Talk:Altruism/Archive 1

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Link removed

I removed the following irrelevant link:

If someone sees a reason to keep it please say so. --Kzollman 06:26, Mar 21, 2005 (UTC)

Biological Altruism

point a) the statement about the slime mold is blatantly plagarized. point b) it's actually false. It's not an example of altruism

Nomination for removal.

Lepidoptera 21:04, 13 December 2005 (UTC)

agreed. also, the example seems too underdeveloped for inclusion.--Heesung 16:20, 18 January 2006 (UTC)

Philosophy ethics section

I am not happy about the description in the philosophy/ethics section that "In practice, altruism is the performance of duties to others with no view to any sort of personal gain for one's efforts". The duty being performed may only exist if an altruistic viewpoint is taken. Ethical egoists would deny the very existence of most duties to others, and in fact a devout ethical egoist would claim to perform in full all duties to others. I'm not quite sure what this statement should be changed to, it's certainly "almost there" (it distinguishes, for example, the instance of a person who likes to think of himself as an altruist but, like a sinning Catholic, fails to perform the duties that imposes upon him) but if you mention duties then some mention of the origin of these duties is really required. I suspect that the best choice of action would be to avoid the mention of duties altogether. VivaEmilyDavies 15:17, 4 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Modified the introduction in the following manner: I added the concept of I call "behavioral altruism" and disintingished it from what I call "motivational altruism." I didn't refer to these terms as such because I doubt they're standard terminology, but the concepts define what are legitimately two different kinds of altruism. And, I noted that altruism is also the name of an ethical doctrine. (RJII NOV2004)

I created the header "Altruism in Politics" and introduced a few sentences as a starter. (RJII NOV2004)

I did a pretty radical reworking of the intro. I think it is necessary to define altruism in a broad manner that includes all perspectives that we cover in the article. I tried to outline the main topics of the article in the introduction. At some point, I think it would be good to include a comment like "different perspectives on altruism can arise from using narrow or broad definitions of self-interest. At one extreme, self-interest is limited to definite material benefits for the actor, while at the other extreme self-interest includes psychological rewards." I don't know whether this should be in the introduction or deeper in the article. It helps clarify some of the differences among schools of philosophy and fields of research. AdamRetchless 20:04, 14 Mar 2004 (UTC)


This article has a lot of basic content, but it needs some editing. First, the organization needs to be straightened out. I think it would help to dedicate a section to Philosophy and Ethics, separate from Psychology and Sociology. I think it would also be good to address human altruism separately from altruism in other creatures. As the article stands, those two topics blur together. Finally, thru much of the article, I get the feeling that this is an argument, where people are throwing out whatever argument they can think of and then someone elses refutes the point. This really destroys the focus of the article. AdamRetchless 01:11, 14 Mar 2004 (UTC)

OK, I agree largely with that. I wrote most of the philosophy stuff but I'm not really qualified to do any overall editing because I'm not confident enough on the details of my sociology/psychology. Animal and human altruism can be usefully separated as long as the links are pointed out; at the end of the day humans are animals too, but I can see the pragmatic reasons for separating. Toby W 17:50, 14 Mar 2004 (UTC)

X-Forwarded-For: 10.0.0.16

I did what I could. The last main section(psychology and sociology) is the most troublesome. First, there is really no psychology or sociology in there; there are a lot of ideas of how altruism may have evolved in humans, but no actual information about how altruism is actually exhibited in humans. I was tempted to just remove that section heading, but it would be great to real information about altruism in human psychology (when is it exhibited, what similarities/differences are there among societies, is it related to spite?) That section still has too much argument in it, and is not always NPOV. The proposed evolution of consciousness is too speculative and long. AdamRetchless 03:03, 21 Mar 2004 (UTC)

Altruism doesn't really exist. Even if you are doing something that is helpful or charitable for others, you will still reap the good of that action. The idea that one should do things for altruistic purposes is wrong and can lead to the downfall of society, as Ayn Rand wrote about in AtlasShrugged. If one portrays that they are doing something completely for others benefit and has no self interest, that is when you should question thier motives. Why do they wish to appear so benevolent? When one does for other people at least there are good feelings that arise and right there, the theory of altruism is defunct or never existed.

That's fucking right


The foregoing view is known as psychological egoism and is widely dismissed by philosophers, for reasons that somebody ought to explain.

There's not a lot to explain; there is plain and simple empirical evidence of people doing altruistic acts. People sometimes do generous things even if it makes them unhappy. Of course you could say this is to get one's conscience to leave you alone, but since a conscience is darn close to an AltruismInstinct, that's pretty weak.

People evolved to have empathy towards others and do altruistic things because that's good for everybody in general, though not always in specifics. Whether altruism makes any sense, of course, is a different matter, though I wouldn't personally say it doesn't.


When you say widely dismissed, do you have anything to actually back that up? What philosophers have dismissed this idea? I would like to know how you can substantiate your criticism.


You can find it dismissed in any of many dozens of general philosophy textbooks as well as books about ethics. Here is just one example. It is hackneyed, among professional philosophers, to say that psychological egoism is untenable. By the way, in saying that it has been dismissed, I don't pretend to be making a criticism--just pointing out a fact.


Actually, I was asking that someone else take the time to make the criticism plain.

By the way, you might not know that Ayn Rand herself rejected psychological egoism very firmly, as a matter of fact. (Not that that's an argument!)

Also, I'd say that this discussion should probably be removed to the psychological egoism page, because it presents that view, rather than discussing altruism itself. That's just my opinion, I'll leave it up to you. -- Larry Sanger


How about this for a definition of altruism? I think it needs some revision, but perhaps it is a useful start.

The view that one ought to be motivated solely or primarily by the interests of others rather than the interests of oneself. Altruism is then viewed as a conclusion, rather than a foundation or argument -- presumably some meta-ethical argument would be needed in order to explain why we ought to be altruistic. --Jimbo Wales


62.60.54.xxx, I strongly recommend you read Welcome, newcomers with particular attention to Wikipedia policy and Wikipettiquette. Rudeness like the above is unwelcome. Your insertion of extraneous concepts into articles such as Contraception is rude. Your creation of pages with titles like Hippy-dippy religious concepts is perilously close to vandalism. This is a pretty free-wheeling community, but surprise! There are standards of behavior, and in extreme cases IP numbers can be banned. A word to the wise. -- April

Suggest 13 possible wiki links and 10 possible backlinks for Altruism.

An automated Wikipedia link suggester has some possible wiki link suggestions for the Altruism article:

  • Can link self-interest: ...ltruism can arise from using narrow or broad definitions of self-interest. Many subscribe to the view that self-interest can be defin...
  • Can link self-esteem: ...ternal" benefit of a "good feeling," sense of satisfaction, self-esteem, fulfillment of duty (whether imposed by a religion or ideo... (link to section)
  • Can link counter-intuitive: ...ecreasing the fitness of the actor. This would appear to be counter-intuitive if one presumes that [[natural selection]] acts on the indi... (link to section)
  • Can link gene pool: ... on the individual. Natural selection, however, acts on the gene pool of the subjects, not on each subject individually. Recent d... (link to section)
  • Can link net profit: ...the net expenditure of effort (tit) is far greater than the net profit when it occasionally pays off (tat). ... (link to section)
  • Can link co-operative: ...rms, a free rider is an [[agent]] who draws benefits from a co-operative society without contributing. In a one-to-one situation, fr... (link to section)
  • Can link one-to-one: ...fits from a co-operative society without contributing. In a one-to-one situation, free riding can easily be discouraged by a tit-f... (link to section)
  • Can link free riding: ...ve society without contributing. In a one-to-one situation, free riding can easily be discouraged by a tit-for-tat strategy. But in... (link to section)
  • Can link tit-for-tat: ...o-one situation, free riding can easily be discouraged by a tit-for-tat strategy. But in a larger-scale society, where contribution... (link to section)
  • Can link the common good: ...each other, each contributing resources and each drawing on the common good. Now imagine a [[rogue]] [[free rider]], an agent who draws... (link to section)
  • Can link well-behaved: ...to be beneficial to individuals at cost to society. How can well-behaved co-operative agents avoid being cheated? Over many generati... (link to section)
  • Can link form of government: ...ealm of politics, he may employ an agent of coercion in the form of government to enforce this supposed moral obligation.... (link to section)
  • Can link moral obligation: ...coercion in the form of government to enforce this supposed moral obligation.... (link to section)

Additionally, there are some other articles which may be able to linked to this one (also known as "backlinks"):

  • In Tao Te Ching, can backlink altruism: ...te [[quietism]], harmonious living, unconditional love, and altruism, in common with later systems of belief and faith. However,...
  • In Ethics, can backlink altruism: ...etimes be seen as an evolutionary adaptation. For instance, altruism towards members of one's own family promotes one's [[inclus...
  • In Mahayana, can backlink altruism: ...257;na as self-benefit for the benefit of others, unlimited altruism and pity being the theory of Mahāyāna. ...
  • In Peloponnesian War, can backlink altruism: ...o assist their ally. The Athenians did not act solely from altruism; they were driven primarily by self-interest. The Athenian ...
  • In [[Ranma %BD characters#Pantyhose Taro|Ranma ½ characters]], can backlink altruism: ...Happosai was experiencing a totally out-of-character fit of altruism, and decided to help the mother out with her birthing. Thi...
  • In Alignment (role-playing games), can backlink altruism: ...y innocent life, whether for fun or profit. "Good" implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentien...
  • In Duong Hong Ky, can backlink altruism: ...]], [[Virginia]], '''Duong Hong Ky''' is well-known for his altruism, language skills, as well as his knowledge in several areas...
  • In Takla Haymanot, can backlink altruism: ...hiopian]] for "the gift of faith"). His wife, known for her altruism towards the poor, was named "Sarah", but also called "Agzah...
  • In Dysgenics, can backlink altruism: ...l." Julian Huxley described eugenics as "of all outlets for altruism, that which is most comprehensive, and of longest range" (V...
  • In Dersu Uzala, can backlink altruism: ...w of the world and admires his intelligence and no-nonsense altruism. When winter sets in and the detachment must go back to civ...

Notes: The article text has not been changed in any way; Some of these suggestions may be wrong, some may be right.
Feedback: I like it, I hate it, Please don't link toLinkBot 11:22, 1 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Edit warring

Whats the deal? I've thought about it, and maybe it should say "Theocracy, Socialism and Totalitarianism? Or maybe theocracy is totalitarianism, and so it should just say "socialism and Totalitarianism" (so as to include non-totalitarian forms of socialism). Can we talk? Sam_Spade (talk · contribs) 11:53, 27 Dec 2004 (UTC)

I'm trying to figure out the deal myself. Communism is obviously a system that altruists advocate. The individual should work for the benefit of the collective instead of pursuing self-interest. Maybe somebody doesn't want to hear it? (RJII) Dec 27
I don't want to hear that, Communism has perhaps the worst human rights record of any political system, save perhaps mideavel Christian theocracy (i.e. the Inquisition, Islamism). Not all socialism is the same however, and it better serves the reader to to remain more vague, as some have not yet resulted in Totalitarianism (i.e. the social democracy of Northern and Western Europe, scandanavia, etc...). Sam_Spade (talk · contribs) 17:50, 27 Dec 2004 (UTC)
But you're talking about the attempts at putting communism into practice that we've seen. Communism as a political philosophy prescribes altruistic behavior...the individual lives and works to benefit the collective. If you look at the writings of "communist" dictators it's what they are trying to accomplish and enforce...to force what they see as a moral obligation of everyone to be altruistic. If you're going to enforce that people relenquish self-interest for others, then obviously there are going to be some rights issues. I definitely think Communism should be listed in there. (RJII) Dec 27
I don't see how your conclusion is based on your argument. You say Communism has only failed every time.... I say "Not all socialism is the same however, and it better serves the reader to to remain more vague". You say "I definitely think Communism should be listed in there." Why? Sam_Spade (talk · contribs) 18:40, 27 Dec 2004 (UTC)
I just told you why. The belief that people have a moral obligation to help others (ethical altruism) is frequently behind the advocacy of political systems such as communism. I'm not sure if I can make it any clearer. There are people who advocate communism because they think the pursuit of self-interest is neglecting what they believe to be a moral calling for individuals to work for benefit of the group. Do you disagree? If so, what about that isn't correct? (RJII) Dec 27

Frankly, the whole "altruism in politics" section is one big objectivist straw man. Certainly, altruism can be (and is) used as a basis for various forms of socialism (including communism), but it can just as easily be used as a basis for any other political or economic system. An altruist could believe that pure laissez-faire capitalism best serves the common good, for example, and support it for that reason. In other words, all socialists are altruists, but not all altruists are socialists. An altruist will support the system he believes to be the best for humanity as a whole - whatever system that is. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 12:37, 10 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Then say it in the article. If it can stand up to the light of reason, great. But I think you are out of line to deleted the whole section, because it's obvious that ethical altruism is influential in politics. RJII 00:31, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Large deletions are indeed frowned upon. That said, Mihnea has a point. Perhaps we should shorten the section, and focus on positive vrs. negative freedom? Sam_Spade (talk · contribs) 01:43, 12 Jan 2005 (UTC)


