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Can an Altruist be happy

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Altruism = Self Sacrifice

Sacrifice is a bitter poison to any relationship great or small. Only a cannibal would appreciate a few drops of your blood in every piece of cake you offer. Everyone who sacrifices puts the beneficiaries in a spiritual debt. Obedience and passing on the 'favor' is expected, the bond that cements a relationship in guilt. You had better be a good person because someone sacrificed for you, not because you ought to want to be a good person. Human relationships are wallowed through begrudgingly. People are bound by obligation rather than striving to earn esteem with each new day.

Do-gooders go around looking for someone's need to feed on. They tell the needy that it isn't their fault, that God has a plan, and he is showing his love through them. Why not be a parasite if it makes someone feel so good to help? They go around shoving that misery in everyone's face in order to guilt some money out of a selfless pocket. How can money be of value if the substance emanating from yourself is treated like shameful leftover trash that is so easily disposed of? Filling the needs of bodies with nothing left for any mind.

It is better to be honest about it; If I give you something I am not sacrificing for you, I am making an investment in you. Here is what I will give, and here is what I expect in return. Hear are your virtues that I want to see developed. If I pay for my child's education I expect good grades. If I give my brother a loan I expect it to be paid back. I don't loan to those who have defaulted in matter or in spirit. I don't give blank checks. I don't loan to strangers whom I have never seen and will never see again. Why should they mean more to me than I mean to them? There are better men to loan to. Accountability will keep my wealth from disintegrating. If you don't accept my stipulations then don't take my money.

If it is your value it is not a sacrifice. Anyone who speaks of giving as self sacrifice is accusing the self of being incapable of giving. Generosity and sacrifice are contradicting terms.

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The ultimate perceptual data that the argument is based on are the observations needed to form the relevant concepts, like 'value,' 'altruism,' and 'happiness.' The core of the argument is the follow

Actually, research shows that altruistic people are generally happier than others: http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/topic/altruism/altruism-happiness http://www.wholeliving.com/article/givin

I feel there's some confusion in this thread. Selfishness versus altruism is not an answer to "what makes us happy?" but "in whose interests ought we act?" Selfishness answers that we ought act

She differentiated between economic power (good) and political power (bad).

The latter of course requires the use of force; the politician using it is not himself being altruistic but he is asking others to be.

Yes, I used 'power' lazily I realise - I meant in the sense of lust for power over other people - for its own sake.

This still perfectly fits the 'broad' meaning of altruism that I'm positive Rand implied. In this case, the abnegation of the politician's (or whoever's) own ego for the 'reward' of gaining control of other egos.

Toohey-like, he is not only forcing others into altruism, he is the arch-altruist himself.

To repeat: by, through, and for - others.

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About happiness.

Adding to some searching thoughts by T'sharp and Eiuol, I think anyone can be happy - TO THE EXTENT of their willingness to grasp reality -- or otherwise.

Happiness being such a personal and individual state, a rational atheist and a religious person may at any one time be as happy as each other, or not.

The difference being, that the one attains it on merit via (because of, and briefly sometimes, despite) his mind, and existence as he knows it to be; while the other lives in a partial dream-world, temporarily secure - with god in his heaven - or a guardian angel always on his shoulder - or whatever.

As Eiuol asks rhetorically "At what cost?" Sure, 10 minutes of 'happiness', at the cost of loss of independent mind and reality in the long-term.

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Much of what you (or rather, Rand) asserts here simply flies in the face of orthodox Christian theology. It's a flawed understanding. I don't think that Rand understood Christianity, based on her comments on it, but that's not really surprising -- she came from a Jewish background, and there's no indication she ever had much interaction with orthodox Christian theologians. She respected Aquinas, but she didn't study him to any degree.

If you read her biography you’ll find that she studied Christianity at quite some length in school. She got one of those few slots allotted to Jews in an upscale gymnasium, and they required study of Russian Orthodox doctrine as part of the deal. She is said to have been able to recite doctrinal formulas from memory decades later. Her named philosophy mentor from the time was as much a theologian as a philosopher.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikolai_Lossky

After emigrating, she is known to have argued religion with Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and even William F. Buckley.

Did she have a "flawed understanding"? Here's a question for you, according to Athanasius, did Arius have a flawed understanding? According to St. Augustine, did Pelagius have a flawed understanding? How about Calvin vs. Luther vs. Erasmus? Just who does get it right, and how do you demonstrate they're right? They sure as hell can't all be right.

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Sacrifice is a bitter poison to any relationship great or small. Only a cannibal would appreciate a few drops of your blood in every piece of cake you offer. Everyone who sacrifices puts the beneficiaries in a spiritual debt. Obedience and passing on the 'favor' is expected, the bond that cements a relationship in guilt. You had better be a good person because someone sacrificed for you, not because you ought to want to be a good person. Human relationships are wallowed through begrudgingly. People are bound by obligation rather than striving to earn esteem with each new day.

Do-gooders go around looking for someone's need to feed on. They tell the needy that it isn't their fault, that God has a plan, and he is showing his love through them. Why not be a parasite if it makes someone feel so good to help? They go around shoving that misery in everyone's face in order to guilt some money out of a selfless pocket. How can money be of value if the substance emanating from yourself is treated like shameful leftover trash that is so easily disposed of? Filling the needs of bodies with nothing left for any mind.

It is better to be honest about it; If I give you something I am not sacrificing for you, I am making an investment in you. Here is what I will give, and here is what I expect in return. Hear are your virtues that I want to see developed. If I pay for my child's education I expect good grades. If I give my brother a loan I expect it to be paid back. I don't loan to those who have defaulted in matter or in spirit. I don't give blank checks. I don't loan to strangers whom I have never seen and will never see again. Why should they mean more to me than I mean to them? There are better men to loan to. Accountability will keep my wealth from disintegrating. If you don't accept my stipulations then don't take my money.

If it is your value it is not a sacrifice. Anyone who speaks of giving as self sacrifice is accusing the self of being incapable of giving. Generosity and sacrifice are contradicting terms.

I'm sure that there are relationships that are poisoned by the kind of emotional manipulation that you describe. However, I doubt that it's very common, and I don't see it at all amongst the married couples of my acquaintance, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack of one. You describe a kind of psychological disorder, a kind of immaturity, that thankfully I don't see much of, at least in my circles.

