T Nation

Ayn Rand, Altruism


What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes it impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice-?which means: self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction?-which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.

Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: "No." Altruism says: "Yes.

I am glad I found this, because HH version of Ayn Rand´s teachings had me confused.


I take it to mean that we act out of moral obligation help others because we can not because ethics demands it.

If one thinks logically about it, charity, for example, can only happen because people first act in their own best interest to save and delay gratification so that they can produce the wealth necessary to provide to charity. Charity is only made possible by people choosing to directly serve others with those things they demand -- i.e, wealth creation.


It's easy to strike something down when you define it however you wish.

"Right to exist" ... lol.

Altruism is the tenet that the moral choice is the one that brings about the greatest good/utility/happiness to all except the actor.

Contrast with:

Egoism -- the tenant that the moral choice is that which brings the greatest utility to the actor.

Utilitarianism -- the tenant that the moral choice is the one that brings about the greatest good/utility/happiness to all including the actor.

As I understand it, proper libertarians reject all three of these and stick with Natural Law.


[The] social point of view cannot tolerate the notion of rights, for such notion rests on individualism. We are born under a load of obligations of every kind, to our predecessors, to our successors, to our contemporaries. After our birth these obligations increase or accumulate, for it is some time before we can return any service.... This ["to live for others"], the definitive formula of human morality, gives a direct sanction exclusively to our instincts of benevolence, the common source of happiness and duty. [Man must serve] Humanity, whose we are entirely."

August Comte

I think she described altruism pretty well, after all he coined the word "altruism"-


As it should be.


Ayn Rand is correct.


"The virtue of selfishness" proposes that the most self serving acts (those that benifit us the most) are the same acts which serve the greater good. "You reap what you sow" in other words.

Do as you wish at the cost of others and they shall do so in like fashion; it's basically the golden rule.


I doubt the "at the cost of others" part, because you would have a hard time doing that in a free market.

Otherwise I´d agree with that statement-


..those are a lot of words for saying: "I am not my brother's keeper"...


Why? What have I said that was confusing?

I am not in 100% agreement with Ms. Rand. I accept the existence of subjective knowledge, such as in God speaking to you, but philosophically this is only something I can know. I believe in God (contra Rand) though not in the Christian conception. I suppose I'm some sort of deist.

While Rand did not like Nietzsche, I like a lot of what he says --- the true Superman (Ubermensch) creates his OWN moral code and it is his alone. His egoism goes beyond Rand's, IMO, and I agree with it.


Comte was an altruistic occultist who learned the principals behind his definition in various initiate religions and groups teaching "mystery" religions thousands of years old.

His idea is that all parts of existence are in some way shape or form connected to and affected by all other pieces of existence. This is believed to be on more of an energy or spiritual level than anything else.

This isn't to be confused with modern day new age tree huggers. They may have read some books from the local "enlightened store" on eastern philosophy but largely have jumbled multiple ideas up in to poorly understood hippie garbage.

Anyways, the idea that all men support all men is believed on a deeper level than socialism, charity or what have you.

It is the idea that the life force, soul or what ever you want to call it, in every being, is contingent in some way to every other being.

Like a cell kind of. In one cell, "the world", you have mitochondria, lysosomes, ribosomes, golgi etc, and a nucleus that makes it all work.

Supposedly we are all the various parts of the cell. We are born with a specific function to the cell, much like each part of an actual cell carrying out a specific purpose.

The nucleus is God, every culture has it's own definition for God but recognizes the existence of a powerful deity orchestrating and administering the law that binds all of the cell's functions together to make a living, working organism.

Altruism means you are in some way, recognizeable or not, responsible for everyone else in your cell and vice versa.

People extrapolate this belief and form social and political philosophies off of it but that form of charity isn't true altruism and you can't really compare Ayn Rand's economic ideology to literal altruism.

Then you have analogies comparative to physics, stealing electrons, uniting various atoms to create new matter etc. "Ritual Magick" is another topic Comte studied.


Ritual Magick is also largely misrepresented, instead of being butchered and misinterpreted by hippie, feel good, save the whale types, Ritual Magick is given a bad name by reject teenagers with fake vampire teeth and a mind full of "HATE!!!!"

Think more along the lines of Comte, Alastair Crowley, Neville Chamberline, Winston Churchill, Nostradomus etc.


You can't compare or contrast mystical belief and practice to social, economic and political philosophy.


There can be only one...


Her version has no problems with charity whatsoever, you can be as unselfish as you wish.

It is only when someone expects you to make sacrifices for him that she starts to have a problem with it.

You often treat both as one and the same and yet adopted a Chinese girl.

Does not really compute for me.


If I am living only for myself, why do I have to respect the rights of others? What if living for myself entails conquering and enslaving everyone else?


You'll have to free them first...


Rand distinguishes between benevolence and altruism, which modern day altruists (like Obama) do not. Taxing Joe the Plumber to give his earnings to someone else against his will is altruism. Asking him and him agreeing to donate a portion of his earnings is benevolence.

I adopted my daughter because God spoke to me and told me to do exactly that. Such experiences are subjective and non-falsifiable, so I would never expect anyone to believe me, which is fine.


This is similar to Kant's Categorical Imperative, which Rand adopts in part. If you harm another rational being, you are announcing that it is okay to harm you. Logically, we return to a state of nature. This means that you may also be attacked and so on. Rand assumes that rational beings don't want to live in anarchy like that, a kill-or-be-killed environment.

Her basic premise is: All relationships between human beings must be voluntary on all sides. Anyone violating this principle is a criminal and is dealt with accordingly.


Well, if you want to discuss it that way, pure egoism may lead to the enslavement of others, pure altruism must lead to the enslavement of others.


I do not think so. If you wind up enslaving others in your quest to achieve the greatest good/utility/happiness for everyone else, you have failed. You need a way of evaluating moral outcomes, and if respect for natural rights does not enter into this evaluation, then yes, you will wind up enslaving everyone else.

This can be avoided by assign sufficient value to respect for natural rights.

OK, so you want to preach egoism on the condition that natural rights are respected. My question for then, is how do you feel about altruism on the condition that it is applied with a respect for natural rights.


From the BBC Radio 4 In Our Time: Altruism:

The term altruism was coined by the 19th century sociologist Auguste Comte and is derived from the Latin ?alteri? or "the others?. It describes an unselfish attention to the needs of others. Comte declared that man had a moral duty to ?serve humanity, whose we are entirely.?

The idea of altruism is central to the main religions: Jesus declared ?you shall love your neighbour as yourself? and Mohammed said ?none of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself?. Buddhism too advocates ?seeking for others the happiness one desires for oneself.?

How does anyone with religious views claim that altruism is wrong? What is the definition of altruism that is being used?