Thursday, February 2, 2017

Ayn Rand and altruism

What Rand Meant by Altruism | Foundation for Economic Education - Gary M. Galles:

January 31, 2017 - "February 2 is best known as Groundhog Day. But it also marks the birth of one of the most praised and criticized thinkers of the past century – Ayn Rand. Rand sold more than 30 million books. Atlas Shrugged has been ranked behind only the Bible as an influence on readers’ lives. She has also been stridently attacked for issues such as her militant atheism. But perhaps least understood has been her full-bore rejection of altruism....

"Altruism has commonly been held up as the standard for moral behavior. But Rand rejected it, asserting it was 'incompatible with freedom, with capitalism, and with individual rights,' and therefore "the basic evil behind today’s ugliest phenomena.'

"That head-on collision arises from French philosopher Auguste Comte, coiner of the term altruism. The website says he believed 'the only moral acts were those intended to promote the happiness of others.' Comte’s Catechisme Positiviste asserts that altruism 'gives a direct sanction exclusively to our instincts of benevolence,' and, therefore, 'cannot tolerate the notion of rights, for such a notion rests on individualism.'

"In Comte’s view, any act performed for any reason beyond solely that of advancing someone else’s well-being is not morally justified. That implies taking a tax deduction for a charitable act strips it of its morality.... Something as seemingly innocuous as feeling good about doing good also fails Comte’s joyless standards. Even 'love your neighbor as yourself' fails his unlimited duty of altruism....

Rand’s 'virtue of selfishness' was a response to Comte’s demand for complete selflessness. Not only is a requirement for everyone to completely disregard themselves an unattainable ideal, it is self-contradictory. You cannot possibly sacrifice yourself fully for me, while I am also sacrificing myself fully for you. And if no one has any intrinsic value, why would the results, even if possible, be meritorious? With Comte as a starting point, more attention to people’s own well-being – more selfishness, in Rand’s terminology – is the only way to move toward recognizing value in each individual and significance in each life.

"Comte’s conception of altruism is also inconsistent with liberty, which was Ayn Rand’s focus. The duty to put others first at all times and in all circumstances denies self-ownership and the power to choose that derives from it. Everyone else maintains never-ending presumptive claims on every individual, overriding any rights they may have. In contrast, benevolence involves voluntary choices to benefit others of one’s own choosing, in ways and to the extent individuals choose for themselves.... The key distinction is between benevolence’s individual discretion, which recognizes our rights over ourselves and our resources, and altruism’s unconditional requirement to always sacrifice for others.

"An omnipresent duty of self-sacrifice also makes people vulnerable to manipulation by those who disguise power over others as 'really' a means to attain some noble goal. The desire to sacrifice for the good of others can be transformed into the requirement to sacrifice to the desires of leaders."

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