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Are we altruistic?
Posted: 02 February 2010 01:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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rcrase - 02 February 2010 07:01 AM

Thanks for the link.  I gave it a look and I think I’ll find quite a few answers there.  I have no interest in trying to trudge through “Atlas Shrugged” or any of her other works merely to argue with my brother in law. wink

I call it “slogging” through, myself. That 60-page speech in the middle there…

In most threads I read, even like minded people demand reasonable explanations and call each other out when necessary.  I love it.

I’m enjoying it here, too. grin

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Posted: 02 February 2010 05:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Arestelle - 02 February 2010 01:13 PM
UlsterScots432 - 01 February 2010 04:32 PM

The problem I have with the background/family issue is, that’s how life is.  What are we supposed to do about it?  I think when people talk in the abstract about the “family and background” they tend to be thinking of Thurston Howell, wearing an argyle sweater, sipping a martini, going to Yale.  The reality is, many of us (myself and my wife included) are self-made, having come from what most consider “poor” and of course we are trying our best to transfer our wealth, education and knowledge to our children (we see that as our duty).

I don’t know about people in general talking about family/background, but I was thinking of my dad buying my brothers and me Math Pentathlon and MindTrap rather than video games (we had those too, but we had to buy them ourselves), keeping an Encyclopaedia Britannica set in the living room, and bringing home copies of National Geographic when he was done with them at his office. He doesn’t wear argyle or sip martinis, the Ivy League was out of the question, and our family is lower-middle class. Money and social status are the least part of my point. They matter, but less so, I think.

I know “that’s how life is” - some families will encourage a person to use her brain, others will discourage it, some are born with high IQ, some with low, and it’s basically luck (from your perspective) which you get - but that’s my point. There are advantages that some people get without earning them and with no way to refuse them. I just wonder if there isn’t some responsibility to “pay back” such advantages in some way, to earn them in retrospect, since they can’t be earned in advance. That’s if the ‘trader’ is the moral ideal. But I also don’t really know what that would look like.

But that’s part of life, and to see someone try to remedy that alleged “imbalance” thru altruistic acts, whether it be affirmative action, welfare, busing, special grants, etc…seems to defeat the purpose of setting goals for oneself and family.

I’m not suggesting policy. I’m asking about possible moral responsibility. Not rules. Not law. Not enforcement. Why would that disincentivize making goals for oneself? I haven’t even speculated about the kinds of actions that would satisfy such a responsibility.

Sounds like your dad was smart. As far as responsibility to “pay back” advantages, I am not sure what you mean.  The only “moral” responsibility is that which we decide for ourselves, otherwise, it would have to be something enforced.  Certainly, one could judge another, for their actions or inactions, but there is no “responsibility” without consequences for failing to carry out those responsibilities.  At least, I don’t see how else the word or idea would have utility.  But we certainly are free to go around saying we think someone has a moral responsibility to “pay back”, to which the respondent could simply say “no thank you.” 

Also, who would “judge”, and is there a duty of those who receive (moral responsibility) to do something or take some action? 

An interesting contradiction I see in “altruism” when actually part of social policy, is that very little is asked of the recipients of that altruism.  In fact, it’s almost impolite to ask.

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Posted: 02 February 2010 05:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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rcrase:

It’s a good topic.  Sounds like Thanksgivings are going to be very interesting at your house !  be happy, we have far-right wingers (religious) in my family, coupled with left-wingers…my brother and I sit back and laugh at how similar they sound when they get going !  haha. 

As for the boards, I haven’t seen any other “Randians” on here, myself…I do know that they generally dislike libertarians as not being hardcore enough smile  Rand herself disdained the libertarian party from what I gather.  She seemed to disdain anyone that disagreed with her, and pushed aside a lot of folks in her life.

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Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (Democrat):

“It’s a free country; I wish it weren’t, but it’s a free country.” when speaking of a rally on the Capitol.

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Posted: 11 February 2010 09:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Rand was trying to turn a spectrum of behavior into an absolute rule of thumb: act on your own behalf and it will benefit society as well. 

I don’t think it works very well.  Certainly that which is detrimental to society is detrimental to me, which was Rand’s point, that it is really only good for me if it is good for society, but that is such a deep view into the effects of our actions that few people would interpret it properly.  If I chop down this forest and make myself rich from its timber, my money enriches the economy, and everybody is better off, right?  Except for the endangered species that lived in the forest and the people who enjoyed the trees, and of course we were using that oxygen the trees were producing.  But hey, I’m rich.