If I can throw in an outsider's voice here, it seems like alturism can be used to justify virtually any popular political system. The controversial pair of paragraphs seems to really be meaningless. Namely, I can make the following modifications to the final paragraph, which expands its meaning to a more general case:

Altruism, as an ethical doctrine, together with the belief that enforcement of the doctrine is morally permissible, is frequently the ideology behind support of particular governmental actions such as transfer payments the arrest of murderers or behind the establishment and support of entire political systems themselves, such as theocracy, socialism or totalitarianism republics. Within these this systems the individual acts to benefit the group (see collectivism), particular groups, other individuals, or the state rather than pursues his self-interest as he sees

No, because the arrest of murderers isn't an enforcement of altruism. It's an enforcement of the freedom of another to live ..to not be subject to assault. Refresh yourself on what the ethical doctrine of altruism is. It's the belief that people have a moral obligation to help other people. And, this means "help" as in doing ..performing a positive action, as opposed to refraining from doing, or refraining from murdering. RJII 22:43, 13 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Hmmm. Good point, but you're making a distinction that not everyone believes to exist. It's not really possible to make a rigorous definition of inaction (does breathing count as action?). Also, "freedom to live" is an unusual formation ... one could just as easily arrest everyone who drives an SUV for violating someone else's "freedom to breathe clean air".
Likewise, arresting someone for violating someone's "freedom to breathe clean air", is not arresting them for "not helping" someone, but for harming them. There is a distinct difference. RJII 03:36, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)
[comment removed, it was getting off track] -- PaulStansifer
The dictionary at hand gives the first definition of "altruism" as "unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others." That isn't explicitly positive -- lacking a regard or devotion for the welfare of others removes the moral barrier to murder. So perhaps Rand used the word in a different way than most people?
This is a source of a lot of confusion about Rand. When Rand speaks of "altruism" she does say that she's speaking of the ethical doctrine called altruism. That's not the same thing as the "altruism" people refer to colloquially. She's opposed to the belief that people have a moral obligation to help others. Again, this is about helping others..taking positive action to do good for them, not refraining from harming them. RJII 03:36, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I don't see anywhere else where this definition of the ethical doctrine is given. From what you're saying, it sounds like Rand was using a different definition than everybody else, which should be noted. As it stands, the reader has no way of knowing that the type of altruism being discussed is only the positive part of altruism. PaulStansifer 16:04, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)
It's given a few times in the article. It sounds like you haven't read the article. It's talked about in the intro as well as early in the article in reference to August Comte. It's not a use of the word "different from everybody else." It's the common use of the word when people are talking in the context of normative ethics. Altruism is one of many ethical doctrines. RJII 16:29, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Are you referring to "one's actions ought to further the interests or good of other people"? That seems to encompass both the positive and negative aspects of altruism, because it assumes that people, as part of their nature, will act, and then says that those actions should be furthering the interests or good of other people -- possibly by acting in a manner that does not involve murdering them. If one considers inaction to be a special case of action (as, I assume, most people who consider themselves supporters of altruism do, and as the that sentence also does), then there is no difference between positive and negative altruism. However, I now see that from other points of view, there is such a distinction. That should probably be mentioned. PaulStansifer 17:06, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I do stand corrected on something after thinking about your comments. Altruism doesn't just apply to prescribing action, but can also apply to proscribing action. For example, refraining from eating your dinner so that someone else can eat it. But as far as refraining from mudering someone, that goes beyond what altruism is about. Altruism is about bestowing a positive benefit on someone ..meaning providing something to them that they did not have if you would not have acted (or refrained from acting) RJII 20:16, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)
So perhaps what should be said is that the negative aspect of altruism is behind the regulation aspect of government (people should be coerced into not doing harm), and the positive aspect is behind coercing people to pay taxes to build schools and roads, and coercing people to pull over for emergency vehicles. (Okay, my POV is sort of showing through in my choice of examples). I think it's unfair to associate altruism with socialism -- again, I think that an egoist can be a socialist if they believe that it's better for them. PaulStansifer 03:12, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)
If the tax isn't used to help the person that is taxed, but someone else, sure. Of course, not everyone advocates "welfare," for example, because they believe people have a moral obligation to help others. I suppose there's other reasons someone could advocate it that have nothing to do with morality. But then, that wouldn't be inlcluded in the political discussion since politics, in those cases, wouldn't be influenced by the altruism ethic. RJII 04:36, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I was trying to say that, since politics, in those cases, wouldn't be influenced by the altruism ethic, it is incorrect to say that socialism requires altruism. Furthermore, because pulling over for emergency vehicles is the same sort of behavior, it is misleading to make any sort of correlation with altruism and socialism, if it is not noted that there is a similar correlation between altruism and other, more common things, like public schools and emergency services. But, then again, if the social contract-egoist makes this moot, then the section should just be removed. PaulStansifer 16:04, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)
You're right, it would be incorrect to say that "socialism requires altruism." And the section doesn't say that. It says that the ethical doctrine of altruism is frequently behind governmental actions as well as systems themselves. Some people think people have a moral obligation to help their fellow man, so they advocate systems and actions that embrace that doctrine. That ethical doctrine is highly influential. You can't count how many times a politician has said that people have an obligation to help others. If he thinks that, he's an ethical altruist, and that influences politics. As, far as socialism and altruism, communism (as a form of socialism) requires that the individual, rather than pursuing his self-interest, pursues benefiting the collective. As far as altruism being associate with something like public schools, I agree with you. Why not put that in? Public schools, for good or bad, are undeniably a socialist institution. RJII 16:29, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Okay. The original statement is POV in that it ignores the most pandemic forms of altruism, public schooling, to focus on extreme forms of government. Would it be correct to say that basically every political philosophy other than objectivism can be and is argued for on the basis of altruism? PaulStansifer 17:06, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Objectivism isn't a political philosophy. Maybe you're referring to capitalism? Well, how could it be argued that altruism is behind the advocacy of capitalism? In capitalism people are allowed to pursue their economic self-interest without limit, as long as they refrain from forcibly preventing others from pursuing their own. Someone can accumulate as much wealth as is possible without having to relenquish it for the benefit of others. What about capitalism has to do with altruism? nothing that i can see. You can try, in the article, to say that some people advocate capitalism because they think people have a moral obligation to help others, but I really don't see how it could stand up to reason. It wouldn't make sense. RJII 19:59, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Sorry about the terminology breakdown there. If capitalism is practiced to the extreme, to the point of eliminating public schooling, then, yes, it can be divorced from altruism. However, I would bet that most people who consider themselves capitalists actually believe that public schools should exist. I don't really like using the word "capitalist" because it can be used in different, but still emotionally-charged ways (looking it up, I now see that it means an owner of capital, even one who supports communism). Someone who advocates a free market economy might be a capitalist, but that doesn't mean that they don't also advocate public schools. So, we should break it down by people: almost all people (everyone but the objectivists, pretty much) use altruism as a justification for their overall political beliefs. This seems like the way to go, because, presumably, a person either believes that altruism is morally required or not -- there's not really any sort of context that it can be put into. PaulStansifer 21:22, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)
You can be an advocate of capitalism while at the same time compromising a belief in an absolutely free market for practical purposes (many don't want pure capitalism but something that is relatively close to it). Making others pay to have your children schooled because you think it's a moral obligation of others to educate your children could be an example of this compromise. It's a legitimate point. Just put it in the section on how the ethical doctrine of altruism can influence politics if you wish. The influence of ethical altruism on government and politics is enormous. To wipe out the whole section lacks reasonable justification. RJII 22:27, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)
If you define capitalism as being opposed to the idea of public schooling, than capitalism is highly unpopular. Most people who support a free market do so, apparently, because they believe that it serves altruism best, because these people also support things that have altruism as a prerequisite.
So, altruism itself (positive and negative) has an enormous impact on politics, by way of ethics and morality. There are some people who reject positive altruism, and a smaller number who reject both halves of it. The reason that I saw those paragraphs as being meaningless was that they were making a reference to socialism that was essentially a red herring: most political debate is not over whether we should be altruists, but how we should be altruists. I think we've more or less come to an agreement; I'll change/replace them soon (but I am apparently not a good enough altruist to fix the error immediately, before satisfying my own needs). PaulStansifer 18:56, 17 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I think you're equivocating different meanings of "altruist." An altruist, in the context we've been speaking, is a person that believes that altruistic behavior is a moral obligation. In this context, it's definitely not generally accepted in politics that we should be altruists. Nor is it generally agreed that we should perform altruistic acts. It's very common in political debate to argue whether an act should be performed that does not benefit the actor. I hope you're not equating altruistic behavior with benevolence. The former is an act that benefits others with no benefit to the self, while the latter is just helping other people (which can be done out of self-interested motivation). It's complicated to talk about altruism because basically you have three meanings. First you have the ethical doctrine, then you have the meaning that deals with behavior and results, then you have the probably colloquial meaning which is concerned with motivation for behavior. This is all pointed out in the article. RJII 17:01, 18 Jan 2005 (UTC)


This version gives more information than the previous case (because it can be extrapolated to that other case), but wouldn't appear in the Wikipedia because it's a really boring statement. (analogously: "all murderers need water to survive" is invalidated by "all humans need water to survive.")

I think that this also indicates that the last sentence is sorta POV. A non-alturist can be a socialist if they believe that, by agreeing to a socialist social contract, they can do better than in another sort of state (whether or not that is true is beside the point).

Perfectly good point. Rather than advocating socialism for moral reasons, one may just think it works better. If he thinks that moral obligation arises from determining what works the best, then his ethical doctrine is "consequentialism," but that's another article. RJII 16:29, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)

So, ethical alturism may be important to politics, but it's important to note that almost everyone (assuming that objectivists are not more than 10% of the population) subscribes to it, (digression begins around here) and everyone argues for their views in terms of it (an objectivist can't tell someone else, "be an objectivist because it's good for me", they have to argue that it's good for the other person). (Note: I fudged a little here. The hypothetical objectivist need not invoke alturism, but makes an argument that can be translated into an argument from alturism, or something like it.) Sorry about writing so much, PaulStansifer 04:38, 13 Jan 2005 (UTC)


(getting closer to resolution. Truly, edit wars are better heard than fought)

What does the "coercion" paragraph have that the "taxation" paragraph lacks? I think that they're both saying the same thing, but the former has strange phrasing, especially since it uses the valid, but loaded word "coercion" in an unusual way. In particular, I think people who accept the idea of a social contract or who believe that representative governments have inherent sovereignty would disagree with the usage. (Sort of analogous to calling cleaning "destructive" to dirt --- it is, but "destructive" has a negative connotation, and no one cares about the dirt's point of view. Similarly, many people would say that the idea of having a right to do something immoral is unimportant or irrelevant. [1]) PaulStansifer 03:30, 20 Jan 2005 (UTC)

