Sunday, July 17, 2011

Comte on Altruism

Guest post by Jeff Perren

Anyone still muddled over the actual nature of altruism would do well to read the man who coined the term.

Here, August Comte makes it completely clear that when he talks about the duty to sacrifice self for the sake of others, he really means it. It's also clear, even from this brief passage, that it is incompatible with liberty.

“[The] social point of view . . . cannot tolerate the notion of rights, for such notion rests on individualism. We are born under a load of obligations of every kind, to our predecessors, to our successors, to our contemporaries.

After our birth these obligations increase or accumulate, for it is some time before we can return any service. . . . Any human right is therefore as absurd as [it is] immoral.

This [to live for others], the definitive formula of human morality, gives a direct sanction exclusively to our instincts of benevolence, the common source of happiness and duty. [Man must serve] humanity, whose we are entirely.”

[Catéchisme Positivist, 1852]

23 Comments:

Blogger WWallace said...

What is the libertarian's response to a "humanitarian crisis"? (Genuine question from someone who's almost finished reading Atlas Shrugged.)

7/17/2011 02:18:00 pm  
Blogger theVOID said...

I was having a similar discussion with someone who considered himself altruistic just yesterday, having these quotes would have made the conversation much more fluid, but in the end I managed to convince him that he was not altruistic, but an individualist who values and promotes egalitarianism - Egalitarianism as a goal and not as a matter of fact, so to speak - It differs from Altruism in my mind as we seek to remove obstacles people face in seeking economic and social equality but do not suppose that we have the moral authority to do this via force, we do it using the moral tools of persuasion, promoting the values that we desire and educating people on how to best achieve that which they desire - An example of this in my mind would be advocating people invest their retirement savings in the private sector so they can take advantage of the greater rate of return, help increase productivity so the prices of goods fall and have some say via their vote as a shareholder over the goals of the company - This is a way to achieve economic egalitarianism in contrast to the idea of taxing those who have wealth despite their acquiring it ethically or seizing the ownership of the means of production by force, both of which are things I consider grossly immoral.

WWallance, I would say that if someone in a foreign land who is having their rights and freedoms thwarted asks for help we have the moral authority to defend them (by we have no moral obligation to do so), either by offering them military aid in defence of their rights and freedoms or offering to rescue them from the territory controlled by those who would seek to abuse them - This is in contrast to the idea that the appropriate response to a humanitarian crisis is to use force to change the political landscape, such as what is happening in Lybia.

7/17/2011 04:04:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"we have the moral authority to defend them (by we have no moral obligation to do so)..."

Gosh, that's handy! Gots da rights, but not da obligations. Like having cake and eating it.

7/17/2011 06:16:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is the libertarian's response to a "humanitarian crisis"?

There is no such thing as society.

There is no such thing as a "humanitarian crisis"

There are individuals who make choices. Some make good choices. Some do not.

Requiring, encouraging, recognizing, or rewarding those who generally make good choices to assist those who make bad choices simply creates an immense moral hazard, and removes any incentives for other individuals to subsequently make better choices.

7/17/2011 11:51:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

we seek to remove obstacles people face in seeking economic and social equality

The notion of "obstacles" and of "economic equality" or "social equality" are leftist - that is to say, communist.

There is no such thing as equality.

By definition: It is simply not possible to ask if one individual is "equal" to another individual.

The goals and aims of economic egalitarianism are inseparable from the means and goals of totalitarian communism, pure and simple.

someone in a foreign land who is having their rights and freedoms thwarted

Which part of: "if someone makes bad choices, that is no concern of anyone else's " don't you understand?

7/17/2011 11:56:00 pm  
Blogger WWallace said...

Are you saying that becoming homeless because a tsunami has destroyed your village and workplace, etc, is the result of "bad choices"? Or because an earthquake has struck -- where no known faultline previously existed?

That comes across as extremely heartless.

7/18/2011 12:14:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"That comes across as extremely heartless."

There is no such thing as the heart. There are individual ventricles each making rational decisions about their own self-interest. Some make good choices. Some do not...

7/18/2011 07:18:00 am  
Blogger WWallace said...

Your "gutless" answer avoided the question. What is it about a tsunami that involves bad choices?

7/18/2011 09:05:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The choice is where you choose to live (or to build your reactor).

There is no such thing as society

7/18/2011 12:14:00 pm  
Blogger WWallace said...

Come on, get real. Imagine I've bought my dream house. It is not on the waterfront. I can see the sea in the distance.

One day, the waves arrive that are much bigger than anything in recorded history... house = flattened. And you're blaming me for my bad choices!

You'd say the same if a meteorite landed on my head, wouldn't you?

I'm trying to determine if being libertarian means turning your back on everyone else, irrespective of the circumstances.

7/18/2011 12:41:00 pm  
Anonymous David S. said...

WWallace,

"I'm trying to determine if being libertarian means turning your back on everyone else, irrespective of the circumstances."

No it doesn't, but mainly because this isn't a libertarian position being offered but an objectivist one.

Personally I don't even believe in the concept of altruism. Christians aren't 'altruistic', they side with god because they think it's in their own best interest. I don't agree with their reasoning, I'm an atheist. But I believe in creating a fairer, more equal, more peaceful society and I'd be prepared to help out a perfect stranger if it meant improving the place in which I live. Not because I'm 'altruistic', but because I live here and I think everyone, rich and poor, benefit from it.

