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Adeikov has posted some comments in another thread that warrant discussion as separate questions in their own right:

When you are presented with a choice on which the fate of another hangs, into a lesser fate or into a better fate, it would be nice to think that people would automatically choose to improve the fate of others. Would you want to live in a world in which everyone were so unhelpful? Or would you prefer the helpful world?

Let us say, people became purely selfish beings, would that be a good world?

I responded:

Why does being "purely selfish" imply that one would never want to help another person? Why would others necessarily have no value to offer in return for any help they receive? Are you implicitly presupposing that a large class of human adults exist who are genetically helpless to provide for their own lives and must rely predominately on the purely charitable generosity of others, if they are to avoid suffering and misery? (And, simultaneously, that another class exists that is not genetically helpless? Or that those capable of helping others in addition to themselves got that way entirely by accident and/or by social privilege of some kind, rather than by any ability and effort of their own?)

Adeikov replied:

In this case: Helpful adj. = improving the fate of others / Unhelpful adj. = not improving the fate of others

Selfish adj. = 1. seeking to improve your fate, perhaps at the expense of another's fate / 2. Letting the weak suffer their own weakness, while the strong exploit and take advantage of the weak

I think that defines my terms in context.

I just have doubts about the soundness of running a world based on the selfishness on rational people. Where do you draw the line on the extent to which their selfishness goes? Just before when it results in the tragic fate of others?

Adeikov adds:

A. When a selfish person helps another, it is to get benefit for themselves, the benefit of others is a byproduct. / B. When a selfless person helps another, it is to get benefit for others. the benefit of yourself is a byproduct.

Is it better to run a world on A or on B or sometimes on A and sometimes on B?

I would like to see Adeikov's questions addressed further, while avoiding a prolonged on-going dialog in the comments of the original thread, so I am posting them here as new questions. (This is also my very first question on this forum. Up to now, I've only posted Answers and Comments.) I see some serious philosophy in Adeikov's questions, from which others may be able to benefit even if Adeikov himself ultimately remains unconvinced.

asked Mar 23 '12 at 22:59

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
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I'm having trouble with the definition of "selfish" given above & it's implied value-judgment. To quote from the intro to TVoS

In popular usage, the word “selfishness” is a synonym of evil...

Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness" is: concern with one's own interests.

This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one's own interest is good or evil' nor does it tell us what constitutes man's actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.

Given Rand's dfn, I'd say you can't go too far.

(Mar 26 '12 at 21:00) Jason Gibson ♦ Jason%20Gibson's gravatar image

I'll give an example to A / B identifications.

I've always wanted to have long hair. I've always wanted to have a bald head. I've decided to grow the hair out long to experience the former, then shave it to experience the latter. Someone then told me that if I grow my hair long enough, I could donate it to Locks of Love. I decided to do that.

However, recently I got tired of my long hair getting in the way and shaved my head. Someone asked me how come I didn't grow it longer to donate? I responded that donation was a secondary goal for me.

(Mar 26 '12 at 21:50) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

I don't like to repeat questions such as Adeikov's unless I'm prepared to offer answers, so here goes.

I like the "A" and "B" identifications in the question -- (A) selfish help to others as a byproduct of pursuing one's own interests; and (B) selfless benefit to oneself as a byproduct (at best) of striving always to live for and through others.

I would also ask Adeikov to clarify and justify his standard of value, i.e., his standard for judging what is good, better and best. "Value" to whom and for what?

As for "drawing the line on how far selfishness goes," Adeikov's view of selfishness seems to include two cases: (1) sacrificing others to oneself ("expense of another's fate," "tragic fate"); and (2) merely refusing to help others in need when one can.

Regarding (1), sacrificing others to oneself, Objectivism opposes it. In fact, Objectivism doesn't define morality in terms of the beneficiary of human action at all. Objectivism identifies reason as man's basic means of survival (even for selfless individuals, who seek to rely on others' use of reason), and Objectivism advocates rationality as man's primary virtue. The issue of the beneficiary is only secondary in Objectivism -- rationality for one's own life primarily, benefitting others through mutually voluntary trade when it serves one's own interests (and those of one's trading partners).

Objectivism also points out that the sacrifice of others to oneself is merely the other side of the same fraudulent moral "coin" that advocates the sacrifice of self to others, including the sacrificing of everyone to everyone by "society" (through its government). Under altruism, "anything goes," even totalitarian dictatorship, if it claims to be done for the benefit of others.

If a further question is raised about what enforces the non-sacrificing of others in a system based on rationality, the answer is two-fold. First, insofar as the sacrificing of others might involve initiating physical force against them, Objectivism advocates a system of government that bans the initiation of physical force against others -- just as altruism and collectivism advocate a system of government that routinely initiates physical force in order to sacrifice its citizens whenever it seems expedient for the "society's" allegedly "noble" (altruistic) ends.

