Is Selfishness Compatible with Kindness?

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MadScience
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Post by MadScience » July 18th, 2011, 8:10 pm

Belinda wrote:Enlightened self interest.

Enlightened self-interest says that people should help others because it will help them in the long run. It encourages people to act altruistically. That is not my point at all. My claim is that we are genetically sculpted to be truly altruistic.

This altruism is weighed against our instincts for self-preservation and at times can be overwhelmed, but that doesn't negate the fact that humans genuinely want to help each other. If you see a stranger's child fall into a river, your first response is to try to save the child. If you can't swim and are afraid of drowning this may limit your rescue attempts, but for the most part you aren't going to be worried about ruining your shoes. There is certainly no thoughts about how saving the child will help you at some point later in life, although that may well be the case.

Belinda wrote:But there is more to morality than this. There are also inherent affections towards e.g. near relatives and friends or pets etc.which may act counter to rational enlightened self interest.

Your examples are completely consistent with evolution; self-preservation and societal concerns combine to produce stronger ties to those that are closer to us, including are pets. I can see that enlightened self interest would see this phenomenon as somewhat problematic, and I would agree with that view. That is I think that modern society is broader based and more interconnected which calls for a higher level of altruism with less emphasis on the self and those immediately around us. Understanding how we got where we are can help us understand where we want to go in the future.

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Post by Belinda » July 19th, 2011, 4:25 am

I completely agree with Mad Science's elaboration and explanation of what I wrote regarding enlightened self interest.
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Post by edelker » July 19th, 2011, 3:08 pm

Hello all,


Scott wrote,


“Many people, including myself, argue that all people are inherently self-interested because, by definition, a person desires and values what he or she desires and values. Those desires and values also develop into goals, and the person makes their decisions in an attempt to most fulfill those desires, values, and goals.”


The assumption seems to be that because people are inherently ‘self-interested’ (meaning that they have desires and values which develop into goals and other self-directed actions) that they ought to do so! I’m wholly uncertain on two points: (1) the argument gets off to a bad start with somewhat spacious reasoning: because such and such is the case that it ought to be right for people to do so, and (2) the argument is motivated by use of a rather troubled ontological assumption—that there’s a self and whatever that self ethically desires or chooses is appropriate for satisfying such self-desires and so on. However, one of the troubled aspects of selfishness is that it is often unreflective, harmfully encourages the pursuit of goals that damage rather than contributes in some compassionate way, and is often apathetic to the sufferings of others! I think these qualities are what most thinkers of an altruistic nature are thinking when they clearly recognize a conflict between egoistic oriented ethics and altruistically oriented ethics. So, yes, logically, and depending on the circumstance we’re discussing, one can take Scott’s highly qualified version of selfishness and say that selfishness is compatible with selflessness. However, such a distinction is seemingly too artificial to be of much help in practicality. After all, the real meat of this issue is over what theory and impulse should guide our ethical theory and practice when conflict is to be considered!


Additionally, I would like to know how is it that we seem to be so certain that all people have desires and values in the way that has been outlined here. After all, much of human history could arguably be viewed more altruistically oriented than selfish! In basic, human nature’s ultimate desire is for community and general good will. This may be compatible with Scott’s thought here, but it certainly demands the justificatory basis of establishing that our higher impulse or nature is self-oriented and not group oriented categorically!


Also, such an approach seems to lack a theoretical prerequisite of logical interest: the problem I see with selfishness as an ethical guide is that it seems to be assumed without justification that what ‘I’ value possesses some special ethical category and those ‘others’ who’s goals and values differ from mine are to be seen as less significant. However, we have no reason for thinking this! In basic, such ethical theory appears to be based on similar grounds as racism, dividing people into two distinct ethical categories on the basis of some supposed inequality. If others interests-at the ethical level- are comparable to our own, although- we may act for self at different non-ethical levels of human interests and activity, then we have no clear ethical theoretical line of delineation between the so-called self-interest of ‘me’ and ‘others.’ Therefore, the thing that appears to justify helping others, which is based on Scott’s idea of self-interest, is found wanting.


Thanks all,


Eric D.