If there is a genuine philosophy of self sacrifice out there it's probably extremely rare, natural selection would have gotten rid of it for the most part. Dominant behavioral trends have been determined by natural selection, survival of the fittest.

7/18/2011 01:00:00 pm  
Blogger theVOID said...

"Gosh, that's handy! Gots da rights, but not da obligations. Like having cake and eating it."

It's nothing of the sort, it's a distinction between a moral good done voluntarily and a moral obligation which you MUST do.

If you are morally obliged to do something you are doing wrong by failing to act, A country might be doing a moral good by offering aid but would not be immoral for refusing it. An example would be if you came across a homeless man starving, you would be doing a moral good to offer him something to eat but if you just walk by you haven't done wrong - You have the authority to help but cannot be condemned for not doing so.

7/18/2011 04:02:00 pm  
Blogger theVOID said...

"The notion of "obstacles" and of "economic equality" or "social equality" are leftist - that is to say, communist."

Oh bullshit, someone being forced into a piece of crap government retirement scheme has an obstacle placed in their way, removing it would be anything but leftist.

Ignorance is also another obstacle, while there are people out there who's first thought when they see a rich person is "They must have fucked me over to get rich, I'm going to take some back" there are people who have an obstacle by achieving what they want - Telling them that their first thought should be "What did he do right?" is removing an obstacle.

We all want to be rich, that is what I meant by 'economic equality' - Let's make it easier for everyone to obtain their material goals, remove regulation and other obstacles that keep the poor poor.

7/18/2011 04:07:00 pm  
Blogger theVOID said...

"The goals and aims of economic egalitarianism are inseparable from the means and goals of totalitarian communism, pure and simple."

This is also complete crap, one method advocates reason, education and persuasion to assist people in achieving their material ends, the other says "fuck he lot of you, we're just going to take it"

7/18/2011 04:08:00 pm  
Blogger theVOID said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7/18/2011 04:12:00 pm  
Blogger theVOID said...

"It is not on the waterfront. I can see the sea in the distance.

One day, the waves arrive that are much bigger than anything in recorded history... house = flattened. And you're blaming me for my bad choices!"

You should have had insurance, your bad choice was to not take insurance out on your house - If you haven't bothered to plan for potential disaster then you won't get a cent from me.

7/18/2011 04:15:00 pm  
Blogger theVOID said...

"Which part of: "if someone makes bad choices, that is no concern of anyone else's " don't you understand?"

Hey genius, you posted that after my post - Unless you expect me to manipulate time and respond to you before you've written something you can drop the ego.

Oh, and you have the situation ass backwards; Someone who is having their property stolen and their freedoms taken is NOT making a bad choice, they are having a choice IMPOSED ON THEM - This is the complete opposite of what you had said. As far as people being responsible for their own choices and that being nobody else's business, I agree, but that is NOT what it happening during these"humanitarian crisis"

7/18/2011 04:17:00 pm  
Anonymous Michael said...

humanitarian crisis

could you be a bit more specific

7/18/2011 04:53:00 pm  
Anonymous Michael said...

This is also complete crap, one method advocates reason, education and persuasion to assist people in achieving their material ends

egalitarianism is the wrong word to user here. It is the denial of the individual's right to be left free.

7/18/2011 05:14:00 pm  
Anonymous Michael said...

despite their acquiring it ethically or seizing the ownership of the means of production by force, both of which are things I consider grossly immoral.

if it is acquired ethically then there it is moral.

7/18/2011 05:32:00 pm  
Blogger theVOID said...

Michael: "egalitarianism is the wrong word to user here. It is the denial of the individual's right to be left free."

Can you suggest a better term?

Michael: "if it is acquired ethically then there it is moral."

You must have misread me, I was saying that taking assets from someone who is rich 'despite their obtaining it ethically' is immoral.

7/18/2011 10:17:00 pm  
Anonymous Richard McGrath said...

@WWallace said:

"I'm trying to determine if being libertarian means turning your back on everyone else, irrespective of the circumstances."

You have fallen for the stereotype promoted by statists that says that humans are naturally evil and have to be told what to do by a gang called "the government". That there is no such thing as individual compassion, charity and benevolence; those virtues can only come about when politicians and bureaucrats use force to make people respond when others suffer misfortune.

Your scenario where a tsunami flattens a town and people are made homeless is yet another "lifeboat" situation. There is no reason why others should be compelled to help. But that doesn't mean no-one will help.

In fact where there is a government that will likely coerce everyone into handing over money (for which they probably had other plans, such as paying for a better education for their children) so it can be handed over to strangers who have suffered misfortune, then people are in all probability LESS likely to be charitable.

You are essentially denying the existence of private charity, when in fact it abounds. Look at the students in Christchurch who chipped in to help earthquake victims.

Check your premises.

7/21/2011 11:18:00 pm  
Blogger WWallace said...

Finally, an intelligent response. Thanks Richard.

Yes, I understand that I'm free to be as generous as I want to be. Yes, I agree that govt-imposed "benevolence" discourages individual charity. Yes, I got the message that I'm under no compulsion to give anything to anyone.

What prompted the question was a perception of libertarians as "selfish".

(That is an observation -- not a criticism. And based solely on a novel!)

7/21/2011 11:34:00 pm  

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