THE DEBATE OVER CHRISTIANITY, OBJECTIVISM, AND ALTRUISM CONTINUES

What follows is part of a series on Objectivism I had no plans to write. I think Ayn Rand ideas interesting and her books entertaining, but I never intended to post much on Objectivism. However, I respond to comments, and Objectivism is what some of my commenters wanted to hear about. So here is a list of the earlier posts.

The Latest Comment

The latest comment driving this series came from  John Donohue

Your paragraph “Is Objectivism A Rational Moral Philosophy” contains at least four inaccuracies about Objectivists’ and Ayn Rand’s thought, which taken together amount to evidence you have either not understood it or choose to not fairly make its case preparatory to criticizing it.

I will only address the primary fault, one that subsumes the others: “…Communism, it is not altruism. What is altruistic about throwing tens of millions of one’s own countrymen into gulags and working them to death?”

Ayn Rand, and decades of Objectivist thinkers, thoroughly and exhaustively point out that the root of ethical altruism is not “general benevolence and helping,” but rather “living for others.” In the first place, you will hopefully discover that Rand has no quarrel with individuals voluntarily aiding others on any level of “need,” as long as it does not damage pursuit and respect for ones chosen responsibilities and purpose in life. Second, when ethical altruism (living for others) switches into political altruism, it becomes indeed the driver of Communism, Fascism, Theocracy and all other forms of tyranny. Colloquially: “live for others and if you refuse to do so, the state will put you under compulsion to do so.”

The primary text for getting clear on Ayn Rand’s position on altruism is “The Virtue of Selfishness.” Naturally you are free to dispute Rand’s ethical philosophy, but you are shooting at phantoms if your target is not squared fairly against that book.

An interesting outside discussion that goes right to the heart of “altruism as self-immolation and political tyranny” vs “general benevolence” is a response to a thinker who made similar claims that you make. The link below contains the response, and uncovers the original meaning and still-potent concept of altruism by the thinker who originated the word.

http://hubcap.clemson.edu/~campber/altruismrandcomte.pdf

(from here)

A Bit Of Humor

I have never much cared for the term “altruism.” Did I know how it was coined? No. Can I explain why I did not like the term? Not really, but I would like to believe I disliked the term because of the way people use it. Consider this bit of humor from the Online Etymology Dictionary (see altruism).

There is a fable that when the badger had been stung all over by bees, a bear consoled him by a rhapsodic account of how he himself had just breakfasted on their honey. The badger replied peevishly, “The stings are in my flesh, and the sweetness is on your muzzle.” The bear, it is said, was surprised at the badger’s want of altruism. [“George Eliot,” “Theophrastus Such,” 1879]

A Rebuttal

Let’s get to the point. Does Donohue’s complaint have a basis in fact? Have I mischaracterized what Ayn Rand said about altruism? In spite of how word “altruism” was coined, I don’t think so.

Here is the definition we ordinarily use for “altruism.”

altruism n :

the quality of unselfish concern for the welfare of others
[syn: selflessness] [ant: egoism]

Here is the  more extreme definition for the term “altruism” used by Rand.

What is the moral code of altruism?  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. (continued here)

Few today would associate altruism with the definition used by Rand. Nonetheless, the term altruism does have a dubious history. As Donohue observed, Auguste Comte (19 January 1798 – 5 September 1857) coined the term altruism (Here is what Wikipedia has to say about altruism.). Comte tried to start his own religion, the Religion of Humanity. Comte’s religion involved the worship of humanity, and altruism served as one of its key tenets. Thus, Comte coined the term “altruism” with the more extreme definition. Apparently, however, the public has watered down the definition to something more reasonable.

The Difference Between Altruism And A Lie

Note that Comte defined altruism in the context of a belief system the deifies humanity. Then consider Donohue’s complaint.

when ethical altruism (living for others) switches into political altruism, it becomes indeed the driver of Communism, Fascism, Theocracy and all other forms of tyranny. Colloquially: “live for others and if you refuse to do so, the state will put you under compulsion to do so.”

What Communism, Fascism, and autocratic Theocratic religions all involve is the worship of man by man. Such systems insist upon “altruism” because the individual is by definition either subordinate to the great collective or to the great leader.