Moral behavior sits on a spectrum:  selfishness, to mutual benefit, to altruism.  If you do something because you fear punishment of God, or because you expect the favor or God, you are acting selfishly.  If you do something because you expect something in return, or because it makes it better for everyone, it is not yet altruistic.  The altruistic act is performed without consideration of any reward.  For example, if I stop and lift a helpless baby bird back into his nest, and no one sees me, no one else knows anything about it, I have only acted out of pure compassion for another creature.  I expect nothing in return, only a little less suffering in the world.  Society will be no better off.  Mockingbirds are not endangered.  The only thing I have done is a selfless act of kindness.

Now the Rand view might be that I only acted to ease my own conscience from worrying about the suffering of this pitiful creature, therefore it was in my own self-interest. But I don’t buy it.  I could just have easily rationalized that the bird was merely meeting its fate.  But no, I felt compassion for it, and acted upon it for that reason.  That is altruism.

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When I was 15 years old, I could no longer reconcile religion with reality, and I knew one of them would have to go.  It still amazes me how many people make the other choice.

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Posted: 12 February 2010 10:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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fausinator - 11 February 2010 09:14 PM

Now the Rand view might be that I only acted to ease my own conscience from worrying about the suffering of this pitiful creature, therefore it was in my own self-interest. But I don’t buy it.  I could just have easily rationalized that the bird was merely meeting its fate.  But no, I felt compassion for it, and acted upon it for that reason.  That is altruism.

Well said, I had this feeling that there was a rhetorical ju-jitsu trick going on, and I think you’ve explained it.  No matter why we do something altruistic, it can be twisted or rationalized to appear in our own interest.  I believe that sometimes we do something beneficial for others in their interest, not ours.  However, I do realize some people do acts of charity for others and those acts of charity serve as a life boat for the person carrying them out.  It gives them a sense of belonging or a purpose of some sort.  I think Eric Hoffer talked a bit about it in “The True Believer”, I’ll have to look.  I’m in a hurry so I apologize if I butchered this statement.

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Posted: 12 February 2010 11:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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fausinator - 11 February 2010 09:14 PM

For example, if I stop and lift a helpless baby bird back into his nest, and no one sees me, no one else knows anything about it, I have only acted out of pure compassion for another creature.  I expect nothing in return, only a little less suffering in the world.  Society will be no better off.  Mockingbirds are not endangered.  The only thing I have done is a selfless act of kindness.

Not necessarily. Your argument is based on the use of individual acts as a basis for your conclusion. I don’t believe this is sufficient. Your individual act arises out of a general sense of what we ‘perceive’ as right and wrong, a sense of morality if you will. This sense; this morality, developed through evolution because such an ‘altruistic’ sense benefits the human race overall. Evolution doesn’t develop from or for the purpose of individual events, but for overall benefit to the genes of the species involved. Altruism therefore is a trait of human beings that developed for the good of the species overall. We do things to help others and our surroundings for our own benefit as a species. This does not mean that the sub-development of individually pure-altruistic acts, where there does not seem to be any specific gain for the species, as in the case you describe is not part of this overall selfish trait. It means that this is but part of a whole.

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Posted: 12 February 2010 12:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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scepticeye - 12 February 2010 11:04 AM
fausinator - 11 February 2010 09:14 PM

For example, if I stop and lift a helpless baby bird back into his nest, and no one sees me, no one else knows anything about it, I have only acted out of pure compassion for another creature.  I expect nothing in return, only a little less suffering in the world.  Society will be no better off.  Mockingbirds are not endangered.  The only thing I have done is a selfless act of kindness.

Not necessarily. Your argument is based on the use of individual acts as a basis for your conclusion. I don’t believe this is sufficient. Your individual act arises out of a general sense of what we ‘perceive’ as right and wrong, a sense of morality if you will. This sense; this morality, developed through evolution because such an ‘altruistic’ sense benefits the human race overall. Evolution doesn’t develop from or for the purpose of individual events, but for overall benefit to the genes of the species involved. Altruism therefore is a trait of human beings that developed for the good of the species overall. We do things to help others and our surroundings for our own benefit as a species. This does not mean that the sub-development of individually pure-altruistic acts, where there does not seem to be any specific gain for the species, as in the case you describe is not part of this overall selfish trait. It means that this is but part of a whole.