It's obvious that you're not married and that you don't have kids. I can tell this because you speak about relationships and sacrifice in a theoretical way, with no reference to any practical experience. I have been married for 25 years, and can tell you that yes, from time to time, sacrifices are necessary (particularly with kids). They don't carry the emotional immaturity and poison that you claim all sacrifice does, but rather are an expression of the hierarchy of my values: I might really want a nice new studio easel, but if I have to spend the money on back-to-school supplies, then it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

Again, it is necessary here to have an understanding of just what is meant by "altruism." I thought that had been settled a few pages ago, but then the definition was broadened. Just what do you mean by "sacrifice"? If the do-gooders you mention value giving to others, then why is that "altruism", when you've just said that "If it is your value it is not a sacrifice"?

Edited by Avila
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If the definition of altruism is as broad as some here would have it, then John Galt's willingness to die to shield Dagny would be an act of altruism. Now, because I think the definition of altruism is a lot narrower, I don't think Galt was acting altruistically, but rather in accordance with his hierarchy of values: a life without Dagney is of little value to him.

If the definition of altruism "is as broad as some here would have it"? Let's not waste our time with broad definitions of altruism which don't make any sense. :) Obviously, if we extend "altruism" to mean all sorts of things it isn't, then we'll be forced to conclude that altruism is both good and bad; impossible to discern, in principle, because our conceptual starting point is so muddled.

Let's keep it to: selfishness is action on behalf of the self; altruism is action on behalf of others. If, in shielding/saving Dagny, Galt is acting in order to preserve the value of his own life, he's acting selfishly, even if this is a very good thing for Dagny.

As for "well-known Objectivists", I am thinking of Diana Hsieh working on a big paper against the personhood movement. She mentioned, in the process, that it took a lot of time and effort (time away from other projects) and so she would appreciate any financial contributions. Is that being altruistic? I don't think so -- she is sacrificing her time because it is of value to her.

Obviously your assessment here is correct. So much so that I'd even quibble that "sacrifice" is not quite correct. If spending this time and effort creates something of great value for Diana, I'd guess that it would be more proper to say that she's "investing" that time and effort, or something closer to that.

This is clearly not altruism. Or, again, if this *is* altruism, then we have no hope of ever figuring out what altruism entails or leads to, because we've defined it so broadly that it includes basically all of selfishness as well.

If you know that this isn't altruism, and I know that this isn't altruism, then let's not bring it up again. Let's work on those things that matter to this discussion and save us all some time.

But if your definition of altruism is broad enough, her working on something to benefit others, that takes away from her own productive work, would appear to qualify.

But having a definition of altruism so very broad would be... how do I put this... ...dumb? This isn't something taking Diana "away from her own productive work"; this is her productive work. And as for her working on "something to benefit others"... while I've no question that her work will benefit others, do you suppose that this is the primary reason why she's engaged in it? Or is her work primarily undertaken because she's trying, first and foremost, to advance her own life?

For (what I can only hope is) the final time, something which happens to benefit others does not define that person's ethics as "altruist." The question is one of primary motivation. That's the only question. Can we put all of this other non-essential stuff away now? :)

The original question was, can altruists be happy? If you're using a very broad definition...

Which we're not. Which we cannot be, if we want to have a productive discussion.

...then yes, many are...

Well sure, because then you're also considering selfish people and selfish motivations and selfish actions; the net is too wide. If we call things which are not altruism, "altruism," we're bound to come to all sorts of interesting (though self-contradictory, and ultimately useless) conclusions.

...and the research shows that altruism leads to greater happiness.

Even if I granted this "broad," useless view of altruism which also incorporates selfish activity, I couldn't just give you "the research." At that point, if I were really engaged to do it, I guess I'd have to start asking questions as to the methodology of the research and such. It's not quite so simple as "science says this," as I'm sure you probably know.

I don't think true altruists, using the narrower definition that was mentioned previously (quoting Rand) could be happy. I also don't think there are that many of them.

Just as "research" isn't quite so simple a topic, neither is "that many of them." It isn't a question of all of humanity dividing neatly into two camps, selfish and altruist.

Real, complete, 100% altruists? I'd go so far as to say that zero exist. The (ultimate) problem with altruism is this: if put fully into practice, it would lead consistently to death. Even if Christianity fully advocated altruism (which we've already agreed is not 100%, given the potential for the divine reward of heaven), it couldn't be consistently put into practice by even the most devout Christian.

Instead, we must confront the fact that most people don't live consistently selfish or altruistic lives. Our study of altruism versus selfishness must therefore attempt to isolate the two approaches, to better determine their effects even in complicated and mixed real-life examples. Part of the problem of deciding what's true of "an Altruist" (and also correctly interpreting the "research" you've suggested earlier) is knowing when a person rightly earns that label. Again, because the question of altruism is one of primary motivation, we'd have to know a person very well indeed to know if he were truly an Altruist.

Again, unless we are using the same definition of altruism, then it's difficult to discuss this with any clarity.

Indeed.

I feel I've been consistent in the definition I've proffered -- is that not so? Do you disagree with my assessment, or have any other reason why we shouldn't proceed with what I've submitted here? Or, if anyone else wishes to take issue with my formulation, I'm always willing to entertain corrections.

But, in a broader sense, if charity towards others rewards the actor with greater happiness, and if that actor is a Christian who believes that charity will be rewarded in heaven, then clearly it is beneficial to him first, and others secondarily. So why should that bother Objectivists so?

In the first place, "charity" (as is conventionally understood) is not necessarily synonymous with altruism, as I hope is clear by now. If you'd like to argue for charity, please recognize that this is a completely separate argument/discussion than arguing for altruism.

Altruism is also not kindness or benevolence. Conflating altruism with charity, kindness and benevolence implies that there could be no selfish reason for acting in these manners, which I disagree with wholeheartedly.

In the second place, a "Christian" who acts purely to get to heaven is acting selfishly. But if we're discussing the nature of Christianity, then we must recognize (as I've brought up before) that this is not why/how Christians are supposed to behave. A Christian who does what he does on the expectation of personal, divine reward would be regarded as unworthy of that reward. He's supposed to act as God wills, for nothing other than God's sake and God's glory, and out of utter submission and duty. And then there's the matter of "grace" that I've also brought up; one does not work his way into heaven, per most branches of Christianity.

