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Anirudh Silai

A categorical definition of altruism

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http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/altruism.html

I read the definition of altruism above, and want a bit of clarification. Can you guys tell me if my definition/interpretation of altruism is correct? Thanks!

Altruism = When the whims of others dictate one's choices.

Ex. If Adam barges into Bert's house, armed, and tells Bert, "your possessions or your life," then, by choosing one of the two options forced on him, Bert is being altruistic. Bert would rather have kept both his possessions AND his life, so Adam is forcing Bert to be altruistic.

It's also why we need the government to stop Adam, so that Bert is not physically forced into being altruistic.

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Well, what part are you not sure about? Doesn't need to be whims of others per se, altruism is really just setting other people as the standard for morality. Acting for the sake of others.

Threats like you mentioned aren't bad because Bert is forced to be altruistic. It's bad because Bert is not being permitted to make a choice for himself. It wouldn't be different if Adam forced Bert to follow rational egoism. While it is indeed bad for Bert's life to be altruistic, it is not in Adam's self-interest to deny people their autonomy to choose to be altruistic (or any moral code for that matter). Force makes it impossible for people to exist by their means of survival. This leads to Adam being worse off in the long run.

 

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I see. That's a good point. So, to clarify, would Bert only be altruistic if Adam forced Bert to negate some value of his? That's why I mentioned how Bert didn't want to have to choose between his money and his life.

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If Bert is forced to act in some way, you cannot say he acted because of Altruism, Objectivism, Judaism, Empiricism...etc. He was simply forced. He'd have to be deciding something for himself first: that's the context in which we can ask what philosophy he is using to make his decision.

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The context I am now specifying is that Bert specifically values privacy as well as the freedom from having to choose between his money and his life. If, in this context, Adam robbed Bert at gunpoint as I described, is it altruistic of Bert to consign himself to Adam's choices?

If, based on the context I specified above, that it is not altruism after all, then what do you mean by "context"? By "context," did you mean "a specific set of values"?

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Going back to your original post, you say altruism is when someone else is dictating your choices. This is not accurate.

For instance, it is quite typical for altruists to force other people to do things that those other people do not want to do, but which the altruist believes is for the latter's own good. 

Altruism is an abstract principle. You cannot necessarily label something altruism merely by studying the outer concretes. You have to ask why a person is acting a certain way: is it because they think achieving the good of others is the primary source of their own personal virtue? 

Presumably, Bert does not think this: therefore he is not acting altruistic.

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Aha, I was being too vague in the beginning. I meant that altruism is when one makes choices based on the needs or whims of others. I stand corrected - altruists can indeed be an agent of action, it's just that they surrender their mind to the whims of others. I hope this is correct.

According to Ayn Rand, "altruism gauges a man’s virtue by the degree to which he surrenders, renounces or betrays his values" - The Virtue of Selfishness, p.44

If Bert involuntarily (or voluntarily, too - it doesn't matter how) surrenders his value of privacy to Adam's choices - "your money or your life" because he thinks he has no other option, that would indeed be, for the time being, altruism.

I think I can even categorize further, to describe combinations of egoist vs. altruist mentality and voluntary vs. involuntary action:

Voluntary egoism = trade

Voluntary altruism = Kantian heroism

Involuntary altruism = theft

Involuntary egoism = Forcing an altruist to act egoistically

 

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4 minutes ago, Anirudh Silai said:

If Bert involuntarily (or voluntarily, too - it doesn't matter how) surrenders his value of privacy to Adam's choices - "your money or your life" because he thinks he has no other option, that would indeed be, for the time being, altruism.

No, it would not be altruism. Why would you want to bundle that concrete into the concept of altruism: what purpose would that serve?

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3 hours ago, Anirudh Silai said:

I see. That's a good point. So, to clarify, would Bert only be altruistic if Adam forced Bert to negate some value of his? That's why I mentioned how Bert didn't want to have to choose between his money and his life.

