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Leggo my Egoism

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Stephanos
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0 posted 09-07-2003 06:15 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

I was reading about Ayn Rand's philosophy called objectivism ... in particular about her view on ethics.  Basically her explanation of ethics is what she calls rational self interest.  This was not entirely original, since "egoism", as a philosophical view of ethics, came before Rand.

But while reading, I saw some potential problems.


Here is a quote from the Ayn Rand website to explain what "rational self interest" means:

"Man — every man — is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self-interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.” Thus Objectivism rejects any form of altruism — the claim that morality consists in living for others or for society."

And another quote about social morality:

"The basic social principle of the Objectivist ethics is that no man has the right to seek values from others by means of physical force — i.e., no man or group has the right to initiate the use of physical force against others. Men have the right to use force only in self-defense and only against those who initiate its use."


The question I have is, if we take the first statement to be true, about self-interest being supreme, how can we conclude the second statement about social morality to also be true?  If every man is an "end in himself", why should I consider seeking values from others by physical force to be unethical?  Especially if I can, as many do, justify it in my own mind as harmonious with self interest?  


This is where egoism seems to me most dubious ... when certain moral principles are taught as obligatory, while at the same time the achievement of self-happiness is taught to be the highest moral goal.  From within this paradigm, what can be said persuasively to those who will agree enough that self-interest is King, but will deny any moral imperatives concerning their behavior toward others?


It seems to me that placing Self interest at the hub of every action might just be a fallacy, and a gross oversimplification of motive.  As David Hume put it, "The love of simplicity has been the source of much false reasoning in philosophy."


Stephen.  

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (09-07-2003 06:32 PM).]

Black_Knight
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1 posted 09-07-2003 11:25 PM       View Profile for Black_Knight   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Black_Knight

Ah, but there's the rub.  The first quote is on something that is taken as a 'natural law' kind of thing.  The second is an adopted principle, a principle social rule.

We adopt social rules as a form of Mutual Non-aggression Pact.  We each sacrifice a little of our freedoms to explore some self-interests in return for having protection from the negative (from our own perspective) self-interests of others with whom we have made pact.

All societies work on this principle, effectively.  Freedom is not an absolute.  For one person to be free to speak, another is no longer free to enjoy silence.

The question you have posed here is rather like saying, "Okay, the objective of war is to win, to use deadly and overwhelming force to attain goals, so why does the Geneva Convention exist, which limits the ability to win a war through methods that could cost far less lives?"
Local Rebel
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2 posted 09-08-2003 12:00 AM       View Profile for Local Rebel   Email Local Rebel   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Local Rebel

'We're all just cannibals -- who haven't eaten each other.  Yet.  Because, there's plenty of food.'

-- Dr. Will Miller
Stephanos
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3 posted 09-08-2003 02:13 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Black Knight: "The question you have posed here is rather like saying, "Okay, the objective of war is to win, to use deadly and overwhelming force to attain goals, so why does the Geneva Convention exist, which limits the ability to win a war through methods that could cost far less lives?""


That's a bit simplistic...  This whole question runs a bit deeper, peering into the actual motives of winning and attaining goals.  egoism would demand us think that every act of agression in history has been for totally selfish advantage with no admixture of principles or sense of duty.  And though a strong case might be made that most wars have been fought for selfish political ends, it would be less convincing to say that all were fought those reasons alone ... and even less convincing to say that no war could possibly be fought from a motive higher than selfish ambition.

The Geneva Convention is not a statement made merely to reduce the numbers of lost lives in our camps.  It also has to do with ethical treatment of prisoners of war, even dying prisoners of war.  So while self interest is involved, I do not consider the GC to be based totally upon self interest, but also upon ethical considerations ... in reaction to atrocities of war that have occured.    

Also you picked a tricky example ... it's hard for me indeed to make war look just.  As it is a hard thing to justify such a bloody means of accomplishing something.  Therefore, if I can't somehow convincingly show war to be just, it appears that I haven't addressed your question.  But that is a separate matter.  And the whole example is quite different, even diametrically opposite of the quotes of Ayn Rand.  


According to what I cited ... deadly force and weapons should NOT be used to obtain goals, unless they are defensive.  Your example actually makes my question more poignant by providing the contrast.  Why shouldn't deadly force and weapons be used, if self interest is the highest consideration?  There are nations who have used Militia in the name of self interest, trampled weaker powers, and have fared pretty well (according to their own judgements).