When we as a people speak of altruism, we each put our own altruism in the context of our love for our fellow man. When we speak of altruistic behavior, we speak of a voluntary sacrifice. Consider an example. If they knew the origin of the term”altruism,” can you imagine the folks who wrote this article, The Problem of Goodness, using the term?

By insisting upon a government role and tempting us with promises of wealth from the rich or the enemies of the state, political leaders pervert the voluntary nature of true charity or altruism. Thus, we end up with Communism, Fascism, Theocracy and other forms of tyranny that are supposedly based upon altruism. In reality, such systems are simply abuses of power justified by a lie. In his fable about The Wolf and the Lamb, Aesop explained the technique long ago.

The Christian Attitude

What is the Christian attitude towards altruism. For the most part, I provided my opinion in the previous posts. However, the Catholic Encyclopedia (which significantly predates Ayn Rand) has a good article on the subject, Altruism. Naturally, the article notes the defects of Comte’s religion.

Here is what Catholicism or (Christianity in general) teaches about love.

The Catholic teaching on love of others is summed up in the precept of Christ: Love they neighbour as thyself. The love due to oneself is the exemplar of the love due to others, though not the measure of it. Disinterested love of others, or the love of benevolence, the outward expression of which is beneficence, implies a union proximately based on likeness. All men are alike in this that they partake of the same rational nature made to the image and likeness of their Creator; have by nature the same social aptitudes, inclinations, and needs; and are destined for the same final union with God by which the likeness receive through creation is perfected. By supernatural grace the natural likeness of man to man is exalted, changing fellowship into brotherhood. All likeness of whatever grade is founded ultimately in likeness with God. Love, therefore, whether of oneself or of others is in its last analysis love of God, by partaking of Whose perfections we become lovable. (from here)

All men are alike. That is, we were all made in the image of God. Because we are children of God, His creations, we are worthy of love, and the more Christlike we become, the more worthy we become.

For a contrast, check out another article, egoism, also in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

What Then Of Objectivism?

Because Objectivism, like Comte’s Religion of Humanity,  is a godless philosophy, it is an empty philosophy. Outside of man’s reason, it has no anchor. Man’s reason is no defense, not even against our own devices for tyranny.

So why would intelligent men and women gravitate to such a thing as Objectivism? I can only speak of my own experience. When I did not know Christ, I remember the pride. I had the courage — ME –to face a universe without God. The rest of men were sheep and cowards.

I looked at the universe, and I did not see God. I had seen a forest and missed the most significant detail. Just as a forest is filled with trees, God had filled the universe with the glory of His creations.

Yes! I had the courage to do without God. I ignored the fact of death. I ignored the parade of coffins, the slow, stately departure of everyone I have known. With masterful disdain I ignored the fact that after my last breath I will join the march, wrapped in metal box, buried deep, and slowly rotting.

Yet the Objectivist will say I now believe because I am afraid, and how will I object? Here is God’s answer. There are two fears.

  • God does not exist.
  • God exists.

Only the fear of God leads to the beginning of wisdom.

22 thoughts on “THE DEBATE OVER CHRISTIANITY, OBJECTIVISM, AND ALTRUISM CONTINUES

  1. A well-reasoned summation (and retort). Ayn Rand herself appears to be setting the concept of Altruism up as a “straw man” with her pejorative definition, much as your commentor has accused you of doing with Rand’s work. Whatever the etymology of the word, it has come to represent something that existed long before either Compte or Rand- that is, the ethic of selflessness. It amazes me that so many who would otherwise consider themselves Christian would embrace Ayn Rand as such an object of their admiration.

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    1. Mark Knox – Thank you for comment. I glanced at your blog. Checking it out is a project for tomorrow evening.

      I too think “straw man” describes her argument.

      Why would folks like Any Rand? They are two reasons I can think of.
      1. She wrote well, and given where she hailed from she was a highly independent spirit, a spirit that found something to praise in America. She may not have cared for Christianity, but it is altruism, not Christianity she protested. So Christians found it more easy to forgive her.
      2. Most people have no idea what the Bible says. We raise our children with too little knowledge of their heritage, and secularists shame those who have read the Bible into silence. So when someone speaks positively of Objectivism, it sounds good by comparison.

      Frankly, I have no trouble forgiving Rand, but the mistake she made is too big and harmful to ignore.