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Post by Myuncle » July 23rd, 2011, 10:01 am

It might be that everything we do is selfish, and altruism is just a word, and idea, I hope we all agree that when we talk about altruism we mean something opposed to selfishness, something that you do even if it's not convenient for you, when you sacrifice yourself even if you don't like it or wouldn't like it. For example if you sacrifice your life for others or you give up lots of money you feel rewarded mentally, but at the same time you are doing something not convenient for you materialistically. So being altruist it's nothing but a positive selfishness, that's why when we say selfishness we mean only the bad kind, "greed" in other words. Durkheim, saying that "altruism is merely a concealed egoism", he was just talking about the positive kind of egoism. We have to love ourselves otherwise we can't even help the others. But there is no need to make things more complicated then they are. We use to say "I want to be altruistic, I want to love you, I want to be kind and generous" instead of "I want to be a concealed egoist, I want to be a concealed selfish", there must be a reason for that. It's all about words, the problem is do we want to agree about what words mean or do we want to create a new dictionary just to make us feel important?

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Post by Dewey » July 23rd, 2011, 5:47 pm

I don't have all the theoretical knowledge about selfishness (or self interestedness) versus kindness that's displayed in this forum. I have benefitted from reading it. But I haven't been able to draw from it a definitive moral position enabling me to formulate an operating policy for myself.. And I'm not confident that many of us could do so.

More specifically, I wonder whether what has been said really helps the individual in the daily business of deciding how to handle a particular relationship, of determining whose interest to serve at this moment and by what means. We may need more than a generalized theory or overall policy (assuming that we have developed such).

Into this breach,for me at least, walks John Dewey and his ideas about morality. I'm still struggling to understand them in detail, but am already sold on them overall. I loosely interpret his criticism of the methodology reflected in this forum as a claim that when it comes down to handling individual cases, we get so tangled up theorizing over the MEANS of attaining an ethical END to the transaction that we fail to attain that end. Mr Dewey says we must be more pragmatic, more utility-minded,and keep our eye on the likely or actual consequences of what we are doing in this particular matter.

Sounds good to me. How about you?

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Post by Myuncle » July 23rd, 2011, 9:44 pm

Dewey wrote:More specifically, I wonder whether what has been said really helps the individual in the daily business of deciding how to handle a particular relationship, of determining whose interest to serve at this moment and by what means. We may need more than a generalized theory or overall policy (assuming that we have developed such).


I agree with you, generalizing is not very helpful compared to practical examples.

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Post by Belinda » July 24th, 2011, 8:50 am

Mr Dewey says we must be more pragmatic, more utility-minded,and keep our eye on the likely or actual consequences of what we are doing in this particular matter.


I agree. The more knowledgeable we are, and the more we are able to feel for others, the more we are able to deal practically with problems8 that have moral components. Good moral judgements are founded upon twin strengths: feelings for others and knowlege regarding the backgrounds of their problems.

*moral problems = what should I/we/you/they do ?
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Anthem

Post by J.Jibawi » July 30th, 2011, 12:30 am

We are lemmings being led by the least of us.

Jeanine Jibawi

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Re: Anthem

Post by Belinda » July 30th, 2011, 5:46 am

J.Jibawi wrote:We are lemmings being led by the least of us.

Jeanine Jibawi

So what are you doing about it?
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Re: Is Selfishness Compatible with Kindness?

Post by Leonid » June 2nd, 2012, 9:48 am

Altruism has nothing to do with kindness, in fact it is antithetical to kindness. Altruism is a notion that man has no right to live for himself, that he's only means for the ends of others. The direct consequence of this practice is a total dehumanization. As American philosopher Ayn Rand observed " ... the idea that to value another human being is an act of selflessness... implies that a man can have no personal interest in others-that to value another means to sacrifice oneself-that any love, respect or admiration a man can feel for others is not and cannot be a source of his enjoyment, but is a threat to his existence, a sacrificial blank check signed over to his loved ones"

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Re: Is Selfishness Compatible with Kindness?

Post by Scott » June 2nd, 2012, 10:38 am

Leonid, do you have any source or evidence to back up that definition of altruism?

While Any Rand's would be a great source to find out what she means by 'selfishness', I don't think we can take her as a credible source for how the word altruism was defined by her predecessors such as Auguste Comte.

Also, if the term altruism is being described by religious people or people who believe in some sort of relevant supernatural phenomenon (e.g. heaven/hell), then it would be hard to judge the meaning of the word solely by its secular results. One who seems to behave literally selflessly -- which is a contradiction -- in all secular acts, may be acting in their own self-interest insofar as they think this behavior model will buy them a ticket into some kind of supernatural heaven or otherwise bring them 'closer to god' whatever that may mean.