My point is, how can an incumbent social ethic be employed, when self interest is stated to be the only motive of action, and altruism or "living for society" is specifically rejected?  As a deviant, I could always argue that my own non-altruistic social policy is better geared toward my self interest, than that proposed by Rand ... and actually more in line with her teaching of what ethics are really about.  There are people in this world who devour the widows and orphans, trample the weak, and get rich walking up other's backs.  According to egoism, aren't they just acting from self interest, with the exact same motive as everyone else?


Is there anything in egoism which might provide compelling reasons for someone to behave altruisticly, other than trying to show that the results of socially reprehensible actions are less profitable to them?  And what if they simply disagree?  It seems that no one would have moral ground to say, "But it's less profitible to me!"  


Stephen.


      

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (09-08-2003 02:17 AM).]

Ron
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quote:
Especially if I can, as many do, justify it in my own mind as harmonious with self interest?

But would such justifications qualify as rational self-interest?

You'll actually find three different adjectives frequently used in Objectivism, and they're pretty much used interchangeably. There's rational self-interest, as in the passage you quoted. There's also enlightened self-interest, and much less frequently but I think more accurately, long-term self-interest. Whichever adjective you use, the initiation of force, physical or otherwise, is NEVER in one's best self-interest. The rational man, looking past the immediate moment, recognizes that harm to another inevitably returns full circle.

All who live by the sword, shall die by the sword. Truth is truth, Stephen, whether you find it in Mathew or in Atlas Shrugged.

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5 posted 09-08-2003 05:56 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

"But would such justifications qualify as rational self-interest?"


Ron,

I agree with you that truth is truth wherever it may be found.  And I also agree with objectivism when it says that we shouldn't be aggressors.  And I know that, generally speaking, whatever is sown will be reaped.  And to unleash ill will toward others will not be in one's self interest.  But this is not always evident ... and according to my worldview, much of it is not evident until the world to come.  Remember those ancient poems that mused on how the good perished, and the evil flourished?


But the ultimate outcome of behavior is always debatable.  If self interest is king, and altruism is presented as a falsity, then the dice are really thrown as to which method is most profitable.  Judging something rational or irrational, when self interest is arbiter, depends on how it all turns out.  If your campaign is successful in War, who is to say that this was not in your self interest?  In fact if it is only self we are concerned with, the only true concern should be that the spoils last for your lifetime.  As long as there is prosperity (even though it is bought with the blood of others) within your 80 years, why should you care?


A good example are those who agree that self interest is paramount, but deny social concern, or any "irrational" aspect to agression.  What about the "Will to Power" of Nietzsche?  The cruelest acts, in the egoist view, become mere wrong estimations, rather than willful, deplorable, immoral actions.  Should the Holocaust be placed on the same level as a man who simply miscounted his marbles?  I can pity such a man, but not despise his actions.


That's why egoism can only offer descriptive ethics in hindsight, not prescriptive ethics beforehand.  It all depends on the marbles left over.  


To me, a cruel act in this context is only irrational if there are other principles than self interest in the mix.  I guess I would lend more toward mutualism than either complete altruism or egoism, because granted, self is always somewhere in the equation.  It just doesn't have to always be the answer.


Stephen.

      

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (09-08-2003 05:59 PM).]

Stephanos
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6 posted 09-08-2003 06:05 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

How can "long term self interest" be applied beyond someone's lifetime?  "If I can make it work for me", I hear some say, "while I'm on this planet, why should I care for posterity"?

Is there any response from egoism for this?

I know there is a good response on your tongue, but it most likely doesn't come from the reductionism of egoism in my opinion.


Stephen.

Black_Knight
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7 posted 09-08-2003 09:44 PM       View Profile for Black_Knight   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Black_Knight

quote:
while self interest is involved, I do not consider the GC to be based totally upon self interest, but also upon ethical considerations ...


Ah, there is the key, Stephanos, for you are listing 'ethical considerations' as if outside of, or beyond, self interest, while the whole foundation of this philosophy is that there is nothing, nothing at all, that doesn't have self-interest at heart.

Its a cold view, but that is perhaps its appeal to some.

According to the hard-liners of this philosophy, ethics are primarily something we create to make us feel superior (there's the self interest).  Ego massage is very much 'self interest' according to Egoism.

