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Tuesday, December 20, 2011 - 2:04pmSanction this postReply
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Rand is only mentioned once, and in passing, in a section titled "Ethical Egoism." This section is being contrasted with a section on "Ethical Altruism" (these are contrasted with "Psychological Altruism" and "Psychological Egoism".)

Here is an exceprt from the section where Rand is mentioned:

"So we may include altrusim in the same group of virtues as compassion and generosity. (Aristotle called this group the "moral virtues" in contract with the "intellectual virtues" such as practical reason and intuitive wisdome.) So, the positions that altruism is a virtue is better presented as the more general doctrine that what we normally call virtues (compassion, generosity) are not genuine virtues. It is one way in which to reject conventioal morality. This is the view associated with Ayn Rand and her followers (1964). Friedrich Nietzsche (1966) is another revisionist moral philosopher..."



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Post 1

Tuesday, December 20, 2011 - 7:43pmSanction this postReply
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I am very mixed about the premise of this book. While it is important to document the specific cases of how altruism harms people the book legitimizes altruism by separating out the "pathological altruism" from presumably "healthy altruism".  Medicine and biology are used here to make the claim that they are not qualified to make. Only philosophy can do that.  And philosophy, Objectivism at least, proves it is not the pathology in altruism but altruism itself that is the problem.

The benefits of altruism and empathy are obvious. These qualities are so highly regarded and embedded in both secular and religious societies that it seems almost heretical to suggest they can cause harm. Like most good things, however, altruism can be distorted or taken to an unhealthy extreme. Pathological Altruism presents a number of new, thought-provoking theses that explore a range of hurtful effects of altruism and empathy.

Pathologies of empathy, for example, may trigger depression as well as the burnout seen in healthcare professionals. The selflessness of patients with eating abnormalities forms an important aspect of those disorders. Hyperempathy - an excess of concern for what others think and how they feel - helps explain popular but poorly defined concepts such as codependency. In fact, pathological altruism, in the form of an unhealthy focus on others to the detriment of one's own needs, may underpin some personality disorders.


The 1st sentence is the best. What are the benefits of altruism and who benefits from it?

(Edited by Sam West on 12/20, 7:44pm)




Post 2

Tuesday, December 20, 2011 - 9:30pmSanction this postReply
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Looks like a bait n switch.



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Wednesday, December 21, 2011 - 5:00amSanction this postReply
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The 1st sentence is the best. What are the benefits of altruism and who benefits from it?

I'll bet big $ that what you mean by "altruism" and what the authors mean by it are much different. :-) So your question doesn't surprise me.



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Wednesday, December 21, 2011 - 7:42amSanction this postReply
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Reading through the detailed Table of Contents available on Amazon, Pathological Altruism looks like an excellent resource.
Thanks, Peter, for bringing this book to our attention.





Post 5

Thursday, December 22, 2011 - 7:23amSanction this postReply
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Merlin,
I'll bet big $ that what you mean by "altruism" and what the authors mean by it are much different
Right, the authors could have an improper concept of altruism (a variant of an anti-concept on it). For instance, they might be referring to anytime anyone else benefits from your actions. If you say that altruism occurs anytime anyone else benefits from your actions, then you may personally feel good with your personal definition of altruism -- but you have not looked at the world with an objective eye, and honestly worked to integrate the various aspects of reality. Taking folks who say that "others benefitting" is the crux of altruism, one gets hard pressed to find an action anywhere which didn't benefit someone anywhere.

Which makes the concept useless as a means of intellectual discrimination between entities, or between their attributes (even if it makes you personally feel good in the 'hippie, new-age, warm-fuzzies' sense of feeling good).

Ed

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 12/22, 7:24am)




Post 6

Thursday, December 22, 2011 - 9:15amSanction this postReply
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Taking folks who say that "others benefitting" is the crux of altruism, one gets hard pressed to find an action anywhere which didn't benefit someone anywhere.

What about the actions of a hermit?

I haven't read the book, but I doubt very much that the authors mean merely benefiting others and suspect that purposely benefiting others is a component most of the time.



Post 7

Thursday, December 22, 2011 - 10:26amSanction this postReply
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Merlin,

I ... suspect that purposely benefiting others is a component most of the time.
Well, fine, but that is just another variant of an anti-concept with respect to altruism. It's a common liberal-left meme to morally evaluate someone based on getting into the outlandish task of psychologizing their intentions into the categories of 'self-serving' and 'other-serving.' This is the muddled thinking of someone who says that Barack Obama "means well" -- so he should be given a pass. It doesn't pass muster when you scrutinize it for being a concept of actually-existing actions and moral evaluations that are based on those actions (rather than on a psychologized vision or dream -- no, revelation -- of someone's purported intent).


