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Was Auguste Comte the real nemesis or antagonist of Ayn Rand?

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  • "Altruism" is a term that was coined or popularized by the philosopher and scientist August Comte in 1830.
  • Before 1830, "altruism" did not exist, at least not as a word, and perhaps not even as a concept.
  • "Altruism" has never been a word or concept that has been widely used in Marxism, Communism, or Christianity. 
  • Yet, "altruism" is the word and the concept that Ayn Rand chose for use in the philosopical system to describe the key vice or the key philosophical error. 
  • To me, it is noteworthy that August Comte strongly asserted, in his philosophy called Positivism, that each human being is ethically obligated to live 100% according to altruism. He did not believe it was correct for a person to try to find a healthy balance between altruism and seflishness.
  • Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism asserts the mirror image of Comte's philosophy: She says that each human being is ethically obligated to live 100% according to selfishness. She did not believe it was correct for a person to try to find a healthy balance between altruism and seflishness.
  • By contrast, Marx and Lenin never taught that people must be 100% altruistic and live always and only for others. 
  • Aristotle taught people to find the "golden mean" between miserliness and prodigality. 
  • The ancient Greek temple of Apollo at Delphi had the inscription "Moderation in all things." (or "Nothing in excess")
  • Classical Christianity also taught that most Christians living in the world need to find a workable, practical balance between unselfishness and self-serving acts. (Monks and nuns were held to a much higher and stricter standard of unselfishness called "The Evangeical Counsels"). 
  • So, it seems that, in the history of Western philosophy and religion, ONLY August Comte and Ayn Rand proposed, as an ethical ideal, either pure, unadulterated Altruism or pure, unadulterated Selfishness. 
  • One scholar has written that Comte's philosophy of Positivism, though mainly forgotten now, "was even more influential in Victorian England than the theories of Charles Darwin or Karl Marx."
  • And so I wonder if, in some sense, Auguste Comte the real philosophical nemesis or antagonist of Ayn Rand? Was she mainly writing against the philosophy of August Comte? (And thus Marxism, Leninism, Communism, Christianity, New Deal-ism, etc., were not the real or essential villians in her system.)
Edited by The Laws of Biology
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Principles are contextual absolutes. To give an example:

1. A judge strives to give correct sentences 100% of the time.

2. A second judge gives correct sentences, except when some mafia guy requests otherwise.

For the first judge, the guiding principle is justice (hence the attempt at 100% correctness), for the second judge it's serving his boss (hence the division between corrupt and correct sentences).

This is why morality is black and white. There is no golden means, such as cutting people's heads in moderation. 

You can convert this example in ethical terms:

1. A person who seeks his self interest, which can extend to caring for loved ones or even random strangers that might request help on the street.

2. A person who eats, sleeps and thinks for the sole purpose of keeping himself alive to serve the goals of others.

The second principle is impossible to apply, and nobody would voluntarily choose it, ever. 

Now, we all know that kind of person who is perfectly capable of spending wisely, saving money, being productive, not getting into bar fights and so on, yet always brings up the 'I can't help it!' line.

There are also people that are very insecure about their abilities, even if their insecurity is just an over-reaction and they can do fine with some encouragement and time.

The correct thing to do is to provide opportunities for honest people, and to tell the 'I can't help it' guys to solve their own life. That is, if you want a country with a high-quality of life, and not a Venezuela.

The altruist doctrine doesn't need to be introduced in full undilluted form for it to be deadly. Nothing will justify moderate genocide, moderate corruption, moderate destriction of our best minds. The moment you go moderate, the good loses, period.

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LB,

The idea that courage is a middle way between cowardice and foolishness implies that they are one single thing, in various gradations.

But cowardice is not a mild form of courage. Only a mild form of courage is a mild form of courage.

This error, to my knowledge, did not lead the greeks to believe that murder was a less extreme version of letting someone live.

While the golden mean didn't affect much, Aristotle's virtue ethics did lack something crucial, which was the 'why'.

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1 hour ago, KyaryPamyu said:

While the golden mean didn't affect much, Aristotle's virtue ethics did lack something crucial, which was the 'why'.

His golden mean is just to demonstrate a behavioral extreme on a spectrum of behaviors, where there might be something desirable in the extremities, but going there is missing the mark. Not extreme as in "more intense or radical", but the outermost opposites. But before discussing any of that, he pretty clearly points out that the whole reason any of his virtues are virtues, is that they serve the way humans live in a complete sense. I also used to think the 'why' was missing, but once I studied it more, the golden mean looked more like a way to keep in mind where virtue can go wrong.

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  • This thread has, for me at least, brought to light and to focus one profound difference between the philosophical system of Ayn Rand and the philosophical system of Aristotle.
  • As can readily be seen on the wonderful Ayn Rand Lexicon website, Ayn Rand expressed much admiration for Aristotle's system. But she also stated her view that Aristotle made some mistakes in philosophy. 
  • I find that one way to increase my understanding of what is a philosophical system really is and what it really does is to strongly focus on the system's points of strong conflict with other philosophical systems that have are considered valuable and respectable by many people (or at least by noteworthy people). 
  • In this vein, Ayn Rand's selection of August Comte's 1830 coined term "altruism" seems very important.
  • One hardly ever sees anyone writing about Comte or hears anyone talking about Comte. The world is full of comments on Marx. But hardly anyone every mentions Comte.
  • Yet, as I look into Comte's thought, and into the history of the influence of this thought, I see that Comte is a signficant figure.
  • I think the thought of Comte may indeed shed much light on Ayn Rand's Objectivism. 
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13 hours ago, The Laws of Biology said:

One hardly ever sees anyone writing about Comte or hears anyone talking about Comte. The world is full of comments on Marx. But hardly anyone every mentions Comte.

Comte is one of those dead white men no one has ever heard of but we are all enslaved by their philosophies.   Comte chronologically comes in between Kant and Marx, and may be somewhat of a conduit linking the two systems.   I'm speculating, I read a minimum of that kind of scholarly "who influenced whom?" history.

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11 hours ago, Grames said:

Comte chronologically comes in between Kant and Marx, and may be somewhat of a conduit linking the two systems.

  • Yes. Though "altruism" is not a term or concept used by Karl Marx or the classical Marxist-Leninists, it may be the case that Ayn Rand was very astute and wise in perceiving that Comte's conception of "altruism" was operative and dominant with the traditions of Socialism, Marxism, Communism, Christianity, Humanism, Fascism, and Progressive Liberalism. 
  • Today's Marxists might object that Ayn Rand is attacking a "straw man," since they (today's Marxists) don't use the terminology or concept of Comte's "altruism."
  • But the beauty of philosophical, psychological, and scientic analysis is that it can accumulate data, logically develop workable hypotheses to optimally explain that data, and thereby penetrate below the level of what other parties express verbally or think consciously. 
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