Positive prudence

  1. Feb 5, 2010 #1
    We can name many negative consequences from greed upon our global financial system. What, however, would you say is the most positive economic effect of altruism worldwide?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 5, 2010 #2
    In altruistic behavior the distribution of benefits between the actors is more likely to be asymmetrical : some actors will benefit more than others.

    An altuistic behavior is a behavior that is benefiting others at a cost to the altruist.

    The following question was asked to 127 scientists attending international meetings:

    Would society be better off, in aggregate economic terms, if altruism was more widely practiced?

    Yes in 97.6% of the cases. A proof for this belief, however, is lacking

    Source: http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/5/3/3.html
  4. Feb 6, 2010 #3
    It would make the world a better place IMO, but the consequences on economy would not be so good, IMO. Greed and power thirst are powerful motivators.
  5. Feb 6, 2010 #4
    This is an interesting question, and merits a more complete answer than I'm able to give.

    I would look up some of the research on cultural evolution (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evolution-cultural/). One of the interesting things to note is that a population with all altruists can quickly be invaded and destroyed by 'defectors', which in this case are non-altruists.

    If altruists follow the definition noted above by BenVitale, they will lose fitness over time by expending their resources to help others. True, this may be compensated for by others sacrificing some of their own fitness, but imagine a situation in which one defector appears, who does not sacrifice any of his own. He will both benefit from the sacrifice of others' fitness to help him, and not lose any of his own helping others. Any population of defectors will quickly multiply in proportion of the population (think 'nice guys finish last'!). So, while a world of altruists might be a better one in some way or another--and I still think this is a big 'might'--it would not be very stable!
  6. Feb 6, 2010 #5
    Thanks for the link....I'm going to read it.

    Yeah, self-sacrifice. It's easier if others do it ... It is hard to give up some privileges for the collective good ... We like to protect our immediate self-interest .... A Homo economicus would not sacrifice any thing that he/she values. Luckily, we don't live in a world populated by Homo economicus.

    This reminds me of the Prisoner's dilemma
    because while it is comforting to think that we could live in a world of altruists ... but Game theory tells me that people will defect or cooperate in the beginning to defect at some point.
  7. Feb 6, 2010 #6


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    What about near-altruists, who collectively punish defectors?
  8. Feb 6, 2010 #7
    Dictatorial state.
  9. Feb 6, 2010 #8
    I think that's the key: you have to have punishers. But even then, those individuals are going to lose some fitness by punishing, and others (peaceniks, let's call them) have an incentive to free ride and get all the benefits of the punishers without any of the expenses of being one of them. How these types don't take over the population is kind of mysterious, and you get into some really esoteric stuff on population equilibria, which is really complicated and which I don't know enough about to explain, I'm afraid!

    For more on this: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/game-evolutionary/

    Maybe not a world populated by exact models of homo economicus, but we're closer than many think. Homo economicus has a great explanatory power. What's really cool are many of the studies in experimental economics, which is a sort of cross-discipline between psychology and economics (and maybe philosophy?). I kind of think that we would be much closer to homo economicus if we weren't so god awful at analyzing probabilities and so prone to cognitive biases!

    Well, the problem is that in a single iteration of the Prisoner's Dilemma, there is absolutely no incentive to cooperate. The Nash equilibrium is to defect, and that's the only rational move. Some people have tried to "solve" it, but all one really does is change the parameters of the game, and make it something other than a PD.

    Look up iterated (or repeated) Prisoner's Dilemma games, though. Those get interesting, and there are a number of strategies that actually do allow for cooperation, such a "Tit-for-Tat," in which Player A will cooperate on the first move, and then (on her next move) do whatever B does. If B is also a "Tit-for-Tat" strategist, the game will work out nicely.

    Also, look up some of the other games, like the Stag Hunt!

    Sorry about all the Game Theory rambling, I just love the stuff so much!
  10. Feb 7, 2010 #9


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    If the utility loss for punishing is low enough, I don't think this would be much of a problem. I think humans, in general, display this sort of behavior frequently.
  11. Feb 7, 2010 #10


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  12. Feb 7, 2010 #11
    No worries! I'm a big fan of Game theory ... I didn't elaborate too much for fear this thread would turn cold.

    Several weeks ago, I asked the moderators whether they would create a sub-forum for Game theory. The answer came back, "No."

    Now, I know that you're a fan of Game theory. That's cool!
  13. Feb 7, 2010 #12
    Maybe the utility lost on each occasion is low, but if this happens frequently enough it starts to add up. I agree that humans display this behavior frequently, and I think part of the key may be in collective punishment, which you mentioned before (eg things like laws, like an actively supported police force, etc.). The only reason I brought up the loss in fitness from individual (and maybe collective?) punishment is because it seemed interesting, and still relevant! :tongue2:

    It's also a great argument against hippies :wink:

    Yes, game theory is awesome! I only have a very general, and more philosophical understanding of it, though. I don't have the mathematical chops for the really hardcore stuff... yet. It's really too bad about the lack of a game theory forum, though maybe that's too specialized a topic for a whole subforum. I think a Music forum is really in order, though!
  14. Feb 7, 2010 #13

    Do you want another society in which "defectors" are punished ?