If you looked closely at the paragraph there is no mention of "coercion." That had been taken out. I think the paragraph is a nice introductory paragraph for the section. As far as a "right to do something immoral," someone had complained that an altruist wouldn't necessarily enforce his morals on others, and that's true, so that's why that was there. RJII 19:37, 23 Jan 2005 (UTC)
But taxation is coercion. As I was saying, "coercion", while technically correct, gives a strong connotation to the section that seems quite strange to people who believe that altruism is a natural behavior. PaulStansifer 20:35, 26 Jan 2005 (UTC)
The reason that I removed the paragraph was that it was redundant. The taxation paragraph is a perfectly good description of the coercive aspects of altruism (although explicitly stating altruism does not necessarily require coercion might be useful to add), in terms of everyday politics. Again, not everyone feels that "coercion" is the most accurate (from a connotative, not a denotative, perspective) way of describing politics. PaulStansifer 19:29, 4 Feb 2005 (UTC)
What does this mean: "(Positive political action by the positive aspect of altruism, negative political action by the negative aspect of altruism.)"? Positive aspect? Negative aspect? RJII 16:17, 24 Jan 2005 (UTC)
The positive aspect of altruism justifies the government's requiring people to do helpful things. The negative aspect of altruism justifies the government's requiring of people to no do harmful things. PaulStansifer 20:35, 26 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I understand that some people distinguish between positive and negative altruism. Others do not. The definition given on the page certainly includes both halves. I have the feeling that the definition of altruism, the ethical doctrine, may come from Ayn Rand. Actually, a Google search for "ethical doctrine" and "Altruism" returns 285 results, the first of which is the Wikipedia page. In the interests of parallelism, I suggest that we discuss both halves, as they relate to politics. Again, I call upon the dictionary definition. PaulStansifer 19:29, 4 Feb 2005 (UTC)
The altruism ethic was around long before Ayn Rand. According to the article, Comte was the first to actually name the ethic, which I'm sure existed long before he did so (Wasn't Jesus an ethical altruist?). As far as a dictionary defining it, you'll need a dictionary of philosophy. I don't think Merriam-Webster is going to do it.
You misunderstand me. I meant that the definition of altruism in that manner seems to be an objectivist thing. Jesus promoted both halves of altruism (think of the sword/slave/Peter incident, and the parable of the good Samaritan). Google found the "Altruism" First dictionary of philosophy Google found , FOLDOP has an interesting discussion, explicitly under the heading of "ethics". For more definitions, check out [2] --- I haven't seen any yet that take only one half. PaulStansifer 22:18, 4 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I'm not sure what you're saying. Are you saying that dictionaries of philosophy don't note the ethical doctrine? It looks to me like they do, albeit in a really tangential way. ("Belief that an agent's moral decisions should be guided by consideration for the interests and well-being of other people..." -from an online dictionary you quoted above) Or are you saying the ethical doctrine that they describe doesn't match up with the descriptions located throughout the article? Anyway, I recommend you take a trip to the bookstore and look at a real dictionary of philosophical terms...i have. I don't think the free internet dictionaries are of much use for this kind of thing. Altruism as a normative ethic is definitely a real thing. RJII 22:13, 9 Feb 2005 (UTC)
What I'm saying is that the preponderance of evidence that I've seen suggests that philosophers consider altruism (be it a practice, a doctrine, or a whatever) to be be a concern for others whether positive or negative. Which means that they consider altruism to be used by politicians to justify outlawing murder, instituting welfare, and everything in between. I was trying to see if "ethical doctrine" had any impact on this. It does not. If the "altruism", as an ethical doctrine, is used to mean "actively promoting the good of others", it is a nonstandard usage. In other words, from what I can tell, that paragraph not only sounds strange to me, but to most everyone who isn't an objectivist. Sorry I haven't been clear about what I'm trying to show. PaulStansifer 05:02, 11 Feb 2005 (UTC)
No offense, but when I talk to you it seems like you don't read the article. Nowhere in the article does it say that the ethical doctrine of altruism is used to mean "actively promoting the good of others" or anything like that. The ethical doctrine holds that people have a moral (or ethical) obligation to do things or refrain from doing things so that a positive benefit is bestowed on other people.
I stand corrected -- I hadn't read the change to the top of the article, assuming that the only thing being changed was the poltics section. However, it was your change -- you're citing yourself as an authority! Before you made that change, the article included refraining from murdering others (when it would do one's self good) as an altruistic act. Furthurmore, that change is not consistent with any other definition of "altruism" I've seen. Please try to understand that your idea of what "altruism" means may not be consistent with its usage in the greater philosophical community. (This means that I also disagree with your edits to the beginning of the article, by the way. They make consistent, but POV.)
A Google search for 'altruism "positive benefit"' may prove instructive. The first hit is a very objectivist-sounding blog post. The second hit is a reference to the Wikipedia article ... as it was on Jan 20th, after you changed the definition. The third hit is part of a paper that talks about the points of view of people who thing altruism doesn't exist. Forth hit: copied from Wikipedia. There are only a total of 206 hits. Compared to 770,000 hits for 'altruism', this means that altruism is almost never thought of in terms of "positive benefit". By comparison, 'altruism benefit' gets 217,000. I can't stress strongly enough that the article, as it is currently written, has a different idea of what altruism is than just about everyone else. PaulStansifer 22:29, 11 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Feel free to edit the definition of the ethical doctrine how you wish. I and others will adjust according to what we think it means. Hopefully there can be some agreement to have a decently stable definition. As it stands now, I'm pretty much satisfied with it, but of course it could be improved. Remember, we're not here to just rehash what dictionaries say but write our own understanding of things. Dictionaries try to rehash what the consensus is. We *are* the consensus here. RJII 23:14, 11 Feb 2005 (UTC)
We shouldn't be adjusting it to what we think it means. We should be adjusting it to what philosophers use "altruism" (and secondarily, to normal people, which is what normal dictionaries are good for) means. The previous version cohered with philosophical dictionaries. The current version is only supported by a very small group of people, based on the Google hits. Neither you nor I can call ourselves "normal". This article isn't a service to us.
This has nothing to do with objectivism. Rand is just someone who didn't like the ethical doctrine. As far as I know she didn't go into any detail in regard to defining the doctrine. But I'm not that familiar with Objectivism so I'm not the one to consult on that. The point of the section is pointing out that people who are adherents to the doctrine --people that believe individuals have a moral obligation to "help other people", to put it in crude terms, will use this belief as a justification to make people help each other. They'll promote things like welfare programs, or the other examples cited in the article.
The goal of an encyclopedia is not to encourage people not to promote welfare programs, even if welfare programs are solely responsible for every wrong that occurs in society. We're providing an overview of the concept of "altruism" here, not a handbook on ethical behavior. PaulStansifer 22:29, 11 Feb 2005 (UTC)
No doubt. The section doesn't say that altruism is wrong, but that many ethical altruists believe it's right, because they are ethical altruists. RJII 23:14, 11 Feb 2005 (UTC)
But it slants heavily what they believe is right. Remember, altruism is responsible for many actions, some of which libertarians don't object to at all. Furthermore, some altruists believe that pure capitalism is the best system to achieve altruism's goal. PaulStansifer 00:32, 13 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I understand if it "sounds strange." I know that most people aren't aware that "altruism" is also the name of an ethical doctrine. But that's why it's necessary that that's made clear in an introductory paragraph, so that it isn't confused with the other sense of the word that most people are aware of. Never mind that most people aren't aware of the ethical doctrine called altruism, but most people aren't aware of most of the other ethical doctrines that philosophers of ethics discuss ..consequentialism? deontology? The fact that it may be foreign to you is no reason to talk about the doctrine and its effects on politics in the article. RJII 05:48, 11 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Altruism is not foreign to me as a doctrine -- after all, this is a doctrine that is practiced politically by virtually everyone. The idea that "altruism" is tied to "positive benefit" is foreign to me. My original point, that laws against murder and laws creating welfare have exactly the same relationship to altruism (excepting that we're more sure that the first one achieves altruism from a ultilitarian perspective), still stands. PaulStansifer 22:29, 11 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Refraining from murdering someone is not practicing altruism. To practice altruism you do something so that someone benefits by that. To say that walking down the street and deciding not to strangle the guy beside you is altruism would really be bizarre. You wouldn't be doing anything ..you're just ignoring him. RJII 23:14, 11 Feb 2005 (UTC)
By the definition of altruism, refraining from murdering someone -- when murdering them would be to your benefit -- is practicing altruism. Refraining from Enron-esque corporate practices: altruistic. Refraining from taking a seat on the Titanic's life boats so someone else can live: altruistic. Philosophers probably define it that way because it's not always possible to distinguish action from inaction. But consensus is that refraining from doing harm is altruism. I'll
"Refraining from doing harm" is not altruism. Refraining from an action so that another person receives a benefit is altruism. See the distinction? If you refrain from killing somebody, it's not altruism because he's not getting anything out of it that he didn't already have. RJII 01:01, 13 Feb 2005 (UTC)
P.S. Since I had to go to the bookstore today, I looked up "altruism" for you in the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. "Any ethical view that implies that people sometimes ought to do what is in the interests of others and not in their self-interest can be considered a form of ethical altruism." (I didn't take it down word-for-word, but I believe I reconstructed it properly.) I hope that is satisfactory.
It's decent. That doesn't mean I won't refrain from editing it if I think I can make it less vague. RJII 23:16, 11 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I'll change the article back, based on it, then (I'm not planning on using that definition straight, which we couldn't do anyways, only justifying the old definition). Please understand that I'm not trying to squash your POV, only to point out that it isn't the only POV, and that we should use the same definitions most everyone else uses. Since you're talking about "altruism" by a different definition, it might be appropriate to add a seperate heading, noting that libertarians/supporters of objectivism define "altruism" differently, and then note what the consequences of that are. PaulStansifer 00:32, 13 Feb 2005 (UTC)
That wouldn't be appropriate at all. Libertarians or objectivists do not define ethical altruism any differently than anyone else.
Are you saying that defining altruism as the dictionaries do (to include refraining from harm) is equivalent to defining it as you do, excluding refraining-from-harm? PaulStansifer
Is the dictionary of philosophy you referred to written by an objectivist? I doubt it. Many objectivists and libertarians would be just fine with that definition. Others, who may or may not be objectivists who think it's not precise enough, like me, will try their best to refine it.
The definition that you gave is more precise, but also incompatible. There is (presumably) a reason why no philosophical (or otherwise) dictionary definies "altruism" the way you do. Whatever the reason, you need to be very sure that you're smarter than the philosophers before you make this sort of change. Let me make sure of this: you do know that, under your definition, your version of the "politics" section makes sense, and under the previous definition, it doesn't? PaulStansifer 05:35, 13 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I *am* a philosopher, so that's irrelevant. RJII 05:48, 13 Feb 2005 (UTC)
It has nothing to do with objectivism. I don't know why you keep bringing objectivism up. Maybe you think that I'm an objectivist, and that since I like the definition in the article that the article represents the objectivist definition of ethical altruism?
It's because (a) Ayn Rand does define "altruism" that way, and (b) the ONLY context in which I have seen such a definition is in modes of thought that are similar to obj./lib., etc. Remember all those Google searches I used to show that your definition is an uncommon way of thinking about altruism? PaulStansifer 05:35, 13 Feb 2005 (UTC)
If you limit your access of knowledge to what you find on the internet, you're going to be in pretty sad shape. I'm sorry to inform you, but Google doesn't access the contents all the books written in the history of the world. You need to expand your horizons a bit. There's a whole body of knowledge out there beyond your Google. I suggest you explore it. RJII 05:45, 13 Feb 2005 (UTC)
If so, that's bizarre. I'm not aware of how Ayn Rand defines the ethical doctrine. Maybe you should look it up. I sincerely doubt it is the same one that's in the article. Would be an amazing coincidence since I've never seen her definition. RJII 01:01, 13 Feb 2005 (UTC)
"The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value. Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others." -- Ayn Rand. Notice that she specifically denies that altruism involves anything other than positive benefit. So no, it's not word-for-word, but you and she use the same definition, and the philosophers use the other. Clearly, the definitions are not compatible (one being a superset of the other does not guaruntee compatitiblity), or else we wouldn't be worrying about them. Please, just give me some evidence that philosophers, as a whole, think that Rand's "positive benefit" definition over the inclusive one. Forgive me for being frustrated, but I think that this has gone on way too long. If you want, call in someone else to look at the evidence I've presented. But as it stands, I can see no valid reason to even consider using the rare, associated-with-Ayn Rand definition, over the one that you propose. Philosophers know that precision is a good thing. Don't insult them by assuming that they've overlooked a way to tighten up a definition. PaulStansifer 05:35, 13 Feb 2005 (UTC)
There you go, I put in something about Neitzsche, as he talks about the doctrine as well. And, I put in a quote from the positivist, Comte, who came up with the term and describes the doctrine. Happy yet? RJII 19:48, 14 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Well, you didn't change the definition, so the article is still incorrect. I would argue that the choice of quotations and thinkers is biased, but I'll put that off for later (your changes read as though there are no modern altruistic thinkers, and that Comte quotation sounds quite strange from a supporter of altruism. Where did he say it?). But the most important thing is to get the definition right, because, otherwise, the article is about the wrong thing. PaulStansifer 15:26, 15 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Dude, again it seems like you don't read the article. This is getting old. You ask me "where did he say it?". It says right there in the article that he said it in "Cathechisme Positiviste."

<indentation reset> Sorry, I changed my question after I wrote it, and forgot that it was in the article. The quotation worried me because it sounded like an odd way for him to state his case. Mainly, I was worried that it was apocryphal. I'm trying to spend less time on this, so my questions are getting hastier -- sorry. Incidentally, your misspelling of "Catechisme" as "Cathechisme" makes it fairly clear that you got the quotation from one of these hits, which seem to be all libertarian-oriented. Since there are a number of completely false quotations floating around on the Internet, I wanted to make sure that you got that quotation from a primary source, not some website. (before you accuse me of having a double standard, the Internet is a primary source (though not the only one) for measuring usage of terms (see Wikipedia:Google test), especially popular ones, but since Comte never operated a website, it's not a primary source for things that he said). Anyways, since there are no Google hits for the quotation coming out of the correctly-titled work, (unless I've done something wrong in my research), I am worried that the quotation is either (a) fabricated, or (b) mistranslated. PaulStansifer 19:59, 15 Feb 2005 (UTC)

I guess you'll need to learn French quick then won't you?
I can probably find a French speaker around if I have to. But, if you would be so kind as to spare me the trouble (since I do, this conversation notwithstanding, have a life) by telling me the background information (translator and all), I would be quite grateful, especially since the library doesn't have the book in question. PaulStansifer 21:58, 15 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Cited it under "References" RJII 15:41, 18 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Sure Comte is "biased" ..he's in FAVOR of altruism, but he's the one that came up with word to describe the doctrine, so it's certainly important that we know what he means by it. That's why I put the Nietzsche quote in to balance it. He's AGAINST altruism. Where is the bias if both sides are being presented on the ethical doctrine? RJII 16:15, 15 Feb 2005 (UTC)

