Wikipedia 10K Redux by Reagle from Starling archive. Bugs abound!!!

<-- Previous | Newer --> | Current: 980675828 TimShell at Sun, 28 Jan 2001 09:57:08 +0000.


Altruism.  Altruism doesn't really exist.  Even if you are doing something that is helpful or charitable for others, you will still reap the good of that action.  The idea that one should do things for altruistic purposes is wrong and can lead to the downfall of society, as Ayn Rand wrote about in AtlasShrugged.  
If one portrays that they are doing something completely for others benefit and has no self interest, that is when you should question thier motives.  Why do they wish to appear so benevolent?  When one does for other people at least there are good feelings that arise and right there, the theory of altruism is defunct or never existed.
The foregoing view is known as ''PsychologicalEgoism'' and is widely dismissed by philosophers, for reasons that somebody ought to explain. 

''There's not a lot to explain; there is plain and simple empirical evidence of people doing altruistic acts.  People sometimes do generous things even if it makes them unhappy.  Of course you could say this is to get one's conscience to leave you alone, but since a conscience is darn close to an AltruismInstinct, that's pretty weak.''

''People evolved to have empathy towards others and do altruistic things because that's good for everybody in general, though not always in specifics.  Whether altruism makes any sense, of course, is a different matter, though I wouldn't personally say it doesn't.''
When you say '''widely dismissed''', do you have anything to actually back that up?  What philosophers have dismissed this idea?  I would like to know how you can substantiate your criticism.
You can find it dismissed in any of many dozens of general philosophy textbooks as well as books about ethics.  Here is just [ one example].  It is hackneyed, among professional philosophers, to say that PsychologicalEgoism is untenable.  By the way, in saying that it has been dismissed, I don't pretend to be making a ''criticism''--just pointing out a fact.  
Actually, I was asking that someone else take the time to make the ''criticism'' plain.

By the way, you might not know that AynRand herself rejected PsychologicalEgoism very firmly, as a matter of fact.  (Not that that's an argument!)

Also, I'd say that this discussion should probably be removed to the PsychologicalEgoism page, because it presents that view, rather than discussing altruism itself.  That's just my opinion, I'll leave it up to you. -- LarrySanger
Whether one might or might not be motivated by altruism may be dependent on how well one takes into account the "big picture." The "big picture" tends to include consciousness of factors which interconnect the survival potential of all people and ultimately all living things, which further depend for their survival on the health of the planet as a whole. So- if one is able to envision himself as dependent on the survival of the race in general, man as dependent on the success of other life forms, and life forms in general as dependent on the health of the planet, then, at least within the limited sphere of the earth, one's self-interest will always be served by doing things which appear on their face to be altrustic when in fact, one would be foregoing a smaller advantage in order to sieze a larger one.  If one is '''unable''' to grasp this and yet practices altruism, then arguably he/she is wishing to appear "noble" by doing self-abnegatory things for the supposed benefit of others.
How about this for a definition of altruism?  I think it needs some revision, but perhaps it is a useful start.

The view that one ought to be motivated solely or primarily by the interests of others rather than the interests of oneself.
Altruism is then viewed as a conclusion, rather than a foundation or argument -- presumably some meta-ethical argument would be needed in order to explain why we ought to be altruistic. --JimboWales