Secondly, if an individual in a free society tries to sacrifice others without resorting to physical force, he will still suffer the consequences (especially over time) of impaired reputation and loss of trading opportunities, as others learn not to deal with him.

Regarding (2), refusing to help others in need, Adeikov's view apparently yearns for a moral guarantee or assurance that the others will help, not merely the kind of good will, friendly generosity and reciprocal gratitude that would be widespread in a free and rational society. The closest to a guarantee that such a society could offer is insurance of some kind, on the premise that such a degree of need and inability to help oneself would be the exception rather than the rule, not forseeable, and only temporary rather than chronic. A free and rational society also leaves everyone free to provide for his own future, and, over time, fosters far greater opportunities for individuals to plan for their own futures than any other moral and social system ever devised by man.

On a personal level, Adeikov asks what a rational person would selfishly want for himself: system 'A" where helping others is not morally obligatory in any manner, or system 'B' where it is morally obligatory and people are supposed to feel very guilty and morally corrupt if they choose not to help. I maintain that a fully rational person would unhesitatingly choose 'A', for the freedom of action that it upholds, morally as well as politically. System 'A', properly understood as barring the sacrificing of others to oneself, is the approach most consistent with reason as man's basic means of survival, and the free exercise of reason by everyone (often in concert with each other) to sustain and enhance his life as his rational nature calls for.

Update: Helping in Need

The answer by John includes the following formulation:

While Objectivism passionately and definitely defends each individual's right to choose whom he helps, it also abhors any individual's arbitrary refusal to assist someone in need.

On the one side, the principle is: "The government should not decide ethical issues". On the other side, the principle is: "People have great potential value, and you should have good reasons not to help someone whom you can help."

I cannot imagine where John is getting the ethical aspect of this formulation, unless it is an unwarranted extension or misconstruing of Ayn Rand's analysis in "The Ethics of Emergencies" in VOS. In non-emergency situations, Objectivism says exactly the opposite of what the above formulation literally says. According to Objectivism, man does not owe any moral obligation to help the needy; he is not morally obligated to help others unless he has "good reasons not to help someone whom you can help." For further explanation of the Objectivist ethical view, refer to the topic of "Selfishness" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. For further discussion of emergencies, refer to the Lexicon topic of "Emergencies." A key paragraph regarding emergencies also appears in the "Selfishness" topic.

answered Mar 23 '12 at 23:06

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
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edited Jul 30 '12 at 03:32

Aidekov wrote (as quoted by Ideas For Life):

I just have doubts about the soundness of running a world based on the selfishness of rational people. Where do you draw the line on the extent to which their selfishness goes? Just before when it results in the tragic fate of others?

To answer this question, one must be very clear on what line is to be drawn, and what the consequences would be of drawing that line.

As well, there's a question of what "running a world based on the selfishness of rational people" means.

Regarding the drawing of lines, according to Objectivism, there are two lines. One of these is the ethical line, and the other is the political line. These two lines are different.

The ethical line regards the morality of personal behaviors. Some behaviors are over the line, and others are not. For instance, lying to your wife about sleeping with your secretary is generally over the ethical line.

The political line defines a behavioral standard for deciding whether to bring the force of government upon a person. Theft, violation of contract, and assault are all over the political line. The political line is defined by the principles of individual rights.

Most importantly Objectivism holds that we do not bring the force of government upon a person for crossing the ethical line if he has not crossed the political line.

To refuse to be helpful when you are not explicitly contractually obliged to help is not over the political line, according to Objectivism. But in many, if not most cases, it would be considered to be over the ethical line.

While Objectivism passionately and definitely defends each individual's right to choose whom he helps, it also abhors any individual's arbitrary refusal to assist someone in need.

On the one side, the principle is: "The government should not decide ethical issues". On the other side, the principle is: "People have great potential value, and you should have good reasons not to help someone whom you can help."

The over-arching principle here is: "You should have good reasons for what you do, but the government is and must be powerless to give you those reasons."

You should think about what you do, and you must be left free to think about what you do.

As for "running a world based on the selfishness of rational people", there's no such thing. Running a world means setting up a government. One can only "run a world" which permits the selfishness of rational people. Within this world, one can advocate for rational selfishness, and boycott unethical individuals and businesses, but that's far from running the world.

The alternative to a world which permits the selfishness of rational people is a world in which the government uses force against peaceful individuals to shape their behavior (and to limit their thinking).

When peaceful behavior and consequent thinking is limited by government force, economies, and people, die.

That's the kind of world we live in now.

answered Jul 29 '12 at 12:04

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦
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edited Jul 29 '12 at 12:14

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Asked: Mar 23 '12 at 22:59

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Last updated: Jul 30 '12 at 03:32