My point was that we have two thinkers in comparison: one, a minor philosopher who invented the word, which you are assuming hasn't changed in meaning since his use of it (see Freeware for an example where taking the orignal user's definition would be completely wrong), and the other, a major philosopher whose beliefs are in the minority. If we are to present a balanced account, why not mention Plato's Republic, arguably the most famous philosophical work of all time, which almost entirely an argument against egoism (this point is debatable, but it's the most obvious literal interpretation)? It seems more appropriate to select Ayn Rand, the most notable opponent of altruism as the opposition (my problem with presenting Nietzsche as an opponent of altruism: " ...his rejection of what he calls "slave morality" (which he felt reflected the inverse of the "will to power" and a perversion of useful altruism)" from Nietzsche), and Plato as the proponent. We are concerned with the idea, and not the word, and Plato is better-known, probably justifiably. PaulStansifer 19:59, 15 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Rand got her ideas about altruism from Nietzsche. Feel free to put Plato in. No one is stopping you. And put in Rand too while you're at it since you're so hung up on her. This bickering is getting ridiculous. RJII 21:14, 15 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I don't want to make any changes until the major issue, the definition thing, is worked out, because it'll only make going back and changing things harder. Just justifying my claims of bias here. PaulStansifer 21:58, 15 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I get it now. What we have here is a case of Randophobia. If Rand talks about it, it needs to be censored ..right. RJII 05:45, 13 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I was just contradicting the assertion that you made with the first evidence that I found. I was being a little upset that you didn't make the obvious web search that I did to find out if that was the case. PaulStansifer 06:22, 13 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I'm done arguing with you. I find you extremely unreasonable, difficult to get points across to, and unwilling to consider anything to be true unless you find it on the internet. RJII 05:48, 13 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I'm sorry that I got angry, but your painting me as being web-obsessed is unfair. You make an assertion, I go to the web to disprove it (the web, after all, is an excellent way to find out what people feel about something. You can find any strange theory on the web -- major ones get enormous numbers of hits. It's a heuristic, but a better one that interviewing two random contributors). You claim the web isn't a good source, I go to the bookstore. The fact that I have been doing all of this without being given evidence that contradicts the stuff that I've put forward has caused me to say things rashly. But, since you feel that talking to me is useless, you should put up an RFC about this. Actually, we should've done that a lot earlier. Anyways, I'll feel a lot better if someone else looks into this. PaulStansifer 06:22, 13 Feb 2005 (UTC)
It's ok, I'm sorry I lost patience. A challenge is good. RJII 06:47, 13 Feb 2005 (UTC)


Just looking around on the net for "negative altruism" there doesn't seem to be any consensus of what it refers to. I have nothing against using the term if it's explained since it's so rarely used, but just from the uses I've seen by a cursory search on the net it's hard for me to see how it can be authoritatively be defined. But, feel free. It may be better to define it earlier in the article though. RJII 19:44, 4 Feb 2005 (UTC)


Oh --- I didn't realize that you were talking about the phrase "negative altruism". I'm perfectly happy to take it out and talk about altruism as a whole if you are. PaulStansifer 22:18, 4 Feb 2005 (UTC)

revert. nonsense. There *is* an ethical doctrine called altruism. Consult a dictionary of philosophy. If you have a problem with how someone is defining it, then edit the definition

You misunderstood what I was doing. I removed the paragraph in the first section because it was a duplicate of the second section (articles shouldn't repeat themselves word-for-word). Sorry I didn't explain all I was doing, I was trying to clean up a little at the same time. You also reverted my change to the definition -- a change that you seemed to agree with, by accepting the authority of the dictionaries that make no mention of "positive benefit". PaulStansifer 05:35, 13 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I put "positive benefit" in the article specifically for you. Otherwise I wouldn't think it was necessary. I never imagined that someone would construe refraining from killing someone as altruism. "Benefit" should be enough. If you're refraining from killing someone you're not giving them a benefit. But, I've taken it out, as there are better ways to explain. RJII 06:38, 13 Feb 2005 (UTC)

While we're waiting for outside comments on the definition issue, I would like to take issue with the edits to the politics section. Why remove mention of public schools? They are far more tied into our society than welfare (being less controversial), and better demonstrate the penetration of the altruism ethic, even by RJII's definition of it. (Sorry, I haven't the time to track down who made the changes.) PaulStansifer 08:09, 24 Feb 2005 (UTC)

I'm the one who deleted it. I just put it back in. RJII 16:05, 24 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Well, there doesn't seem to be any more disputing going on, so I guess I'll remove the dispute template. RJII 03:38, 5 Mar 2005 (UTC)

No, don't. I still strongly contest the definition used in the article, for the reasons stated above, and was hoping that an outsider can pass by to shed some light on this matter. I was planning on restating my arguments in a compact form, but I haven't had time yet. PaulStansifer 08:02, 5 Mar 2005 (UTC)
How about if I just change "bestowing positivive benefit upon others" to "help others"? I don't see how it would make any difference. Would that appease you? RJII 15:01, 5 Mar 2005 (UTC)
My problem is not what it sounds like, but the fact that Wikipedia currently defines "altruism" to be something different than every other reference work (that I have seen) and, as far as I can tell, the vast majority of people. Many other of your edits have been based on this definition, which is why I disagree with them. I'm not looking to be pleased by having my viewpoint expressed in the wording, I'm looking to have the article based on the correct definition of altruism. PaulStansifer 17:03, 5 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Summary of contentions

  • The article must begin with a definition of the word "altruism".
  • Wikipedia's job is not to come up with the best definition for altruism, but to explain what the word is defined as and what it is used to mean. Any personal feelings about how good the definition is are irrelevant in the face of usage.
    • (Although it is not relevant, I think that the dictionaries really do know what they're doing in terms of this definition. Defining "altruism" as both doing good and not doing harm (a) gives us better abstraction, because it is simply talking about a net change in utility, rather than bringing in the difference between benefit and lack of harm, and (b) does not require us to differentiate benefit and lack of harm. There are boundary cases to which there is no good distinction (Is it harm to allow a person to starve? If so, then welfare is justified without the help of "altruism", by the currently-in-the-article definition. If not, then why is their utility function being decreased by someone else's behavior?) "Altruism", defined as a "concern for the well-being of others", is much easier to grasp and manipulate than the contorted definition currently in the article. But, as I said, my views are irrelevant. I'm only trying to explain that the dictionary authors were not insane.)
    • If personal feelings were relevant, we would be at an impasse anyways. The next logical step is to turn to the authorities on the subject.
  • It is the overwhelming testimony of dictionaries that altruism includes both not doing harm and doing good to another person. If anyone wants, I can dig up the citations from above, but I think this point is uncontested.
  • Furthermore, as far as I can tell with the Google test, very few people think about altruism and positive benefit at the same time. Consider the Google search: 'altruism "positive benefit"'
    • There are only 220 hits. To give an idea of how small that is, consider that 'altruism "alarm clock"' received 1330 hits. I was surprised by this, too. Try typing in other random search terms, like [3], [4], and [5].
    • More tellingly, consider the few hits for the above search:
      1. This page.
      2. A copy of the Wikipedia article.
      3. A rather dense discussion of whether altruism exists. It only mentions "positive benefit" in the context of what the supposedly-altruistic person receives, so it is, in fact, a red herring.
      4. A partial copy of the Wikipedia article.
      5. Another red herring: "If you have to get up either way regardless, what does stonewalling, hesitation, and delay do? There is no positive benefit."
      • This seems to indicate that Wikipedia is about the only resource on the Internet that feels this way about altruism's definition.
      • Now, I know that the Google test is not infallible, but the test results are very strongly in favor of the dictionary definition of "altruism". I used this test because it seemed like the most unbiased source for finding out what a large number of people feel "altruism" is.
  • Since all the sources that I have seen point to defining "altruism" in terms of the well-being of others, irrespective of action vs. inaction, lack of harm vs. benefit, I feel compelled to argue that, unless some other evidence is given, the article must be re-written to reflect that meaning of the word "altruism".

PaulStansifer 17:03, 5 Mar 2005 (UTC)

I honestly can't figure out what your point is. There is such a thing as an ethical doctrine called altruism. It says that people have a moral obligation to help others. (i couldn't care less whether it says "positive benefit" or "help others.) Why don't you just change the definition of the doctrine to your liking? You do say that you think that "not harming someone" is altruism and that's just plain bizarre. If that were the case you would be practicing altruism right now just by sitting in your home and ignoring everyone outside.RJII 05:28, 6 Mar 2005 (UTC)
My point is that the dictionary definitions disagree with you. We both think that the other person has a really strange definition of "altruism". (Well, your statement that helping others is altruism is true. It's just that it's not the only part of altruism.) As I said, there is no way to resolve this if we are going to rely on what individual contributors think is bizarre. The only way to resolve this is to turn to outside authorities. I haven't seen any dictionary support the definition of "altruism" that you promote. PaulStansifer 13:24, 6 Mar 2005 (UTC)
(Oh yes, about not-harming-others: it's only altruistic if one has something to gain from hurting the other person. That's why altruism is "unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others" [6] 137.165.208.90 18:59, 6 Mar 2005 (UTC))
What are you talking about??? You saw for yourself in the dictionary of philosophy that you referenced that altruism is also an ethical doctrine. Do you understand what it means for something to be an ethical doctrine? If it says one "should" or one "ought" to do something (in ths case, help others) then that it is an ethical doctrine. Yes, altruism is "unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others." But like many other words it also refers to something else ..that "something else" is an an ethical doctrine ..that one SHOULD help others. If you saw the definition in the dictionary of philosophy then why are you denying that there is such a doctrine? What the hell is your point??? RJII 15:28, 7 Mar 2005 (UTC)
My contentions said nothing about whether an ethical doctrine exists or not. They argue that altruistic behavior (which naturally would be promoted by such a doctrine) includes all behavior that is motivated by a concern for the well-being of others, including failing to murder someone, when doing so would otherwise benefit the would-be muderer. PaulStansifer 18:36, 7 Mar 2005 (UTC)
And harming someone is unselfish regard for his welfare? What planet are you on??? RJII 15:56, 7 Mar 2005 (UTC)
We were talking about not harming people. PaulStansifer 18:36, 7 Mar 2005 (UTC)
Ok, now I see what you're saying. But the ethical doctrine does not say that people should engage in "unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others." It says that people should help others. Helping others is just that ...helping them. It's two different things. See? And then you can see why refraining from harming them is not "helping" them ..hopefully. The common use of the term altruism is not directly taken from what the ethical doctrine demands. It's gone through a lot of evolution and watering down. But the ethical doctrine itself is more straightforward --that people have a moral obligation to help others. See? RJII 20:55, 7 Mar 2005 (UTC)
There isn't really a movement that started altruism that we can go back to to ask what the definition is. The idea is presumably as old as ethics itself. Since you say that your usage is technical, can you find a dictionary definition to support it? Otherwise, it makes a lot more sense that the doctrine of altruism requires people to behave altruistically. (Actually, the dictionary of philosophy was talking about ethical altruism, I'm pretty sure.) PaulStansifer 22:02, 7 Mar 2005 (UTC)
Yes indeed, the dictionary of philosophy you saw was talking about the ethical doctrine called altruism. Look for yourself what it says. It doesn't say that one ought to have unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others. Sure, it would make perfect sense for the common meaning of the word "altruism" today to correspond directly to what the doctrine demands. But the fact is, it doesn't --since the meaning of altruism in its most common usage makes reference to the psychological state or motivation of the actor ("unselfish regard"). The ethical doctrine makes no such reference to anything but the behavior itself. It essentially just says that one ought to help others. That's the difference. RJII 01:48, 8 Mar 2005 (UTC)
"Any ethical view that implies that people sometimes ought to do what is in the interests of others and not in their self-interest can be considered a form of ethical altruism." Doing nothing is, in fact, in other people's interests relative to killing them for their wallets. But you said that the issue isn't action vs. inaction; it's not-harming versus helping. And both are "in the interests" of the other person. Therefore, both helping, and failing to harm, another person is mandated by the altruism ethic. Also, the definition very clearly has to do with motivation, by excluding self-interest, and by going back to the actor's perception of the actee's self-interest. PaulStansifer 02:36, 8 Mar 2005 (UTC)
"Interest" there isn't talking about what someone just happens to be "interested" in. "Do what is in the interest of others" means do what is beneficial, helpful, or good for others. It doesn't mean do what they're "interested" in. Likewise for "self-interest". Consider a situation where you are thirsty and there are two cups in front of you. One is water and the other is poison, and you're "interested" in drinking the poison to satisfy your thirst. Is doing so really in your self-interest? Of course not --what is in your self-interest is what is good for you ..what helps you. You've got to understand the language used in ethics. And, you are really taking this to the point of absurdity if you claim that doing absolutely nothing constitutes helping others. If you sit in your house instead of going out and shooting everyone on your block then you are helping those people? Come on. You're not doing a damned thing for them. If someone is being helped then they're getting something that they didn't have before. Not going out and killing people is not helping them, because they're already alive! Won't you realize how ridiculous your claim is? For the sake of sanity, just drop it. RJII 04:10, 8 Mar 2005 (UTC)
My claim regarding the help/hurt issue is thus: it is in the interest of a person to not be killed. I didn't say that doing nothing helps others --- I said that the definition of "altruism" includes both helping others and not hurting them, which I find to be clearly supported by the dictionary definition. You seem to be drifting from the topic at hand, which is whether philosophers use "altruism" differently when talking about what people think they ought to do (ethics) and when talking about the things that people do do (behavior). I keep beating on this one point in hopes I will see some dictionary definition that states that altruism (the ethic, the behavior, anything will do) is the helping of other people, not acting in their interests. PaulStansifer 07:49, 8 Mar 2005 (UTC)
(Actually, it seems more like altruism is a component of an ethical philosophy. For example, it is mandated by deontology and utilitarianism (because both require the consideration of the interests of others), and also by most religious positions on ethics that I can think of. These things are not all the same, altruism is just a component of them. Which, I suppose is why the definition is about which ethical views are "form[s] of ethical altruism," not what is ethical altruism itself. So I guess, according to them, altruism is a class of ethical philosophies. Not a big distinction, but it is somewhat important, because it's important not to give the false impression that all altruists think alike. The article should definitely point out that altruism is not linked to any set of actions, it is simply a justification for action.) PaulStansifer 02:36, 8 Mar 2005 (UTC)
Too confusing and equivocating different meanings of the word "altruism" for me to respond to. RJII 04:10, 8 Mar 2005 (UTC)
"You seem to be drifting from the topic at hand, which is whether philosophers use "altruism" differently when talking about what people think they ought to do (ethics) and when talking about the things that people do do (behavior)." Of course they do! Ethical altruism is a belief that people should do something, and "normal" altruism is a description of a motivation or behavior that people do. It is beyond your scope of comprehension that one word can refer to two different things? Is this what your point is? Are you trying to figure out if altruism refers to two different things? All I can tell you is of course it does. Look at a dictionary. Merriam-Webster says it is the unselfish regard or devotion for others, but doesn't mention that it's also the name of an ethical doctrine. So, if you want to see that it's the name of an ethical doctrine then you need to consult another dictionary ..just as you did when you looked in the Cambridge dictionary of philosophy. Altruism is a word that describes at least two different things. One is what M-W describes and the other is an ethical doctrine. The fact that the M-W dictionary doesn't point out that it's also the name of an ethical doctrine doesn't mean that their definition of altruism CONFLICTS with a definition that says it's the name of an ethical doctrine. It's just that the word refers to two different things. Look up the word "homograph." "Altruism" is a homograph --meaning it's one of two words spelled exactly the same that mean different things. There is no conflict. It's just two different words that are spelled the same. Is this clear? Or am I misunderstanding your point altogether? RJII 08:20, 8 Mar 2005 (UTC)
I understand what your contention is. My problem is that, according to the dictionary of philosophy I consulted, "altruism" as a doctrine (or technically, a type of doctrine) says that people ought to act with regards to the interests of others. So what I don't understand is why you believe that the dictionary is wrong, unless you believe that it not is in a person's interest to not be harmed. PaulStansifer 15:31, 8 Mar 2005 (UTC)
If you could provide a quote from that dictionary I'd be much more comfortable discussing that. It's my understanding that you're operating from recollection of what you saw at the bookstore. No need for us to talk about a definition that may not exist. RJII 15:45, 8 Mar 2005 (UTC)