Ed

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 12/22, 10:27am)




Post 8

Thursday, December 22, 2011 - 10:44amSanction this postReply
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the outlandish task of psychologizing [ ] intentions into the categories of 'self-serving' and 'other-serving.'
Objectivists never do this? They never treat these as mutually exclusive categories? LOL. They are not mutually exclusive.




Post 9

Thursday, December 22, 2011 - 5:46pmSanction this postReply
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Merlin,

I gave the example of the left-liberal because it was so clear as to why an "altruism" based on intentions is an anti-concept. It is used by them in order to obliterate the distinctions between intentions and actual actions -- by substituting imagined intentions in place of actions for moral evaluations. There is a reason why people create anti-concepts such as this. And they always obliterate real distinctions in the world.

Ed




Post 10

Friday, December 23, 2011 - 5:38amSanction this postReply
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Ed,

I don't object to what you say about leftist ideas of altruism. But I do object to applying them to the authors of the book that I suspect you haven't read and know very little about, especially when the title and brief reviews suggest quite the contrary.
(Edited by Merlin Jetton on 12/23, 6:02am)




Post 11

Friday, December 23, 2011 - 9:12amSanction this postReply
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Merlin,

My argument isn't with them, it is with you. You say that altruism can be many things to many people (if not all things to all people), that it is a thing without specific identity. What you are maintaining is an anti-concept.

Ed




Post 12

Friday, December 23, 2011 - 10:44amSanction this postReply
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What you are maintaining is an anti-concept.


Proof, please.



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Post 13

Friday, December 23, 2011 - 9:47pmSanction this postReply
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Merlin,

Earlier, in the Biological Altruism thread, you gave this wikipedia link as supposedly-acceptable or sufficient evidence that folks get to have their pick of several senses of, or definitions of, altruism. Because of its breadth, that would include taking altruism to be many things, including these:

1) a mere caring/concern (or just regard) for others
2) "selfless" or "self-sacrificial" caring/concern (or regard) for others
3) behavior motivated by a caring/concern (or regard) for -- or an outright devotion to -- others
4) behavior motivated by "selfless" or "self-sacrificial" caring/concern (or regard) for -- or an outright devotion to -- others**
5) behavior that actually benefits others and hurts oneself
6) behavior that actually benefits others and doesn't benefit oneself
7) an evaluative continuum wherein the morality of an action is said to increase in proportion to how much it actually benefits others

**the legitimate concept of altruism

Now, you asked for proof of an anti-concept. An appeal to this Wiki-entry, as proof that altruism is so many things to many people, is such a thing. An anti-concept is identified by two characteristics:

-it is a package deal of disparate elements, defined by a non-essential
-it obliterates a legitimate concept

If you take just the 7 senses of altruism listed above, then you have a package deal of disparate elements. Some are defined merely by one's feelings. Some are defined merely by one's actions. Some are defined by one's feelings in combination with one's actions (intent-motivated actions). Some are defined merely by motive. Some are defined by actual, existential outcomes. This is a package deal of disparate elements that -- taken as a conglomerate -- obliterates the legitimate concept of altruism.

Altruism is a moral concept. Morality is a code of values to guide one's actions (a code to try to live by). When we act to gain or keep things, we are acting for values. When we act to get rid of things, we are acting against dis-values -- which is essentially the same thing as acting for values. Increasing pleasure is a value, but decreasing pain is also a value. One possible value is a full, happy life for yourself. When that is held as your highest value, you are practicing a moral code of egoism.*** When the welfare of others is held higher than your own, so that you live primarily for others (as Comte recommended) -- then you are practicing altruism.

Altruism is something that cannot be fully practiced, because that would lead to our extinction.

Ed

***For humans, egoism does not preclude kindness to others, respect for others, or good will  (benevolence) toward them. Respecting, being kind, or having good will are all common aspects of a full, happy human life.

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 12/23, 9:57pm)




Post 14

Saturday, December 24, 2011 - 4:57amSanction this postReply
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Ed, I reject your alleged proof. You are shooting at somebody else's anti-concept, not mine.



Post 15

Saturday, December 24, 2011 - 12:42pmSanction this postReply
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Merlin,

Well, fine, if you want to play word-smith all day. You were still defending other people's anti-conceptual (defined-by-nonessentials; concept-obliterating) use of the word altruism. Here is an example from the Biological Altruism thread (post 17):
Rand did not misrepresent Auguste Comte's meaning of altruism, as Steve shows. Other people, e.g. Russell Roberts, may mean something different by altruism, but nobody holds a monopoly on its meaning. Rand did not attack Russell Roberts' meaning.
Russell Roberts has an anti-concept for altruism. The evidence of that is when he said that rationally-selfish folks aren't ever generous (don't ever have charitable intentions); that only "altruistic" folks have charitable intentions. If he had the correct concepts of selfishness-altruism, he'd realize that rational selfishness does not preclude being kind and generous (i.e., that we do not need to appeal to some kind of an extra concept that goes beyond self-interest; in order to explain kindness and generosity).

