Ethical Egoism versus Ethical Altruism

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russ_watters

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Bartholomew said:
In ethical altruism, everyone does the greatest good for the greatest number. All revolutions cause a lot of harm to many people before they cause any good; hence, no revolutions in ethical altruism.
That's a contradiction (or maybe just a conundrum): if a revolution causes 10,000 to die this year but saves 100,000 lives next year, wouldn't it be a good thing? Or is it both a good thing and a bad thing (bad now, good later)?

I think present and future consequences still would be taken into consideration, but the difficulty in deciding would lead to severe problems. If, for example, you acted ethical altruistically only in the precise present time, society would quickly disintegrate. There'd be no innoculations, for example (they hurt). But that's just an easy one: how could you convince a group of such people to form a line for dinner? They'd starve to death while trying to let each other go first!

In any case, I agree with your first response: its an impossible hypothetical. Forced to consider it, I'd say both socieies would disintegrate equally rapidly.

The real question should be short-term vs long-term. In the short term, the actions of egotistical and altruistic people are vastly different, but in the long-term the actions converge. Given enough time, egoism and altruism become equivalent.
 
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Well, they don't become equivalent if the altruist considers future generations. In ethical egoism there would never be any reason to prevent disasters that will fall beyond your natural lifetime; that includes things like pollution.

If you give altruists foresight, you'd have to think of a way to reconcile that with the limited intelligence of humans. A human altruist can't think 2000 generations ahead, yet if his altruism comes with foresight he would be unable to act without considering the effects on those people. Each person would just have to do his best, with limited intelligence.

It would limit progress, however. An inspired thinker would be unable to follow his inspiration for the joy of knowledge; at every step, he would have to consider whether people would be better off with him thinking or better off with him doing community work. And if other people think he's wasting his time, then he'd have to weigh the potential benefits of his thought against the emotional pain he is causing now to those other people.

Actually, both absolute moral altruism and absolute moral egoism would be impossible for any mortal to figure out.
 

GeD

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Bartholomew said:
There was no "real" existentialism, there was never anything "strictly" existentialism, there was never any "actual" philosophy. It was always the sum of many people's sometimes conflicting ideas, and still is.

By the way, what ideas of mine do you consider to be outside of the "relatively well known" doctrines?
I think my biggest criticism was the slight misinterpretation of existentialism. "I don't see existentialism as the abandonment of morality, but as the choice of one's own morality." eX is not so much just a choice of one's own morality, but an actual abandonment of morality as an absolute thing - ie. there is no longer any "ought to do", but that you free to choose and act (including the slight misinterpretation of eX and the choosing of one's own morality). Regardless, we do both agree that you responsible for whatever you do and that we make the choices for just that.
If you still want to believe that existentialism does not have a well known definition of what it means, continue what you do. I don't wanna waste anymore of my time trying to convince you otherwise, because you want to turn discussions into relative definitions - where you can excuse anything.
 

GeD

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Bartholomew said:
Well, they don't become equivalent if the altruist considers future generations. In ethical egoism there would never be any reason to prevent disasters that will fall beyond your natural lifetime; that includes things like pollution.
Not necessarily, what if I wanted to keep my descendants alive? ie. "I want my legacy to continue, I want my influence of thought and action to echo for years to come - I want that immortality..." ;)


If you give altruists foresight, you'd have to think of a way to reconcile that with the limited intelligence of humans. A human altruist can't think 2000 generations ahead, yet if his altruism comes with foresight he would be unable to act without considering the effects on those people. Each person would just have to do his best, with limited intelligence.
Yes, altruism could also be limited to intentions being purely altruistic - that way even if the effects were not altruistic, it could still be characterized as such.


It would limit progress, however. An inspired thinker would be unable to follow his inspiration for the joy of knowledge; at every step, he would have to consider whether people would be better off with him thinking or better off with him doing community work. And if other people think he's wasting his time, then he'd have to weigh the potential benefits of his thought against the emotional pain he is causing now to those other people.
Indeed. That's a big problem of Altruism.


Actually, both absolute moral altruism and absolute moral egoism would be impossible for any mortal to figure out.
Yes, this has been known for decades if not centuries.
 
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russ_watters

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Bartholomew said:
Well, they don't become equivalent if the altruist considers future generations. In ethical egoism there would never be any reason to prevent disasters that will fall beyond your natural lifetime; that includes things like pollution.
I disagree. It depends a little on your culture (its particularly true in eastern cultures), but in many societies, your legacy is the most important consideration in your life. This is particularly true for soldiers: they are willing to die for others and that is both an altruistic and egotistical reason. It isn't the case for today's suicide bombers, but the Kamakaze did what they did for honor alone. That is the ultimate combination of egotism and altruism.
 
Well, if you include things that aren't directly related to the individual's needs in the goals of moral egoism, then you open the door for just about any moral code, depending on the social conditioning of what you should consider of benefit to you.