If the contention is that "Christianity is a confused mess," we're agreed. But the overarching character of Christianity's ethics is clearly altruistic: act for your brother, act for your God, do not act for yourself. Do you really mean to contend otherwise?

Thirdly, I don't mean to speak for Objectivists. Speaking for myself, at least part of my apprehension with your above formulation is due to the fact that heaven does not exist. But I've also noted in this thread that, even given the Christian God, my problems with him would run very, very deep. The reasons for this extend mostly beyond the scope of this thread, but suffice it to say that the Christian God, per the Bible, is profoundly awful. Obedience to such a creature in hope of reward would be little different to me than obedience to Hitler in hopes of becoming SS.

This is rather all quite dramatic, though I've never seen it (and I know a lot of serious Christians). But at any rate the same sorts of actions are quite visible in the non-religious -- athletes, for example, give up food and perform all kinds of mortifications that the rest of us wouldn't care to do, in order to achieve a goal which is valuable to them. From where I'm sitting, I can look out the window and see five of my neighbors' homes. All of them are Christian: three are Catholic, one is Methodist, and another is Lutheran. They are all fine, upstanding, intelligent people. They contribute to our little Midwestern town in a number of capacities. They all take their faith quite seriously, and yet haven't done any of the things you claim they do.

You've never seen it... therefore... it doesn't exist? And isn't your use of "serious Christians" a bit of question begging? But that's not really important.

Yes -- it is dramatic. Christianity is dramatic. It's about God descending to Earth, and bleeding out on the cross, and resurrecting, and insane things like that. The expression of the Christian church has been quite dramatic at times, too, in such well-known episodes as various witch trials, inquisitions, pogroms and crusades. Also on a smaller scale in far less-publicized ways; you might find windows into peoples' personal lives through, I dunno, various documentaries, such as Jesus Camp. I'll leave most of the legwork to you in further research.

If "modern" Christianity does not (appear) to express itself so dramatically, I don't think this is accounting to any change of the nature of the religion itself. We have a separation of church and state, after all, and a powerful tradition of rational, scientific thought.

What your Lutheran neighbors do or don't do is not necessarily indicative of Christianity's influence in their lives, nor what Christianity represents as a philosophy, as a religion, as an ethical statement. Your neighbors are probably grounded in those same Western influences I've already cited, which are not of themselves Christian, but do go some way in tempering what we now regard as Christianity. The real question to ask is: what does a Christian look like when "Christianity is in charge" of him? What does the world look like when Christianity is in charge?

To assess such a thing, we must go well beyond a simple, superficial examination of the "Christians on the block"; we must look at what the religion, itself, says. And, moreover, what it means. We must look at the history, and how Christianity has impacted societies. We must investigate Christians of various stripes, and over time, and far more deeply than just observations of their day-to-day behavior. We must have an understanding of underlying philosophy. We must bring all of this knowledge to bear on our investigation, and leave as little out as possible.

It's not a light undertaking.

What I say regarding Christianity is more than a statement of "Objectivist understanding." I don't know how much I can claim in the way of Objectivist orthodoxy, since I haven't been an Objectivist more than a decade or so, and I'm sure I disagree with several people here, who are more knowledgeable and practiced in the philosophy than I, on various matters. But my experience with Christianity includes a lifetime of struggle and thought and learning. I've long investigated religions, having read the Bible, Koran (though in English, so...), the Book of Mormon, the Bhagavad-Gita, etc. I have a degree in history, and have personally pursued information on the early Christian churches, and the evolution of Christianity over time. You have a Lutheran neighbor? I was a regular attendee of Bible study with a Lutheran minister, who was also a good friend (and excellent ping-pong player!). My best friend, since 2nd grade, is a Methodist; I currently have regular religious discussions with a Methodist minister. I've never been really close with Catholics, though my Dad was raised as such, but I did once marry an ex-fundamentalist, so... there's that. ;)

I say all of this, not to declare myself "an authority" -- I'm far from that (as though it would matter anyway) -- but to say that I'm not speaking lightly, or off-the-cuff. I'm not "dramatic" in discussing Christianity because I think it sounds better. I'm dramatic when discussing Christianity because I really do believe that this religion is a blight, and I say that on the basis of an extended and extensive and ongoing study. I am dramatic because I believe that the subject demands it.

You're sounding a bit hysterical.

Am I? I don't feel any hysteria.

Certainly one can think of happy, prosperous, productive Christians: C.S. Lewis, G.K Chesterton (both ex-atheists), Tolkien, etc. I can think of happy, prosperous, productive atheists.

Did you take me as saying that "there are no happy, prosperous, productive Christians"? That's not what I said. Again: "...to the extent that it is practiced, Christianity is bound to bring people pain and ruin." There's no hysteria here; I mean what I say, coldly. We cannot make the mistake of believing that, because one claims the title "Christian," that therefore they are a pure exponent of Christianity itself. Even C.S. Lewis doesn't get to wear that mantle.

(By-the-by, how would we go about assessing the internal states of Tolkien, et al.? Maybe you've read some of their personal memoirs or letters or something...? Or is this speculation?)

Having meaning and purpose in one's life is conducive to happiness and joy, and whether one has that through a devotion to Objectivism or a devotion to God -- so what?

You think that "meaning" and "purpose" are conducive to happiness without regard to the content of that meaning or purpose? Not so. Soviet Russia, to take a convenient example, was chock-full of folks who had "meaning" and "purpose."

What one devotes oneself to will go a long way in determining whether one achieves "happiness and joy" and everything else, or whether one winds up in a gulag.

Why do you care so much?

Because, at the very minimum, I take ideas seriously. Don't you? If not, why are you here talking about this?

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Happiness being such a personal and individual state, a rational atheist and a religious person may at any one time be as happy as each other, or not.

You want to be careful with the definition here.

Happiness is a successful state of life that results from the achievement of one's values.

It is not a moment in time as I noted earlier.

In your example, I would say that they can have positive emotions about things but certainly not similar degrees of happiness.

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The *feeling* of happiness isn't relevant at all.

I'm hoping you can clarify this for me. How is the "feeling of happiness" not relevant? Happiness, as I understand it -- as I've experienced it -- is more than simply a mental assessment; it is certainly a feeling. Further, if not for the feeling of happiness -- that it is a pleasant emotional state -- I don't know that we would pursue it.