Naturally I picked war as a tricky example.  It is one that is always hard to rationalise in any philosophy.  Even though Jesus preached that we should turn the other cheek, never did he speak against his father for the slaughter at Jericho...  That is hard for many to rationalise.

The true motives for war are never selfless or altruistic.  There is no altruism in killing other human beings with whom you have no direct grudge, and the soldiers of another country are rarely any part of the 'ethical differences' that wars are sometimes justified with.

I am only aware of one 'ethical' war in history, and it was waged by Mahatma Ghandi.  In pre-history, one can perhaps include the Christian Martyrs and their battle of sacrifice that eventually won them the Roman Empire.

The word of God is pretty clear: Thou shalt not kill.

There's really not much room for interpretation there.  There's no exception, no excuse, no small-print.  If we are to believe the Bible, it comes from the only set of things written directly by the hand of God, rather than by a human under his guidance.

If any christian kills, or aids in killing, or simply supports those who kill or will kill, then he really has a lot more ethical considerations to worry about already than whether or not self-interest is involved... no?

War is hard to rationalise in any philosophy.  Egoism is one of the few that does it almost right.  But to understand it, we have to understand our own motives and self-interest more deeply.  

The very fact that all rational men know they are mortal, and that while they cannot choose whether to die, they can choose how and when to risk it, and in what cause, certainly comes into play.
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8 posted 09-09-2003 12:32 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

"Ah, there is the key, Stephanos, for you are listing 'ethical considerations' as if outside of, or beyond, self interest, while the whole foundation of this philosophy is that there is nothing, nothing at all, that doesn't have self-interest at heart."

That's just restating what egoism says.  It is the reductionism of all human motives to selfishness that I find untenable.  


"According to the hard-liners of this philosophy, ethics are primarily something we create to make us feel superior (there's the self interest).  Ego massage is very much 'self interest' according to Egoism."


Again, this is restating the same assertion, not giving any reason to accept it.  If I am to believe this, then I must believe that actions which appear the most humble and self forgetful, are actually done to feel "superior".  So the humblest deeds are really the least humble of them all.  Quite a conundrum.  How have we got it backward all of this time?  Why do we continually refer to those who are inordinately selfish, as "those with big egos".  It must be those who appear the most altruistc who have the big "egos".  This seems counter-intuitive.


"The true motives for war are never selfless or altruistic."

I'm not convinced that a war could never be waged to protect a weaker, innocent  people who have become an object of unethical aggression.  I'm not saying that many have been fought with such motives.  But "never" is a strong word for you to use.


"War is hard to rationalise in any philosophy.  Egoism is one of the few that does it almost right."  


On War in general ... I'm not attempting to justify it.  You brought it up.  The problems I raise with egoism do not hinge on the ethics of war.  That might be a separate thread though.  (actually I think we've been over that a few times before in Philosophy).

Actually where I think egoism fails, is in attempting to offer a persuasive reason (from within it's own philsophical assertions) of why War cannot be aggressively used against someone else to achieve a personal goal.  If it's about self interest alone, then why not?  For example, objectivists teach War only in self defense ... and I think this is more harmonious with peace and truth than many other philosophies.  I just don't think egoism has any explanatory power to support this prescriptive ethical rule.  Do you think it does?  If so, explain.


" . . . we have to understand our own motives and self-interest more deeply."


I totally agree.  I just think there to be more motives than self interest alone.


Stephen    




[This message has been edited by Stephanos (09-09-2003 12:42 AM).]

Ron
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Altruism: A common mask of long-term self-interest, often spurred by short-term self-interest. "The suffering of others can never be divorced from the world in which I live. My life and the way I live it is very much dependent on that world, and the only sure way to improve or protect my own long-term interests is to make the world a better place. Besides, it makes me feel good to help others."

Ethics: Guidelines for effective self-interest. "I should always do what is in my best long-term self-interest. Sometimes, though, that's not always easy to rationally determine because of the many unknowns I face. Ethics provides a framework upon which to base my decisions. When I don't know what to do, I can fall back on a set of 'rules' that have proven to work far more often than not."

War: The irrational and short-sighted notion that value can be purchased with force. "I believe I am strong enough today to win something of value. Were I to look a little farther ahead, I might realize that tomorrow someone else will likely be the strongest."

Religion: The ultimate testament to the pervasive power of self-interest. "Do this, this, and that, and you will be eternally rewarded. Fail to do this, this, and that, and you will be punished."