Existentialism is not the abandoning of any shoulds at all. It simply puts them in a relative context. In existentialism, you can decide that killing is wrong. There is no absolute value to that "wrong" ness, it just is how you think about a certain thing.
 

GeD

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Bartholomew said:
Existentialism is not the abandoning of any shoulds at all. It simply puts them in a relative context. In existentialism, you can decide that killing is wrong. There is no absolute value to that "wrong" ness, it just is how you think about a certain thing.
Bartholomew said:
I don't see existentialism as the abandonment of morality, but as the choice of one's own morality.
I'm not even gonna bother. If you want to play games, go ahead and continue to re-hash the same argument that has been addressed.
 
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This is not "playing a game." Yes, I was just re-stating my argument, but in a way I thought would make it clearer.

Basically, it is a question of which is more true: existentialism with the option to create value systems, or existentialism without the option of creating value systems. I hold that the former is more true, meaning more philosophically justified. Existentialism is in essence freeing oneself to express one's true nature. That may include making value systems. Saying "no value systems" seems tacked-on to me; it does not follow from the essence of existentialism.

Do you disagree, not on a historical basis, but on a philosophical basis?
 
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GeD

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Bartholomew said:
This is not "playing a game." Yes, I was just re-stating my argument, but in a way I thought would make it clearer.

Basically, it is a question of which is more true: existentialism with the option to create value systems, or existentialism without the option of creating value systems. I hold that the former is more true, meaning more philosophically justified. Existentialism is in essence freeing oneself to express one's true nature. That may include making value systems. Saying "no value systems" seems tacked-on to me; it does not follow from the essence of existentialism.

Do you disagree, not on a historical basis, but on a philosophical basis?
I never disagreed with that at all. As I already said before, I agreed with your basic definition of existentialism. I already said that there is nothing in eX that says that you should have no value systems, nor did I say that you were not allowed to have a morality or that you could not choose a morality. I don't know why you continue to push that agenda, and then just re-hash the argument again and again that morality is not abandoned in eX. I've already explained to you why it is abandoned.
You speak of freedom to choose your own morality, yet you cannot totally commit to the fact that once you do that - you invalidate your own morality as being "morality" in the sense that it is not a system that says "what you ought to do". Your morality is now just a system of rules you live by.
Your choosing to have or follow a morality does not indicate that moral phenomena exist.
 
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Then we have been in total agreement all along. I never meant you could create your own absolute morality. Any value system you create to live your life is a morality.
 

GeD

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Bartholomew said:
Then we have been in total agreement all along. I never meant you could create your own absolute morality. Any value system you create to live your life is a morality.
I don't like the way you phrased it, because not EVERY value system you create is in fact a morality. Some value systems are just a doctrine, a system, a creed or a way of life. But yes, we agree on many points.

The biggest point of what I wanted to say is that once you really understand eX, you are no longer choosing a morality as it has been defined thus far. Any rules you live with are now better called as rules or value system. There is in fact no morality to speak of anymore.
The smaller point is that which you made earlier - that by making another system of rules, you sort of go against the spirit or ideas of eX. The point was to start choosing according to what is presented to you - to choose in a way you decide to do so. By simply setting up a system and following that, you have chosen freely as an existentialist, but you have gone a long way in decreasing your freedom by making a new box that could get you trapped in.

I'm not saying that those statements are your beliefs, but that is how it sounds like according to the way you have explained them.
 
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Okay, not every value system is a morality, but many are. Nothing in the definition of morality says it must be absolute.

Yes, it is not good in existentialism to adhere rigidly to your own rules. But deciding not to create any rules at all is a very rigid, unnatural way to be; it's human to make rules. So you create rules and you continually decide whether or not to follow them.
 
Hi, Icebreaker,

Forced to choose between your options, I would vote for ethical egoism.

I understand ethical egoism to be the supreme moral principle, which is the formula of universal law:

"Act only on a maxim that you can will to be a universal law." Immanuel Kant.

From this position we can draw up more detailed rules, if we like, such as
Don't kill yourself, don't kill your children, don't steal cars, etc,
with the qualification: unless you're happy to see it applied to every man, woman and child alive, including yourself.

Of course, this relies on enlightened self-interest, and few of us are even close to enlightenment, so I'd rather not see this system replace the rule of law just yet....

It is still preferable to your other option, however. I think CS Lewis summed up why, rather nicely, when he said:

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

Ethical altruism does not remove the power imbalance inherent in human society, and I don't want someone stronger than me, who thinks they know better than I do what's good for me, forcing me to submit to their will, 'for my own good'.

Excellent thread, by the way.

Kate.
 
katelynndevere said:
"Act only on a maxim that you can will to be a universal law." Immanuel Kant.

From this position we can draw up more detailed rules, if we like, such as
Don't kill yourself, don't kill your children, don't steal cars, etc,
with the qualification: unless you're happy to see it applied to every man, woman and child alive, including yourself.