Or do you think that the pursuit of happiness (to coin a phrase ;) ) is wrongheaded? Do you think people ought to pursue things that they've determined to be good for their "life" (which here must mean "physical survival"...?) and trust that happiness will be the byproduct? Or is that last not even important? Should people not care whether their actions result in happiness?

I don't know. I've found (or perhaps imagined) some ambivalence on the matters of "life" versus "happiness" versus "pleasure." I think that the pursuit of pleasure is wholly moral, and understandable, and good. Of course that's in context; of course not if it makes one unhappy; not if it is adverse to one's life. But why do we act to preserve our life in the first place, if it is not for the continued experiences of pleasure and happiness? A life without pleasure or happiness would not be a life that I'd find worth fighting for.

I just don't think that pleasure or happiness or life can be set against one another; take any of those three away, and I don't see that the other two can stand as values. (Because, frankly, I'm not sure that "happiness" can exist without pleasure.) And I certainly can't yet agree that "the feeling of happiness is irrelevant."

There are two ways to use the word happiness; a temporary state and a long-term state. Similar to the word depression; a temporary state and a long-term state. Feeling that things are going well doesn't mean they are going well;

That's certainly true. But that doesn't make happiness irrelevant, does it? Isn't it appealing to the relevance of happiness as a long-term goal? Meaning that, to maximize one's happiness, one should attempt to be happy for one's lifetime, rather than seek a momentary "happiness" at the cost of long-term pain, suffering and sadness?

And further, and as we learn and understand more, isn't our "momentary happiness" really dependent on our long-term understanding of our life in context? Meaning: suppose I watch the film Titanic. I can enjoy the movie, and experience mental pleasures and et cetera, which we'll call "happiness" here.

But that's only in context; if I'm watching that movie while aboard the ship Titanic as it sinks into the Atlantic...? (Ignoring here the issues of time-travel involved.) It's unlikely I'll be able to enjoy the film.

While I agree with you that one should do his best to assess whether things are "going well" or not, in a true and long-term sense, I don't know that this makes the feeling of happiness irrelevant. Instead, I think that the pursuit of that happiness provides the motive fuel necessary to make that "assessment" in the first place. If it were not for the possibility of happiness, why should we care whether things were "going well" at all? For their own sake?

...if happiness is the standard, ethics are just subjective.

Again, this just doesn't sit right with me.

When we talk about "life" being the standard, we know that we don't just mean the biological facts of respiration, excretion, etc., right? We're talking about a certain *kind* of life. And I have to believe that happiness is integral to the kind of "life" that we mean. It isn't that "happiness is the standard," but that (physical) life, happiness, and pleasure are all irreducibly a part of the (fuller-sense) "life" that we do hold as the standard.

This feeling of happiness, then, is not sufficient alone (devoid of context) to be the standard of ethical inquiry, but neither would it be irrelevant.

Or am I completely mistaken? Feel free to set me straight, please.

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When we talk about "life" being the standard, we know that we don't just mean the biological facts of respiration, excretion, etc., right? We're talking about a certain *kind* of life. And I have to believe that happiness is integral to the kind of "life" that we mean. It isn't that "happiness is the standard," but that (physical) life, happiness, and pleasure are all irreducibly a part of the (fuller-sense) "life" that we do hold as the standard.

This feeling of happiness, then, is not sufficient alone (devoid of context) to be the standard of ethical inquiry, but neither would it be irrelevant.

The feeling of happiness being irrelevant is more like a vague word choice on my part. I meant more like pleasure itself being a bad standard, which is hedonism, or any other standard based on a feeling. It won't help in figuring out what is objectively good or bad. The more proper standard is life, for the reasons you say, of which happiness is an essential part. When talking about if altruists can be happy, sure they can in a short-term, same as a heroin user, but someone feeling happy is quite subjective.

I agree with what you say in what I quoted.

Edited by Eiuol
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Again, it is necessary here to have an understanding of just what is meant by "altruism." I thought that had been settled a few pages ago, but then the definition was broadened. Just what do you mean by "sacrifice"? If the do-gooders you mention value giving to others, then why is that "altruism", when you've just said that "If it is your value it is not a sacrifice"?

The Ayn Rand Lexicon entry for sacrifice fleshes out what the concept refers to in Objectivist ethical arguments, that should help you out. We're not talking about opportunity cost when we speak of sacrifice.

As to the do-gooders, it depends on whether their value for giving to others is rational or not. If you give because you enjoy seeing other people succeed, or you have particular empathy for someone's situation, or out of general benevolence those are all rationally justifiable reasons for giving. If you give simply because that's what it takes to be a good person, because that's what you've been told all your life and you've never really asked why, that's an irrational basis. I'm sure that person would still feel good about themselves for living up to their moral code, but their errors about the fundamental requirements of being a good person will be a hindrance to their life.

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The Ayn Rand Lexicon entry for sacrifice fleshes out what the concept refers to in Objectivist ethical arguments, that should help you out. We're not talking about opportunity cost when we speak of sacrifice.

As to the do-gooders, it depends on whether their value for giving to others is rational or not. If you give because you enjoy seeing other people succeed, or you have particular empathy for someone's situation, or out of general benevolence those are all rationally justifiable reasons for giving. If you give simply because that's what it takes to be a good person, because that's what you've been told all your life and you've never really asked why, that's an irrational basis. I'm sure that person would still feel good about themselves for living up to their moral code, but their errors about the fundamental requirements of being a good person will be a hindrance to their life.

Thanks, that does help.

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If the definition of altruism "is as broad as some here would have it"? Let's not waste our time with broad definitions of altruism which don't make any sense. Obviously, if we extend "altruism" to mean all sorts of things it isn't, then we'll be forced to conclude that altruism is both good and bad; impossible to discern, in principle, because our conceptual starting point is so muddled.

Actually, you and I agree here. I was reacting instead to some other posts.

Instead, we must confront the fact that most people don't live consistently selfish or altruistic lives. Our study of altruism versus selfishness must therefore attempt to isolate the two approaches, to better determine their effects even in complicated and mixed real-life examples. Part of the problem of deciding what's true of "an Altruist" (and also correctly interpreting the "research" you've suggested earlier) is knowing when a person rightly earns that label. Again, because the question of altruism is one of primary motivation, we'd have to know a person very well indeed to know if he were truly an Altruist.

