Friday, November 25, 2011

Universal Altruism Equals Universal Egoism

I am no big fan of Ayn Rand - in particular, I believe that her ambiguous analysis of the concept of altruism generated more heat than light - but I appreciate her forceful underscoring of the fact that every voluntary interpersonal interaction is in a fundamental sense a market transaction, although - and this is the important point here - such transactions utilize very different kinds of currency under different circumstances. However, from this it follows that insofar as the supposed "altruist" embraces joyless, painful self-abnegation in exchange for a specific kind of psychological satisfaction, and insofar as altruism is supposed to stand for "not expecting anything in return", genuinely altruistic behaviour appears logically impossible.

But if we conceive altruism to be precisely this - the embrace of joyless, painful self-abnegation, the recognition in the life and individuality of others the kind of moral worth that one denies to one's own life and individuality - and if we combine this with the Kantian injunction that one should act "only according to that maxim whereby one can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law", then one can only wonder how the resulting mindset of universal self-denial can avoid starting to look like the very epitome of universal egoism - the mindset of nobody having any justifiable reason to do anything for another's sake. And to those who would say that the resulting universal passivity would be neither egoistic nor altruistic - is it not under such circumstances in one's self-interest to recognize the moral worthlessness of any action one might undertake vis-a-vis others and hence spare oneself futile efforts and exertions?

Thus holier-than-thou goody-goodies unwittingly grow horns and hooves (and no, altruism is not Christian charity).

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