The Falsity of Altruism

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Holiday20310401
 
Reply Mon 27 Oct, 2008 09:27 pm
@boagie,
I think this is definitely a moral issue here. We are not dealing with intent of a human being processing itself here. This is social interaction. Computers don't generally interact with computers, right? And if they do, there is no sense of loss, no self preservation, unless externally programmed. This altruistic scenario is the reverse of your analogy, IMO of course.
 
Aedes
 
Reply Mon 27 Oct, 2008 09:49 pm
@Ruthless Logic,
Boagie, I don't think you're reading my points very carefully.
I'm not making a moral or passionate argument, because that would be off topic. If the issue we're about what we ought to do, it might be a different discussion.

All I'm saying is that to qualify all actions as willed or selfish is a statement of the obvious that does essentially nothing to further our understanding of the topic. You might say that all actions are selfish, but theat wholly misses the point that thee is a difference between giving charity vs mugging someone, and concepts like altruism help categorize these differences.
 
Ruthless Logic
 
Reply Mon 27 Oct, 2008 10:49 pm
@Aedes,
Aedes wrote:
Well, as has already been mentioned unthis thread, to say that all actions are self interested or selfish is to say nothing at all.

Sure, anything we do happens because at some level (whether rational, instinctual, or somewhere in between) we intend it to happen. But beyond that statement it's pure rationalism to argue for self-interest, because we can always find some way or another to make that point.

So for your point about selfishness to have any meaning, it cannot be synonymized with it, otherwise you haven't uses selfishness in a way we all recognize.



The detailed realization of the actual empirically measurable sequence of the process of fulfilling Human self-interest provides tremendous explanatory prowess for understanding and potentially predicting complicated Human behavior, by removing the veil on imaginary assigned motives of Human actions.

Again, the very first transaction in the sequence of self-interest pursuit happens within the cranium of the independent Human Being, which is the headwater analogy (pardon the pun), while EVERY SINGLE MOTIVE OR ACTION that transpires from this process is simply DOWNSTREAM actions, and it is these downstream actions that you seem to con volute with your own idealistic perception of their merit, without ever acknowledging the supremely indulgent pursuit (human axiom) of satisfying individual self-interest FIRST. Think about it, before your accolades of celebratory pronouncements of righteous acts descend upon an individual(s), there is an individual(s) completely satisfied from indulging in individual self-interest before your words leave your mouth.

P.S. next time you reach into your pocket to give some money to a homeless individual, and as you walk away ask yourself honestly who benefited the most from the transaction.
 
jgweed
 
Reply Mon 27 Oct, 2008 10:52 pm
@Ruthless Logic,
1.1Human actions may be the result of choice or of compulsion.

1.1a If we understand by compulsion a natural and universal enforcement of selfishness, then we are presenting a moral interpretation of nature.This forces us to say that despite appearances and autobiographical statements to the contrary, there is a "real" natural compulsion that actually was the cause of an action we commonly call altruistic, and this "real" cause was something called "selfishness." And this interpretation supposes that all actions (in the animal world, in the human world) have only ONE cause; one could as easily imagine a nature that would also include group interest (preservation of the species, "the good of the many outweighs the good of the one").

1.b Now if the action was caused by choice, then it must be shown that the choice was motivated by self-interest and self-interest alone, and clear criteria must be provided. Moreover, it must be shown that an individual actually knows what action is in his self-interest;since, if he acted wrongly or mistakenly, then it would be difficult to assert that all actions were motivated by self-interest in an objective sense. For we would have to say that the person acted in what he assumed was in his self-interest, but wasn't really, which would leave open the possibility that he acted for another reason.
1.b1 The argument supposes that human actions are the result of a choice about ONE end, and seems by its reduction, to ignore the possibility that a choice can be influenced by a whole hierarchy of ends, goals, or imperatives and that these can vary from one person to the next, and from one time to another.
1.b2 If we ask what evidence can be brought to show that a person always chooses his self-interest, then it must come from the actor himself, or our interpretation of it, for we cannot have intimate knowledge of the person himself. Yet we have many instances in which a person reports that he acted just for the opposite reasons, and we have no reason to believe he was lying about it. Again, we have a conception that some acts are not selfish, and have words to describe them (such as altruism), and do so on many occasions. It would be a curious position to say that both the actor and the spectator were both incorrect in their understanding of the action, and that what REALLY caused it was "self-interest," for then we end up with absolutely no criteria for establishing the REAL cause in the cases of choices as well as compulsion.