    What will you punish me for ? For not thinking like you ? For wanting the best for my family and my kids , and hence I go competitive ?

    Such a state would spiral down fast into a dictatorship.

    Somebody here says that the "punishers" would loose fitness by punishing. No, they wouldn't. They would become a key mechanism of repression, and they would be corrupted quite fast.

    IMO, this altruistic society with punishers is a form of communist dystopia. You don't want anyone to punish "defectors". Last time when somebody tried this, we got millions dead, imprisoned, years of fear, and no liberty.
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2010
  15. Feb 7, 2010 #14
    So you don't want people who cheat to be punished? You don't want criminals to go to jail?

    Punishing, as it's usually understood, is meant to prevent people from gaming the system, so to speak. I don't think it's typically understood as a means of thought control.
  16. Feb 7, 2010 #15
    This is what communism did. Punish anyone who didnt wanted to be "equal' and "altruist".

    Altruism is unselfish concern for others. It is voluntary. You cant encapsulate it in a legal system. Once you do that and say "ppl who are not "altruist" (as define in the code of law) will be punished you have nothing. You just enforced through fear of legal repercussion and your police force what you perceive as altruism. It's not altruism anymore. It a ****ing policy at left end of the spectrum which enforces me, who produce more, to be "altruist" with the looser who cant produce much.

    Like I said, this is a a pathway to a variant of a communist dystopia.
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2010
  17. Feb 7, 2010 #16

    If that's true, then, how do you maintain a stable society? How do you keep defectors in check, or prevent them from taking over the population?
  18. Feb 7, 2010 #17


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    We live in such a society now. Perhaps you interpret "punish" too narrowly.
  19. Feb 7, 2010 #18
    By not trying to build an utopia / dystopia in the first place. Altruism cant be enforced/ regulated.

    Free markets, with some sectors slightly regulated, are the only way to go. Enforcing "altruism" would first and foremost hit in the free markets. Do you really expect that any business man would sit silent and look how his profits are used to support his competition because "altrusim" is enforced in economics ?

    Altruism is all nice when it comes willingly. I think that even the term "altruism" would loose meaning if helping others would be enforced.
  20. Feb 9, 2010 #19
    a society of altruists is a hive. We imagine ants have no concept of independence because they just don't leave the community, but neither do humans. You can take Billy out of the hills, but you can't take the hills out of Billy. If society is seen as a bunch of ideas rather than the individuals that express them, those ideas define ones group within the larger society. Altruism is more common in these groups, probably because locals tend to be wary of outsiders, but also because it's what defines them. "Bikers are a brotherhood" even when they're killing each other. When looking for altruists, perhaps the resolution for a "discrete individual" could be adjusted.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2010
  21. Feb 9, 2010 #20
    Wow. When I read the title, "positive prudence," I never would have guessed the direction of this thread! The meaning of altruism seems to have become the focus of debate.

    I thought the benefits of commerce might be listed here, you know, the idea of the "invisible hand." Each person follows his own self-interest and society enjoys the spill-over benefits. I have studied electrical engineering and law with an applied philosophy attitude, and I figure the most beneficial technologies have been building public sanitation systems based on vastly improved understanding of disease transmission. What I get PO-ed about in America is guys like Trump trying to trump up their contribution to society, i.e., capitalist competition is the source of all good, when in fact it is the prudent citizens that make such games possible.

    Webster's defines prudence as the ability to guide one's actions according to reason. There is a way to be selfish which accounts for the legitimate needs of others, and this is what the law expects of us in America, for the most part. One does not "have to" go to the aid of another in distress, pay their bills, give to charity, etc., yet all such things are encouraged via public policy and moral suasion (Jewish tradition makes charity a form of social obligation without going into communist extremes). We pay people to be "First Responders" and these people are obligated to be "Good Samaritans" under contract.

    The law basically (1) enforces valid private contracts that are not criminal or unenforceable as a matter of public policy; (2) punishes actors who cause harm to another under tort liability theories; and (3) enforces criminal codes against violators. This is basically in line with the concept of prudence as the ability to govern one's actions based on reason.

    Recently I have isolated the reason that prudence remains an ideal. The basis for reason is emotion which Spinoza defines as a feeling of pleasure or pain accompanied by an idea about its cause. Humans don't have perfect causal knowledge, that is, we do not form perfect causal ideas, particularly this skill is limited in early childhood and is biased by personal experience even among ardent scientists.

    However in theory there is no need for me to sacrifice anything of real value in the effort to care for myself and others, I simply need to realize which ideas/actions really do benefit both self and others without causing harm/pain. Greed is not one of the ideas that does this in the long run (it is driven primarily by a fear or idea about a cause of pain).
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