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  2. A good post! But I have a small dissent on the point where you wrote:

    What Communism, Fascism, and autocratic Theocratic religions all involve is the worship of man by man.

    First, this isn’t at all obvious to me. I have a sense of what “worship” means, and I don’t see evidence of this in the totalitarian systems you invoke here. Generally, they elevate (in principle) the State to a level demanding obeisance and sacrifice, and sometimes forced worship — but this generally devolves into a cult of personality in which a person is “worshiping” (sort of) himself and forcing others to go through the motions at (often literal) gunpoint. That doesn’t seem like “worship” in the normal sense to me, and seems a distraction from the otherwise excellent points you make.

    I’m still thinking about this, and will post something shortly.

    Best wishes!

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

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    1. Keith – Thank you. I appreciate both the compliment and and the criticism.

      I read your post. http://level-head.livejournal.com/598019.html

      I thought what you had to say excellent. Since I want to do a little research first, I will put off a detailed response until Monday. For the time being, I will just note that this is not the first time I have called Communism and Fascism religious systems, and you are not the first to object. However, I have not posted much about it. Since our nation is venturing towards statism, I suppose it is time I did.

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      1. I look forward to it.

        Perhaps the thing to watch for is to make certain that the same logic would not also lend itself to describing anything — from the raising of orchids, or the pursuit of engineering, or the study of Shakespeare — as religious systems. The “… everything looks like a nail” effect is common to folks like you and me with strongly held philosophies that are central to our thinking, and it’s not easy to avoid.

        As a random aside, I am amused by the coincidence of the Romney face that you use as your online visage. Of course, after Romney’s work it went through a couple of iterations and was no doubt “improved” a bit, just as our Romney attempted to do to himself during this campaign.

        But having been reminded of Paine by you, and thinking about his interesting history, I will write about him and the hundred-plus people who went to jail for the crime of distributing the words he wrote. Paine was a key figure in more than one revolution, and obviously is significant to you as well.

        ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

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  3. I do appreciate your responses to the noxious weed that is “objectivism”. Rand and her followers do indeed use the term “altruism” as a straw-man (see http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/special/atlas-shrugged-ayn-rand-morality-egoism.asp for a recent example.)

    If I may offer a suggestion: abandon the term “altruism” altogether. There are better and less confusing words to use: selflessness, empathy, compassion, etc. Altruism has too much baggage.

    A couple of non sequiturs: there is a third fear: that God exists, but is not good. Ponder that one.
    Also: fear of God is the beginning of wisdom; but it is not the goal of wisdom, not the achievement of it, not the culmination or purpose of it. Fear of God is just “the beginning”. We should not linger at the beginning. “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” 1 Corinthians 13:11.

    Carry on.

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    1. sean samis — Noxious weed? The people who study and practice Objectivism are seekers. In Objectivism they think they have found something valuable. It isn’t, but there are worthwhile elements in it. So they fasten on to it. What Christians must do is point to what is lacking, God.

      I find it curious how different people react to the same words. A commenter in favor of Objectivism cited the same article.
      https://citizentom.com/2012/10/30/what-did-ayn-rand-think-of-altruism/#comment-32676

      A third fear? An interesting observation. Thank you.

      Is fear of the Lord just a beginning? Yes. J. Vernon McGee wrote:

      A little girl fell out of bed one night and began to cry. Her mother rushed into her bedroom, picked her up, put her back in bed, and asked her, “Honey, why did you fall out of bed?” And she said, “I think I stayed too close to the place where I got in.” And that’s the reason a great many of us fall, my friend. It is because we are actually yielding ourselves to our old nature. We’re following the dictates of the old nature; that is what gets us into trouble. (from http://books.google.com/books?id=CeHUIpZMtQ0C&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false)

      Thank you for your comments.

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      1. Is “objectivism” a noxious weed? Yes. That is a comment on Objectivism, not on Objectivists. Objectivism is a noxious weed. Objectivists are merely mistaken (IMHO).

        I accept that those “who study and practice Objectivism are seekers”. So are those who study and practice . The “noxious weediness” (Isn’t English a wonderful language!) of Objectivism has nothing specifically to do with the character of its students or practitioners but with its inherent incoherence and illogic. Even true seekers can go far, far astray.