In both cases, it seems we are left with is an assertion, and little more, that all actions are secretly determined by self-interest. One could easily argue in the same fashion, that all actions are determined by humours or invisible gremlins or the gods themselves.
 
boagie
 
Reply Mon 27 Oct, 2008 11:33 pm
@jgweed,
jgweed,Smile

Sorry but you miss the point entirely, morality happens after the fact, after the act/reaction, it is an evaluation, a moral evaluation, it has nothing to do with the actual cognitive process.
 
Khethil
 
Reply Tue 28 Oct, 2008 06:57 am
@boagie,
This word... "selfish" keeps derailing us

For anything one does, he or she has reasons (or motivators). It is in this light - and only in this light - that actions can be called "selfish".

I purposefully this word in quotes because because it has such negative overtones. The mind reads it, ones' choler is raised. Then lashing out in righteous indignance the mind tries to justify why it's possible to exhibit altruism without also being a scum-sucking leech. We have to be careful here. Such emotionally-charged words are, I believe, responsible for many-a-response.

"Altruism" is defined as, "unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others" [1]. If we regard all actions as having, at their base, a selfish element then altruism doesn't exist at all in this purely defined form. We may see certain acts as altruistic; and for the benefit of concept-communication label them as such. But in the purest definition of form, such behavior is never completely and wholly altrustic (otherwise no one would have any reason for doing anything at all, since there'd be no underlying 'motive').

Such words (speaking of "Altruism") have use, but (like all words) arise from concepts humans use to communicate. As such, they're imperfect... and that's ok. As philosophers, I think it important to keep such distinctions in mind, but not so vehemently that they usurp our communication. Ruthless Logic's original post is near-completely accurate to my thinking. Yet, if you'll pardon the unsolicited commentary, can be viewed as emotionally-charged (as I too have done, when we feel strongly about something. It is in this enthusiastic-vein that some readers are left to believe "we're all scum!", "we don't do anything except for ourselves!". I don't think that's what's being said here. And though it could be viewed that way, I presume that wasn't the intent.

When we back off the emotions and look at it, we see all actions have motivators that move the actor to act; it is in this way only we can call them "selfish". It's a clarification, nothing more.

I'll shut up now, where's my coffee?

