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It seems to me that until one understands and rejects altruism, there is no hope of real progress in advancing rational self-interest. The equivocation of altruism with morality runs so deep, that even if one agrees with Objectivism on a concrete issue there is no principle underlying his or her stance. I wonder if there is any real progress being made at all in regards to political ideas if most people still operate on the premise of altruism. Ayn Rand constantly urged people to "Check your premises", and I think this is the most important premise that must be checked today. I know that this is an obvious point on this site, but it seems that too many people shy away from polemics when that is what I feel is necessary in today's moral climate.

asked Oct 14 '14 at 20:21

Donovan's gravatar image

Donovan
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edited Oct 16 '14 at 18:29

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦
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It seems to me that until one understands and rejects altruism, there is no hope of real progress in advancing rational self-interest.

True. Rational self-interest clashes inescapably with altruism (self-sacrifice and selfless humility). But when was Objectivism ever seriously advanced by a major advocate of it, such as Ayn Rand or Leonard Peikoff, without challenging altruism? Look at their many public statements, published articles, and Galt's Speech in Atlas Shrugged to find numerous spirited, rational challenges to altruism as well as lucid presentations of the Objectivist alternative. I hope the question isn't indirectly asking for dramatics at the expense of an integrated rational approach. The latter certainly will be more effective if expressed with conviction and passion than as a dry academic exercise, so long as the thinking that it expresses is solidly rational (accurate) in its identifications and well integrated with fields such as history and economics.

The equivocation of altruism with morality runs so deep, that even if one agrees with Objectivism on a concrete issue there is no principle underlying his or her stance.

Objectivism emphasizes principles far more than concretes and well recognizes that how people handle concretes depends on the underlying principles they are following as their guides. Bad principles certainly need to be challenged, and better principles shown to be a real alternative.

I wonder if there is any real progress being made at all in regards to political ideas if most people still operate on the premise of altruism.

Political ideas? Ayn Rand observed more than once that political theory is the last branch of philosophy to change in response to a new philosophy, precisely because it depends on the more fundamental branches. That is why the Ayn Rand Institute heavily emphasizes educational programs as well as spawning (with financial help) a whole division that engages more directly in political advocacy in Washington, D.C. (although that division, too, is subject to laws that limit political activities by non-profit organizations).

[I]t seems that too many people shy away from polemics when that is what I feel is necessary in today's moral climate.

Which people? General public? Political advocates seeking to affect politics without philosophy? Or specifically advocates of Objectivism? If the latter, it must be remembered that knowledgeable, committed Objectivist advocates today are a miniscule minority (so far) in our nation's political life. Even so, the Ayn Rand Institute has often pointed to the evidence of very real progress that has been made over the span of the Institute's existence, despite the very great distance remaining to be overcome.

Also, "polemics" here is potentially misleading. Challenges to altruism aren't likely to be any more effective than dry, academic non-challenges unless the underlying thinking is solidly correct and clearly and dynamically presented. If the questioner yearns for more advocates of Objectivism who can do that, he is not alone.

Update: Polemics and Enlightenment

From a comment:

My point is that until that moral code [altruism] is demolished....

I don't see the issue in terms of demolishing people's current ethics first and then trying to teach them the Objectivist alternative. Rather, I see the task as one of striking the most effective mix and balance of polemics and re-education from the outset, and sustaining a balanced approach continuously. The polemics can help greatly to arouse people's attention, but re-education needs to follow promptly (concurrently) or else the advocates risk being dismissed as mere self-absorbed rebels and hotheads with no serious alternative to offer.

Advocates for reason also need to be careful about their choice of audience, so as not to waste their time and effort on those who are fundamentally closed to reason. The advocates of reason most need to reach the audience segment (probably just a minority) that is already predisposed to be receptive to reason.

In addition, it is crucial to shake the popular confidence and appeal of an irrational culture's intellectual leaders, while offering a coherent intellectual alternative. The majority of ordinary people tend to be followers of the culture, not leaders of it.

answered Oct 15 '14 at 00:51

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
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edited Oct 16 '14 at 00:36

Your last paragraph sums up my frustration very well. The rest of your answer can be seen as an extension of my question. I mentioned politics because it is often the most visible sign of a positive response to a new philosophy (e.g. the relatively rapid change in attitudes regarding gay marriage).

I know Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, and others have skillfully and often brilliantly challenged altruism. My point is that until that moral code is demolished, any agreement with Objectivism on any issue by advocates of altruism is at risk of being merely pragmatic and ultimately unstable.

(Oct 15 '14 at 05:52) Donovan Donovan's gravatar image

Ideas for Life, regarding your update, in my experience it certainly is a minority that is receptive to reason. Morality and ethics seem to have a door in the minds of most people, at least of a certain age, with a feather trigger and a lock with no key. These are the people that are likely to dismiss advocates of Objectivism as being self-absorbed rebels and hotheads. Thanks for your answer.

(Oct 16 '14 at 19:41) Donovan Donovan's gravatar image

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Asked: Oct 14 '14 at 20:21

Seen: 764 times

Last updated: Oct 16 '14 at 19:41