charity would be of a hit-or-miss (and thus, unnecessary) kind, and a virtue you don't really need is so trivial a thing, it hardly bears discussion (or thought) at all. And I think Nate (Nate, correct me if I'm wrong) speaks of charity as something not so trivial or unimportant.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I'm not saying she believed that charity is a virtue, but I do wonder why she qualified her statement on charity as she did.

Probably because sometimes charity is a virtue such as when you give what you can afford to help a needy person or cause that deserves it. In that case, charity is a subclass of the Objectivist virtue of justice.

Interesting--but also confusing. I'm having some trouble processing exactly what this would mean if one turns this into a principle. Someone's need is not a claim on our property. Can someone's deserving be such a claim? Will this principle ever put us in a position to do something that we don't want to out of a duty to be moral? Like B.Royce said, if there were some kind of virtue here, "you would have to go looking for that needy person."

I keep thinking of altruists going around telling people that they should give their time and money to help those in need. When I read what you write, I can't help but imagine Objectivists going around preaching to people that they should give to ARI or something like that. I'm sure that's not what you mean though.

Tara Smith quotes this passage from Atlas Shrugged (p.888) in her book Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics in the section on charity (p.256):

Cheryl: "That I happen to suffer, doesn't give me a claim on you."

Dagny: "No, it doesn't. But that you value all the things I value, does."

Cheryl: "You mean...if you want to talk to me, it's not alms? Not just because you feel sorry for me?"

Dagny: "I feel terribly sorry for you, Cheryl, and I'd like to help you--not because you suffer but because you haven't deserved to suffer."

Does Dagny really mean that because Cheryl values the things Dagny does, this gives Cheryl some claim on Dagny? That doesn't seem right. I can see Dagny having a desire to help Cheryl, but to call it a virtue and claim that she ought to? I'm not making the connection. It seems like if we make that next step, we're forced into seeking out people that "deserve" our help.

I'll keep thinking about this.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A quick question on the meaning of the word virtue. Ayn Rand defines virtue as "the action by which one gains and keeps [a value]."

If I'm in the mood for an apple, and I walk to my kitchen to get one, would we say that that action was virtuous? Or if I take out the trash because I don't want my house to smell, was that action virtuous? Since these actions are means to obtaining a value, do I conclude that "it is a virtue to take out the trash" or "it is a virtue to get an apple from the kitchen"?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
A quick question on the meaning of the word virtue. Ayn Rand defines virtue as "the action by which one gains and keeps [a value]."

If I'm in the mood for an apple, and I walk to my kitchen to get one, would we say that that action was virtuous? Or if I take out the trash because I don't want my house to smell, was that action virtuous? Since these actions are means to obtaining a value, do I conclude that "it is a virtue to take out the trash" or "it is a virtue to get an apple from the kitchen"?

The virtue is action to achieve value, but not a specific action. Inotherwords, if you want some kind of food (assuming it's good for you and that you are hungry) it is virtuous to think about what action you need to take and it's virtuous to take that action. This time, it might mean simply walking to the kitchen and opening the fridge; next time, it might mean driving to the store. If this latter, you will have to weigh the cost and time spent in going to the store, as against, say, waiting in hunger for dinner. If you couldn't afford the gas (because the tank was low and you need that little gas to get to work romorrow), then it would be a vice to go to the store. At different times, depending on the particular context, a similar action (similar to the one taken now) can be either a virtue or a vice.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites