T Nation

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

A Question about Altruism

“He coined the word “altruism” to refer to what he believed to be a moral obligation of individuals to serve others and place their interests above one’s own. He opposed the idea of individual rights, maintaining that they were not consistent with this supposed ethical obligation (Catechisme Positiviste).”

Wiki

HeadHunter often blames society’s ills on “altruism”. That never seemed to make sense to me so I looked up the word’s origens and was very surprised to see its roots. I never thought of altruism as an obligation at the expense of individual rights.

I suppose it asks the old question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Are you your brother’s keeper?

HH,

Care to share your thoughts?

Altruism is excepted vernacular for selfless actions that benefit someone who is less fortunate than you. Nothing to do with a moral obligation, at least not in the way it is usually used today.

People would call Mother Theresa altruistic, not because they believe she was OBLIGATED to help people, but because she was NOT obligated too, but did so regardless.

I doubt you’ll find many people on T-Nation who think that particular definition of altruism applies universally.

Most of our actions have external consequences. Some very minor, some major. Many out of proportion to what we think they are/should be.

Altruism is an extreme, but I think society as a whole benefits when individuals consider the impact of their actions and at times act in a way that may benefit the whole over themselves.

Yes.

Altruism does not exist. How does a benefactor know what the interests of the person being helped are?

To act voluntarily means to seek an outcome that is valued by the actor more than what would have resulted in no action at all. This statement which is taken as a prior truth contradicts the definition of altruism.

For example, a marine jumps on a grenade to save his platoon-mates because he values the life of his platoon-mates over his own; or a wealthy person gives $100 to a poor person because he values the act of charity greater than $100. Altruism is a self-contradictory definition. At best it can only be called charity – to act without expectation of an exchange.

In a moral society it is not altruism (or charity, for that matter) that is important but rather the golden rule.

I am my father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate’s keeper.

[quote]LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
Altruism does not exist. How does a benefactor know what the interests of the person being helped are?

To act voluntarily means to seek an outcome that is valued by the actor more than what would have resulted in no action at all. This statement which is taken as a prior truth contradicts the definition of altruism.

For example, a marine jumps on a grenade to save his platoon-mates because he values the life of his platoon-mates over his own; or a wealthy person gives $100 to a poor person because he values the act of charity greater than $100. Altruism is a self-contradictory definition. At best it can only be called charity – to act without expectation of an exchange.

In a moral society it is not altruism (or charity, for that matter) that is important but rather the golden rule.[/quote]

you remind me of myself when i had just finished my first year in college, after taking philosophy 100, sociology 100 and religion and world values 101.

I agree with Ayn Rand in that I am not my brothers keeper; my brother is my brothers keeper. If an individual is capable of making his/her own decisions and taking care of themselves; which is to say that they aren’t mentally retarded or incapacitated in some form or another, then they should concern themselves with only taking care of themselves.

Communism and socialism are both examples of altruism, and they both suck. Why?, because in the “interests of others”, everybody is forced into the chains of the state and are made into defacto slaves. All for the benefit of others. Fuck that. Altruism has been the justification for every dictatorship thus far.

So no, I am not my brothers keeper.

Everything must be taken in context. To truly be selfish, you have to know what your ‘self’ is. An action is defined as selfish if it is in the best interest of your ‘self’. So, before anyone can decide whether being altruistic or selfish is good, we ask: What is the self?

Aristotle answered by saying that Man is the rational animal, the animal that thinks using concepts. Whatever maintains or enhances my life as a rational being is then called ‘the Good’. If an action detracts from my life as a rational being, this is ‘the Evil’. This is Aristotle’s view, with which I agree. (Contrast this with existentialists like Sartre.)

Now, if someone uses force or violence against me, they are not appealing to my reason. They de-humanize me (and themselves) and try to force me to do something that I may not VOLUNTARILY do. They want to stop my thinking. I contend that that is evil (see paragraph above).

It is exactly this principle that our government has enacted. What if I don’t want to help Katrina victims? What if I don’t want to fund the war in Iraq? What if I don’t want to bail out Citicorp or Morgan? I will be forced to be ‘my brothers’ keeper’. Since Altruism is the moral code they’ve adopted and I’m not altruistic, they feel it perfectly moral to force me to be moral in their eyes, i.e. Altruistic.