Thanks



~~~~~
[1] Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online
 
Pangloss
 
Reply Tue 28 Oct, 2008 07:25 am
@Ruthless Logic,
Sociobiologists might tell you that altruism is an evolved response-- while an individual could perish in order to protect his/her family or group, the net effect is greater replication of the shared genes of that family or group. This "altruistic" behavior can be seen in animals throughout nature. An individual will perish at the expense of the group, but this ultimately helps the passing on of shared traits. What we call "altruism" then could really be an instinct, evolved in humans/animals for many years, both genetically and culturally.

Dawkins, before he became popular in his campaign against God, wrote a well-known book called "the selfish gene", where "selfish" acts by the gene (giving its host the instinct for self-sacrifice) can make an individual organism "altruistic". Basically viewing natural selection and evolution working more on genes than on individual organisms, and making the genes more "in charge" of the direction of evolution.

The Selfish Gene - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 
Mr Fight the Power
 
Reply Tue 28 Oct, 2008 07:29 am
@boagie,
boagie wrote:
jgweed,Smile

Sorry but you miss the point entirely, morality happens after the fact, after the act/reaction, it is an evaluation, a moral evaluation, it has nothing to do with the actual cognitive process.


Nonsense, morality must be judged by the cognitive process. If there is no intent to do good, there is no good behavior, otherwise, why would we not assign a moral judgment to a drought ending rain?
 
jgweed
 
Reply Tue 28 Oct, 2008 08:52 am
@Ruthless Logic,
If one means that an act is judged after the event by the outcome and a moral evaluation then made, then that judgment does always happen after the fact (and can change with the passing of time as we see new events in the chain of causation). Again, one cannot judge an action until it is complete and actual.

The moral motivation of acts is not the same as our moral judgment about them. It seems difficult to deny that individuals do make choices about some actions based on their own moral principles and their knowledge at the time.

The refusal to collaborate with the enemy in wartime, even if it means torture and the firing squad, is based presumably on such a moral principle (death before dishonour, for example). Now one can approve or disapprove of the act itself, or of the moral choice underneath it, but doesn't this generally imply that we understand that the act was a moral decision? We sometimes say that "no man willingly does something he considers immoral;" and if to say this makes sense (for example, in common law) doesn't this imply a moral choice?
 
Mr Fight the Power
 
Reply Tue 28 Oct, 2008 09:20 am
@jgweed,
jgweed wrote:
If one means that an act is judged after the event by the outcome and a moral evaluation then made, then that judgment does always happen after the fact (and can change with the passing of time as we see new events in the chain of causation). Again, one cannot judge an action until it is complete and actual.


The consequence of that is no moral judgment whatsoever, as no action will ever cease to be relevant to all future state of affairs at any point in time. Unless, of course we are willing to lay blame or even punishment for something that we know may turn out to be deemed "good".
 
jgweed
 
Reply Tue 28 Oct, 2008 10:59 am
@Ruthless Logic,
True enough in the abstract or theoretical sense, but in practice, we can at least (and do often enough) make such judgments, even if tentatively. We generally understand, in a common sense sort of way, when we have sufficient knowledge to make an evaluation, when we have "given everything its due."
That such moral judgments should be tentative and, like referee's decisions in football subject to further review when challenged, seems a reasonable attitude to take. If we awaited "perfect" knowledge of any occasion or instance, we would find ourselves in a very awkward place in practice.

One may draw a parallel with historical accounts. Given that new evidence may change or just slightly alter historical conclusions, or another historian's position may challenge our own perspective, we do not refrain from doing history, and presenting our "findings."
 
Mr Fight the Power
 
Reply Tue 28 Oct, 2008 11:09 am
@jgweed,
jgweed wrote:
True enough in the abstract or theoretical sense, but in practice, we can at least (and do often enough) make such judgments, even if tentatively. We generally understand, in a common sense sort of way, when we have sufficient knowledge to make an evaluation, when we have "given everything its due."
That such moral judgments should be tentative and, like referee's decisions in football subject to further review when challenged, seems a reasonable attitude to take. If we awaited "perfect" knowledge of any occasion or instance, we would find ourselves in a very awkward place in practice.


We never have a sufficient perspective to know when we have enough information. We can also never judge intent to figure moral culpability, so that manner doesn't work either.

If even moral absolutists must recognize that they are simply guessing, why would not everyone relegate their theorizing to meaningless metaphysical ponderings?
 
boagie
 
Reply Tue 28 Oct, 2008 11:24 am
@Mr Fight the Power,
Smile

I think it is the emotional response to this question that does short circuit communication. In this case the term selfish just indicates which subject is served first, the hero of our story sees another in distress, he identifyies with said person, thus evoking his compassion, what he precives is both the individual, the present context, and the unfolding fate of that individual within said context.

The late great mythologist Joseph Campbell use to tell the story about a young man's attempted suicide and his rescue by a couple of police officers. In Hawaii were Campbell lived at the time, there was a great mountain canyon through which blew the great ocean winds, people would go up there to make love, sightsee, or to commit suicide. One day as a police car was making its rounds, the officers see this young man perched and ready to jump. One officer approaches the young man, the young man jumps, the police officer grasps the youngman but, is about to go over with him, when the second police officer rescues them both.

When asked after the fact, why did you not let go, you were going over with him? His answer was, If I had have let that young man go, I would not have been able to live with myself another day------how come? This police officer had a life of his own, job, family and friends ect, but all that fell away at that moment of response. Campbell stated, Schopenhauer says of this, the conditions of time and space, which give us the notion of separateness are trashed, it is not an idea, it is not a concept at this point, it is something which just grabs you, and you realize, you and the other are one, it is a metaphysical breakthrough.