        Certainly Objectivists have a First Amendment right to practice their beliefs, but that is true of the believers of most–if not all–universally reviled religions or philosophies as well as of the more accepted religions and philosophies. That last bit should be obvious.

        Christians can focus on Objectivism’s lack of any deity, but they also can hammer away at its incoherence and illogic. There is a distinction to keep in mind tho’, because not all facts appeal to everyone with the same force.

        Arguments based on Objectivism’s lack of God potentially appeals to those not already Objectivists and who do still care about God. Arguments based on its incoherence and illogic potentially appeals to those who are already Objectivists (and therefore no longer care about God) but who still care about reason. Objectivists who have drunk too deeply of the Kool-Aid probably no longer care about God or reason; they are not lost or doomed, but they have to find their own way out of the maze.

        It’s not surprising that a True Believer in Objectivism would favor the comments in the link I posted, preaching to the choir usually finds their favor. For those of us who have not drunk of the Kool-Aid, it is not so pleasing.

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  4. Rats! The blog messed up my second paragraph above. It should read:

    I accept that those “who study and practice Objectivism are seekers”. So are those who study and practice (insert any universally reviled religion or philosophy). The “noxious weediness” (Isn’t English a wonderful language!) of Objectivism has nothing specifically to do with the character of its students or practitioners but with its inherent incoherence and illogic. Even true seekers can go far, far astray.

    Apparenty angle brackets are reserved. My bad.

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  5. Keith,

    On the assumption that your question is directed at me (something salutations help clarify) my answer is to say that it depends on the definition one uses. The free online dictionary defines “free enterprise” as:

    The freedom of private businesses to operate competitively for profit with minimal government regulation.

    My feeling is that I prefer to have minimal but appropriate governmental regulation. Regulation for its own sake is bad, but deregulation for its own sake is no better.

    What is appropriate is an inherently contextual question. There’s no getting around that; there will always be disagreement. That’s what politics is about. Please remember that “politics”, “partisanship”, and “ideology” do not mean the same things.

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  6. sean samis – Why do I reject calling Objectivism a noxious weed? I try to avoid namecalling. It just makes people angry. When I don’t like a person, place, thing, or idea, I prefer to address specific problems.

    Go back to those three fears.

    ■God does not exist.
    ■God exists.
    ■God exists, but is not good.

    Objectivists do not promote Satan or worship idols in the sense that our forbears did. They even recognize the concept of individual rights. The problem with Objectivism is its ideological foundation rests upon sand. Because Objectivists reject the concept that God exists, they also reject the concept that God is love. Without such an understanding, life can easily become a rather dreary and fear-filled thing.

    Without God, what is the point of living? Solomon wrote about that in Ecclesiastes, a book every Atheist should study with care.

    I suppose pity might make some people angry too, but what else should people who think it stupid to believe in Christ Jesus expect from Christians? Hostility? That would not be Christian behavior.

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    1. Tom, I think you may have answered your own question for me. No matter what one says, someone will be offended or get angry. I agree that name-calling is to be avoided, which is why I commented on ObjectivISM and not on ObjectivISTS. I also recognize that this distinction may be too subtle for some people; but I cannot let those who can’t or don’t read my words dictate what I will write. I guess that because I was raised to call a spade a spade, I’m not inclined to mince words about ObjectivISM. Objectivists might not appreciate the distinction, but that does not erase the distinction and their annoyance is not a reason to misrepresent my opinion.

      I think I was clear that objectivists are probably as sincere as anyone, just mistaken. I don’t object to them, but I do object to their beliefs and the mangled logic they use to “justify” their beliefs.

      Even for atheists, objectivism is incoherent. It is predicated on the false claim (“straw-man”) that one can only choose between “virtuous selfishness” and complete self-abnegation. There obviously is a vast territory between those extremes. A balance of individual and community interests is optimal as well as doable.

      Believers will of course also object to Objectivism’s atheism, but that is an additional objection, not the only one. Which objection is more important is a matter of personal opinion. Certainly its rational flaws are more important to Objectivists because they already dismiss belief in deities, but think their position is rational even though it is not.

      “What is the point of living without God?” Good question, perhaps the question. Being a somewhat troubled soul myself, I’ve pondered that question a lot. I think I see an answer but I must admit my thoughts are not yet matured.

