2005

vexen

Vexen Crabtree's Live Journal

Sociology, Theology, Anti-Religion and Exploration: Forcing Humanity Forwards


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Altruism is an Illusion

Apologies for repeating a boringly ongoing theme of psychology, but:

Altruism is an Illusion is my new page, the conclusion reads:

"
Biologists, sociologists, philosophers and above all, psychologists, have held to the "universal egoism" theory: that all apparent altruism is really selfishness in disguise. Most arguments for altruism are based on ignorance of the underlying reasons for behaving good towards others or are purely semantic in nature, not logical.

People behave altruistically for a number of selfish reasons. We are programmed genetically to behave in a way conducive to the sociability of the species: This unconscious species-instinct is the closest thing we have to true sellfless altruism. In nearly every other conscious sense, altruism is an illusion. We behave well because social good behaviour fires off pleasent neurochemicals in our brains (the pleasure reward), because consciously or unconsciously we want others to see us as a good person (the social reward) or to feel good about ourselves (for pride and self-esteem). All of these selfish reasons surpass the reason that the innocent think is behind their actions: The choice to selflessly help others. Altruism is image and illusion.
"

Oh, absolutely. Morals, ethics, they're all things we've evolved as social animals. There's nothing special about them, as some religious people try to claim, nor is there anything special about us for having them.

death comes before life

(Anonymous)

2006-01-14 08:52 am (UTC)

thats the most rediculous thing i ever hoid

Re: death comes before life

vexen

2006-01-14 08:10 pm (UTC)

And when Copornicus realized that the planets orbitted the sun, and that the sun didn't orbit the Earth, your comment is exactly what nearly everyone else exclaimed as a response. They were all wrong!

Thankfully, the specialists and scientists agreed.

What exactly do you mean by the phrase "unconscious species-instinct"? It seems that you seem to be saying that the only truly altruistic behaviour is stuff that's programmed into us 'for the good of the species', but evolutionary biology has pretty much quashed the idea that 'for the good of the species' plays any significant role in evolution.

Selfish individuals will always proper in altruistic societies if they can, and so you only tend to see altruistic behaviour in a very few cases, where selfishness is harmful on an individual level - ironically enough, vampire bats provide ones of the best examples of this :)

However, it's entirely possible that I'm misinterpreting what you're saying, so feel free to ignore my babbling :)

"unconscious species-instinct" is stuff like the disposal against breeding with close relatives (as determined psychologically as those we grow up with), stuff like automatically wanting to save life and protect each other (especially in emergency situations, where helpers often automatically help, no matter if they "like" the people involved - ref. studies of sociologists of set-up emergency situations ["Psychology: The science of the mind" by Richard Gross]).

"For the good of the species" didn't play a decisive role in our development beyond 100 000 years ago, but, the protection of shared genes in relatives and troops is an important and known factor of the evolution of major social species; examples of this I read recently included ants, rabbits, prarie dogs, bonobo apes (and all the other usual suspects).

I'm not sure how much we disagree; I regard everyone as ultimately selfish: But those who are called selfish are merely those who are not as good socially as others.

Erm, I can't ignore your babblings 'cos I suspect you might know this subject area better than I do! So babble on with my blessings :-)

Interesting and compelling philosophical concepts and arguments.

(Anonymous)

2006-01-15 10:19 pm (UTC)

I've been studying this idea and counter-arguments, and also the ideaas of "hdeonism","Universal Hedonsim", "Ethical Egoism"and "Psycholical egoism".

I myself find that I am not an "ethical egoist"per-se, so much as I am a "Pdsychological egoist", which is basically I admit that there is no such thing as "pure" altruism or selflessness{in the trancendent/ultimate sense}, but I do not think neccaserily that people should indeed focus completely on ONLY themselves and strong ethical ego-ists might, I do believe in benevolence,charitableness,sympathy/empathy,kindness and mercy{to those who are themselves merciful},etc; thoughg I aknowledge that the end result is indeed a pay-off to myself

However, I think the philosophical diufference is in, "intentionally beeing utterly selfish" or conciuosly "dooing niceness for the sake of the self alone", and "beeing unconciuosly selfish" or "doing niceness not neccaserily in the moment thinking about the pay-off to the self in the conciuos mind{thought the sub or un conciuos may be aware of the pay-off to the self"}.
So, selfishness could then be seen{as words always alter in meaning and context in our species} as "intentional conciuos acts of helping only the self-even at the expense of others, or dooing niceness merely only as a conciuos want of the pay-off"{and the variuos degrees of such}, and selflessness or altruism now means given our understanding of such words,semantics, and concepts "beeing beificient and philanthropic towards others w/out conciuosly thinking of or focusing on, or even not beeing conciuosly aware of the pay off to the self that the sub/unconciuos of course needs and wants and knows of"{and the varrying degrees of such}.