Yes, I agree with what you say here. Well-put.

feel I've been consistent in the definition I've proffered -- is that not so? Do you disagree with my assessment, or have any other reason why we shouldn't proceed with what I've submitted here?

Yes, you have been consistent. Again, it was another post or two that I was reacting to.

Altruism is also not kindness or benevolence. Conflating altruism with charity, kindness and benevolence implies that there could be no selfish reason for acting in these manners, which I disagree with wholeheartedly.

Yes, we would agree on this as well. I was not being precise enough in my choice of words.

But having a definition of altruism so very broad would be... how do I put this... ...dumb?

I think so too, because it presumes knowledge of motives and can, theoretically, be applied to al sorts of situations where it really ought not to apply.

Real, complete, 100% altruists? I'd go so far as to say that zero exist.

Oh, I don't know -- the capacity for human lunacy is enormous! :D

n the second place, a "Christian" who acts purely to get to heaven is acting selfishly. But if we're discussing the nature of Christianity, then we must recognize (as I've brought up before) that this is not why/how Christians are supposed to behave. A Christian who does what he does on the expectation of personal, divine reward would be regarded as unworthy of that reward.

I disagree. The salvation of one's soul is the business of the Christian.

You've never seen it... therefore... it doesn't exist?

Of course I meant no such thing. But you asserted that certain behaviors would manifest themselves if a Christian took his or her faith seriously, and I'm telling you that it is not as sure as you would like to believe, because I have never seen the behavior you brought up despite being around very serious Christians. I'm not saying the behaviors don't exist, but that it's not as common as you indicate.

You think that "meaning" and "purpose" are conducive to happiness without regard to the content of that meaning or purpose? Not so. Soviet Russia, to take a convenient example, was chock-full of folks who had "meaning" and "purpose."

No, I don't think the content is meaningless at all, precisely for the reasons your example demonstrates. But they are important ingredients to a well-lived life, and I don't think a person can be happy without them.

If the contention is that "Christianity is a confused mess," we're agreed.

Some areas of it are: Protestantism is, in my opinion, just a basketcase of relativism. All these thousands of denominations read the same book (using it as the sole guide) and come up with thousands of variations of the "truth".

Again: "...to the extent that it is practiced, Christianity is bound to bring people pain and ruin." There's no hysteria here; I mean what I say, coldly.

And here we have to part company: I am, after all, an ex-atheist, and I would have hardly joined myself to a religion if I thought it would bring me pain and ruin.

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You want to be careful with the definition here.

Happiness is a successful state of life that results from the achievement of one's values.

It is not a moment in time as I noted earlier.

In your example, I would say that they can have positive emotions about things but certainly not similar degrees of happiness.

Objectively, yes; existentially, not always definite.

Try telling a joyous-looking Christian that he can't be happy because he has not achieved his values, and he'll laugh at you. He HAS achieved his values, he believes ( whatever they may be.)

Contrast with the rational person, who has to to achieve true values - facing reality with an uncompromising mind - and though he knows his struggle is worth it, for periods he may not sustain a happy state.

We should bear in mind that religion is simple philosophy. That its premises are irrational ("the impossible or the insane"- AR) does not prevent the religious from feeling they can achieve 'values' - partial altruism, for instance - although we know it is only for a while.

Overall, of course I agree with you on degree, and on objective happiness. Also, thanks for checking my definitions.B)

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Whether a heavenly reward is mentioned in that particular story or not, the rest of the New Testament is clear on the matter: "And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life".

So the message is that we should be willing to give up everything of value to us, as long as it's for the sake of Christ's name? Or we're supposed to value an "eternal life," without proof that such a thing exists? That statement sounds to me like it goes against man's life on Earth -- and is therefore evil. Plus, who decides if something is being done for the sake of Christ's name? Sounds like a tool of tyrants.

Or, as I heard Penn Jillette say recently (paraphrased): "If you heard God tell you to kill your child, would you do it? If not, are you really Christian? And if you would, please reconsider. Lots of people on death row say that God told them to kill. Do you believe them?"

Nor would I agree with you that "the lesson was that in order for giving to be moral, it requires sacrifice" -- that's just your particular interpretation. I certainly wouldn't agree that that was the "lesson" of that story.

Not just my interpretation; I know several Christians who would agree. However, I'm sure if you pick almost any part of the Bible, you could find Christians who disagree with each other on what it means.

Actually, I thought we had a much more narrow definition of altruism that we were working with, based on Rand's views. Now you have broadened it again, which presumably brings us back to the research findings that show positive benefits to those who practice what you call altruism: they are happier people.

In modern society, there are two meanings of altruism. One is the old, original meaning, as defined first by Comte and then as refined and fleshed out by a number of philosophers such as Kant, Hegel and others. The thing you are supposed to sacrifice to has also been changed over time by people like Marx. It began with God, then changed to things like humanity, your neighbor, your race or your country.

The other meaning is the modern one, as blunted by the Enlightenment and the American sense of life and American culture. The latter version came into being largely because the original one is impossible to consistently live by; if you are consistently altruistic in the original sense of the word, you will quickly end up dead -- as such, the original meaning was largely (though not entirely) rejected by modern Christians. So now it has come to mean something closer to charity.

However, the original philosophical meaning still seeps through the new meaning -- so it still has a significant influence, which Objectivism has helped to identify and judge.

You have a distorted sense of morality. I don't agree at all with your premises.

That's not my view -- so it's promising that you disagree.

I don't think it's "easy to see" at all -- please explain why.

It's this part: "How does anyone know you really did it for the right reasons? Maybe you're just trying to look like a good person." -- or trying to help yourself instead of others.

Now we're getting into the area of black helicopters -- WHO "decided"? Do you think there is some kind of conspiracy out there?

If you can call religion and philosophy conspiracies, then perhaps.

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Objectively, yes; existentially, not always definite.

Try telling a joyous-looking Christian that he can't be happy because he has not achieved his values, and he'll laugh at you. He HAS achieved his values, he believes ( whatever they may be.)

Contrast with the rational person, who has to to achieve true values - facing reality with an uncompromising mind - and though he knows his struggle is worth it, for periods he may not sustain a happy state.

We should bear in mind that religion is simple philosophy. That its premises are irrational ("the impossible or the insane"- AR) does not prevent the religious from feeling they can achieve 'values' - partial altruism, for instance - although we know it is only for a while.

Objectively is the only way to look at it.

One has not achieved any value by simply "believing" - that requires no mental exercise!

And I surely don't need to consider the Christian's opinion re his happiness: feelings should not count in this discussion. Nor should the temporary moments of joy that people feel even without value achievement.

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Also, see Peikoff in OPAR p.341 on happiness, or consult Smith's Viable Values and Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics on Rand's conception of happiness and its relationship to her standard of value.

Remember that Rand does not mean just any old "happiness" here, she means the Aristotelian concept of eudaimonia as an ultimate end. So she isn't saying any religious person or what have you is totally incapably of any happiness or positive emotions whatsoever (or that the virtuous man never experiences pain!), just that her ethical end of eudaimonia is only possible in a person who pursues happiness by means of certain virtues according to an objective (that is, reflecting life-benefiting facts) standard of value.

Most religious people are not philosophical altruists, as previously mentioned, and being a consistent altruist would be literally impossible. It's not like people are sharply divided into absolute "altruists" and "egoists" with the former walking around all emo and sad saying "I'm incapable of happiness!", and the latter all walking around kicking ass all the time. People are generally mixed bags with clashing elements. And of course it is possible that an action clashing with the requirements for life-long happiness and flourishing can bring happiness and even exhilaration. Even the drug addict is happy when he is stoned, after all. But the point is that this is temporary and short-term happiness in the narrow emotional sense, not Rand's eudaimonia.

Edited by 2046
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You describe a kind of psychological disorder, a kind of immaturity, that thankfully I don't see much of, at least in my circles.

It's obvious that you're not married and that you don't have kids.

It is better to ask if I am married or have a family before jumping to conclusions. I have been with my husband for 17 years, and we have a three year old son. When we decided to to conceive we did it with the conscious awareness of all of the responsibilities that come with caring for a human being for 18 years of his life. I am a thousand times more generous to my son than my mother was. To my mother everything was a sacrifice; I was constantly resented as a burden. Nothing I ever give to anyone I love will be tainted with a trace of regret in the thought that the money could have been spent elsewhere. I weigh all of my options and make the better choice. There are no sacrifices of any kind. There are only choices, and the choice I make is infused with a conscious conviction to be better than the choice I leave behind. Life is full of difficult choices, but the choice I make ought to be the better choice to the best of my knowledge within the context of the long term of my life. No pencil I will ever buy for my son will be seen by me as a sacrifice, because he is the better choice. Sacrifice is a debt that can only be paid with more sacrifice. I refuse to impose obligation for him to love me because I sacrificed for him. If he chooses to love me it will be because we respect, admire, and inspire one another.

To assume that a man would naturally make the wrong choice (so he has to “sacrifice” to achieve good choices), is an attack on his self worth and the dignity of his discerning mind. But altruism is not asking a man to sacrifice his evil, it is asking him to sacrifice his good. Why does altruism believe sacrifice is necessary? Why are the reason's a man does not want to sacrifice evaded? Why is he accused of heartlessness, while the parasites who require his sacrifice are not?

The "psychological disorder" you speculated on is prevalent in anyone to the extent that they see human sacrifice as a good thing.

Objectivism is mathematical, it is not opposed to charity, it is opposed to bad investments. If a charity demonstrates that the money invested fuels a program that redoubles the productive output of participants, maintains itself, and repays the initial investor, no sacrifice is necessary and it will be praised by Objectivists.

... and the research shows that altruism leads to greater happiness.

In most forms of charity the people getting the help have no money. The helpers can not make money by giving them help. The helpers have to get their money from someone who is doing something else... does the research show who that person is? Does the research show if he gave his money voluntarily? Or was it extorted out of him? Does the research include the people he could have given productive jobs to if he hadn't been forced to give it to charity? Could the charity recipients have gained some self respect by working those jobs rather than being condescended to by the charity workers and administrators (who also took their cut from the donations.) Looters look really happy when they are running off with a stolen television, but how do they feel a month later when all of the businesses and jobs are gone?

...and if that actor is a Christian who believes that charity will be rewarded in heaven, then clearly it is beneficial to him first, and others secondarily. So why should that bother Objectivists so?

Having meaning and purpose in one's life is conducive to happiness and joy, and whether one has that through a devotion to Objectivism or a devotion to God -- so what? Why do you care so much?

Objectivists actually will not try to control someone who refuses to agree with them, as long as individual rights are not being infringed. Altruists collect in large enough groups to vote rights away from the individual, this is why distinctions are being argued over. Objectivism always acts from a position of self-defense. Ayn Rand said she never advocated an Objectivist Utopia. Volition (the necessity of choice) is central to Objectivist ethics. There is no choice without options. There is no choice to be rational without the option to be irrational, no choice to be atheist without the option to believe in God, no choice to give to charity without the option to decline. Objectivists are merely working to garner enough support to ensure a majority vote to protect individual rights.

Edited by Tenderlysharp
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Oh, I don't know -- the capacity for human lunacy is enormous! :D

As a minor note, I'm not here referring to the irreason of being a Full Altruist. After all, you're right; peoples be trippin'.

But what I mean is that, if the motivation for your every action was to benefit others, without regard to whether those actions also benefited yourself, I think you'd find it difficult to stay alive very long. I don't believe that altruism is conducive to human survival (or happiness, which is how I'd answer the thread's central query), and so I don't expect that a Full Altruist would live long or be happy for the duration.

Happiness and survival both have requirements, per their nature, and in reality. To achieve either for the self requires a particular plan of action; selfishness -- as opposed to altruism -- greenlights their direct pursuit. Any success outside of selfish activity, where life or happiness are concerned, are therefore incidental. And since I'd suspect that it's hard to luck into survival and happiness, I just can't rate the prospects of an Altruist very highly.

Now when we're talking about specific people (or even systems, like Christianity), we're again talking about mixed bags. A person -- even one who thinks of himself as "altruistic" or "Christian" -- will often be acting out of selfish motives. To suss out their specific motivations in any given instance, and to relate those to the outcomes where the quality of their life is concerned, is a horrendously difficult project.

This is why we must approach this topic via principles. It isn't that a given "altruist" cannot be happy at a given moment in their life; it's that altruism does not lead to happiness.

The salvation of one's soul is the business of the Christian.

Welllllll... I agree that what you've said above is a Christian sentiment, but we ultimately run into walls where Christianity is concerned, because God doesn't exist and so forth, and as I've said, there are a ton of inconsistencies. Anyways, I'd argue that the business of the Christian -- really -- is whatever God says it is. Christianity requires of the Christian that he surrender his own mind, judgment and will; that he turn them all over to a "higher power."

And, once again, there's no such thing as the direct pursuit of salvation. Salvation is triggered through Grace, which is divine, unearned charity. So if anyone's business is salvation, it can only be God's. Which falls in line with the greater Judeo-Christian message; what counts, really, is God's glorification. If a man could earn his own salvation, then he could take credit for it. But this would be Pride; taking credit for that which came from God. A "Christian" who took credit for his soul's salvation would be branded a heretic. He must instead repeat the litany that man is a worthless sinner, and that God deserves all of the credit and all of the gratitude for saving his soul.

But you asserted that certain behaviors would manifest themselves if a Christian took his or her faith seriously, and I'm telling you that it is not as sure as you would like to believe, because I have never seen the behavior you brought up despite being around very serious Christians. I'm not saying the behaviors don't exist, but that it's not as common as you indicate.

"Like to believe"? This has nothing to do with what I'd "like to believe." :) If I could magic wand the universe, it'd all be unicorns and rainbows, I assure you. And further, if Christianity were less toxic than I've otherwise concluded, I would count that a good thing. But I'm afraid that the fact that you've not seen these types of behaviors don't demonstrate that Christianity doesn't lead to them.

We're agreed that people are mixed bags, right? Christians come from all sorts of backgrounds and accept strains of all kinds of different (conflicting and inconsistent) philosophical beliefs and tenets. There are "Christians" who never read the Bible or go to church. There are New Age Christians who argue that all religious traditions are ultimately equal. Even a fundamentalist, who are typically thought of as being "extreme" in their faith, when we meet them in modern Western society will have been raised in an environment of relative political liberty and a tradition of tolerance for other creeds, etc.

Why don't the Christians on Main Street, USA whip themselves? I think it's less to do with Christianity and more to do with Main Street, USA.

After all, how "serious" are the Christians you've met about their faith? As serious as Torquemada? As serious as the Flagellants of the late Middle Ages Europe? What I'd argue is that the "more Christian" a man becomes, the closer he comes to these sorts of mindsets. Fortunately for us all, 21st Century Christianity is regularly tempered by a more-enlightened environment, which does not allow Christianity's full "fruits" to manifest, either in society or in an individual man's soul. That said, Christianity preserves its tendency, which is precisely what we must determine -- not the behaviors any one or handful of particulars -- if we want to examine Christianity, as such.

No, I don't think the content is meaningless at all, precisely for the reasons your example demonstrates. But they are important ingredients to a well-lived life, and I don't think a person can be happy without them.

Whether "meaning" and "purpose" contribute to a man's happiness is utterly contingent on the content of that meaning and purpose. If my meaning and purpose involve the wholesale destruction of others, I will not have lived a "well-lived life."

So we can't abstract meaning and purpose and say, in isolation, that they are "important ingredients." If religion provides "meaning" and "purpose," that doesn't mean that religion thereby contributes to man's happiness. A religion that provides the meaning of "you are God's pawn" and the purpose of "bow down and worship your master" will not lead men to happiness.

I am, after all, an ex-atheist, and I would have hardly joined myself to a religion if I thought it would bring me pain and ruin.

I'm neither equipped nor inclined to discuss the particulars of your decision at present. Suffice it to say that, if you're prepared to abandon whatever religion *should* it be shown to lead to your personal pain and ruin, that's enough for me for now. To tie it back to the main theme of the thread, that's the very standard -- your happiness and life versus your pain and ruin -- that should apply. Altruism, contrarily, would hold that your personal happiness versus pain, is immaterial; that instead, you should do whatever is best for others.

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I am, after all, an ex-atheist, and I would have hardly joined myself to a religion if I thought it would bring me pain and ruin.

And you really think that Obj.ists would consider any theist to be rational?

You must not have been an atheist on identified principle.

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But what I mean is that, if the motivation for your every action was to benefit others, without regard to whether those actions also benefited yourself, I think you'd find it difficult to stay alive very long. I don't believe that altruism is conducive to human survival (or happiness, which is how I'd answer the thread's central query), and so I don't expect that a Full Altruist would live long or be happy for the duration.

I agree -- and that's why I don't think there are many of them, as they would tend to self-destruct. Human beings seek happiness, though sometimes very ineffectively, so a true-blue altruist (meaning, no benefit to himself) would presumably not even derive satisfaction from his actions. A recipe for misery...

Now when we're talking about specific people (or even systems, like Christianity), we're again talking about mixed bags. A person -- even one who thinks of himself as "altruistic" or "Christian" -- will often be acting out of selfish motives. To suss out their specific motivations in any given instance, and to relate those to the outcomes where the quality of their life is concerned, is a horrendously difficult project.

Again, I agree -- most people are mixed bags. On the flip side, do you think there are many, if any, pure egoists? Just curious what you think, as you probably travel in those circles more than I do. I thought I knew one, a self-avowed serious Objectivist, but when she risked her life by running into a burning house in order to save the cat of a stranger, I figured that her hierarchy of values was troubling!

Christians come from all sorts of backgrounds and accept strains of all kinds of different (conflicting and inconsistent) philosophical beliefs and tenets. There are "Christians" who never read the Bible or go to church. There are New Age Christians who argue that all religious traditions are ultimately equal. Even a fundamentalist, who are typically thought of as being "extreme" in their faith, when we meet them in modern Western society will have been raised in an environment of relative political liberty and a tradition of tolerance for other creeds, etc.

Agreed, there are different stripes of Christianity, many of which contradict one another. They can't all be true. But it is important to realize that these are all Protestant or Protestant spin-offs. Catholics and the Orthodox are quite consistent (differing interpretations of the authority of the pope, but otherwise consistent). I reject Protestantism because of its inherent relativism.

What I'd argue is that the "more Christian" a man becomes, the closer he comes to these sorts of mindsets.

Well, we'll just have to disagree. I have three friends who are at various stages of their formation as priests. One of them is a very close friend, who is in his second year at seminary. I also know a number of monks, one being the son of friends of mine (it's been interesting to watch his journey over the years to this point). I think that's about as "more Christian" as you can get, and there's no indication of the behavior you say comes with being a serious Christian. Truth be told, I've seen more self-flagellation, so to speak, among athletes, particularly marathon runners.

