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The Demands of Altruism

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Dante
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My question, put concisely, is this: Does the acceptance of the harmony of rational interests eliminate any difference between the demands of egoism and those of altruism?

I've defined egoism as the principle that the primary beneficiary of one's actions should be oneself, and altruism as the contrary principle that the primary beneficiary of ones actions should be others. Given this, egoism advocates taking actions which will benefit oneself, while altruism advocates acting for the benefit of others.

The principle of the harmony of rational interests, however, says that two people's rational interests cannot conflict. If my taking an action is not in my interest, it is also not in your interest. If this principle is true, does this make the practical demands of egoism and altruism indistinguishable?

To give a concrete example: I am an employer looking to hire a new worker, considering two candidates. One is better qualified, but the other is in much greater material need of income. I think everyone here would agree that, without further context given, egoism would generally counsel me to employ the most qualified employee. However, let's say that I am an altruist familiar with the harmony of interests. Thus, I am attempting to promote the interests of others. With knowledge of this principle, I can easily see that if I employ the less-qualified worker, I am putting him in a position which is not conducive to his happiness. He will be out of his depth; constantly under the stress of being underqualified. Any pride he gains from his employment will be partially false pride, not based on real virtues, and thus inimical to his self-interest. Thus, as an altruist, my course is clear: hire the more qualified worker.

Is this point right? Wrong? Unimportant? Uninteresting? Old News?

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My question, put concisely, is this: Does the acceptance of the harmony of rational interests eliminate any difference between the demands of egoism and those of altruism?

I've defined egoism as the principle that the primary beneficiary of one's actions should be oneself, and altruism as the contrary principle that the primary beneficiary of ones actions should be others. Given this, egoism advocates taking actions which will benefit oneself, while altruism advocates acting for the benefit of others.

The principle of the harmony of rational interests, however, says that two people's rational interests cannot conflict. If my taking an action is not in my interest, it is also not in your interest. If this principle is true, does this make the practical demands of egoism and altruism indistinguishable?

To give a concrete example: I am an employer looking to hire a new worker, considering two candidates. One is better qualified, but the other is in much greater material need of income. I think everyone here would agree that, without further context given, egoism would generally counsel me to employ the most qualified employee. However, let's say that I am an altruist familiar with the harmony of interests. Thus, I am attempting to promote the interests of others. With knowledge of this principle, I can easily see that if I employ the less-qualified worker, I am putting him in a position which is not conducive to his happiness. He will be out of his depth; constantly under the stress of being underqualified. Any pride he gains from his employment will be partially false pride, not based on real virtues, and thus inimical to his self-interest. Thus, as an altruist, my course is clear: hire the more qualified worker.

Is this point right? Wrong? Unimportant? Uninteresting? Old News?

The point at which you are having trouble is that you are projecting reason onto altruism. It is true that what is best for all people in the long run is rational. But that is not what altruism consists of. You have left out several tenants of altruism that will help you see the difference.

Altruism does not have an actual code. It only says that what is good is acting for others. That your only justificatin for living is service for others. It does not say that you are suppose to decide what they should have. It also says that you are to give up what you have for the other, no matter what it is or if it is needed by your family, etc. Others are more important because they aren't you. Sacrifice is a primary for altruism, it is the highest moral duty. (Look at the Lexicon.)

What you have enumerated is the consequence of a morality of reason. A rational man does not expect or want sacrifice. He expects others to act according to their own interest, and when he finds another whose interest mesh with his, they both benefit. That is very enjoyable. Rational people actually enjoy seeing other people enjoy their lives. Rational people like other people. Self-interest does not mean indifference. Unfortunately for us, so many people we meet expect us to sacrifice ourselves. Those people deserve our contempt and indifference as to their welfare.

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Altruism does not have an actual code. It only says that what is good is acting for others. That your only justificatin for living is service for others.

Yes, I agree, and I believe this is how I characterized altruism. Altruism specifies the proper beneficiary of moral action: other people. This means that altruism specifies a subset of moral codes, rather than a particular moral code. It fixes one aspect of a moral code: the beneficiary.

Thus, the combination of this principle with irrational elements will result in traditional altruist code advocating sacrifice.

However, sacrifice only arises in an altruist moral code lacking the principle of the harmony of interests. This principle basically says that sacrifice doesn't work. Again, specifying that the proper moral beneficiary is other people and saying that sacrifice doesn't work are not contradictory statements. One is a statement about proper ends, and the other is a statement about the efficacy of certain means to certain ends.

It does not say that you are suppose to decide what they should have. It also says that you are to give up what you have for the other, no matter what it is or if it is needed by your family, etc. Others are more important because they aren't you. Sacrifice is a primary for altruism, it is the highest moral duty.

Sacrifice is derivative, not primary for altruism as I have defined it. Altruism does not advocate means which are conceded to be inimical to its stated ends. I'm saying that if you remove conflicts of interest, changing the intended beneficiary (from oneself to others) does not change prescriptions for actions at all.

You can define altruism as a morality of sacrifice, as is often done in Objectivist literature, but what I am saying is that this definition bundles together two things: the definition of the proper moral beneficiary and the disharmony of interests.

What you have enumerated is the consequence of a morality of reason. A rational man does not expect or want sacrifice. He expects others to act according to their own interest, and when he finds another whose interest mesh with his, they both benefit. That is very enjoyable. Rational people actually enjoy seeing other people enjoy their lives. Rational people like other people. Self-interest does not mean indifference. Unfortunately for us, so many people we meet expect us to sacrifice ourselves. Those people deserve our contempt and indifference as to their welfare.

I agree with what you've said completely.

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However, sacrifice only arises in an altruist moral code lacking the principle of the harmony of interests. This principle basically says that sacrifice doesn't work. Again, specifying that the proper moral beneficiary is other people and saying that sacrifice doesn't work are not contradictory statements. One is a statement about proper ends, and the other is a statement about the efficacy of certain means to certain ends.

Leaving aside the question of your redefining altruism, I think that the two points you listed above are connected. First, what "works" is not relevant. If an action is aimed at helping the other person, it is good, whether it "works" or not. All that is important is the other person. The idea of self-sacrifice is inherent in the concept of helping others. To place others first you must automatically reject yourself as having any value. That is self-sacrifice.

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