Hows this sound to you Vexen?

In the philosophy text book I'm currently reading, these concepts,ideas,labesl,etc, are all discussed and counter-arguments given.
All words we sue only have the meaning we give them, there is no universal meanings per-se;so-in our present philosophical/ethical/etc understanding the definitions I gave above would be explanations of it all. Because if we applied the same logic or line of thinkign to ALL concepts and words and ideas,etc, then no word would have any meaning at all; but as such, they have temoral,temporary,evolving, social meanigns to the social human animal species.

Give this, do you think perhasp it is not stupid or incorrect to use the words. I mean, to use words such as 'altruism" or selflessness would not be any more inorrect than to use the words 'selfish' and "strong misanthropy/nihilism",etc.?

As a philosophical person yourself Vexen, am I missing something here? Or do you think this makes sense?

In Reason:
Bill Baker

about altruism, and ethics

(Anonymous)

2006-01-26 03:10 am (UTC)

SDr: there's a GVideo at here http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3554279466299738997 ,on which Pinker makes some interesting points. One of them, that altruism, in some sense, is possible; but I think, that the other is more interesting: he proposes, that maybe our moral system is converging to a certain system. What do you think of that?

So your interpretation is that because something is enjoyable, it can't be altruism. Consider this. I may give up certain luxuries in order to fund the well-being of others. Because I am satisfied with my action, it is no longer altruism? Is it only altruism if I receive absolutely NO reward? Can't we accommodate a definition of altruism that is rewarding? Perhaps we could define altruism as "the rewarding process of sacrifice on behalf of others."

You might counter that a sacrifice is not a sacrifice if you gain something, but consider chess. One may sacrifice pieces, but only to gain strategic advantage. A sacrifice is a trade-off, not simply a surrender.

As for your genetic argument, it's a bit over-simplified. Read more Dawkins. Do you honestly believe that your entire consciousness is contained or created by your genes? I hope not. Surely there isn't a Satanism gene.

There is nothing morally ambiguous about enjoying the well-being of others. It is simply the denial of solipsism.

Sure, if we created a new definition for "altruism" then we could say that it does really exist and isn't just an illusion and hypocritical concept (which it is by its existing definition, as Vexen has demonstrated). Except, you'll have to call Oxford and Webster for that, and I don't think they'll be up for it. Just a hunch.

And, yes, people are genetically prone and drawn to certain ways of life; beliefs and anti-beliefs; e.i. Christianity, Satanism, Wicca, etc. When they discover there is an actual dogmatic system to give them a warm, fuzzy, reasuring feeling inside, and a community that holds fast to these dogmatic structures who will welcome them with open arms, it's like they finally find themselves.

Many people raised under certain beliefs, values, and ideals end up instinctively rejecting them. However, if it's merely for rebellion, and that way of life suits their needs, they'll find their way back to it as a long lost lover.

--Ray

Is it not possible to make an intellectual choice that some harm to oneself can be countered by benefit for others?

I have often seen a tautological argument against Altruism, ie if a person believes in altruistic behavior they feel good when doing it, thus it isn't altruism. Of course we have social behavior preprogrammed, but that does not mean that when an action is taken for the benefit of the group it is not altruistic. We are after all just chemicals, and cannot remove ourselves from the universe, and there is no humunculous devining our actions. So denying a theistic style altruism from an atheist standpoint seems spurious.

I agree with what you say about chemicals... from such an objective point of view its not really relevant to speak of "altriusm" or even "selfishness", it's just cause-and-effect and nothing else. But because the word "altruism" is given special status, I prefer to dismantle it and use words like "good-natured", "kind", etc, rather than "altruistic".

The tautology you point out is true, but I see that the fact that this tautology exists makes any objective idea of "altruism" to be false, the concept itself is flawed.

Using the words "altruistic" to describe animal behaviour can be appropriate but as long as remains detached from lofty ideas of absolute morality.

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