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On the 9/11/2011 webcast of "Rationally Selfish" Diana made mention that Psychological Altruism is not the same as Ethical Altruism. I don't think I would agree, but perhaps it is just a matter of definition. If we could define our terms, I would like to discuss this further with anyone who is interested. I have spent many years thinking and examining this concept, and I tend to lean heavily towards Mark Twain's evaluation in "Letters From The Earth" which I will heavily paraphrase.

In any given situation, a person will ALWAYS choose that which (from their individual perspective AT THE TIME) will give them either the most pleasure, or the least displeasure (again, as they perceive those "experiences" at the time).

Using the example of the man who gave back the baseball to Derek Jeter, can it TRULY be called an "altruistic" act, if at the time the man made the decision, it was the kind of "selfish" act as defined above? We can continue onto Mother Teresa, but I think this is a good place to start. I hope this topic is of interest to someone besides myself.

asked Sep 11 '11 at 12:52

Frank%20Fiamingo's gravatar image

Frank Fiamingo

edited Sep 11 '11 at 14:17

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

I think that this question has been answered here: http://objectivistanswers.com/questions/37/isnt-everybody-selfish

(Sep 11 '11 at 18:13) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Also, I've never heard of "psychological altruism"; the issue is "psychological egoism." That is, the debate is over the notion that an elementary fact of human psychology (that all conscious actions are motivated) makes such actions ipso facto selfish.

(Sep 12 '11 at 10:02) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Andrew, perhaps I misheard. I will go back and re-listen to the webcast. I am sure it wouldn't be the first time I heard something incorrectly. However, how can a third party to the example cited above possibly make a decision as to whether or not the man who returned the baseball made a rationally selfish decision? You would have to be able to measure in "objective" terms the values by which this particular INDIVIDUAL man operates. If reality is the final arbiter, it would be necessary to follow this man throughout his life to see how much he benefited from his decision, and you'd be guessing

(Sep 12 '11 at 20:29) Frank Fiamingo Frank%20Fiamingo's gravatar image

The important point is that people can act for unselfish reasons. To "follow this man throughout his life to see how much he benefited from his decision" is the wrong criterion; it is a demand for omniscience, which is contrary to the reality of human cognition. Proper morality stays confined to what people can know. That is why we must use principles to evaluate an action before we act. The reasons for a person's actions, not the unforeseeable concatenation of events that transpire after the fact, are what we can morally judge.

(Sep 13 '11 at 09:52) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

To add to Andrew's comment: It comes down to intent. The fact that I lost when I intended to gain does not transform my investment into a sacrifice -- it only makes it a bad investment. Likewise, the fact that I gained when I intended to lose doesn't transform my sacrifice into an investment -- it only makes it a "bad" sacrifice.

(Sep 13 '11 at 16:07) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image
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In paragraph 2, the questioner is essentially stating that every action is motivated. Of course. But this doesn't mean that they are motivated by selfish reasons, nor that these selfish reasons be correct.

Consider these examples:

  1. A woman refuses to press charges against a man who has violently mugged her, because she believes such forgiveness is a virtue. Yes, she, at least initially, feels better for having given up her desire for justice, but her motive is selfless on its face. Her ideas and emotions are, therefore, selflessly aligned. She's giving up a value, because she believes it is right to do so.

  2. A man chooses to mug a woman, because he wants her money. After he beats her up and takes it, he feels a jolt of power, of efficacy, because he got what he wanted. His motive is selfish. He is happy for having benefited, as opposed to for having sacrificed. His ideas, however, are myopic. He isn't thinking ethically (long-term) at all. He'll have to hide his criminal act for the rest of his life. He has given up his freedom. Even if he never gets caught, he'll forever live in a web of lies.

There are selfless motives, and selfish motives. There are rationally selfish motives, as well as mistakenly selfish motives which ultimately result in self-sacrifice.

That everybody has motives doesn't mean anything with respect to selfishness as such.

answered Sep 12 '11 at 10:44

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦

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Asked: Sep 11 '11 at 12:52

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Last updated: Sep 13 '11 at 16:07