I contend that such a policy is unnatural and can only lead to a tyranny. Only a tyranny has the power to force compliance. Something like the world of ‘1984’ is in our future, as long as we believe that altruism (and the violence that must accompany it) is our credo.

Good thread, btw!!!

[quote]Headhunter wrote:

I contend that such a policy is unnatural and can only lead to a tyranny. Only a tyranny has the power to force compliance. Something like the world of ‘1984’ is in our future, as long as we believe that altruism (and the violence that must accompany it) is our credo.

[/quote]

THISx1000

Being forced into helping others through taxes also results in a backlash of contempt from those that might have otherwise given voluntarily. Thus making those who receive the benefit of that help that much more dependant upon the government.

It’s actually an awesome system, if you are interested in keeping victims and potential benefactors from ever seeing eye to eye, thus maintaining the necessity of the government to intervene. Class war is a very useful tool in a dictatorship.

[quote]rugbyhit wrote:
you remind me of myself when i had just finished my first year in college, after taking philosophy 100, sociology 100 and religion and world values 101. [/quote]

Then you must have been a really advanced college student. All I learned my first year was how to open an import beer without a bottle opener and my SSN.

[quote]Sloth wrote:
I am my father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate’s keeper.[/quote]

Really Dark Helmet?

[quote]LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
rugbyhit wrote:
you remind me of myself when i had just finished my first year in college, after taking philosophy 100, sociology 100 and religion and world values 101.

Then you must have been a really advanced college student. All I learned my first year was how to open an import beer without a bottle opener and my SSN.[/quote]

LOL, First year i did learn how to do my first funnel…and believe it or not, it was from my philosophy prof. He seemed cool at the time, but looking back…what a messed up guy.

[quote]LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
Altruism does not exist.[/quote]

Ah. All behavior is motivated by selfish interests?

This claim guards itself against refutation. I could bring forth any number of seemingly selfless acts and you would find a way to say that they were actually selfish. As such, this is not a claim based on observation of human nature. It’s just a cute way to redefine things.

Any theory must be susceptible to falsification. If it isn’t, than it is unscientific and meaningless. What human action could you possibly witness, no matter how apparently selfless, that would possibly falsify such a claim?

Are any of you guys that answer no Christian?

[quote]Sloth wrote:
I am my father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate’s keeper.[/quote]

Funny. :wink: Is that just humor or did you also want to make the point that metaphorically speaking everyone is your brother? As in the fellowship of man.

[quote]Gael wrote:
All behavior is motivated by selfish interests?
[/quote]
No. The negation of altruism does not imply selfishness. All men act with purpose to remove some felt uneasiness. Altruism is a contradiction against how acting man really behaves.

[quote]
Any theory must be susceptible to falsification. If it isn’t, than it is unscientific and meaningless. What human action could you possibly witness, no matter how apparently selfless, that would possibly falsify such a claim?[/quote]

Precisely the point. Morality is not scientific theory. It is based in a priori, synthetic truth. It requires no observation. Man acts. Any valuation of those actions cannot be considered scientific by definition.

Only scientific theory need be susceptible to falsification.

[quote]rugbyhit wrote:
LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
rugbyhit wrote:
you remind me of myself when i had just finished my first year in college, after taking philosophy 100, sociology 100 and religion and world values 101.

Then you must have been a really advanced college student. All I learned my first year was how to open an import beer without a bottle opener and my SSN.

LOL, First year i did learn how to do my first funnel…and believe it or not, it was from my philosophy prof. He seemed cool at the time, but looking back…what a messed up guy.[/quote]

Where are all these college parties at? I have yet to attend one…

[quote]skaz05 wrote:

Where are all these college parties at? I have yet to attend one…[/quote]

Shit, I thought it was at your house tonight. uhhhhh…just ignore all those people in your yard. I’ll make a few calls and take care of it.

No to alturism. Not that it’s wrong to help others but it’s certainly not a responsibility. Your responsibility is to take care of yourself so you don’t become a burden on others.