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10 posted 09-09-2003 11:11 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Ron,

All these "definitions" only restate the claims of egoism.  It seems you've only redefined these words through the lens of egoist philosophy.  And the power of your words reside in the truth that self interest is never absent.  And I've never denied that.  But a "never absent" consideration, and the "sole" consideration are surely two different things.


And that last sentence might describe an elementary aspect of religion as to law ... but even you have pointed out, it's got end up as more than that.  If you describe Love to God (or even people) as mere self interest, I think you're missing something.


Stephen.  

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (09-09-2003 11:25 AM).]

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11 posted 09-09-2003 11:20 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

""I believe I am strong enough today to win something of value. Were I to look a little farther ahead, I might realize that tomorrow someone else will likely be the strongest.""


I asked this earlier, but it has not been addressed yet.  I'll ask again.  Taking the egoist assertion to be true, If I can be strong enough merely until I die, then why would it matter if someone else is strongest after my funeral?  How can long term self interest be prescribed beyond one's day of death?  Surely empires built on the blood of others, have rarely fallen in just a lifetime.  Remember, it is each individual who is an "end in himself".  What in egoism can the ethic of caring for posterity rest upon?  What can be said to someone who is pretty confident they can procure power and benefit, at least while they are alive?  (And by the way, many have done it).  According to egoism, this person ought to be a success?  But only if you attach ethics somehow to something beyond self interest, can you say that posterity is important.


Stephen.

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (09-09-2003 11:23 AM).]

hush
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12 posted 09-09-2003 01:46 PM       View Profile for hush   Email hush   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for hush

Stephan-

I really don't see what the problem is here. If I'm not allowed to hit my classmate just because I feel like it, then, theoretically, she can't do the same to me. It's simply a self-interested interpretation of the golden rule. "If I don't hit her, she probably won't hit me."

Obviously, that only works if everyone follows the rules... which they won't. That's why I'm allowed to defend myself if need be.

That being said, objectivism prizes human ability... the ability to produce, to create... not to destroy. If I take away someone's ability to be productive... like by hitting my classmate while she's working on a paper, it's naturally counter-intuitive to objectivism.
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13 posted 09-09-2003 02:49 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Hush: "It's simply a self-interested interpretation of the golden rule. "If I don't hit her, she probably won't hit me."


But what about situations when she can't hit you back?  What about when the strong wants to oppress the weak, or the rich wants to exploit the poor?  There is a vast number of situations where this self interest policy won't provide any rational reason for someone not to inflict harm upon others.  There are so many individuals or groups that I can do wrong to, who can't hit back.  Believe you me, I think it's wrong to hurt those weaker than you, but I'm afraid egoism doesn't provide a basis for that belief.  There has to be a moral principle higher than self to recommend this.


"objectivism prizes human ability... the ability to produce, to create... not to destroy. If I take away someone's ability to be productive... like by hitting my classmate while she's working on a paper, it's naturally counter-intuitive to objectivism."


When I look at the teachings of objectivism, I wonder, "human ability to do what? ... to produce what? ... not to destroy what?"  According to objectivism each individual is "an end in himself".  So all objectivism really supports are abilities, production, and creativity toward one end ... self.  Your example is only counter-intuitive to objectivism if hitting your class-mate would hinder you in some way.  Chances are, if you are in the same class and the teacher is watching, it will affect you profoundly.  I'm not so sure that her grade would suffer as much as yours would!  But there are other examples where the self interest might not be so compelling, as to discourage a mean act.  Somewhere down the line, someone should be able to say, "You shouldn't hit others even when you CAN get away with it."  This is what egoism does not seem to really provide for.  

Objectivism does attach the clause "Don't be mean to your neighbors", but this is a free-floating directive, only grounded in the philosophy of egoism where it can be shown to cause self harm.


Stephen.

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (09-09-2003 02:51 PM).]

Essorant
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14 posted 09-09-2003 03:24 PM       View Profile for Essorant   Email Essorant   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Essorant's Home Page   View IP for Essorant

What is selfinterest though and where does it come from?

Perhaps we should consider the prefix "inter"(between and among) and the root "esse" (to be) .

If one is inter(between and among)ested (being?) how may he just be of or for himself ?       


[This message has been edited by Essorant (09-09-2003 03:43 PM).]

Legion
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What is selfinterest though and where does it come from?

According to Richard Dawkins self interest is the best bet for individual survival and that it all starts with your genes.

