Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Benevolence And Altruism

Rate this topic


Wayne
 Share

Recommended Posts

Ayn Rand emphasized the evils of altruism in much of her writing. It seems to me that she and other Objectivists did not discuss much about the opposite of altruism. I know that she would say that the opposite is rational self-interest or as the book is titled: "The Virtue of Selfishness." I have no quarrel with these terms; they emphasize that life is the standard of value and the ethical standard is for the individual to work for his own life and happiness.

But in another sense, there are ethical principles to be considered concerning relationships with other people. Altruism takes the position that in any ethical situation between two or more people, "other" people are the standard of ethical action. The opposite in this context is benevolence which is mutual respect for the values of the self and of other people.

Post-Enlightenment social philosophers actually believed that society is something that has existential reality. Auguste Comte was the philosopher who coined the term altruism, from the Latin root alter meaning other. The doctrine of altruism holds that the fundamental moral obligation of individuals is to serve others and place their interests above one's own. Altruism is inherently self-contradictory. If everyone is to regard others as the beneficiary of action, then no one individual person is to be the beneficiary of any action. For altruism, "others" means society. In practice, society is vague but has to refer to some actual people. The resolution is that need is the standard of value. Whoever has greater needs is entitled to the values of those with greater assets. This means that people do not have an inherent right to the use of values that they have created.

Benevolence is the opposite of altruism. They are not synonymous as is commonly believed. Benevolence is the recognition of human value and values. It is not a claim on or responsibility for other people. On the contrary, the individual who creates his or her values in life understands and recognizes other people and their own values. Benevolence is an expression of an individualistic ethic based on human life and values.

Benevolence is "I want to." Altruism is "I have to." Benevolence respects and fosters values. If another person is needy or has an unforeseen tragedy or emergency, the person of benevolence understands values and empathizes with their situation. Altruism denigrates the individual's values including their own sense of self-value. It breeds resentment for other people and society. The consistent altruist would view themselves as slaves to other people's needs. Or else they believe that they, themselves, should be the object of other people's altruism and make demands on other people or "society." True altruism -- not benevolence -- breeds indifference to human suffering and needs. Either version of altruist, the giver or the taker, believes that all people have to be bullied or intimidated to be altruistic.

I wish that the general public had a clearer understanding of this issue when learning about Objectivism and its principle of "The Virtue of Selfishness." I know that Objectivists say that selfishness means rational self-interest, but many people on learning about Objectivist ideas do not understand its life, values and benevolence principles.

Return to America

Edited by Wayne
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well benevolence is a good thing. Sadly some otherwise rational virtue ethicists such as Megnzi (a Confucian philosopher) put benevolence as the primary thing which makes us human instead of rationality (which is the argument of Aristotle, Rand, and the Chinese philosopher Yang Zhu, another egoist). Benevolence is a good thing, but it is meaningless if it isn't accompanied by rationality.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I wish that the general public had a clearer understanding of this issue when learning about Objectivism and its principle of "The Virtue of Selfishness." I know that Objectivists say that selfishness means rational self-interest, but many people on learning about Objectivist ideas do not understand its life, values and benevolence principles.

Don't we all....

Good essay. I agree that Rand's conception of benevolence as a consequence of egoism is one of the most widely-misunderstood aspects of her conception of selfishness, and the more widely her views can be spread, the better. I would like to point to several concrete attempts to address this issue.

The first is an article by Nathaniel Branden in The Objectivist Newsletter from 1962 entitled "Benevolence Versus Altruism." The brief description of the article given here is the following: "Branden distinguishes between altruism and benevolence: 'Contrary to the pretensions of altruism's advocates, it is human brotherhood and good will among men that altruism makes impossible.'" I have not read the article myself; I wish it had been reprinted in something or posted online somewhere.

The second is David Kelley's monograph on benevolence and its place in the Objectivist ethical system, Unrugged Individualism (correctly characterized as in the Objectivist tradition rather than strictly Objectivist). Chapter 2, "Benevolence and Altruism," is particularly germane to the present concerns, and is pretty much spot-on. Although he overstates his case in later chapters in attempting to carve out a new Objectivist virtue in benevolence, many of his observations about the role that benevolence plays in an egoist's life are valid and useful. I think his observations on benevolence fit better into the framework of the Objectivist virtue of justice than in a new virtue, and simply function to flesh out some of the implications of justice that receive little focus elsewhere.

A more recent segment on benevolence from an Objectivist perspective comes from the book Capitalism Unbound, by Andrew Bernstein. Chapter 6 is entitled, "Egoism as the Necessary Foundation of Goodwill." Some choice statements: "Egoism is the sole moral code able to catalyze a legitimate benevolence of man to fellow man;" "An authentic kindness towards one's brothers and sisters requires, as a baseline starting point, a sincere recognition of their need and right to pursue values -- and a definite refusal to call upon them to sacrifice those values. Genuine benevolence toward another person necessitates undying support for that person's effort to gain values."

I'm sure there are more out there, and fortunately the frequency of quality additions to Rand scholarship are only increasing.

Edited by Dante
Spelling.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Benevolence is a virtue only in a given context. It is not fundamentally positive or fundamentally negative.

If you are benevolent even when people really do not deserve it, well . . . it does not fully imply of altruism, but it is rather a psychological concern diverting you into the second-hand.

It is not too productive that one sense commitment to be considered to be good by evil mutants and zombies according to their criteria by helping them do small things whenever they want.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The first is an article by Nathaniel Branden in The Objectivist Newsletter from 1962 entitled "Benevolence Versus Altruism." The brief description of the article given here is the following: "Branden distinguishes between altruism and benevolence: 'Contrary to the pretensions of altruism's advocates, it is human brotherhood and good will among men that altruism makes impossible.'" I have not read the article myself; I wish it had been reprinted in something or posted online somewhere.

Bound volumes of The Objectivist Newsletter are available from The Ayn Rand Bookstore. Used copies are also available at a discount from Amazon.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Benevolence is a virtue only in a given context. It is not fundamentally positive or fundamentally negative.

Yes, context is important. I agree that we should not extend benevolence to those we know to be evil, malevolent or destructive. However, to presume that others are unworthy of benevolence would be equally unjust. We should give others the benefit of the doubt until we have reason to think otherwise.

Quoting David Kelley: ""It is the virtue of seeking opportunities for trade by treating others with the basic respect they deserve as potential sources of value.""

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...