Nate Smith

Altruism (and things sometimes labeled as such)

63 posts in this topic

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?

Definitely, yes!

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 don't see how. If you judge that the value you get from helping a virtuous person get what he deserves does not cost too much in terms of time or property, you are acting out of self-interest and not duty.

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.

No, it's not. Such things depends on a person's personal hierarchy of values. A poor student working his way through college may value ARI's work, but making a contribution would be a sacrifice while a wealthy businessman who wants to use some of this year's profits to foster capitalism and get a tax deduction might make a big donation.

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 think "claim" here is being used metaphorically and not literally.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Nate, Betsy's right; you wouldn't have to go looking for needy person. But if you happened to come across a person whom you regarded as having some rational virtue, but who needed help (and you could afford to help), then the virtue of fostering your values could come into play. It would be the virtue of justice, though, and outside the Christian (or altruistic) idea of being charitable all the time (as expressed in the idea of a "good deed every day"), which would involve self-sacrifice and injustice.

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 do not admire people who help the innocent "needy" (that is the best word I can come up with for what I have in mind - a person who needs help through no fault of his own, e.g. someone who has had the misfortune of being born a cripple or with Down´s syndrome or something like that) because he believes that he has a *duty* to do so. I perceive such individuals as being a *threat*. Because it stands to reason that if they believe that *they* hava a duty to help others, then they believe that I have also. And so they will probably advocate some form of statism. I do not admire Bill Gates, for example - to the extent that he sanctions altruism.

But I *do* approve of, and like, people who show in action that they are benevolent, by helping out individuals who are suffering through no fault of their own. I feel the same way that Ayn Rand did, for example, towards individuals such as Austin Heller, who helped victims of political oppression in The Fountainhead. And I believe that Ayn Rand herself meant Austin Heller to be commendable for what he did.

One of the character traits which I despise most is *indifference*. The most extreme case of indifference would be the proverbial man who steps over the bodies of homeless people who are starving and freezing to death on the sidewalk in the hell which socialists imagine constitutes a capitalist society. Of course, those Ebenezer Scrooge-like characters are merely figments of the imaginations of socialists.

But I *do* see less extreme examples of such individuals in real life. And I despise them. An example from real life would be those many Swedes who advocate "sending immigrants and refugees back" to a life in poverty and/or political repression. Another example would be the heartless bureaucrat in the welfare state - the kind like the social worker who helps to drive Cheryl go suicide in Atlas Shrugged.

I think that there is a rational basis for liking benevolence and for disliking indifference to human suffering. You will be able to live much more safely if you live in a society where men are benevolent, than you will in a society in which men are indifferent, or worse, are malevolent. And indifference to the good is a vice - isn´t it? What would you say about a man who is indifferent to, for example, the value of political freedom, or the need to put forth the effort to think, or towards the need to be honest? And what do you say about all those John Does and Joe Sixpacks out there who just sit in the sofa watching television, figuratively speaking, while power-lusters like Obama take away their freedom - because they think that it would be too much trouble to do something like join a Tea Party?

I suppose that the reason that I despise people who are indifferent is that indifference is, most generally speaking, the phenomena of *not valuing values* - i.e. ultimately of *not valuing life* (including one´s own). And of course, it is anti-life not to value life - since life requires self-generated action in order to be sustained. Any person, or any living organism in general, which does not value life is not going to survive.

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.

I believe I understand what you are saying. As an example, let's say I choose to give money to political candidate that I support (who presumably is a quality candidate that deserves the contribution). The action is both charitable (because I have no moral obligation to contribute) and virtuous (because I am acting to achieve my values).

The action is virtuous in so far as it is a pursuit of one's values, not as an act of charity. That the action is charitable doesn't disqualify it from being virtuous, but it also doesn't make it virtuous. Correct me if I am mistaken.

This seems consistent with Miss Rand's statement: "I do not consider [charity] a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty."

I was initially confused because I read your statement to mean that it was charity qua charity that is virtuous.

In that case, charity is a subclass of the Objectivist virtue of justice.

Ayn Rand says: "one must never seek or grant the unearned and undeserved, neither in matter nor in spirit (which is the virtue of Justice)"

It seems that charity is only proper when it is a subclass of justice. And it is only virtuous when done in the pursuit of one's values. Agreed?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
[...]

The action is virtuous in so far as it is a pursuit of one's values, not as an act of charity. That the action is charitable doesn't disqualify it from being virtuous, but it also doesn't make it virtuous.

[...]

It seems that charity is only proper when it is a subclass of justice. And it is only virtuous when done in the pursuit of one's values. Agreed?

You got it!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Adoption, charity and generosity have nothing to do with Altruism. This is an essence of Altruism formulated by its inventor, Auguste Comte:

Comte says, in his Catéchisme Positiviste [1], that:

[The] social point of view cannot tolerate the notion of rights, for such notion rests on individualism. We are born under a load of obligations of every kind, to our predecessors, to our successors, to our contemporaries. After our birth these obligations increase or accumulate, for it is some time before we can return any service.... This ["to live for others"], the definitive formula of human morality, gives a direct sanction exclusively to our instincts of benevolence, the common source of happiness and duty. [Man must serve] Humanity, whose we are entirely."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"It is altruism that has corrupted and perverted human benevolence by regarding the giver as an object of immolation, and the receiver as a helplessly miserable object of pity who holds a mortgage on the lives of others—a doctrine which is extremely offensive to both parties, leaving men no choice but the roles of sacrificial victim or moral cannibal . . . ."

“The Question of Scholarships,” The Objectivist, June 1966, 6.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There are no living Altruists; only wannabes.

... and dead altruists. Then there are the preachers of altruism trying to convince others to sacrifice for them, and those who accept altruism but don't practice it and suffer unearned guilt as a result.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Then there are the preachers of altruism trying to convince others to sacrifice for them, and those who accept altruism but don't practice it and suffer unearned guilt as a result." ~ Betsy Speicher

Yes, this has been my experience (in an extended family relationship), and why Ayn Rand's position on this subject is so refreshing. Those who advocate altruism by saying, "It makes me feel good to sacrifice for others", obviously don't understand the principle, or exempt themselves from it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites