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Peter Parker/Spiderman

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I saw Spiderman I in the movies a couple summers ago and fell in love with Peter Parker's character. At the time, I was a Christian, Conservative and an other-ist. I placed others ahead of me and constantly betrayed my values for lesser ones. Peter Parker embodied these characteristics and that is why he was a hero to me. He was always doing for others and never took any credit for them; pain seemed to fill his life as those he supposedly cared for were put on the back burner for other things. His "best friend" Harry Osborn took Mary Jane Watson, and Parker does nothing.

Since then, I've discovered Ayn Rand and have been a student of Objectivism. That's why when I watched Spiderman II last night I was sick to my stomach.

It is absolute that Mary Jane Watson and Aunt May are top priorities in Peter Parker's life. Yet, he is more concerned with saving the world from criminals and evil. To Parker (taking from Rand's Ethics of Emergencies) the world is a '"malevolent universe" where disasters are the constant'. When his health declines (due to lack of self-esteem, probably) he abandons the being Spiderman selfishly and feels the best he ever did. No longer was he doing for others, but he was concentrating on classes, pursuing girls, he went to Mary Jane's play and nearly confessed his love for her. Mary Jane tells Parker that he has changed for the better now that he has focused on what he values.

Now, I won't spoil the story (although there isn't too much to it), but Parker again turns selfless by the end of the movie. Instead of abandoning Spiderman for good, he draws Mary Jane into his selfless life.

Probably there are a couple questions. Is my analysis of the movie correct (perhaps others can add more)? Broadly, do people (non O'ist) not like a selfish hero, or even think that one can exist?

Edit: speeeeeling check

Edit 2: I forgot that Steve Ditko was at least positive toward O'ism (someone pointed it out on another board). So, I add this:

ATL wrote:

My understanding is that the original Spider Man artist, Steve Ditko, imagined Spider Man in the objectivist mold.

He first created a character known as "A is A Man", but I don't think anything came of it. Ditko was at least positive toward Objectivism.

I think that's my problem, and maybe where I am wrong.

Parker is definatly a selfless hero, saving babies at the expense of those more important to him (Aunt May, MJ). He throws away the costume in pure selfishness to get back to his old life and his health and self-esteem improve. When he embraces those he values, he health comes back. This would indicate the ethics of O'ism. But, Parker become Spidey again to save MJ (which is still ok), but it seems he continues the life after she is saved. I can't get that.

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I've never understood why altruism is considered "evil."  I mean, I don't necessarily think it's logical, but if you want to be an altruist, I see no reason why I should be able to call you evil for doing so.  After all, there is really no such thing as altruism.

Have you ever read ATLAS SHRUGGED and/or THE FOUNTAINHEAD? :)

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Some people place values on people they don't even know.  If I had the superhuman abilities that Spiderman did, I would probably do the same thing.  I can't think of a single instance when places MJ or his aunt in danger, so that he can rescue someone else's baby.

It's true that people benefit from valuing humanity and the anonymous good, but the rest of what you say is contrary to Objectivism. Wouldn't you charge money? Even in addition to the photos, an egoist would get money where he could. We're talking about the prevention of at least tens of millions of dollars in damage by super villains. You're career does not make you a slave to the citizens of New York.

Red Adair charged.

Red Adair

Edit: PS: Incidentally, maybe there could be a hotline that is $200 a call, but connects you with private fire and ambulance companies... and Spiderman. Instead of having someone be a slave.

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He isn't a slave, because he does it of his own choosing. Objectivism doesn't rule out charity. I went to a speech by Andrew Bernstein, where he mentioned something about some impoverished girl that he adopted from a third-world country. I don't imagine he's reaping any financial benefits by doing that.

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Have you ever read ATLAS SHRUGGED and/or THE FOUNTAINHEAD? :)

I've read AS. I understand that it's wrong to "sell suicide as an act of virtue," but if you choose to be self-sacrificial, I have a hard time understanding why that is evil, so long as you don't try to force others to sacrifice themselves as well. If you want to sacrifice yourself, are you not doing it because you "want" to? Seems to me that self-sacrifice is a value to the person who chooses to do it. I'm not saying it's a good idea, and I'm certainly not saying it's a value that I hold. I just can't understand why it's considered evil for people like Mother Theresa who choose it for themselves.

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I've read AS.  I understand that it's wrong to "sell suicide as an act of virtue," but if you choose to be self-sacrificial, I have a hard time understanding why that is evil, so long as you don't try to force others to sacrifice themselves as well.  If you want to sacrifice yourself, are you not doing it because you "want" to?  Seems to me that self-sacrifice is a value to the person who chooses to do it.  I'm not saying it's a good idea, and I'm certainly not saying it's a value that I hold.  I just can't understand why it's considered evil for people like Mother Theresa who choose it for themselves.

I noticed two issues in your last two posts: psychological egoism

I've never understood why altruism is considered "evil." I mean, I don't necessarily think it's logical, but if you want to be an altruist, I see no reason why I should be able to call you evil for doing so. After all, there is really no such thing as altruism.
Meaning here, I believe, that altruism doesn't really exist because the person who is doing the self sacrificing wants to do it. So everybody really is acting for there own ends and everyone is really selfish.

And you have a social view of ethics encapsulated in this sentence.

I understand that it's wrong to "sell suicide as an act of virtue," but if you choose to be self-sacrificial, I have a hard time understanding why that is evil, so long as you don't try to force others to sacrifice themselves as well.

Since all you gleamed from AS is the libertarian maxim "Thou shall not force others", I would suggest that you reread AS, particularily Galt's speech. By your logic, morality would be useless on a desert island alone, whereas Objectivism would hold that is precisely where he would need it the most.

If you want to sacrifice yourself, are you not doing it because you "want" to?  Seems to me that self-sacrifice is a value to the person who chooses to do it.

To answer your question: No. And your question is loaded and begged. "If you want to sacrifice yourself, are you not doing it because you "want" to?" This is the assumption of psychological egoism again. So fully ingrained apparently I would think you did not even notice you set up your sentence that way.

I think you are entirely confused as to what self-sacrifice means, and it is this psychological egoism idea that you have that is getting in the way. By your method there is no way to discern any differences in behaviour.

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To answer your question: No. And your question is loaded and begged. "If you want to sacrifice yourself, are you not doing it because you "want" to?" This is the assumption of psychological egoism again. So fully ingrained apparently I would think you did not even notice you set up your sentence that way.

I think you are entirely confused as to what self-sacrifice means, and it is this psychological egoism idea that you have that is getting in the way. By your method there is no way to discern any differences in behaviour.

Thoyd, could you expound more on this. I too have been confronted with the argument of psychological egoism (although I did not know it by that name), mostly from libertarian types. Could you give the argument against it. My own understanding is a little muddled.

Thanks.

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Thoyd, could you expound more on this. I too have been confronted with the argument of psychological egoism (although I did not know it by that name), mostly from libertarian types. Could you give the argument against it. My own understanding is a little muddled.

Thanks.

I am way too out of practice in ethics to tackle that in the time that I have available to me.

You won't be in want of material if you just google the term psychological egoism. I will say that the argument amounts to "men act for what they want because they want it". Meaning, it explains nothing, and totally obfuscates the difference between selfishness and unselfnishness, it even makes the term egoism void (because it is really a form of determinism), and really seperates man from action, or man from reason.

And, like all forms of determinsim it nullifies the concepts that make ethics possible.

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I've read AS.  I understand that it's wrong to "sell suicide as an act of virtue," but if you choose to be self-sacrificial, I have a hard time understanding why that is evil, so long as you don't try to force others to sacrifice themselves as well.  If you want to sacrifice yourself, are you not doing it because you "want" to?  Seems to me that self-sacrifice is a value to the person who chooses to do it.  I'm not saying it's a good idea, and I'm certainly not saying it's a value that I hold.  I just can't understand why it's considered evil for people like Mother Theresa who choose it for themselves.

If a person chooses to live, then acting altruistically i.e. placing others above self is not promoting his life, it is demoting it. That is why altruism is immoral therefore evil.

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"Isn't Everyone Selfish?" by Nethaniel Branden in The Virtue of Selfishness offers a multi-page critique on "psychological egoism."

Those who think every act one chooses to do is selfish equate whim with rationality, and logically have to evade the primacy of existence--since whatever enjoyable whim one does supposably benefits them.

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... Objectivism doesn't rule out charity.  I went to a speech by Andrew Bernstein, where he mentioned something about some impoverished girl that he adopted from a third-world country.  I don't imagine he's reaping any financial benefits by doing that.

Whoa! If you are even beginning to suggest that Dr. Bernstein adopted a child as an act of charity, please at least provide us a quote from him that indicates this.

If you are suggesting that while the adoption may not be an act of charity, the choice of a "third-world" child indicates a charitable aspect, then too you are probably wrong.

Some people adopt from outside the US for charitable reasons, but many do it because it is more practical.

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He isn't a slave, because he does it of his own choosing.  Objectivism doesn't rule out charity.  I went to a speech by Andrew Bernstein, where he mentioned something about some impoverished girl that he adopted from a third-world country.  I don't imagine he's reaping any financial benefits by doing that.

No, being Spiderman is pretty much a career. A highly inconvenient one at that. Peter Parker can do what he wants, first and foremost. He can choose to be an alcoholic. He can choose to devote his life to Calcutta. He is allowed to be immoral. If he doesn't charge money for saving the city, in addition to making money off the photos, that is still immoral. And yes, he is choosing to be a slave.

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This probably discussion probably belongs in a separate thread. Keep in mind that I'm not trying to argue against Objectivism here...I'm trying to understand it, because there are parts that I don't really understand. This is one of the parts that I have a hard time agreeing with.

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Whoa! If you are even beginning to suggest that Dr. Bernstein adopted a child as an act of charity, please at least  provide us a quote from him that indicates this.

If you are suggesting that while the adoption may not be an act of charity, the choice of a "third-world" child indicates a charitable aspect, then too you are probably wrong.

Some people adopt from outside the US for charitable reasons, but many do it because it is more practical.

What other reason is there to do it? I've never seen an Objectivist quote that rules out charity. And I don't have a quote, b/c it was in a speech that I heard and I don't have the script. If I'm ever rich, you can bet your life that I'll donate money to charities...mostly to cancer research and such, but I might also be inclined to help out some poor people, provided that they are honestly trying to better themselves. I see nothing wrong with this. If I, personally, place a value on other human beings, why is it immoral to help them out?

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What other reason is there to do it?  I've never seen an Objectivist quote that rules out charity.  And I don't have a quote, b/c it was in a speech that I heard and I don't have the script.  If I'm ever rich, you can bet your life that I'll donate money to charities...mostly to cancer research and such, but I might also be inclined to help out some poor people, provided that they are honestly trying to better themselves.  I see nothing wrong with this.  If I, personally, place a value on other human beings, why is it immoral to help them out?

There is nothing wrong with charity per se -- it is an act of justice and benevolence for and towards someone of value. What people here have been objecting to is your general view of sacrifice and selfishness. In particular, you wrote:

I've read AS. I understand that it's wrong to "sell suicide as an act of virtue," but if you choose to be self-sacrificial, I have a hard time understanding why that is evil, so long as you don't try to force others to sacrifice themselves as well. If you want to sacrifice yourself, are you not doing it because you "want" to? Seems to me that self-sacrifice is a value to the person who chooses to do it. I'm not saying it's a good idea, and I'm certainly not saying it's a value that I hold. I just can't understand why it's considered evil for people like Mother Theresa who choose it for themselves.

To sacrifice is to give up a greater value for a lesser one, and such an act is irrational and immoral. Our hierarchy of values is partly a guide for our actions; a seemingly extreme case being that it would be immoral to choose to save the life of a stranger at the expense of the life of a loved one. While such an act might seem extreme, in principle it is the same as sacrificing any of our values for a lesser one.

But, the key here seems to be -- what I think you are missing -- is that our hierarchy of values is not based on choosing values by arbirtrary whim or feelings, but by rational consideration of that which furthers our life. This is done by objective means -- by reference to our nature and the nature of reality -- not because someone feels that way. To act selfishly is to act in accord with the values you have chosen as a rational human being, and no amount of wishing so will change the facts of reality; the altruism of self-sacrifice is a hideous attempt to change objective facts, to reverse the requirements of life as man and replace it with death. And, practiced consistently, death is exactly where self-sacrifice leads.

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Fair enough...I agree that it is immoral to save a stranger, while sacrificing a loved one.  Having said that, is it immoral for me to sacrifice my life in order to save the life of a loved one?

I think that you are confused about the definition of "sacrifice". As Stephen just said in the post before yours,

To sacrifice is to give up a greater value for a lesser one

If you value someone else's life so much that you are willing to give up your own in order to save theirs it is NOT a sacrifice. It is only a sacrifice if you don't value someone's life enough that you are willing to risk your own, but still do it.

Ayn Rand wrote an essay on this exact topic. I cannot remember the name of it off the top of my head, but I believe its in The Virtue of Selfishness.

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I've read that book, but it's been a while. So, why can this not apply to strangers? I'm sure there are people out there (Spiderman, for instance) who put such a high value on all human beings, that they are willing to give up a certain kind of life, in order to protect them.

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I've read that book, but it's been a while.  So, why can this not apply to strangers?  I'm sure there are people out there (Spiderman, for instance) who put such a high value on all human beings, that they are willing to give up a certain kind of life, in order to protect them.

How could you possibly value the life of stranger that much? You don't know anything about them, they could be the most worthless person on Earth.

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Zoso, I would suggest you reread The Virtue of Selfishness, especailly "The Ethics of Emergencies" and Nathaniel Branden's "Isn't Everybody Selfish?"

To quote from Ayn Rand in "The Ethics of Emergencies:"

The proper method of judging when or whether one should help another person is by reference to one's own rational self-interest and one's own hierarchy of values: the time, money or effort one gives or the risk one takes should be proportinate to the value of the person in relation to one's own happiness.

To illustrate this on the altruists' favorite example: the issue of saving a drowning person. If the person to be saved is a stranger, it is morally proper to save him only when the danger to one's own life is minimal; when the danger is great, it would be immoral to attempt it: only a lack of self-esteem could permit one to value one's life no higher than that of any random stranger. (And conversely, if one is drowning, one cannot expect a stranger to risk his life for one's sake, remembering that one's life cannot be a valuable to him as his own.)

Of course, one could resort to figures such as Ian Flemming's character, James Bond. Ayn Rand herself highly admired James Bond and her thoughts on the first two Bond films can be found in The Romantic Manifesto. Bond could be said to rescue people who are near or total strangers. However, a proper reading of Bond reveals his true fight: against all threats which could destroy England. His home country was a high value for him. Therefore, he frequently risked his own life to save his country.

Also, one could say that Bond's actions in saving England are very selfish in that many of his friends and family are there. In the book Moonraker, Bond risks his own life to keep German agents from detonating an atomic bomb over London. Bond's first thought was not for the thousands of strangers he saved, but for his friends, such as M, and his country which, if destroyed, would destroy one of his highest values.

The same could be applied to Spiderman, although I agree with one of the above comments: the movie is not philisophically consistant in that it preaches altruism but shows selfishness.

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Fair enough...I agree that it is immoral to save a stranger, while sacrificing a loved one.

But do you understand the reason why? It is not simply a matter of feeling that way. It is immoral to give up a higher value for a lower one -- such an act would reverse the meaning and significance of "value" to a human being -- and that is the essence of sacrifice.

Having said that, is it immoral for me to sacrifice my life in order to save the life of a loved one?

If the value that you place on your loved one is so great that you could not live without her, then such an act would not be a sacrifice.

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