Skepticeye-

Species preservation is why we are altruistic.  If I give you a gift without any ulterior motives, to gain leverage or better my position in some way, then I’m acting for your benefit.  Maybe this would bring me joy and we could say this was my motive, but what if I did it just to see you experience joy?  If species preservation is the driving force here, then it is so on such a primitive and subconscious level as to not be understood.  If we don’t understand or even recognize this reason for giving the gift, then it isn’t the motive, at least not on a conscious level.  Also, if I risk my life to save yours, then I can’t be doing it for my own benefit because I can’t experience the benefit if I’m dead.  It’s especially altruistic in my opinion if I realize there aren’t any streets of gold awaiting me on the other side.  To say that species preservation is really for our own interest makes no sense to me if we make the ultimate sacrifice for the species and die, therefore eliminating our ability to experience anything for ourselves.  I think Mr. Dawkins may have covered this in “The Sefish Gene”.

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Posted: 12 February 2010 02:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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What I mean to say…is that, although species preservation may be an underlying factor in altruism, we don’t analyze our acts of kindness all the way to that level each time we commit one.  Sometimes we act for the bebnefit of another just because we like to see them happy.  If we die for someone, sometimes we don’t have time to consider that we’re doing so for the betterment of the species.  Though altruism promotes species preservation, it is species preservation that makes us altruistic.

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Posted: 13 February 2010 06:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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But back to the original question:

rcrase - 31 January 2010 11:40 AM

From what I understand, the objectivists (you know, the Randian ones) believe that we are in no way altruistic.

I think we established that altruism exists as defined, and that we really do act altruistically at times, expecting no personal reward even if the general behavior benefits us as a species and indirectly as an individual, so I would say the Randians are wrong, and if nothing else, the Randian ideal of self-interest is too easily misinterpreted.

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J.K. Fausnight

When I was 15 years old, I could no longer reconcile religion with reality, and I knew one of them would have to go.  It still amazes me how many people make the other choice.

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Posted: 13 February 2010 07:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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I think it will come down to how we view “altruism.” I would argue that everyone “selfishly” aims towards what one values in any given moment. Those values may have nothing to do with the person doing the “altruistic” act, but the key thing to notice is that the act is focused on what the “altruistic” individual values.

An example I saw was regarding a lawsuit between 2 ex-co-workers. The plaintiff had some kind of car accident and was stuck in the car. The defendant pulled the plaintiff out of the car against the plaintiffs pleas, because she was in pain when the defendant was pulling her out. As a result of the defendant’s actions, the plaintiff became paralyzed from the waist down. I believe this illustrates how the defendant was “self-focused” in the sense that she was focused on what she wanted out of the situation and did what she thought was right. The values of the plaintiff weren’t open for consideration.

Okay, did a quick search and found one of the news reports of the incident: http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/story?id=6498405&page=1

[ Edited: 13 February 2010 07:39 PM by Kaizen ]
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Posted: 14 February 2010 01:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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rcrase - 12 February 2010 12:28 PM

[
Skepticeye-

Species preservation is why we are altruistic.  If I give you a gift without any ulterior motives, to gain leverage or better my position in some way, then I’m acting for your benefit.  Maybe this would bring me joy and we could say this was my motive, but what if I did it just to see you experience joy?  If species preservation is the driving force here, then it is so on such a primitive and subconscious level as to not be understood.  If we don’t understand or even recognize this reason for giving the gift, then it isn’t the motive, at least not on a conscious level.  Also, if I risk my life to save yours, then I can’t be doing it for my own benefit because I can’t experience the benefit if I’m dead.  It’s especially altruistic in my opinion if I realize there aren’t any streets of gold awaiting me on the other side.  To say that species preservation is really for our own interest makes no sense to me if we make the ultimate sacrifice for the species and die, therefore eliminating our ability to experience anything for ourselves.  I think Mr. Dawkins may have covered this in “The Selfish Gene”.

My post and position comes from looking at the bigger view of altruism and where it comes from. I may have been restating what others have also posted, but nevertheless it is true. What you are describing in your posts is an individual phenomena that has arisen over time out of our evolved altruism - possibly an accidental spin off from evolution into a cultural meme of altruism where, yes, on an individual basis people do do thing purely for the good of others. This pure altruism exists. But we must remember where it originates and originated.

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