      It is not stupid to believe in Jesus Christ, but it is reasonable to say that there are good reason for doubts among non-believers. I am not sure what all I believe anymore, but I know that I believe in the primacy of Truth. And truth is that faith is the acceptance of things not proven. In the absence of truth, doubt is always reasonable.

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      1. To Sean Samis:

        Even for atheists, objectivism is incoherent. It is predicated on the false claim (“straw-man”) that one can only choose between “virtuous selfishness” and complete self-abnegation.

        Well, it seems to me that your criticism of Objectivism is based (in part) upon this false claim by you, which as you point out is a straw-man argument and not particularly effective. No such dichotomy is presented as the things “one can only choose between.”

        Also, she notes in detail that there is a difference between an inventor and a robber; the robber cares not for harm he causes others, but the inventor who has created something of value and derived wealth thereby could also be called selfish, despite having been of benefit to society. She abhors the robber, and is annoyed at people lumping the two together.

        Rand criticizes in that same essay those who go through life with a poor (or absent) moral code, and notes right in the title that selfishness produces a “virtue.” She was trying to make a distinction between the popular conception of selfishness — as something of an evil nature — with a more reasonable definition as self-interest. There are things one may object to in her exposition; I certainly don’t agree with all of it. But these criticisms will work better if based upon the actual arguments she made.

        Here’s Ayn Rand’s work on The Virtue of Selfishness, which encapsulates a lot of her thinking on Objectivism.

        Take a look. I think you will find that her thinking here is more subtle and insightful than you are crediting her for.

        ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

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  7. @Sean Samis:
    Yes, “she” and “her” in my comments refer to Ayn Rand, the originator of Objectivism.

    While there are other treatises by other persons on the topic — some are included in The Virtue of Selfishness collection for example — the core ideas are apparently hers. It’s interesting how careful, reasoned, consistent and logical all this work is, over a span of decades. And thus it surprises me to see it called “incoherent.”

    As an aside, doubt is always reasonable (it seems to me) even in the presence of evidence. Such evidence, by its quality and veracity, can and should tend to reduce the degree of doubt, but matters based upon evidence should always be held at least a little tentatively. This is why, for example, I used “apparently” in the previous paragraph.

    The essay collection I linked to in my previous comment includes definitions, and Atlas Shrugged (at least in my edition and the Kindle one) includes the “Essentials of Objectivism” in the back. But I recognize that this probably wasn’t true of every printing of AS, and there are only half-a-dozen mentions of altruism and its cognates there (though nearly a hundred for variants of “selfish”). One doesn’t usually expect clear definitions from fictional works — but there are lots of places to go for Rand’s somewhat more formal definitions of words like altruism and selfishness.

    In that book are Randian protagonists who do a great deal for society at great risk to themselves. For example, Ragnar Danneskjöld the pirate seems like an odd choice for public benefactor (based upon his piratical profession), but in fact he was that to a high degree. As he noted, Robin Hood did not “rob from the rich to give to the poor,” he robbed from the statist government to give money back to the citizens from whom it had been taken by force. Ragnar despised the modern “reincarnation” of Robin Hood in the popular re-imagining, but he was very much like the “original” Robin Hood character, and he did it with style and skill.

    It occurs to me, re-reading bits of Rand this afternoon, that even an acceptance of faith could be accounted for if it was arrived at by virtue of pure reason. She’d likely consider this something of a “cop out” or rationalization, of course, but I understand that the Catholic church has gone to some trouble to create a reason-based approach to faith in recent times.

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

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    1. Since it has illicited so much interesting discussion, I suppose I will have to do another post about this in a couple of weeks. Your comment certainly suggests a viable topic.

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    2. Keith, I am sure that you are aware that Ayn Rand is dead. I don’t try to debate the dead. As Jefferson said, “earth belongs in usufruct to the living; … the dead have neither powers nor rights over it.” This is why I did not comment on her or her words. My criticism was and is limited to Objectivism as living objectivists present it.

      I base my claims about Objectivism on conversations and writings of Objectivists I have had over the last half-century. The linked editorial in this thread (“Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand’s Morality of Egoism” by Craig Biddle) is a good example. It was published in The Objective Standard just last summer. Biddle presents only two options, Randian egoism or pure altruism. Anyone who actually practices something in the middle is described as a hypocrite.