Strange as it may seem he also asserts that altruistic behaviour is a by-product of self-interest in a social environment.


[This message has been edited by Legion (09-09-2003 04:47 PM).]

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16 posted 09-09-2003 08:39 PM       View Profile for Essorant   Email Essorant   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Essorant's Home Page   View IP for Essorant

Yet there is more than one selfinterest though--
myselfinterest, yourselfinterest,  ourselfinterest.  Which one is most important?  
If one of us is going to say everything is "myselfinterest" isn't that a solipsism?


[This message has been edited by Essorant (09-09-2003 09:00 PM).]

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17 posted 09-09-2003 09:15 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Essorant,

You're right.  I never thought of that.  If there are other "selves", how can it be plausibly said that all motives are based upon self-interest alone?  It would only make sense if you yourself were the only real entity there is.


Stephen

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I think selves are candles that become bigger candles when they touch each other...


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19 posted 09-11-2003 08:48 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

I just happened upon this quote while looking into what Lincoln said about slavery.


It may be inconsequential, but I thought it was interesting that this issue was alive when the abolition of slavery was at hand.


" I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world,—enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites; causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty,—criticising the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest." - Abraham Lincoln.

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (09-11-2003 08:48 AM).]

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quote:
That's just restating what egoism says.  It is the reductionism of all human motives to selfishness that I find untenable.


Well of course you cannot take the stance of one philosophy and translate it into your own.  If you are unprepared to accept the basic tenet of a philosophy because it is untenable to your personal views, you'll naturally never be able to accept the philosophy.

No, the better test is to go with the precept for a while and find out not whether it will fit within your existing philosophy, but more importantly, will your existing philosophy fit within the new one?

Are you afraid to test whether your need to reject self-interest as the root of all motives, is in fact due to the self-interest of believing yourself to be better and more ethical than that?  Would it harm your self-identity to try accepting, even just to see from that vantage point, that you were essentially selfish?  If so, there is your motive, and it is one of self-interest, and your very denial, may be the proof you seek.

quote:
How have we got it backward all of this time?  Why do we continually refer to those who are inordinately selfish, as "those with big egos".  It must be those who appear the most altruistc who have the big "egos".  This seems counter-intuitive.


Is the fact that something may be counter-intuitive a reason to dismiss it?  

Just over 2,000 years ago, a man was born to a virgin, was killed, and came back from the dead, only to leave again.  He was a Jew, preached to Jews, based on their faith as Jews, but his followers reject Judaism.  Is any of that anything but counter-intuitive?

However, what we are discussing is not counter-intuitive at all.  People lie to themselves about their true motives all the time.  Self-deception is in fact totally intuitive, and quite instinctive too.  We all like to believe we are funnier, more intelligent, nicer, and all-around better than we truly are.

quote:
I'm not convinced that a war could never be waged to protect a weaker, innocent  people who have become an object of unethical aggression.  I'm not saying that many have been fought with such motives.  But "never" is a strong word for you to use.


Uh-huh.  You don't think that maybe forcing your subjective views and subjective judgements upon others by violence is inherently selfish?

"I'll hit anyone who uses violence!" - Talk about counter-intuitive.
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21 posted 09-15-2003 07:28 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Black Knight: "Well of course you cannot take the stance of one philosophy and translate it into your own.  If you are unprepared to accept the basic tenet of a philosophy because it is untenable to your personal views, you'll naturally never be able to accept the philosophy."


I'm not trying to "translate" another philosophy into my own.  Rather, I'm holding basic assumptions which I myself, and others have made for ages . . . namely, that there are human actions based upon selfishness, healthy self-interest, but also upon the interests of others.  When someone comes along and denies the possibility of acting upon any motive other than self-interest, I am forced to examine the claim.  When I go to examine the claim, I actually do let go (loosely) of my basic assumptions, because I must find out where the antithetical assumptions lead.  When I have done so, I have found that the claims are internally incoherent.  In other words, there are many points of dialectical tension that cannot be resolved in the egoist claim.  I have mentioned some, and even asked some questions above which haven't yet been answered.  If you really want to me to see it this way, then help me resolve the problems I have brought up.  


"No, the better test is to go with the precept for a while and find out not whether it will fit within your existing philosophy, but more importantly, will your existing philosophy fit within the new one?"