<indentation reset> Looking back at what I copied down, I see that I left out the "interest" part because it was the core of the definition, and about the only thing I was sure I'd remember. I am fairly sure that, if I didn't reconstruct it word-for-word, I did not make a significant error. [7] implies that I was correct, because it's unlikely that my misremembering of the dictionary would be word-for-word identical with some other definition. I ask that you find another definition yourself (or just verify mine) if you are unsatisfied. I hope you understand that I'm tired of fetching definitions, and am busy right now. PaulStansifer 16:08, 8 Mar 2005 (UTC)

If you want to use [8], that's fine. Let's look at it. First of all, this is not really a definition of ethical altruism but a statement that a particular ethical view ("that people sometimes ought to do what is in the interest of others and not in their self-interest") "can be considered a form of ethical altruism." This opens the possibility that there are other ethical views that can be considered a form of ethical altruism. For example, an ethical view that says people ALWAYS ought to do that, is a form of ethical altruism as well, I'm sure you wouldn't dispute. So the question still remains, "What is ethical altruism?", rather than "What particular ethical views can be considered FORMS of ethical altruism?" (Apparently, the dictionary of philosophy you consulted had a definition of ethical altruism itself, but unfortunately, you didn't copy it down "word for word.") Now, if your ethical view is that people sometimes ought to do what is in the interest of others and not in their self-interest then refraining from harming someone is not doing anything at all, but refraining from doing. If you go further and assert that that is the very definition of ethical altruism, then you are certainly in error to claim that refraining from harming people (not doing anything) is following the mandate of the doctrine. So, if you want to insist that refraining from going out and harming people (doing nothing) is doing what ethical altruism mandates, then where is the definition of ethical altruism itself that says it is a moral obligation to refrain from harming people? As far as I know, there is no such definition. RJII 16:41, 8 Mar 2005 (UTC)
Clearly, we should define ethical altruism as an ethical belief that is in common between many different philosophies. For example: "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:29-31, NIV) Notice that "Love your neighbor as yourself" implies concern for the person's well-being ("love" here can be translated as "cherish" "have affection for" and "prove love for") and doesn't make any distinction between action and inaction, helping and not hurting. Similarly, utilitarianism is only concerned with the net impact on people's utility functions, requiring people to help other, and also not to hurt them. Can you name a philosophy that says "Help others, but you can hurt them also if you want to."? I thought that I was in the majority when I thought that doing good to people is silly without similarly refraining from doing harm. PaulStansifer 19:26, 8 Mar 2005 (UTC)
You seem to be relying on finagling with action versus inaction (didn't you say that that was irrelevant somewhere? Or were you talking about the practice of altruism?), and you are reading layers of meaning into the word "do". If altruists were required to do things with regards to the interests of others, and "do" didn't allow for the possiblity of inaction, doesn't that mean that they aren't even allowed to sleep? Why not snag the simultaneously more abstract and more practical concept that is supported by Christianity and utilitarianism (at least how I read them)? PaulStansifer 19:29, 8 Mar 2005 (UTC)
I don't know where you got your idea on utilitarianism from, but it's wrong. Utilitarianism can mandate outright killing of innocent people if that's going to maximize the greatest good for the greatest number. Utilitarianism is a type of "consequentalism." Consequentialist philosophies say that the rightness or wrongness of an act is contingent upon the consequences of performing that act. Utilitarianism says that that act is right that maximizes good consequences (frequently taken to mean maximizing the greatest good for the greatest number). And, indeed, doing that can prescribe harming innocent people. That's widely seen as problem with utilitarianism. On the other hand there is "deontology" which says that the rightness or wrongness of an actions is NOT contingent upon the consequences of performing that act. A deontologist would say killing an innocent person is wrong even if it leads to good consequences, including utilitarian goals. It's too bad this is turning into a course on philosophy of ethics, but maybe that's what it takes to get you to understand that altruism is the name of an ethical doctrine says that people have a moral obligation to help others...to further their interests...to do what's good for them. The doctrine does not mandate that you refrain from harming others. That's an entirely different ethical doctrine. The ethical doctrine of altruism doesn't say that you have an obligation to refrain from harming people but that that you have an obligation to help them. There is a difference. One's set of ethics can include a rule against harming other people, while at the same time not having a rule that says he has an obligation to help other people. Now, let's look at utilitarianism in this context. Just as utilitarianism allows for harming people, so does an ethical doctrine of altruism if harming one person is going to help ten others. Even though you're harming people, the NET result is that you're helping people. Let's look at an example. There is one healthy person, and there are 5 unhealthy people who need organ transplants and are certain to die soon without them. If you have an ethical obligation to help people then it's perfectly permissible to kill the healthy person, harvest his organs, and transplant them to the 5 that would die otherwise. The NET effect is you are helping people. If you do nothing, you're not helping anyone ..one guys stays alive and the others die unnecessarily. If you do nothing are you doing what ethical altruism prescribes? Is altruism compatible with utilitarianism? Think about it. RJII 20:52, 8 Mar 2005 (UTC)
I don't have time to read and think about this all, so I'll just start straight from my viewpoint: altruism is a class of ways of thinking about ethical problems. An altruist has a set of options, and there are no guarantees about their nature -- the most ethical choice may involve hurting everyone, if all the other choices are worse. In order for a system of ethics to make it possible for a person to behave ethically in all circumstances, it must allow them to hurt others (through action or inaction), because that possibility can't be eliminated. So, is the altruist who is chained up and thrown in jail being unethical because he/she isn't helping anybody?
Anyways, I'm going to be out for a couple of days, and busy for a while after that, could you go out and find a neutral third party to comment on this whole mess? I really don't have time to go into detail. I've been responding in the past with the hope that it would simply be a matter of trusting the overwhelming authority of outside authorities, but I keep getting dragged down into discussions I don't have the time to think about enough. I'd really appreciate it if you could find out what someone outside this discussion says, since we don't seem to be able to communicate to each other anyways. What do you suppose we could produce another 40K of text on this theme? PaulStansifer 04:42, 10 Mar 2005 (UTC)

(adding a summarizing contention for the argument above)

  • Ethical philosophies that can be considered "altruistic" are characterized by their way of distinguishing good and bad ("Love one another"), rather than by specific mandates ("Go help people"). The former is supported if we, say, take Christianity as the "reference implementation" of altruism (or any other altruistic religious philosophy -- I just don't know my way around other scriptures to be able to point out what is laid down as the highest law.) The latter allows people to murder the rich to give to the poor --- or murder the poor to give to the rich. PaulStansifer 05:04, 10 Mar 2005 (UTC)

This is from the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Encyclopedia that may help: "Ethical theory that regards the good of others as the end of moral action; by extension, the disposition to take the good of others as an end in itself. The term (French, altruisme, derived from Latin alter:"other") was coined in the 19th cent. by A. Comte and adopted generally as a convenient antithesis to egoism. Most altruists have held that each person has an obligation to further the pleasures and alleviate the pains of other people. The same argument holds if happiness, rather than pleasure, is taken as the end of life." That is the complete entry on "altruism."

Intro

Altruism is an unselfish interest in helping someone else or simply behavior that benefits someone else while affecting the actor detrimentally or neutrally. The former type of altruism is a motivation that emphasizes the welfare of others while minimizing or ignoring the individual's own welfare, while the latter is a description of behavior without regard to motivation.
  1. There is something wrong in this logic: it seems that "former" and "latter" directions lost their meaning after some microedits.
  1. The second problem of the definition is that free will is not mentioned. If "altruism" is forced upon someone, then it no longer can be called altruism. (In the extreme, a robber that makes you share your wealth with him (your act benefits someone else while affecting the actor detrimentally or...) does not make your act altruistic.) Or at least the notions of "free-will altruism" and "forced altrusm" must be clearly separated. This IMO this is the root of the demise of all utopian and communist movements: you cannot force people to "love thy neigbor" and expect good out of this. Mikkalai 19:31, 27 Dec 2004 (UTC)
Since there are two kinds of altruism --one that describes motivation, and the other that describes behavior and results, if you force the latter kind of altruism on someone, then it is still altruism. The reason is that he is still behaving in a way that benefits others at net cost or neutrality to himself (behavior is still behavior whether it's coerced or not). It's not the other kind of altruism that refers to to motivation, for sure. These different things that are refered to be "altruism" are a source of a lot of confusion in communicating. Besides these kinds of altruism, there is something else called "altruism"...an ethical doctrine --which makes communication even more dysfunctional. (RJII) Dec 27
That's why I say the intro is bad. It must start from plain and simple description of the three meanings. Unfortunately I am not in a position to write here. Mikkalai 23:39, 27 Dec 2004 (UTC)
Yeah I guess you're right. It is kind of awkward. (RJII)

jesus quote

Can't you find a better Jesus quote? That one doesn't say that people have a moral obligation to help others, but that people should "love" others --an emotional state. RJII 16:08, 18 July 2005 (UTC)

It is generally taken to mean that people should help each other, since it would be very strange indeed to assume you can love someone without helping him/her. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 16:45, 18 July 2005 (UTC)
I don't think that's true. Just because you love someone, it doesn't mean you have to do anything about it. RJII 16:47, 18 July 2005 (UTC)
I'll try to go look for a better quote, but, in the mean time, I think this one should be left in the article. It is undeniable that altruism forms a basic part of Christian ethics - even its enemies say that. Btw, read the Fable of the Good Samaritan for another example of Jesus' altruism (unfortunately, it is too long to quote here). -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 16:52, 18 July 2005 (UTC)
Well, on second thought, the fable of the Good Samaritan isn't that long. What do you think? -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 17:22, 18 July 2005 (UTC)
  • "Jesus made answer and said, A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance a certain priest was going down that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And in like manner a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he was moved with compassion, and came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on [them] oil and wine; and he set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow he took out two shillings, and gave them to the host, and said, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, I, when I come back again, will repay thee. Which of these three, thinkest thou, proved neighbor unto him that fell among the robbers? And he said, He that showed mercy on him. And Jesus said unto him, Go, and do thou likewise." - Luke 10:30-37
This is a tricky one. RJII, your contention that love is an "emotional state" is disputable. I wouldn't use a disputable contention as reasoning. But I do agree with you that there needs to be an improvement in Biblical quotation. My suggestion would be to quote the words of Jesus alongside reputable commentary from both contemporary and classical scholars. Also, whoever inserted Luke 10:30-37, I would suggest including the name of the translation.--Heesung 18:04, 18 January 2006 (UTC)

Politicians

Virtually every politician of the 20th century used altruistic rhetoric at one point or another; there is no reason to single out Hitler among them (unless you're trying to argue against altruism from an ad hominem fallacy). Thus, I will not allow you to insert that irrelevant Hitler quote unless you make a list of all the major politicians who used altruist rhetoric and insert quotes from ALL of them. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 17:08, 18 July 2005 (UTC)