      Interestingly, Biddle does what you seem to do, Keith. You apparently think Objectivism is determined by Ayn Rand, Biddle tells us that the true meaning of altruism is set by philosophers and college text books. After describing it, he concludes, “That illustrates the practical meaning of altruism—and indicates why no one practices it consistently”.

      Perhaps no one practices altruism consistently because the definition Biddle presents is an ivory-tower notion most people are unaware of and would disagree with if they knew of it. It is not a description of how people actually do live or think they should live. Perhaps these philosophers (Comte, Maclagan, or others) think people should live a certain way, but that’s just their opinion, and it’s not binding on anyone.

      Likewise, Rand’s opinions are not binding on anyone. And like the ivory-tower version of altruism, Rand’s opinions are not actually ideal or desirable either, IMHO. Comte and Rand are dead, their words are not binding now on anyone, if they ever were.

      Ayn Rand founded Objectivism but it belongs now to the living. If Objectivism is advanced by the living “incorrectly” (different from that Rand wanted) that is no matter to me, and she can’t correct their errors. If you think they misrepresent her “true belief” then you should try to correct them. But I have no dog in that fight.

      I’ve read enough of Rand to conclude she is rarely if ever “subtle and insightful”. Of course, this is my personal view; yours is apparently quite different. De gustibus non est disputandum.

      Now, let me point out another inconsistency in objectivism. Biddle wrote that “To the extent that a person acts selflessly, he thereby thwarts his life and happiness. He might not die because of it, but he certainly will not live fully; he will not make the most of his life; he will not achieve the kind of happiness that is possible to him.”

      So: Is it ever in one’s pure self-interest to sacrifice anything for the concept of individual rights? Biddle wrote that volunteer soldiers “serve for a number of self-interested reasons. … They serve for the same reason that the Founding Fathers formed this country—because they value liberty, because they realize that liberty is a requirement of human life, which is the reason why Patrick Henry ended his famous speech with ‘Give me Liberty or give me Death!’ His was not an ode to sacrifice; it was an ode to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

      We all value our liberty, but it is a selfless act to value other people’s liberty. Self-interest seeks advantage, not mere parity. Objectivism says it values individual rights, but that is a mere concept. There is little self-interest to sacrifices for concepts, much less a concept that values other people’s interests. Liberty is not a requirement of life (slaves had lives), nor is someone else’s liberty a requirement of another’s life (slaves had masters).

      So when objectivists claim they value a concept like general individual liberty, they try to have it both ways. They certainly value their own liberties, but to the extent they value or act for the liberties of others they act selflessly, which they say is a bad thing.

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  8. Sean Samis, I had to chuckle over:
    1) your objecting to my referring to Ayn Rand as an authoritative source, because she’s dead, and;
    2) your immediately following this with a quotation of Thomas Jefferson as an authoritative source, who died more than a century earlier than Rand.

    I do not think you were intentionally trying to be funny, but it worked well enough.

    Rand described what Objectivism is. Others can reinterpret this or add to it, and you can follow their adjustments or not as your own reasoning suggests. But to put forward the notion that her words no longer have merit because later writers have taken up the pen on the same topic seems very strange to me.

    I’m disinclined, for example, to toss out the notion of checks and balances in the US’s constitutional republic simply because a US president described these notions as “quaint” and “archaic” and no longer appropriate for a vigorous executive branch.

    Yes, his role as president (and his academic background) means that he can speak with some authority on the topic. But he cannot change what is and what works, simply by saying something different. And this president has been extremely bad for the country, partly because of these notions. Ah, but Woodrow Wilson was adored by the media, as a general thing, and they got him elected as a media darling, hiding his Constitutional writing from the public in what has long since become a familiar pattern.

    In any event, I just wrote a post that touches on your “mere concept” and am working on more in the vein of altruism and self-interest. As you suggested, they may not be to your taste — and your insistence on using other sources just to get them to conflict is a fruitless exercise, as even the same person will say different things over time.

    Incidentally, your use of terms such as “advantage” and “mere parity” suggest something about Objectivism that really isn’t there. Rational self-interest can, and does, produce win-win situations. Advantage: both sides. And thus, parity. It is what makes a voluntary society of free actors in free enterprise work. And this is one of the essences of Objectivism, just as it is of Adam Smith’s invisible hand — that hand rocked Objectivism’s cradle, as it were.