It is understood by most people that compassion is the foundation of morality, but, the foundation of compassion is identification of the self in others. In the absence of that identification, there is no compassion, thus there can be no morality. This I would contend is the content of the cognitive process, identification with the individual within the individuals threatening context, and the necessity there of, to save the self.
 
Doorsopen
 
Reply Tue 28 Oct, 2008 12:01 pm
@Ruthless Logic,
Ruthless Logic wrote:
The idea that Human Beings subjected to the constraints of our Natural World can somehow magically engage in the process of invoking some form of physical or cognitive interference to benefit some other independent Human Being, Without FIRST satisfying their own SELF-INTEREST is carelessly FALSE and needs to be examined with the courage of truth.


Your statement is flawed:
You state that human beings are independent and conclude that as such they are incapable of engaging in a process which is of benefit to another human being. The fact is that Humans are interdependent and MUST engage in a process that is of benefit to fellow human beings.
Were your thesis based on the ego, I might have agreed, but it's not; so I can't help you in arguing this point because that is of no benefit to me.

But rather than argue this philosophical paradox, I'd rather direct my efforts as a human being towards killing notions of a deus ex machina as a first step to solving our problems. Regardless of the political or religious context; We fulfill one another's needs to our mutual benefit, and ignore the needs of others to our mutual detriment.
 
boagie
 
Reply Tue 28 Oct, 2008 12:14 pm
@Doorsopen,
Dooropoen,Smile

While Ruthless certaiinly can answer to the question. I think you misread him however, he is not stating that it is impossiable to aid, to interfer in the destiny of another, just that it cannot be done without the cognitve process which involves engaging the will, and so of necessity, ones own self-interest in the outcome of the given situtation.
 
Mr Fight the Power
 
Reply Tue 28 Oct, 2008 12:27 pm
@boagie,
It also appears that the processes that RL calls out as being self-interested aren't actually self-interested at all, they aren't interested period. They are reflexive and contain no intent whatsoever.

If an action has no intent, then it cannot be self-interested or altruistic, as there is no goal associated with the action. To call it self-interested would imply that the sun is self-interested in rising.
 
manored
 
Reply Tue 28 Oct, 2008 12:39 pm
@boagie,
boagie wrote:
manored,Smile

Unfortunately you fall into the same group that wants to make this a question of moral judgement, if I described to you the function of an operating system/engine, would you feel compelled to instruct me in the morality of it? If one does not understand the cognitve process of human action, how can one understand what compassion is, and what it is to commit a compassionate act? What it is to sacrifice to the life of another?
There is time enough after an act is preformed to evaluate it, my point from the start was to understand how that action, any action comes about.


Its hard to express this with words but let me try again: All decisions are motived by self-interest, always were and are always going to be, therefore there is nothing to discuss with logic, because there are no alternatives. We are not giving a step towards logic understanding, we are giving a step back from emotional misurestanding, so this is not a matter of logic, but of emotion. Its like then you know something bad happened, but something inside you keeps coming up with thoughs of fantasious hope.

What I mean is sort of: Everone already knows how any actions come about, they just have mental blockages, mental blockages are emotional and emotion is basically ignoring logic so logic can hardly break a mental blockage.
 
boagie
 
Reply Tue 28 Oct, 2008 12:57 pm
@Mr Fight the Power,
Hi Mr Fight the Power,Smile

What knee jerk responses are you speaking of? As far as I understand it, there is not a willed action/reaction without intent--that would be an oxy moron, what you speak of might be a convulsion of some sort. I probably am misunderstanding you, perhaps you could clearify.
 
Mr Fight the Power
 
Reply Tue 28 Oct, 2008 01:06 pm
@boagie,
boagie wrote:
Hi Mr Fight the Power,Smile

What knee jerk responses are you speaking of? As far as I understand it, there is not a willed action/reaction without intent--that would be an oxy moron, what you speak of might be a convulsion of some sort. I probably am misunderstanding you, perhaps you could clearify.


It is somewhat different than you phenomenology of addressing to the will before all else, but it is along the same lines. He posted:

Quote:
As soon as soldier (A) synapses begin firing within his brain (absolute leading edge of self-interest) that allows him to move his body towards the grenade and consequently finish the physical act of throwing his body onto the grenade clearly reveals the actual sequence that transpires revealing the inherent constraint of satisfying SELF-INTEREST FIRST, before some ancillary (secondary) event or act can be completed.
It seems as though he is referring to the reflexes that drive us to action are all self-interested, since the "synapses... firing within his brain" are the "leading edge of self-interest". If we are to assume these are self-interested we run into the tautology that you are invoking in engaging the will (you define the will as what one wants). These synapses aren't self-interested, however, for reasons I have stated.
 
boagie
 
Reply Tue 28 Oct, 2008 01:22 pm
@Mr Fight the Power,
Mr. Fight the Power wrote:
It is somewhat different than you phenomenology of addressing to the will before all else, but it is along the same lines. He posted:

It seems as though he is referring to the reflexes that drive us to action are all self-interested, since the "synapses... firing within his brain" are the "leading edge of self-interest". If we are to assume these are self-interested we run into the tautology that you are invoking in engaging the will (you define the will as what one wants). These synapses aren't self-interested, however, for reasons I have stated.


Mr Fight the Power,Smile

If I understand properly , yes you have a point, the point at synapes would simply be a state of reaction to stimulus, the coding of information. This must necessariy be the preconditon to the formation of intent, the will is the emgergent quality of the process of this formation of intent.
 
 

 
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