What do you have against Hitler? RJII 17:10, 18 July 2005 (UTC)
Oh, I don't know... for some strange reason people tend to associate his name with absolute evil. I wonder why? -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 17:17, 18 July 2005 (UTC)
In any case, the point remains that there is no reason to single out Hitler among all politicians; he certainly isn't noted for his altruism. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 17:17, 18 July 2005 (UTC)
Ok then, by that reasoning we won't put in a Jesus quote. RJII 17:20, 18 July 2005 (UTC)
I wasn't aware that Jesus was a politician. Here's my logic: Quotes on a subject (in this case altruism) should be given from authors whose works are widely regarded as significant for that particular subject. Adolf Hitler is not significant for altruism, and neither is Albert Einstein - which is why I didn't include Einstein's quote "Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile". On the other hand, Jesus IS significant on the subject of altruism - even foremost egoists like Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand say so. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 17:26, 18 July 2005 (UTC)
That's decent reasoning. (Though I think Rand associates Hitler with altruism. I bet Nietzsche would too.) RJII 17:29, 18 July 2005 (UTC)
I seriously doubt Nietzsche would, but it's certainly true that Ayn Rand associated Hitler with altruism. On the other hand, she also associated all liberals, socialists, communists, conservatives and even some libertarians with altruism. I associate Hitler with egoism, but you won't see me pushing this point on the egoism article - because I recognize that Hitler is simply too much of a touchy subject, and therefore not a good example to give in any non-Nazi related circumstances. Perhaps in a few hundred years, when people will look to the 20th century will less emotional attachment, things will be different.
In any case, look at my new proposed Jesus quote above and tell me what you think. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 17:39, 18 July 2005 (UTC)
I don't see your proposed Jesus quote. RJII 17:57, 18 July 2005 (UTC)
It's under the "jesus quote" heading above this one. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 18:16, 18 July 2005 (UTC)
I see the quote now. That still seems really vague. Also, first of all the quote would have to go beyond Jesus merely advocating that people help others. That's not ethical altruism in itself. That's just advocacy of benevolence. Jesus would have to indicate somehow that it was a moral duty to serve others. The assertion that people have such a moral obligation is what constitutes the ethical doctrine of altruism. RJII 19:02, 18 July 2005 (UTC)
You're grasping at straws. Jesus said that people should love and help each other. If that's not altruism, I don't know what is. In addition, saying that people should do something always implies some sort of duty or obligation. Besides, you have to look at his words in context. He wasn't preaching the Gospel of Things You May Consider Doing If You Really Want To Be a Nice Guy. He was preaching a Gospel of salvation and damnation. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 19:32, 18 July 2005 (UTC)
If I say to someone "help that guy," I'm not saying he has a moral obligation to help him. True, if I say "you should help that guy" then I'm making an ethical claim. But where do you see Jesus making a moral claim in your quote? I don't see it. RJII 19:37, 18 July 2005 (UTC)
I specifically bolded the sentence "Go, and do thou likewise". You don't suppose Jesus was telling people to go and help that one particular person from his story, do you? He was telling people to go and help the needy in general. Now, since he was engaged in religious preaching at the time he made this statement, it's perfectly clear that he was talking about a moral obligation. Your insistence on taking everything at absolute face value is ridiculous. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 20:15, 18 July 2005 (UTC)

Let me put this another way: Jesus didn't speak English, and he lived millenia before the creation of modern philosophical conventions. Thus, your claim that "he's not talking about a moral obligation unless he uses the word should" is absurd. If you really want to be that pedantic, learn [[Greek and go read the original form of the New Testament. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 20:21, 18 July 2005 (UTC)

No, it's not "perfectly clear that he was talking about a moral obligation" in that quote. He's just telling someone to do something. Nowhere does he say that anyone has an obligation to do what he says. What consitutes ethical altruism is that someone is asserting an obligation. I'm not saying Jesus was not an ethical altruist. Maybe he was. But your quote sure doesn't indicate it. RJII 21:48, 18 July 2005 (UTC)

Excellent work for all of you. This knowledge gives my life meaning for another day.

Altruism Does Not Exist

<Commenting on the phrase in Altruismbeing helpful to other people with little or no interest in being rewarded for one's efforts (the colloquial definition).>


Extract from WHAT IS MAN? by Mark Twain.

A Story of a Quarter

Old Man. What is self-sacrifice?

Young Man. The doing good to another person where no shadow nor suggestion of benefit to one's self can result from it.

O.M. There have been instances of it—you think?

Young Man. INSTANCES? Millions of them!

O.M. You have not jumped to conclusions? You have examined them—critically?

Y.M. They don't need it: the acts themselves reveal the golden impulse back of them.

O.M. For instance?

Y.M. Well, then, for instance. Take the case in the book here. The man lives three miles up-town. It is bitter cold, snowing hard, midnight. He is about to enter the horse-car when a gray and ragged old woman, a touching picture of misery, puts out her lean hand and begs for rescue from hunger and death. The man finds that he has a quarter in his pocket, but he does not hesitate: he gives it her and trudges home through the storm. There—it is noble, it is beautiful; its grace is marred by no fleck or blemish or suggestion of self-interest.

O.M. What makes you think that?

Y.M. Pray what else could I think? Do you imagine that there is some other way of looking at it?

O.M. Can you put yourself in the man's place and tell me what he felt and what he thought?

Y.M. Easily. The sight of that suffering old face pierced his generous heart with a sharp pain. He could not bear it. He could endure the three-mile walk in the storm, but he could not endure the tortures his conscience would suffer if he turned his back and left that poor old creature to perish. He would not have been able to sleep, for thinking of it.

O.M. What was his state of mind on his way home?

Y.M. It was a state of joy which only the self-sacrificer knows. His heart sang, he was unconscious of the storm.

O.M. He felt well?

Y.M. One cannot doubt it.

O.M. Very well. Now let us add up the details and see how much he got for his twenty-five cents. Let us try to find out the REAL why of his making the investment. In the first place HE couldn't bear the pain which the old suffering face gave him. So he was thinking of HIS pain—this good man. He must buy a salve for it. If he did not succor the old woman HIS conscience would torture him all the way home. Thinking of HIS pain again. He must buy relief for that. If he didn't relieve the old woman HE would not get any sleep. He must buy some sleep—still thinking of HIMSELF, you see. Thus, to sum up, he bought himself free of a sharp pain in his heart, he bought himself free of the tortures of a waiting conscience, he bought a whole night's sleep—all for twenty-five cents! It should make Wall Street ashamed of itself. On his way home his heart was joyful, and it sang—profit on top of profit! The impulse which moved the man to succor the old woman was—FIRST—to CONTENT HIS OWN SPIRIT; secondly to relieve HER sufferings. Is it your opinion that men's acts proceed from one central and unchanging and inalterable impulse, or from a variety of impulses?

Y.M. From a variety, of course—some high and fine and noble, others not. What is your opinion?

O.M. Then there is but ONE law, one source.

Y.M. That both the noblest impulses and the basest proceed from that one source?

O.M. Yes.

Y.M. Will you put that law into words?

O.M. Yes. This is the law, keep it in your mind. FROM HIS CRADLE TO HIS GRAVE A MAN NEVER DOES A SINGLE THING WHICH HAS ANY FIRST AND FOREMOST OBJECT BUT ONE—TO SECURE PEACE OF MIND, SPIRITUAL COMFORT, FOR HIMSELF.

Y.M. Come! He never does anything for any one else's comfort, spiritual or physical?

O.M. No. EXCEPT ON THOSE DISTINCT TERMS—that it shall FIRST secure HIS OWN spiritual comfort. Otherwise he will not do it.

Yesselman 18:20, 24 December 2005 (UTC)

Love Is Need

<Commentary on AltruismAyn Rand argued that altruism is the willful sacrifice of one's values, and represents the reversal of morality because only a rationally selfish ethics allows one to pursue the values required for human {organically interdependent} life.>


From Spinozistic Ideas:

One of the main purposes of Spinoza's Ethics" is to teach that you do not LOVE altruistically, but out of self-interest. If the LOVE be rational it leads to an increase in probability of Perpetuation for both the lover and that loved; if not rational, a decrease.
Substitute the word need for 'love' and you will understand 'love' in its full dimensions. There is no 'altruism'. When you say "I love you" it is a euphemism for "I need you and—if the love be healthy and lasting—I will fulfill your needs." When you say "I hate you" you are saying "I do not need you, you are not fulfilling my needs for peace-of-mind." {See ""I-thee".}

Extract from Mark Twain's "WHAT IS MAN?":

Love, Hate, Charity, Compassion, Avarice, Benevolence, and so on. I mean we attach misleading MEANINGS to the names. They are all forms of self-contentment, self-gratification, but the names so disguise them that they distract our attention from the fact {unfaced glaring truth}.

Yesselman 02:59, 25 December 2005 (UTC)


Minhea deleting stuff

Minhea, you're deleting sourced stuff with no explanation (other than something about a consensus). I'm reverting back. RJII 01:07, 27 December 2005 (UTC)

I have explained back in July why Hitler does not belong here. He is not a notable altruist, and his inclusion is nothing more than a POV attempt to smear altruism with the brush of Nazism. Also, you ignore the fact that I have made quite a few edits besides my removal of the Hitler paragraph. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 01:12, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
Doesn't matter if you think it's a "smear." It's sourced. So, don't delete it. Altruism, like Comte says, is opposed to individualism. And what do you know ..fascism is defined as opposition to individualism. There is a natural link to Hitler. RJII 01:19, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
You believe fascism is the only philosophy opposed to individualism? There are tens of them. Shall we quote them all? Perhaps we should. I will collect and insert quotes from about a dozen or so other authors who supported altruism. Since you don't seem to have any criteria for notability, I conclude that anyone who ever said anything in support of altruistic behaviour can be quoted in the article. I'll get to work. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 01:24, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
I look forward to it. RJII 01:34, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
Excellent; it will probably be necessary to create a special section for them. I personally think that filling an article with tangential quotes is a bad idea, but it is the logical conclusion of your policies. I hope the end result will convince you to see the error of your policies. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 01:42, 27 December 2005 (UTC)

"…is sometimes presented as an example of this" is incredibly misleading. So some Randite who hates altruism tries to say Hitler was an altruist? So what? I don't think this should be in the article at all, but if it is it should be clear that it comes from a writer who is using this as a stick with which to beat altruism. -- Jmabel | Talk 02:15, 27 December 2005 (UTC)

This is a pretty common view that altruism leads to tyranny. Maybe I can dig up some bigger names ..like Rand. Remember, individualism is antithetical to fascism. And altruism is antithetical to individualism. The link comes naturally. RJII 04:39, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
Of if someone else could dig up something by Rand on it, it would be good, as I'm not that familiar with Rand. RJII 05:49, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
Common? It is the opinion of a particular fringe group. And you've just displayed a logical fallacy:
  1. B is not A.
  2. C is not A.
  3. Therefore B is C.
This is fallacious. Oranges are not apples and peaches are not apples, but that doesn't mean that oranges are peaches. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 04:48, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
I made no such argument. I merely said that it a link between altruism and fascism comes up naturally because altruism and fascism both share opposition to individualism. In other words, if you know that fascism and altruism both call for an individual's self-interest to take a back seat to "higher causes," then naturally you're going to look for links between altruism and fascism --some kind of commonality between the two. And, many do exactly that. RJII 04:56, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
Not many; only Objectivists and some libertarians. These make up a tiny minority even among the politically-minded population. Furthermore, I would once again like to point out that a great number of philosophies oppose individualism. There is no reason to single out fascism and Hitler other than an attempt at Reductio ad Hitlerum (see below). Interestingly, a Google search on "Hitler selfish" turns up 549.000 hits, while Hitler altruist turns up only 12,200. A significant difference. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 05:07, 27 December 2005 (UTC)

By the way, RJII, see Reductio ad Hitlerum. And note that fringe views must not be given undue weight. Objectivism is a fringe view. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 04:38, 27 December 2005 (UTC)