I've actually done that, and I've gone a step beyond.  I already know these two "philosophies" do not fit together at points.  They are antithetical to each other.  The next test is to find out which one fits best with reality, logic, and intuition.  Which one is the more integrated view.  I have tried above to show why I think egoism is internally incoherent.  I'm ready to talk those if you wish.


"Are you afraid to test whether your need to reject self-interest as the root of all motives, is in fact due to the self-interest of believing yourself to be better and more ethical than that?  Would it harm your self-identity to try accepting, even just to see from that vantage point, that you were essentially selfish?  If so, there is your motive, and it is one of self-interest, and your very denial, may be the proof you seek. "


Nice try.       So my denial is simply the proof you offer?  You are asking me to accept a tenet of a philosophy without honestly believing it to be true.  Then you are saying that my holding out might be a baser thing to do than just blindly accepting something.  

Even if my motive for believing what I do could be shown to come from self interest, it does not follow that the belief that ALL actions come from self-interest is true.  My example, is not a hard one for you to pin self-interest on.  But I never said that things couldn't be done from the motive of self interest.  What I reject is that self interest is the ONLY motive.  Altruism presents you with a much more sticky problem than my actions here.

(however I think you may even have a problem with my own actions here, because I believe that I would be a much more self-centered person than I am, and less inclined to help others, if I adopted a philosophy such as egoism.  Therefore the concern for others is somewhere present in my actions too.)    


"Just over 2,000 years ago, a man was born to a virgin, was killed, and came back from the dead, only to leave again.  He was a Jew, preached to Jews, based on their faith as Jews, but his followers reject Judaism.  Is any of that anything but counter-intuitive?"

If you think it is counter-intuitive, read the story.  Think about the radical message and claims and actions of Jesus.  Was it surprising that a wedge occurred between Christianity and Judaism?  Not counter intuitive to me.  We could discuss that in another thread if you wish.


"However, what we are discussing is not counter-intuitive at all.  People lie to themselves about their true motives all the time.  Self-deception is in fact totally intuitive, and quite instinctive too.  We all like to believe we are funnier, more intelligent, nicer, and all-around better than we truly are."


You're belaboring a point that we already agree on.  Yes, people are often selfish.  Yes, people are often hypocritical.  Yes, people are often self deceptive.  How does it follow then that EVERY action can be reduced to self interest?  This is not a logical deduction.  

Where I said Egoism is counter intuitive, is in the area of judgements we make.  We tend to praise people who give more and sacrifice more for others.  We tend to think well of those who are the humblest and kindest.  We tend to honor those who don't parade themselves.  But in actuality, these are the most hypocritical if Egoism is true.  Not only do these act in self interest, but they do so in a deceptive way.  They make it appear as if they are not.  Now which is the easiest to believe, that people actually can (by God's grace) forget themselves a bit, or that there is this master plot going on to only appear as if they are?  Very counter intuitive.

You may counter by saying that true self interest isn't really unethical, so these people are doing what is right by being good.  They are doing right by themselves, you say.  But then you have to explain the fundamental difference between someone who chooses to exercise their self interest in a "selfish" way, and someone who chooses to do so in a "selfless" way.  Why do we chide one, and praise the other as unethical?  This is simply a matter of choice, but the motive is exactly the same according to egoists.  What makes this counter intuitive is the moral indignation we feel for someone who is selfish.  What an irrational feeling, if the motive is the exact same thing as for someone who is kind.


"Uh-huh.  You don't think that maybe forcing your subjective views and subjective judgements upon others by violence is inherently selfish?"


Are you trying again to box me in, by getting me to undertake the difficult task of justifying war?  I hate war, so it's kind of hard for you to do.  

My beliefs are simply this.  Though Vioence may be wrong, I don't think defending someone else, is necessarily a move of self interest.  Ever wanted to jump on the Bully at School for picking on the little guy?  We usually DIDN'T jump on Butch because of self interest.  To jump on Butch to defend Eugene can be done out of a motive of principle, and would usually get you pounded.  But it can be based upon the conviction that it is unethical to pick on little guys for no good reason.  

We could go on and on.  But I do concede that very few wars have been fought from motives of ethcial priniciple.  

There again ... You have your most formidable difficulty with examples of self sacrifical altruism, not with things like War.  The most typically selfish acts of mankind present a kind of straw-man for you in this debate.


Stephen.  

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (09-15-2003 07:42 PM).]