Rand like me is an atheist, so we must be diligent not to mistake alleged secular selflessness with alleged full selflessness particularly when reading the writings of people like Rand and I because we often will forget the potential for non-secular selflessness and may not explicitly make it clear when we are only talking about a specific subset of alleged selflessness.
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Re: Is Selfishness Compatible with Kindness?

Post by Leonid » June 3rd, 2012, 5:00 am

Scott:Leonid, do you have any source or evidence to back up that definition of altruism? While Any Rand's would be a great source to find out what she means by 'selfishness', I don't think we can take her as a credible source for how the word altruism was defined by her predecessors such as Auguste Comte."



If Ayn Rand is not a reliable source, let see how Auguste Comte himself defined altruism:

"The individual must subordinate himself to an Existence outside himself in order to find in it the source of his stability. And this condition cannot be effectually realized except under the impulse of propensities prompting him to live for others... Thus the expression, Live for Others, is the simplest summary of the whole moral code of Positivism." (Comte 1973a, 565–56)

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." ( Comte, Catéchisme Positiviste)

Dictionary definition of Altruism is "the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others ( opposed to egoism)."

That exactly how Ayn Rand defined Altruism.

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Re: Is Selfishness Compatible with Kindness?

Post by Scott » June 3rd, 2012, 10:20 am

It seems more like how I defined altruism, as unselfishness not literal selflessness, which is compatible with kindness. For instance, the definition you give above from Comte says:

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.


Thanks for posting that. That was my original point: We all (except psychopaths) have a natural sympathy or "instinct of benevolence" that rewards us with happiness when we make others happy. Kindness is thus not only compatible with this so-called altruism but kindness is usually a self-interested action.

Comte, of course, wouldn't appeal to one's instinct of benevolence if he wanted one to reject their own self completely. Indeed, true selflessness is utter non-sense.

In contrast, Rand seems to be talking about literal selflessness, i.e. doing charitable things not because it makes oneself happy to help others due to one's "instincts of benevolence" or what I would call ones non-psychopathy but because one somehow just doesn't have any desires at all or somehow acts but without acting on one's desires, which seems to imply some sort of death or zombie-like state.
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Re: Is Selfishness Compatible with Kindness?

Post by Leonid » June 3rd, 2012, 10:42 am

Kindness or benevolence is an ability to value-it has nothing to do with instincts. Nobody feels kindness indiscriminatory by instinct to say Nazi or terrorist unless one shares their values. In other words kindness is a result of sharing and exchange of values. Therefore person cannot value others before he values himself. As Ayn Rand put it " To say " I love you" one first should be able to say " I" and to mean it". Selfless or altruistic person who lives exclusively for the sake of others doesn't value himself and unable to feel any kindness. Selflessness is a great dehumanizer . That is true that nobody can practice altruism in full, although some people die trying. Most of the people are tearing by mixed premises of altruistic morality which they unable to practice and their healthy self-interest. In this case charity becomes a grudge payment to ease their conscience. One can hardly call this benevolence or kindness. Only person whose main concern is his own value and rational self-interest is capable for benevolence.

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Re: Is Selfishness Compatible with Kindness?

Post by Scott » June 3rd, 2012, 5:35 pm

So, you see the difference between what Rand calls altruism -- some impossible idea of there being no I -- as opposed to what pro-altruism philosophers actually mean by the term, what Comte calls the "instinct" of "benevolence" and what most of us know as unselfishness (as opposed to literal selflessness), yes?

Leonid wrote:Nobody feels kindness indiscriminatory by instinct to say Nazi or terrorist unless one shares their values.

I'm no so sure about this. Psychopathy is to empathy what blindness is to sight, but almost all of us are not psychopaths. Thus, causing harm or witness harm caused to other people, even Nazis or terrorists, does cause us instinctive emotional distress. This is as instinctive and physiologically inherent as thinking a certain food tastes good or not. We may still choose to cause such harm if we think it is the so-called 'lesser of two evils' much like we might choose to drink a nasty-tasting medicine.

Causing suffering to anyone or witnessing suffering like eating very bitter food is something that we have been evolutionarily programmed to find emotionally unpleasant. This is an almost universal reason why it is in our self-interest to behave unselfishly. Again, in any given circumstances, there may be other conflicting issues or extenuating circumstances that according to some cost-benefit analysis make some other option preferable such that we may hurt others, behave selfishly or drink extremely bitter disgusting liquid, namely when it is a means to a supposedly greater end such as in the case of a sick person drinking bitter medicine or a crying vet putting down a beloved rabid dog or imprisoning a rapist to protect his would-be victims.
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