Why did you take out the material about Proudhon? He was very opposed to altruism. RJII 05:04, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
How is it relevant for an article on altruism to note that such-and-such person who has no connection with altruist history or altruist thought happened to be opposed to altruism? Shouldn't that go in the Proudhon article? -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 05:07, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
Minhea, can you explain your edits to the politics section? You seem to be missing the whole point (or want to hide it) that the political manifestation of altruism is forced charity. RJII 05:13, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
The idea that the political manifestation of altruism is forced charity is a fringe POV. Altruism says that you should do whatever benefits other people most. An Austrian school economist believes that laissez-faire capitalism brings the greatest benefits to everyone. Thus, an altruist Austrian school economist would oppose "forced charity" and support laissez-faire capitalism. The political manifestation of altruism is whatever a person thinks would bring the greatest benefit to others. Not all people think that forced charity would bring the greatest benefit to others. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 05:18, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
In other words: If you are an altruist, that does not necessarily mean that you believe everyone else should be altruistic as well. Consider the following comparison: Objectivists believe it is your moral obligation to act in self-interest. Does that mean that Objectivists seek to force everyone to act out of self-interest? -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 05:20, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
Right, and the article covered that: "This is not to say that an ethical altruist will necessarily force this on anyone. An altruist may allow others the freedom to behave in a manner they believe to be immoral or selfish. In other words, their ethical doctrine would not manifest itself politically." If we're going to talk about altruism's relation to politics, then we have to talk about when it DOES become political. RJII 05:28, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
Re-read my example of the altruistic Austrian economist. He would manifest his altruism politically by promoting what he thinks will help other people - namely laissez-faire capitalism. Altruism becomes political when an altruist promotes political principles that he believes will help other people. And those principles could be anything. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 05:34, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
For that matter, we have a concrete example of an anarcho-capitalist, no less, who promotes anarcho-capitalism because he believes it will help other people: David Friedman. David Friedman's altruism manifests itself politically as anarcho-capitalism. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 05:38, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
So you're saying "political" in the sense of just making an argument? Whatever. I'm talking about political, in the sense of governmental action. If a politician thinks people have a moral obligation to help others, and he has the power to enforce that, then you see the political manifestation of altruism. That's the whole point here. RJII 05:41, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
If a politician thinks he has a moral obligation to help others (which is what altruism means), then he will enact policies that he believes will help others. If the politician in question is George W. Bush, for example, he will give tax cuts because he believes that tax cuts help everyone. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 05:46, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
That doesn't make any sense. If you give tax cuts, you're not forcing anyone to do anything. You're just letting them keep their money. That would be like the opposite of altruism --letting someone spend their money on themselves rather than on others. RJII 05:53, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
Altruism does not imply forcing anyone to do anything. That's the whole point. There is such a thing as VOLUNTARY altruism. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 05:58, 27 December 2005 (UTC)

I think your confusion arises from not realizing the difference between these two statements:

  1. I must help other people.
  2. Other people must help each other.

Altruism is defined as statement number 1. Statement number 2, as far as I know, doesn't have a name. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 05:51, 27 December 2005 (UTC)

No, altruism is not defined only pertaining to the self. No wonder you're so confused. Altruism is a believe that all individuals have a moral obligation to help others. Just like any morality ..it's a prescription for everyone. RJII 05:53, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
If I believe that everyone has a moral obligation to do X, that does not necessarily mean that I believe I must force everyone to do X. Most people believe in some sort of moral obligations, and most people do not seek to force others to conform to those same moral obligations. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 05:58, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
Exactly, which is why it stated in the opening paragraph of the section: "This is not to say that an ethical altruist will necessarily force this on anyone. An altruist may allow others the freedom to behave in a manner they believe to be immoral or selfish. In other words, their ethical doctrine would not manifest itself politically." In that section, we need to talk about when it DOES manifest itself politically --when the doctrine is enforced. RJII 05:59, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
Political manifestation != forcing people to do stuff. Is the political manifestation of egoism forcing people to be selfish? You are essentially saying that the political manifestation of a certain moral standard is to force everyone to abide by that standard. This is patently false. Take religion for example. If a politician believes everyone has a moral obligation to believe in God, does that mean he will institute a theocracy? No, he may believe in freedom of religion too. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 06:01, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
The way goverment could force people to be selfish would be to outlaw charity --then, yes, you would see the political manifestation of ethical egoism. "Political manifestation" ..whatever you want to call it ..the point is that government is used to enforce morality. If the morality of those who govern is altruism, then government is going to require that people adhere to their moral obligation to help others (unless of course the government just preaches it, but then that wouldnt be relevant to this section). RJII 06:11, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
Shall I write about that in the ethical egoism article, then? Let's go through this again. Assume you are a politician. And you are an altruist. And you believe that free markets will bring the greatest benefits to everyone. What do you do? -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 06:15, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
You mean what do you NOT do. You don't intervene in private affairs. You let people be selfish and you let people be altruistic --whatever they wish. If you're an individualist, you believe in letting people decide for themselves what their moral obligations are, and as long as they don't force their morality on anyone else, you leave them be. RJII 06:20, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
Very good. And if you're the president? What do you do then? Still nothing? That "nothing" then becomes your government policy. It is the political manifestation of your beliefs. Isn't libertarianism a political philosophy? -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 06:23, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
Doing nothing is just that ..doing nothing. If you do nothing --you're not imposing your morality on anyone. That's not what the section is about. It's about imposing one's morality on others through government --the morality of altruism. RJII 06:35, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
Oh, so it's not about political manifestation at all, it's about imposing altruism on others. In that case, the section shouldn't even exist. I don't see any articles about other ethical doctrines talking about what happens when you impose those doctrines on others. It tends to be highly speculative and off-topic. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 06:42, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
How can altruism be imposed on people? Government. I don't know why this is so hard for you to get. If there aren't sections on the political aspects of other ethical doctrines, there should be. It would be easy write one for utilitarianism, for example. RJII 06:47, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
Certainly, a government could impose anything on people - altruism included. Why is this relevant? Does the moustache article mention the fact that the government could force people to wear moustaches? Does the tap dance article mention the fact that the government could force people to tap dance? There are no historical cases of governments making altruism official policy. No "altruism law" was ever adopted. The fact that it could happen is irrelevant. Anything could happen. Wikipedia is not a crystal ball, or a soapbox. Do not speculate. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 06:56, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
There is no such ethical doctrine that people ought to wear mustaches. So, that's irrelevant. Ethics are enforced through governments. This is well known. Apparently it's new to you. There may not be an overrarching official altruist policy, but certain politicians can be altruists and push for certain governmental actions to make sure people abide by what they believe to be a moral obligation to help others. RJII 07:01, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
To say about every ethical doctrine "and by the way, the government could force people to do this" is completely frivolous. Nearly as frivolous as pointing out that the government could force people to wear moustaches. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 07:25, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
For your own illumination, do a Google search on "moral obligation to help". I just did a search for "moral obligation to help others" and what do you know, George Bush says "We have a moral obligation to help others" advocating that Americans be taxed to aid people in other countries. [9] Perfect example of an altruist politician. RJII 07:12, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
You will find that just about every politician with any small measure of power has made appeals to altruism. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 07:25, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
I doubt that. But, anyway, that's what the section is about --the ethical doctrine being enforced by government. RJII 16:52, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
And why is this notable enough to be included in the article? The Objectivist criticism of altruism should go in the Objectivism article, not here. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 13:53, 28 December 2005 (UTC)

Altruism and obedience

In my view, politicians (not only Hitler) generally make abundant use of what they call moral obligations in their speeches. This is often presented as a call for altruism, i.e. the citizen are asked vehemently to do something voluntarily, which is a contradiction in itself. If the demand is not just pure rhetorics, then after some time, when many citizens have adopted the behaviour "asked for" in their propaganda, it is no longer a matter of choice to do so, because non-obeying citizens will soon be forced to obey. The result is, that there is often a steep road from what used to be true altruism in the beginning down to forced obedience in the end. Maybe this clarifies the argument of Mihnea Tudoreanu and RJII. --DenisDiderot 09:52, 28 December 2005 (UTC)

I would argue that the only reason why politicians make use of altruist rhetoric in their speeches it because altruism is widely accepted as a sign of good moral values. Politicians don't appeal to altruism in particular, but to popular morality in general. It just so happens that altruism is a part of popular morality in our culture. Thus the road is not from altruism to obedience, but from popular morality to obedience. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 13:50, 28 December 2005 (UTC)
That's not why politicians appeal to altruism. They use altruism to manipulate people to put their self-interest aside and act to serve the state or "society." But, it usually isn't confined to rhetoric --it's usually enforced. If they can convince the a large part of the populace that they have a moral obligation to serve, then they can get away with a minimum of rebellion against the enforcement. Altruism rhetoric is a philosophical tool that complements force to get people to put their self-interest aside and serve. RJII 23:21, 28 December 2005 (UTC)
If the majority of people saw egoism as a good and noble moral ideal, politicians would appeal to egoism instead, and try to manipulate the people into believing that it is in their own self-interest to serve. -- Nikodemos (f.k.a. Mihnea) 13:59, 4 January 2006 (UTC)
Manipulate people into doing what is in their own self-interest? Sure. But, if people really think something is in their own self-interest then there is no need to force it on them. When someone purchases something at the store, he does so because he thinks the product is going to benefit or please him in some way. That's where advertising comes in --as a salesman you would appeal to the customer's self interest (and note it has nothing to do with the customer believing that egoism is "good and noble"). If the customer really thinks giving the salesman money is going to give him pleasure or alleviate pain, he's going to do so --he'll make the purchase. Now, why wouldn't a politician use this tried and true technique of getting someone to part with his money? That is, why would he not offer someone of value to the citizen and ask him to purchase it? It's because the politician has nothing valuable to offer to the potential customer; he just wants money from one person to give to another person (called transfer payments) so that he can essentially purchase votes from whoever receives that money. How do you get a person to part with his money when he's not going to receive anything in exchange? You use a combination of altruistic rhetoric and force. Now, there may be some who think that giving money to the poor is in their own self-interest, but that's not who the politician is talking to. He's trying to convince a person who doesn't think that it's a "good and nobel" thing to give without receiving. RJII 15:30, 4 January 2006 (UTC)
Transfer payments are a 20th century invention. Are you suggesting there were no politicians before the 20th century? Politicians may (and, in fact, have) argued that serving them is in your own self-interest because, for example, they are the only ones capable of ensuring your safety in dangerous times, or properly enforcing the law, or dealing with criminals efficiently, or whatever. Politicians don't use the "tried and true technique of getting someone to part with his money" because they don't want money - they want power. -- Nikodemos (f.k.a. Mihnea) 23:42, 5 January 2006 (UTC)
I didn't say they're trying to get money for themselves from the people, I said the politician wants "money from one person to give to another person (called transfer payments) so that he can essentially purchase votes from whoever receives that money." In other words, to "purchase" political power. And, yes they do also appeal to the self-interest of people --such as taxes to insure their safety, etc. But, it's much less difficult to get people to pay to protect their own safety than it is to get them to pay for someone else's welfare. That's when altruism rhetoric comes in. If you can convince people they they have, or might have, a moral obligation to help others then they're not going to protest as much when you tax them and, for a current example, send their money to Iraq. Not everyone is convinced that they have a moral obligation to help others, and that is a source of political conflict. RJII 00:30, 6 January 2006 (UTC)

I don't think this just so happens (nothing does). It should be noted that politicians and religious authorities reinforce this kind of popular morality, because it is immensely useful for them. --DenisDiderot 14:05, 28 December 2005 (UTC)

I meant to say that if the majority of the population were egoists, for example, then politicians would appeal to egoism instead (those who didn't would never win power and would therefore be eliminated from the political scene by a sort of natural selection). The kind of morality that gets reinforced by political and religious authorities is not altruism but duty (to the nation, to God, to whatever). -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 19:29, 28 December 2005 (UTC)

Mihnea is right, its not altruism which leads to obedience, but morality itself, which of course includes duty and loyalty. Sam Spade 19:57, 28 December 2005 (UTC)

Doesn't the idea of duty automatically arise as soon as the majority has voluntarily adopted some altruistic behaviour, say, being ready to die for the country? It is a very small step from being altruistic to being proud to be altruistic and feeling contempt towards a minority that doesn't want to make the same sacrifices, even for the most non-conservative and duty-abhorring people, as far as my experience goes. At any rate, since this distinction between altruism and feeling of duty seems to be very important, it would clear things up to include it in the definition of altruism on the article page. I'll give it a try. --DenisDiderot 23:07, 28 December 2005 (UTC)
Duty can exist very well independent of altruism. Remember that altruism means an obligation to humanity while duty means an obligation to one specific individual (king), or to an organization (government) or to an abstract concept (God, country). Also, duty can - and often does - enter into conflict with altruism. The standard example of this is a military officer being ordered to slaughter a village filled with innocent civilians. Does he follow his duty to his superiors, or does he rebel out of altruism? -- Nikodemos (f.k.a. Mihnea) 13:59, 4 January 2006 (UTC)
Mihnea Tudoreanu, your conclusion that the majority of the people today is altruistic sounds interesting, though this might be not as good as it sounds: see the section about the comparison with Tit for tat. Unfortunately, the feeling of duty seems to be equally or even more prevalent. If we truly wanted to help other people and this feeling really guided us, we wouldn't let the feeling of loyalty and duty stand in our way so often, e.g. when war is raised against other countries or when human rights are violated. Mihnea, do you know of any historical epochs and regions on earth in which you wouldn't characterize the majority of the people as altruistic? --DenisDiderot 23:26, 28 December 2005 (UTC)
I think it might be going a bit too far to characterize the majority of the people today as altruistic in their actions. What I meant was that they are altruistic in their morality. In other words, the majority of people today believe that altruistic behavior is the ideal good behavior. If you ask, "is an altruist a good person?", the vast majority will say yes. Politicians want to give the impression that they are good persons. Hence, in our society, they almost always claim to be altruists.
Western society is morally altruistic due to the influence of Christianity. Interestingly, the other major world religions - Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism - also promote altruistic morality. Perhaps this article needs a section on altruism and religion. Societies with non-altruistic morality are largely extinct today (again, very interesting - perhaps altruism gives some sort of evolutionary advantage to the societies that adopt it as their morality? That would explain why it exists in the first place). Nevertheless, societies with non-altruistic morality did exist in the past. Mercy was considered a vice in the Roman empire, for example. -- Nikodemos (f.k.a. Mihnea) 13:59, 4 January 2006 (UTC)


I don't think it gives any evolutionary advantage but it might result in a mimetic advantage. In fact I would say altruism results in a large societal disadvantage. Rome rose and had a thousand year empire without altruism. On the other hand Christianity resulted in the death of the Roman Empire. The rise of Europe only occured as Christianity declined in influence. Most modern societies are thoroughly non altruistic. In fact almost all the present day successful societies are based on extreme individualism and selfishness. They are also incredibly successful. Futhermore, I would say the true advantage of altruism is not that it works well for societies but rather that human beings like the idea of it. I believe this is because we evolved in a hunter gatherer society where altruistic behaviour was necessary for the survival of the tribe. In our modern society this is no longer the case but we still cling to outmoded evolutionary behaviour. Thus we very strongly appreciate altruism even though it is no longer necessary in most contexts and can even be very harmful.