Of course, this relies on enlightened self-interest, and few of us are even close to enlightenment, so I'd rather not see this system replace the rule of law just yet....
Careful about ascribing ethical egoism to Kant's maxims. To quote Kant himself
from FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF THE METAPHYSICS OF ETHICS

"To be beneficent when we can is a duty; and besides this, there are many minds so sympathetically constituted that, without any other motive of vanity or self-interest, they find a pleasure in spreading joy around them, and can take delight in the satisfaction of others so far as it is their own work. But I maintain that in such a case an action of this kind, however proper, however amiable it may be, has nevertheless no true moral worth, but is on a level with other inclinations. ... For the maxim lacks the moral import, namely, that such actions be done from duty, not from inclination."
Kant thought that only if an action was done out of duty with no desire to do it and if you are getting no happiness in return, only then that action is moral. Any trace of any benefit however benign even happiness destroys the virtue of the action.

Of course this is self-contradictory as this means that if one does not desire to be moral, only then one can be moral. If one derives any happiness or satisfaction from being moral, one is not moral.

Kant was the last of the persons to advocate egoism.
 

GeD

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Kant thought that only if an action was done out of duty with no desire to do it and if you are getting no happiness in return, only then that action is moral. Any trace of any benefit however benign even happiness destroys the virtue of the action.
No, Kant states that the action must be motivated completely by duty. He doesn't say that it is immoral if you have an accompanying desire and/or rewards of happiness for acting in this way. The existence of accompanying desires or happiness does not hurt the quality of duty - only if such things were used as part of the motivation of the action. What's important is the intention to act by following one's duty.
 
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GeD said:
No, Kant states that the action must be motivated completely by duty. He doesn't say that it is immoral if you have an accompanying desire and/or rewards of happiness for acting in this way. The existence of accompanying desires or happiness does not hurt the quality of duty - only if such things were used as part of the motivation of the action. What's important is the intention to act by following one's duty.
Read the quote I gave

from FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF THE METAPHYSICS OF ETHICS

"To be beneficent when we can is a duty; and besides this, there are many minds so sympathetically constituted that, without any other motive of vanity or self-interest, they find a pleasure in spreading joy around them, and can take delight in the satisfaction of others so far as it is their own work. But I maintain that in such a case an action of this kind, however proper, however amiable it may be, has nevertheless no true moral worth, but is on a level with other inclinations. ... For the maxim lacks the moral import, namely, that such actions be done from duty, not from inclination."
He clearly states that even when people take satisfaction in spreading joy, however amiable this action may be, it has no moral worth.
 
I think that both ethical egoism and ethical altruism get filosofically speaking, destroyed and unabled if they are alone by them self in a society. If one exist, the other one must also do so: In order to balance the ethic.

It is like having a 2, to make it balanced, you have to get a -2.

But if the world's society should have only and only one, and I was the person to choose it, I shouldn't choose any of them. This is, because if I choose egoism ethics, then I would be using egoism ethics to choose it. If I choose altruism ethics, then I would be using altruism ethics to choose it. You might think, does this matter at all? Well, yes. Using an ethic to choose that same ethic as the societie's ethic, is completely incorrect, becuase it would be like trying to describe what (for ex.) transportation means, using the word transportation, or any word of the same root.

I couldn't choose any of them using the other one, becuase it is impossible, but in the case that I did, then, I would still be using one of them so I shouldn't. Maybe the only correct way of choosing one of the ethics is using a third type of ethic, but then, we also have problems: 1)you should also consider that new logic as a candidate, 2) you can't use a different ethic to choose an ethinc, everytime you choose an ethic you are using that ethic to choose that ethic becuase each ethic leads you to choose itself.

But, If I would HAVE to choose one of those two ethics, I would choose altruism ethic because my brain's logic tells me that if everybody does things for the rest, then at least the society would survive for a time, until another civilization comes along (it can be from outer space or a new civilization from earth) and it has both ethics (like all civilizations do) that new civilization would get over the altruism one and the altruism one would dissapear. If you choose a society with only egoist ethic, it would live for an even shorter time and would eventually colapse because it would stop being a society and would become an individually living world.

Resuming this, you can't choose any ethic because you use that ethic to choose that ethic, and you can't choose any of them becuase the ethics alone don't work. Those two ethics alone are like comunism in realty. They simply don't work.
 
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GeD

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sid_galt said:
Read the quote I gave



He clearly states that even when people take satisfaction in spreading joy, however amiable this action may be, it has no moral worth.
I was talking about the difference between what you say: "taking satisfaction in spreading joy has no moral worth", with the non-Kantian statement: "taking satisfaction in spreading joy is an immoral action."

Secondly, having satisfaction when you are acting morally does not negate it's being moral. One can act morally, as long as it is motivated strictly by the "right intentions", his having satisfaction for that action will not change the moral worth of that action.
 

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