    Seek the essence (of Objectivism, Christianity, and anything else you encounter), and use your reasoning power to extract the best of it, adopt that, and improve your life thereby. Or not, of course: The “concept” of freedoms such the right to pursue happiness means that you can ignore it, too, just as freedom of religion applies to non-theists like myself.

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

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  9. Keith, I do whatever I can do to give you a chuckle! And sorry for the delayed reply.

    I never suggested that Rand’s words “no longer have merit”, I only said I don’t debate with the dead. Frankly, I’m not sure that Rand’s words ever had merit, I am sure that now I just don’t care. I am not a disciple of hers. Perhaps she has joined the pantheon of misunderstood prophets; it’s a rather big club.

    Debating with Objectivists the “correct” meaning of Rand’s words is a fruitless exercise; as pointless as debating the correct meaning of the Koran with Muslims. It’s their religion, they get to decide what it means. Objectivists have the same privilege, it’s their religion too.

    Further, I do not seek to find conflicts within Objectivism, they are just there and if my comments on them troubling, then so be it. I only care what living persons say and do, and what I hear objectivists say is what I reply to. If you believe that living objectivists are misrepresenting Rand’s “true” beliefs, that is a matter for you to take up with them. I have no standing to do so, nor any interest in that narrow question. And it is my experience that, at least on Facebook the Objective Standard (facebook.com/the.objective.standard) has little tolerance for dispute. They don’t mind if I read their stuff, but they’ve blocked my comments.

    The status of Rand re. Objectivism is not anything like enforceable concepts of law, so the comparison to “notions like checks and balances” is inapposite. Ayn Rand’s writings have no force of law. Neither do the proclamations of living objectivists but I defer to living objectivists only because they are the ones who could explain themselves or defend their statements if they are willing to. Ayn Rand cannot do that.

    To the extent that you express different beliefs about Rand and Objectivism, I am willing to comment to you on those. As to whether other objectivists are right or wrong, I don’t care.

    Regarding: “Rational self-interest can, and does, produce win-win situations. Advantage: both sides. And thus, parity.”

    Not really. Even pure altruism can and does produce win-win situations. Even by accident something good can happen. However, if a zero-sum event happens, Egoism does not provide any basis to regard that as bad. There is no strong rationale for avoiding zero-sum outcomes; they can be quite advantageous toward one’s own self-interests.

    Also, a win-win situation does not need to result in parity. If one party gains a permanent right to something, and the other party gains a temporary access to the same thing, that is “win-win” but it’s not anything like parity.

    Even if objectivists advance their self-interests when they sacrifice for individual rights (in concept or for others) this is “altruistic” behavior because it seeks self-interest indirectly. Altruists say that by helping others, they help themselves; if you do for others, others will do for you. It’s a “karma” thing. A strictly “altruistic” society advances individual interests indirectly by directly advancing common interests. For it to make sense, Objectivism would have to advance common individual rights indirectly by directly advancing their own individual rights. But efforts to promote or protect the general concept of individual rights is the opposite: directly advancing a common right in the hopes of advancing one’s own, even at the expense of others.

    The problem is that the objectivist alternative to “altruism” does not work; my acquisition of a right does not mean others get the same right; equality is not a given in the world. Also, a person may gain some liberty under the label of a “privilege”; one person’s privilege does not extend to others. This is consistent with egoism because self-interest seeks advantage for the self, not parity for all. It is no accident that capitalists extol the virtues of competition but in practice try to prevent it. Why do you think you can buy computers and clothes on line from the manufacturers, but at least in the US you cannot buy a car online from the manufacture? Because car dealers don’t want the competition.

    I do seek to understand the essence of things, and I try to adopt good ideas as seems best. There’s nothing unique in Objectivism to adopt, and much that I find repellent. There is no rational reason for me to ignore flaws in a philosophy when it is advocated by those around me. It is a sign of religiosity about Objectivism to find fault with searching questions.

    Finally, there’s no expectation that everything has some essence one should adopt or even some things of small value; some philosophies serve only as a warning to the observant and an example of what to avoid. Objectivism is in this latter category, IMHO.

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