Temporary truce in edit war

I maintain my position that the version of the "Altruism in politics" section written by User:RJII gives far too much room and credence to fringe views. (Objectivism is really about the only modern-day movement I know of that would flat-out say altruism is bad, and this is clearly fringe territory.) Nonetheless, in order to prevent edit warring, I have incorporated a table so that both versions of this section are visible in the article. This should only be a temporary step until the current dispute resolution process involving RJII is completed. Many individuals have provided evidence there and it is clear that the community as a whole is fed up with this user's actions. Hopefully, that ruling will provide a permanent resolution, preferably one that prevents any further POV-pushing on RJII's part. Crotalus horridus (TALKCONTRIBS) 22:17, 19 January 2006 (UTC)

For your information, there is no policy against POV pushing on Wikipedia. All I'm doing is inputing sourceable information. I'm not even that familiar with Objectivism, so I don't know how I could be pushing objectivism. Altruism was opposed long before Ayn Rand --Nietzsche, Proudhon, Warren, etc. You can go cry to administrators all you want, but there is no rule against providing sourceable information that happens to favor a particular POV. RJII 04:09, 20 January 2006 (UTC)
I endorse the fork on the left. Alienus 07:17, 20 January 2006 (UTC)
I wrote the majority of material in both. I'm also the creator of the section itself. I think the one on the left misses the mark though due to some edits from another user that misses the point. The point is that helping others can be voluntary or it can be enforced. The belief that helping others is a moral obligation (ethical altruism) takes a political turn when those that believe that it is a moral obligation employ government to require individuals to help others. That's what the section should focus on. The section on the left is watered down, nearly meaningless, and doesn't really say anything interesting. RJII 07:32, 20 January 2006 (UTC)
The government isn't an individual, it's the collective head of society, so the notion of altruism doesn't apply very well. If one individual helps another, that can be considered altruism. If part of society helps another part, is that altruism or just collective egoism? Frankly, it's around here that the distinction falls apart, which is why I think the right-hand fork is comparatively muddled. Alienus 08:06, 20 January 2006 (UTC)
You're not seeing the distinction between altruism the act, and altruism the ethical doctrine. Helping someone is just that --helping someone. If it's done without self-interest, it's the ACT of altruism --if it's done out of self-interest it's the act of self-interested benevolence. The ethical doctrine of altruism is something altogether different. It a BELIEF --a belief that individuals have an OBLIGATION to help others. If someone thinks you have a moral obligation to help the poor then he is likely to vote for government programs requiring that upon you help others --such as taxing you and sending your money to hungry people in the 3rd world. That's when the ethical doctrine has a political effect. You know that when people think something is moral or immoral, one of the first things a large part of these people (but not everyone) want to to do is to have government enforce that morality. An individualist (of which a large number are egoists) opposes any other individual imposing his positive morality on another (through government or not) --he thinks that each individual should be allowed to choose and act on his own morality as long as he doesn't impose it on anyone else. Hence, you have political conflict --between those that want government to enforce what is perceived to be, by some, a moral obligation to help the needy and those who think people should be left to mind their own business. RJII 15:43, 20 January 2006 (UTC)
If I help out someone who's unemployed, keeping him afloat while they get a job, there isn't necessarily any concrete benefit to me. After all, he's the one who got the job and I didn't make a penny, so it's not unreasonable for me to claim altruism.
But if the government does the same thing, it does get to benefit from this action, because now he's doing work, earning money and paying taxes, as opposed to living on the street, eating out of dumpsters and panhandling. Because the government is the head of society, it benefits when citizens benefit, rendering it much less capable of "true" altruism because it can't easily claim a lack of compensation. Really, what it's doing is making an investment in one of its members by extending its societal safety net, which is just reciprocal altruism.
Moreover, when the government uses part of my taxes to help that him find a job, it's not forcing altruism on me, it's acting in its own interest, redistributing its funds so as to benefit not only him but its collective self. From my point of view, I can't claim altruism because, in return for my taxes, I get rights and services unavailable otherwise, so I benefit by paying. This is likewise reciprocal altruism.
In addition, I could argue that helping him in my indirect interest for people to be a productive part of the economy and also in my join interests as a member of society. I could also argue that it is in my direct interest because, as a person with normal level of empathy, I enjoy helping people who genuinely need it and honestly feel that it's a good thing when people prosper instead of fail. (Granted, sociopaths and extreme libertarians can deny that last part.)
Fundamentally, the big problem with "true" altruism is that it's defined in terms of the actor not benefiting, which makes benefit harder to avoid when that actor is a collective that includes all affected individuals. For this reason, I don't think it's meaningful to speak of governmental social service as forced altruism. Alienus 16:30, 20 January 2006 (UTC)
I fully agree that forcing someone to help another is not "forced altruism." Rather, it's forcing someone to do what the ethical doctrine of altruism prescribes because he won't do it on his own. Whether someone benefits or not from being forced to aid others is irrelevant in terms of the ethical doctrine. RJII 17:51, 20 January 2006 (UTC)

(resetting indentation, for the sake of readability)

Actually, this isn't about force at all. The individuals pay taxes because it's in their interest to do so, and the government helps out that unemployed person because doing so is in it's interest. Everyone is acting in their own interest, which means it's neither altruistic nor forced. Alienus 04:12, 22 January 2006 (UTC)

I've got some news for you. Paying taxes isn't optional. RJII 18:08, 22 January 2006 (UTC)
Sure it is. Just like following other laws is optional. Of course, if I don't hold up my end of the social contract, on what basis do I have rights? Alienus 05:09, 24 January 2006 (UTC)
If someone refuses to pay taxes, he goes to jail. In addition, if the taxes go to help others rather than himself it's an even greater violation of his consent (given that he does not consent). That means the action is coerced rather than voluntary. RJII 05:14, 24 January 2006 (UTC)
If someone breaks the law, they lose the rights they earned by following the law. For that matter, a free rider who wants to benefit from society without paying into it deserves to be penalized for the attempt. If you really don't want to pay taxes, all you have to do is go live where you don't benefit from society. However, your refusal to do so forces society to keep on helping you, so you're the one initiating force. Alienus 05:32, 24 January 2006 (UTC)
What's that got to do with the ethic of altruism? The point is what the taxes are used for, not the taxation itself. If you think I should give some of my money to the poor in Somalia, and you're a legislator, you will be prone to push for government to tax me to send me money to Somalia. Are you trying to tell me that would be voluntary on my part? RJII 05:42, 24 January 2006 (UTC)
The point I made earlier is that it's not altruism on anyone's part. Alienus 05:46, 24 January 2006 (UTC)
The point you're not seeing is that this is not about ACTS of altruism, but about the ETHICAL DOCTRINE of altruism --the assertion that people have a moral OBLIGATION to help others. They're two different things. RJII 05:59, 24 January 2006 (UTC)

(reset indent)

Uhm, in the example I gave, there's no altruism of either kind. Alienus 06:24, 25 January 2006 (UTC)

In the example I gave, there is. RJII 06:25, 25 January 2006 (UTC)
Stil no. The gov is giving aid to Somalia because it wants the benefits that come from doing so. The taxpayer is paying taxes because they want the benefits that come from doing so. They're serving their own interests. The fact that other interests are served does not suffice to cancel this out. Alienus 06:48, 25 January 2006 (UTC)
No, the government is taxing you to send your money to Somalia because those who passed the law think you have a moral obligation to help others. This is so, simply because this is the example I gave. I don't know why this is so hard for you to understand. The idea is that if someone thinks people have a moral obligation to help others, they may employ government to force people to help others. I'm not arguing whether this actually happens or not, though I positively know that it does. I'm noting it because other writers, political philosophers, etc. have noted it to be a danger of the doctrine, so it should be noted in the article. RJII 06:54, 25 January 2006 (UTC)
As I pointed out, the government is getting a benefit for spending part of its resources this way, hence it cannot be considered purely altruistic. Likewise, the individual benefits from paying into taxes, so there's no altruism there, either. The only way you get the illusion of one person being helped at the expense of another is if you carefully zoom in only on the isolated individuals while excluding all benefits on the personal and collective level. When you zoom out far enough to see the big picture, there's no place left for the illusion of altruism to hide. Alienus 07:01, 25 January 2006 (UTC)
You still haven't grasped that this is about the ETHICAL DOCTRINE, not the ACT of helping someone at the expense of another. It has nothing at all to do with that. Even if the government forcing a person to help someone else benefits the person that's being forced, if it's being done because it's believed that the person has a moral obligation to help someone, then it's the political manifestation of the ethical doctrine of altruism. RJII 07:04, 25 January 2006 (UTC)

(reset)

If helping you helps me, I have a moral oblgiation to do so. If helping you harms me, I do not. In the above examples, we have the former case, not the latter, so there is no altruism. Even if, for example, the government stated that its policies were altruistic or that its goals were based on the ethical doctrine of altruism, this would not make it so. Alienus 07:08, 25 January 2006 (UTC)

Of course it would make it so. It doesn't matter whether you are ultimately benefit or suffer by the action. All that matters is that the government is making you help others because it thinks you have a moral obligation to help others. It's as simple as that. Note that the ethical doctrine doesn't say that you have an obligation to be altruistic; it simply says you have an obligation to help others. RJII 07:13, 25 January 2006 (UTC)
Today, I gave a stranger $5. In return, they gave me lunch. As it happens, the stranger was standing behind the counter of a take-out Chinese restaurant. So, was I being altruistic or was there an exchange of value? Now apply this to the scenario where the government helps out a citizen who is unemployed, or even helps feed a Somolian. So long as there is an exchange of value, in what sense is it altruistic? Stated altruism is just a statement. If helping others helps me, then I have an obligation to myself to help myself, even if that means helping others as a consequence. Alienus 07:26, 25 January 2006 (UTC)
The doctrine commands that you help others. If a government forces you to trade with someone because it thinks you have a moral obligation to help that person, then even if you benefit from the trade government has enforced the ethical doctrine of altruism. The ACT isn't altruism, of course! But, that's not the issue. The issue is that ethical doctrine has been enforced. RJII 07:32, 25 January 2006 (UTC)
When the gov extends a safety net so that someone who loses their job can get another one instead of falling through the cracks, the gov is helping itself. Hence, neither sort of altruism is involved. Perhaps the gov explains or justifies this decision in terms of the moral obligation towards the ethical doctrine of altruism, perhaps not. Either way, the reality is that it's long-term self interest. Of course, that's really the point I'm making here; all ostensible altruism either boils down to long-term self interest or to an error. Alienus 18:09, 25 January 2006 (UTC)

Original research?

This section strikes me as original researchy. For example "With regard to their political convictions, altruists may be divided in two broad groups: Those who believe altruism is a matter of personal choice (and therefore selfishness can and should be tolerated), and those who believe that altruism is a moral ideal which should be embraced, if possible, by all human beings." — I'm not sure there is much sense in that at all. - FrancisTyers · 20:15, 25 June 2006 (UTC)

Altruism in politics

Some opponents of the ethical doctrine called altruism (that people have an ethical obligation to help or further the welfare of others) argue that the doctrine is dangerous as it can lead to violations of individual liberty if the state enforces the principle. For example, David Kelley says, "If self-sacrifice is an ideal--if service to others is the highest, most honorable course of action--why not force people to act accordingly?" He believes this can ultimately result in the state forcing everyone into a collectivist political system.

With regard to their political convictions, altruists may be divided in two broad groups: Those who believe altruism is a matter of personal choice (and therefore selfishness can and should be tolerated), and those who believe that altruism is a moral ideal which should be embraced, if possible, by all human beings.

A prominent example of the former branch of altruist political thought is Lysander Spooner, who, in Natural Law, writes: "Man, no doubt, owes many other moral duties to his fellow men; such as to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick, protect the defenceless, assist the weak, and enlighten the ignorant. But these are simply moral duties, of which each man must be his own judge, in each particular case, as to whether, and how, and how far, he can, or will, perform them." Things such as a law that motorists pull over to let emergency vehicles pass may also be justified by appealing to the altruism ethic. Finally, radical altruists of this branch may take things further and advocate some form of collectivism or communalism.

On a somewhat related note, altruism is often held - even by non-altruists - to be the kind of ethic that should guide the actions of politicians and other people in positions of power. Such people are usually expected to set their own interests aside and serve the populace. When they do not, they may be criticized as defaulting on what is believed to be an ethical obligation to place the interests of others above their own.