No. I think you're making it more complicated than it is. Altruism is a moral code where you act for the sake of other people. SoftwareNerd's idea before is that forcing a person to act is not any sort of moral code - it's just force. I -guess- you could say "forced to be altruistic", but only in the sense of "being forced to act as if altruistic".

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2 hours ago, softwareNerd said:

To answer this you need to ask: why should be create a concept such as "altruism" ? 

 

2 hours ago, Anirudh Silai said:

Well, why, then?

The answer to this question, Anirudh, will require some study of history on your part.

Rand was rejecting the German/Prussian Altruism ethos which arose out of the German Protestant Reformation.  By this I mean specifically the philosophical ethos of Martin Luther, Kant and Hegel.

All three advocated the substitution of the (German/Prussian) State in place of the Pope and Roman Catholicism.  Their ideas led -- inevitably -- to Nazism and Marxism.

Rand was not against charity, caring for ones neighbor or helping strangers in need.

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On 7/6/2016 at 2:50 AM, Anirudh Silai said:

Altruism = When the whims of others dictate one's choices.

Altruism means you exist for the sake of others.

 

On 7/6/2016 at 6:12 AM, Anirudh Silai said:

I think I can even categorize further, to describe combinations of egoist vs. altruist mentality and voluntary vs. involuntary action:

Voluntary egoism = trade

Voluntary altruism = Kantian heroism

Involuntary altruism = theft

Involuntary egoism = Forcing an altruist to act egoistically

There is no such thing as 'involuntary egoism' or 'involuntary altruism'. Egoism (and altruism) requires choice.

In your scenario, Adam is the altruist. He believes that you (Bert) exist for his sake and that he has a right to take your possessions.


From your own perspective, you are not being an altruist. You are only trying to mitigate the damages by giving him what he wants (but you don't believe you exist for his sake while doing so).

To convince yourself of this, consider a mechanical robot attached to your body, controlling your legs and arms (and you are too weak to resist). Now suppose this robot picks up your possessions and gives it to everyone on the street. Just because your body is attached to the robot's and goes through the motions of picking up your possessions and giving it to others doesn't mean you are being the altruist here. You had no choice. The only altruist is the person who designed this robot.

If this robot goes through a rampage executing hundreds of actions from different moral systems, you don't reflect that morality. It's not on you. You may not even understand it's actions or what moral system each action belongs to.

Another case may be a thief stealing from your house while you're not there. The thief is obviously being an altruist here. But you're not an altruist. In fact, you're not even conscious that a theft is even taking place. Altruism doesn't mean giving things to others (by that definition, you would be the altruist and the thief would be the egoist: an obviously inverted relation). It means you don't have a right to exist without doing so (giving things to others is only a consequence of this belief).

Morality doesn't exist when force is involved ("morality ends where a gun begins"). You giving him your possessions (from threat of force) has nothing to do with morality (and therefore, altruism).

Essentially, there is only "voluntary egoism" (not necessarily trade) and "voluntary altruism". For the other two, you used the word "involuntary" as a concept pertaining to you (Bert) but also ascribed the concept "altruism" to Bert even though Adam is the one who believes in it.

Morality does not apply to actions when you separate it from a valuer. You shouldn't view morality (even false ones) as simply "giving to others", which is a mere action separate from the agent. However such disembodied action (and talk of a morality of action, without mentioning the agent) is common in altruism. A transfer of money from you to somebody else is not altruism ("involuntary altruism"). A transfer of money from somebody else to you to somebody else is not selfishness (or "involuntary egoism"). Disembodied actions have no moral meaning: morality requires a mind. Morality is not a series of actions or duties. A penny falling from your hand and falling on your neighbor's doorstep is not altruism.

 

On 7/6/2016 at 2:50 AM, Anirudh Silai said:

It's also why we need the government to stop Adam, so that Bert is not physically forced into being altruistic.