Ed




Post 16

Monday, December 26, 2011 - 10:20amSanction this postReply
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Rand didn't view altruism as an anti-concept; she viewed it as a false concept. She also was careful to distinguish altruism from benevolence:
What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good. (Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 61)
Based on the quotations provided, the author conflates altruism and benevolence. He doesn't define it the way Rand does, and even misrepresents Rand's view, viz.:
"So we may include altrusim in the same group of virtues as compassion and generosity. (Aristotle called this group the "moral virtues" in contract with the "intellectual virtues" such as practical reason and intuitive wisdome.) So, the positions that altruism is a virtue is better presented as the more general doctrine that what we normally call virtues (compassion, generosity) are not genuine virtues. It is one way in which to reject conventioal morality. This is the view associated with Ayn Rand and her followers (1964). Friedrich Nietzsche (1966) is another revisionist moral philosopher..."
For the author, 'altruism' -- benevolence or empathy -- is illegitimate only in an extreme form (i.e., as pathological altruism). So I'm not sure how valuable this critique of 'altruism' is for Objectivists, since it's not really a critique of altruism in Rand's sense of the term. However, as a critique of pathological benevolence it certainly has something to offer.

(Edited by William Dwyer on 12/26, 10:27am)




Post 17

Monday, December 26, 2011 - 4:02pmSanction this postReply
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Bill,

Rand didn't view altruism as an anti-concept; she viewed it as a false concept.
I think it's more accurate to say that Rand viewed altruism as a false morality, rather than a false concept.


The purpose of morality is to tell you what is really (rather than merely "apparently") good and right to do with your life. Altruism doesn't do this, so it fails as a moral system for mankind. But the purpose of a concept is to mentally grasp various kinds or types of things in the world. And the concept of altruism succeeds in that respect. It is effectively utilized in order to grasp a certain kind of self-sacrifice that really does occur in the world (e.g., a soldier jumping on a live grenade, etc.).

For the author, 'altruism' -- benevolence or empathy -- is illegitimate only in an extreme form (i.e., as pathological altruism).
Okay, but this reminds me of folks who say they want socialism, but not as much socialism as Nazi Germany, Red China, or Soviet Russia. They don't want socialism in such an extreme form -- they just want a "healthy" dose of it. It speaks to the muddledness of foggy, fuzzy thinking (actually, of substituting feeling for thinking).

Ed

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 12/26, 4:05pm)




Post 18

Tuesday, December 27, 2011 - 10:09pmSanction this postReply
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Ed,

I wrote, "For the author, 'altruism' -- benevolence or empathy -- is illegitimate only in an extreme form (i.e., as pathological altruism)." You replied,
Okay, but this reminds me of folks who say they want socialism, but not as much socialism as Nazi Germany, Red China, or Soviet Russia. They don't want socialism in such an extreme form -- they just want a "healthy" dose of it. It speaks to the muddledness of foggy, fuzzy thinking (actually, of substituting feeling for thinking).
Again, what the author means by "altruism" is not what Rand means by it. He evidently means benevolence or assistance to other people, rather than self-sacrifice. So, it would make sense for him to point out that benevolence or assistance to others is ill-advised if it becomes too great a burden on the giver -- if, in other words, it becomes self-sacrificial. This would not be an example of fuzzy thinking.



Post 19

Wednesday, December 28, 2011 - 8:27amSanction this postReply
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Bill,
So, it would make sense for him to point out that benevolence or assistance to others is ill-advised if it becomes too great a burden on the giver -- if, in other words, it becomes self-sacrificial. This would not be an example of fuzzy thinking.

"Assistance to others" can also be a burden on the receiver (not just on the giver). The problem with this thinking is that it is utilitarian. Utilitarians are not agent-centered ethicists, they are outcome-centered ethicists. Because of complexities that 3rd-parties will never know enough about -- utilitarianism always involves fuzzy thinking (placing real people into grand equations of a moral calculus which, itself, is fettered with assumptions). It is not enough to authoritatively state that "some" assistance to others is a good thing and that -- at some undetermined/undisclosed point along a spectrum of giving -- the assistance you give to others becomes a bad thing. That's fuzzy thinking.

Now, the author(s) of Pathological Altruism may not make this thinking mistake -- I will have to read the book in order to discover the truth of that. But in seeking out the answer, I will be discovering whether the argument is utilitarian or not. That will be enough to tell me whether the thinking is fuzzy.

Ed

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 12/28, 8:28am)




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