Whether "meaning" and "purpose" contribute to a man's happiness is utterly contingent on the content of that meaning and purpose. If my meaning and purpose involve the wholesale destruction of others, I will not have lived a "well-lived life."

I agree with you -- it will not have been a "well-lived life", objectively speaking. However, it is possible for a person to feel pleasure (I won't say happiness...) in destroying others: I suspect that Hitler derived satisfaction from killing others. All I am saying is that without meaning and purpose, man is essentially drifting, with no possibility of a life well-lived. Don't get me wrong: I agree entirely that the content of a person's meaning and purpose in his life determines the success of that life.

Suffice it to say that, if you're prepared to abandon whatever religion *should* it be shown to lead to your personal pain and ruin, that's enough for me for now.

That's enough for me as well. If I ever am persuaded that no, I was right the first time, God doesn't exist -- fine. If my belief is shown to bring me pain and ruin with no hope of benefit, then fine, I'm outta here.

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And you really think that Obj.ists would consider any theist to be rational?

You must not have been an atheist on identified principle.

Summing someone up as a fundamentally rational or fundamentally irrational person takes a lot more than just knowing whether they believe in God.

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Summing someone up as a fundamentally rational or fundamentally irrational person takes a lot more than just knowing whether they believe in God.

I understand what you are saying; e.g. one could argue that passively believing but not living by the tenets of religion is only mildly irrational....

But faith runs contrary to the facts of reality, is the negation of reason and rationality; etc.

From Metaphysics to politics, one's philoosphy generally becomes seriously flawed.

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Again, I agree -- most people are mixed bags. On the flip side, do you think there are many, if any, pure egoists?

Maybe others here would disagree with me -- I'm sure there are many people far more active "in the community," and therefore knowledgeable than I -- but no... I don't think there are many pure egoists. I certainly don't think that I've acted in a consistently egoistic manner, not even after adopting the "Objectivist" label for myself.

Not to make excuses, but there's a whole lotta culture and upbringing to overcome. To see through it and work through it constantly requires fairly scrupulous effort. I expect I'll become stronger and better over time.

Well, we'll just have to disagree. I have three friends who are at various stages of their formation as priests. One of them is a very close friend, who is in his second year at seminary. I also know a number of monks, one being the son of friends of mine (it's been interesting to watch his journey over the years to this point). I think that's about as "more Christian" as you can get, and there's no indication of the behavior you say comes with being a serious Christian. Truth be told, I've seen more self-flagellation, so to speak, among athletes, particularly marathon runners.

We'll agree to disagree unless and until we meet in a thread regarding Christianity specifically. Till then, you must understand that it's not that I'm ignorant of how the vast majority of Christians live their lives in the modern US. We've both grown up in and among the religion, after all -- my mother was a church choir conductor for several years, and I've had a lot of personal friendships and romances with people of many different stripes of Christianity. It's not owing to having seen these people act in extreme fashion that I believe that Christianity tends towards extremity.

On this topic, I'd like to leave you with this thought: socialism/communism/statism can sometimes seem... innocuous in modern society. While Objectivists and various economic theorists might decry governmental intervention as "the road to serfdom," it can be hard in a day-to-day discussion to demonstrate that Amtrak is bringing us closer to oblivion. Sometimes it just seems like a train service. It requires an understanding of the underlying principles to understand the problem there, which can be hard to discern since all political and economic systems have been mixed for a very long time. There's no laboratory where the social sciences are concerned, you know?

One strategy to employ, to help see the differences between statism and liberty, is to find those examples where statism and liberty have been the most developed or predominant. While the USSR sometimes had "capitalist features" (like, for instance, the NEP), it was sufficiently statist to allow us to observe what the general effects of statism are.

Where Christianity is concerned, we might wonder if there have been any times, places, or situations where Christianity has been less fettered than it perhaps is today; more free to... express itself, as it were. If we can decide where Christianity finds its fullest bloom -- across all geography and over all time -- we can see more clearly exactly what type of flower it is.

I agree with you -- it will not have been a "well-lived life", objectively speaking. However, it is possible for a person to feel pleasure (I won't say happiness...) in destroying others: I suspect that Hitler derived satisfaction from killing others. All I am saying is that without meaning and purpose, man is essentially drifting, with no possibility of a life well-lived. Don't get me wrong: I agree entirely that the content of a person's meaning and purpose in his life determines the success of that life.

Whatever "satisfactions" Hitler may have felt aren't the kind I want. And I know you're not suggesting otherwise -- and I think we agree here -- but I think it's important to hit this point hard, because I think it's pertinent to this thread's central questions. Your reticence to ascribe "happiness" to a monster like Hitler is well-considered. Not all roads lead to happiness, after all. In fact, most of them don't.

To find happiness -- that is, true happiness which is in the context of a "well-lived life" -- a person must devote himself to its pursuit. That is, he must act selfishly.

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Where Christianity is concerned, we might wonder if there have been any times, places, or situations where Christianity has been less fettered than it perhaps is today; more free to... express itself, as it were. If we can decide where Christianity finds its fullest bloom -- across all geography and over all time -- we can see more clearly exactly what type of flower it is.

I agree. However, I would add this qualification: when you see historical events of Christian-induced atrocities, does that represent an aberration of Christianity's principles or its application? The difference is important -- do you look at the saints, or at the sinners? And are you basing your opinions on the most accurate historical data?

I would suggest that those who are interested in history inform or update themselves as to some of the common myths. The Crusades, for one example: much of what we "know" about the Crusades comes from an English (Protestant) or Orthodox point of view. Current historians have looked into the Crusades with a much more objective lens - Madden, for one, though there are others. Here's just one article: http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2005/print2005/tmadden_crusades_print.html

Likewise with the dreaded Inquisition: http://old.nationalreview.com/comment/madden200406181026.asp

This is not to excuse the stupidity or cruelty of any particular Christian or church, but some context is helpful -- I don't see any human institution or government, religious or atheist, that is free from absurdity or atrocities.

To find happiness -- that is, true happiness which is in the context of a "well-lived life" -- a person must devote himself to its pursuit. That is, he must act selfishly.

We agree.

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