Not exactly. Government makes morality (altruist or not) possible. People can act altruistically even under an Objectivist government. Government doesn't exist to prevent altruism. However, it would prevent the exercise of altruist doctrine through force.

Altruism usually coexists with force: because of the belief in the impotency of individuals, the attempt (since individual impotence makes altruism necessary) to make individuals impotent by denying reason and finally through force (because of the lack of justification for altruism) but force is not essential. Force is usually used in cases where a moral system has no rational justification. This could be religion, altruism or any number of things.

This is also the reason why religion should never be allowed to get into the the government. Since they have no justification for their morality, they will definitely use force. Altruism may be worse than this because, through complete denial of reason and acceptance of impotence of man, there is this undercurrent notion that it requires no justification since man, by nature, is impotent so that altruism is necessary.

Also a government has no right to enforce selfishness (i.e., government doesn't exist to weed out altruism). But observe that no government has ever attempted to do so: because selfishness is justified.

Edited by human_murda

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To summarize, altruism isn't acting for another's good. Altruism is the belief that you exist for the sake of others, as a consequence of which you act for their sake. Bert's actions don't proceed from this belief. If a terrorist made you execute a 100 actions, your actions have no moral import (they are not a consequence of any of your beliefs).

Even Objectivism may involve transfer of your possessions to another based on their virtue/struggle. However, this isn't altruism as it has a different moral base (the actions proceed from different beliefs and are under a different moral system). You don't see others as impotent idiots (need does not entitle anyone to a claim on another's life). However, similar actions may be involved. Observing similarity in practical action doesn't allow you to conclude that you are observing the same moral phenomenon.

Additionally, just because Bert is not acting altruistically doesn't mean he is being egoist or neutral. His morality, like in any emergency situation, is mitigation. This morality has it's own standards, but has a significant problem in that most aspects of your actions under it are not moral (i.e., proceed from beliefs). Additionally, they require significant knowledge of your hierarchy of values. You may be forced to choose between the lives of your loved ones. The goal of this morality is to get you out of this situation while incurring the least damage.

Also, forcing someone else to act itself proceeds from an unjustifiable moral code.

 

Quote

If Bert involuntarily (or voluntarily, too - it doesn't matter how) surrenders his value of privacy to Adam's choices - "your money or your life" because he thinks he has no other option, that would indeed be, for the time being, altruism.

No. It would be mitigation.

 

Quote

or voluntarily, too - it doesn't matter how

It matters. If it was voluntary, it would be under a different moral system than mitigation, presumably altruism.

You paying taxes to the government isn't altruism. It's done to mitigate bigger consequences if you don't pay your taxes. Your goal (under mitigation) is to eventually get rid of this system and move to voluntary taxation. Just because you pay your taxes doesn't mean you support it. You need more context than just your disembodied actions to determine what morality is involved.

Edited by human_murda

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I get it, that Adam is the altruist. So, by applying altruist mentality to Bert, is Adam defeating his own self-interest as well? Is he defeating his own self-interest because, by doing that to Bert, he is incurring a debt that will be enforced by law?

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It's against his self-interest to the extent it does nothing to promote his life. That the law will be enforced isn't what makes it moral or immoral. Law is a means to correct rights violations, that's it, properly speaking. But morality still exists regardless of if the law exists. 

Adam might not be an altruist necessarily, by the way. 

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2 hours ago, Anirudh Silai said:

How doesn't it promote Adam's life? That's why I brought up indebtedness and retaliation.

Because a human being possessing mental instruments capable of egoism (and capable of designing the world according to his values) is more valuable to you than any random snatches of property you might acquire. Human beings (and their possessions) shouldn't be viewed as "resources", like other aspects of reality. Personally, I think you should take into account retaliation as well (and not merely as a matter of consequentialism either). It's relevant because of the nature of Adam's mind.

 

2 hours ago, Eiuol said:

Adam might not be an altruist necessarily, by the way. 

Hmm. What were you thinking of?

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