Ron
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22 posted 09-15-2003 08:19 PM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

Stephen, you seem to be accepting definitions without questioning them. What you call selfless altruism, I would call enlightened self-interest. And, yes, people should be praised for that. What you call selfish, I call short-term thinking. And, yep, people should be condemned for that. The effects are the same, no matter what you call it, but that doesn't mean that what you call it is meaningless. On the contrary, in fact, because there is absolutely NOTHING you can do to encourage selfless altruism. On the other hand, I have a pretty good idea what needs to be done to encourage enlightened self-interest.

It's obviously difficult to prove an absolute beyond a preponderance of evidence. I can point at several billion examples of self-interest at work, which offers evidence of a pretty significant trend, but I have still failed to conclusively prove the absolute.

I categorically state that every single human act in all of history is and always has been motivated by self-interest. All you have to do to prove that premise wrong is produce just ONE instance that is clearly, unequivocally not attributable to self-interest.

I don't think you can do it.


Stephanos
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23 posted 09-16-2003 02:26 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Ron,

Where your view finds it's power of persuasion, is in the truth that self interest is never absent.  I do not deny this.  You are trying to pin me by showing the absurdity of complete altruism.  But in reality, I don't believe such a position is possible either.  If you're at a pole, you can't hurl things at the opposite pole if I'm in the middle.  

Are you saying that every single act in History has been motivated by self interest Alone?  If you are, then I have some questions for you, which you haven't answered.


1) According to Egoism, how can concern for posterity be recommended as long term self-interest since it only comes after one's own life is through?  

In other words, what if I feel pretty confident that by stepping on the backs of others (discriminately of course) I can procure a comfortable and enjoyable life for myself until the day I die.  Why shouldn't I do so?  Why should long-term self interest extend past my dying day, seeing that I (presumably) do not extend past my dying day?  And before you respond that this is a non-realistic request ... remember people have and DO think this way.


2)  Is there a fundamental difference between "self forgetful" acts, and "selfish" acts if the motive is the same thing, other than a mere miscalculation of profit?

Example ...  A man who snatches a purse of an elderly woman compared to a man who gives money to a poor woman ...   Why do we have a moral problem with the purse snatcher and not the gift-giver, seeing they both make decisions out of the same exact motivation?


3)  Is love cheapened to find that it was only based upon self interest?  Then how is love fundamentally different than patronising friendliness, or even hatred?  Because there is no doubt that approaches other than love can be circumstantially thought of as profitable.
In my opinion the thing that is lacking in this view is any prescriptive ability for moral behavior.  If you are going to peddle moral behavior as the most "profitable" to self, in every case, then you are being dishonest.  You place qualifiers like "long term" and "rational" in front of self interest.  But it holds no power beyond someone's death.  And there are endless disagreements about what is "rational".  You only pit profits against profits.  If someone can be confident that in this present life, they will fare better living what you would call irrationally self interested, you have nothing within your egoist framework to dissuade them.  In fact, if they end up right, if they die tearing down their barns and building bigger ones for themselves, not caring for the little men of the world, then egoism must laud them as a success.  They, as Frank Sinatra put it, did it their way.


And Ron, I wonder, as a Christian, do you believe in a complete anthropocentric view of things?  I have to ask how you reconcile the teaching of Jesus which said, "Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me" with a philosophy which says "live for self alone".  Whether you think Jesus' words describe a complete altruism or not, (I don't think they do) it seems you might have some difficulty explaining these words in the context of a philosphy which teaches self interest as the ONLY motivation for life.  


"I categorically state that every single human act in all of history is and always has been motivated by self-interest. All you have to do to prove that premise wrong is produce just ONE instance that is clearly, unequivocally not attributable to self-interest."


I can't produce one that takes no self interest into account .. because, like you, I believe it is always present.  But here is an example that I think qualifies, and that will be hard to explain as rational self interest, in terms of egoist philosophy:


Dying to save someone else ... Allowing someone else to take the rescuer's rope, knowingly just before a fatal explosion.


Stephen.


[This message has been edited by Stephanos (09-16-2003 02:42 AM).]

Stephanos
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Statesboro, GA, USA


24 posted 09-16-2003 02:49 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

"Stephen, you seem to be accepting definitions without questioning them. What you call selfless altruism, I would call enlightened self-interest. And, yes, people should be praised for that. What you call selfish, I call short-term thinking. And, yep, people should be condemned for that."

A more fundamental question...  WHY should "enlightened self seekers" be praised?  Or WHY should "short term thinkers" be condemned?


Stephen.
 
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