Altruism is a Moral Principle.
A Moral Principle is a Rule To Be Followed To Guide your choices.
Some choices are easy: Chocolate or Vanilla? Drive on the right or the left? Republican, Democrat or neither?
Other choices are harder. Work, collect government benefits or just loaf and hope for the best? Work or steal? Join the military or oppose war? Be a patriot or don’t bother with politics?
The hardest choices are to put others first or to save yourself first. Most people believe it’s best to put others first. “Don’t be selfish!”—“It’s more blessed to give than to receive.”—“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”—“Volunteer to serve in your community.”—“Sacrifice for the greater good.”
Most people accept as a moral principle that others come before yourself. That doesn’t work.
If you have loads of money you can give some of it away to other people. The moral principle however that others come first means you must give it all away or violate your moral principle that others are more important than you. Will you succeed if you give away all of your money? Of course not and everyone knows that so what should you do about following the principle that others come before you? You must cheat on the principle.
Everyone cheats on the idea that other people should come before you but they don’t go back to the beginning and question their moral principle. So the principle doesn’t work.
This is the moral principle that surrounded all of us growing up—and that still surrounds us today. It is the morality taught in church, synagogue, and school. It’s seen in movies. It’s in books on TV and it’s taught and encouraged by most parents.
The moral principle of putting others before yourself has a name. It’s “Altruism”. It doesn’t work, not at the fundamental level and most people know it doesn’t work so why is it so popular? Partly because it’s a principle that’s sort of vague.
Should a parent care more for their children than themselves? Sure, –but that’s not being altruistic, it’s because parents love their children so putting them first is a superb example of doing what one really loves, not what their children love. Loving anyone is really, really putting one’s own feelings first. That’s the opposite of altruism.
What about throwing a birthday party for your best friend. Are you acting altruistically or do you do it because he or she is a great value to you—and thus it makes you happy so that’s why you do it? There’s something in it for you.
That’s called “Egoism” and it’s the way the world works best. Take care of yourself first or you won’t be around to help your friends.
Altruism is the morality that holds self-sacrificial service as the standard of moral value and as the sole justification for one’s existence. Here, in the words of altruistic philosopher W. G. Maclagan, is the basic principle: According to altruism, “the moral importance of being alive lies in its constituting the condition of our ability to serve ends that are not reducible to our personal satisfactions.” This means the moral importance of your life corresponds to your acts of selflessness—acts that do not satisfy your personal needs. Insofar as you do not act selflessly, your life has no moral significance. Quoting Maclagan again, altruism holds that we have “a duty to relieve the stress and promote the happiness of our fellows. . . . [We] should discount altogether [our] own pleasure or happiness as such when . . . deciding what course of action to pursue. . . . [Our] own happiness is, as such, a matter of no moral concern to [us] whatsoever.” As a moral principle, altruism is the philosophy recommended by Immanual Kant, a philosopher who lived from 1724 to 1804 and who put others above himself. He’s responsible for the Values followed by Karl Marx, the values of Socialism.
The greatest philosopher was Aristotle who promoted pride as the highest virtue.
Neither Kane not Aristotle got around to the idea of people being politically equal.
Back on Altruism. Who wrote: “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?” That’s the moral basis of altruism.
What does altruism mean in practice? Here’s a textbook description of what altruism means in practice.
“A pure altruist doesn’t consider her own welfare at all but only that of others. If she had a choice between an action that would produce a great benefit for herself (such as enabling her to go to college) and an action that would produce no benefit for herself but a small benefit for someone else (such as enabling him to go to a concert this evening), she should do the second. She should be selfless, considering herself not at all: she should face death rather than subject another person to a minor discomfort. She is committed to serving others only and to pass up any benefits to herself.”
That shows why no one practices altruism all of the time.
Why don’t people follow altruism all the time? Because it can’t be done so they feel guilty about not following whatthey accept as a correct moral principle, never thinking what if they accepted a bad principle.
Altruists act with a bizarre form of “integrity”—the kind of integrity that leads to their suffering and death. The inconsistent altruist is acting with plain-old hypocrisy—albeit a necessary hypocrisy given his moral code.
And not only is the altruist’s morality the same in kind; the consequences of accepting it are the same in kind, too. 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. Heres’ more on Altruism by Craig Biddle from The Objectivist Standard:
Have you accepted the principle of altruism? If so, how is it affecting your life?
Have you ever done something for the sake of others—at the expense of what you really thought was best for your own life? For instance: Have you ever accepted an invitation to dine with someone whose company you do not enjoy—because you didn’t want to hurt his or her feelings? Have you ever skipped an event—such as a ski trip or a weekend at the beach with your friends—in order to spend time with family members you’d really rather not see? Have you ever remained in a relationship that you know is not in your best interest—because you think that he or she couldn’t handle the breakup?
Conversely, have you ever felt guilty for not sacrificing for others? Have you ever felt ashamed for doing something that was in your own best interest? For instance, have you felt guilty for not giving change to a beggar on a street corner? Or guilty for pursuing a degree in business or art or something you love—rather than doing something allegedly “noble,” such as joining the Peace Corps?
These are just some of the consequences of accepting the morality of altruism.
Altruism is not good for your life: If you practice it consistently, it leads to death. That’s what Jesus did. If you accept it and practice it inconsistently, it retards your life and leads to guilt. This is what most altruists do.
Rational egoism, as the name suggests, and as we will see, is good for your life. It says that you should pursue your life-serving values and should not sacrifice yourself for the sake of others. Practiced consistently, it leads to a life of happiness. Practiced inconsistently—well, why be inconsistent here? Why not live a life of happiness? Why sacrifice at all? What reason is there to do so? (We will address the profound lack of an answer to this question later.)
At this point, we can begin to see why Rand called altruism “The Morality of Death.” To fully grasp why it is the morality of death, however, we must understand that the essence of altruism is not “serving others” but self-sacrifice. So I want to reiterate this point with emphasis.
Altruism does not call merely for “serving others”; it calls for self-sacrificially serving others. Otherwise, Michael Dell would have to be considered more altruistic than Mother Teresa. Why? Because Michael Dell serves millions more people than Mother Teresa ever did.
There is a difference, of course, in the way he serves people. Whereas Mother Teresa “served” people by exchanging her time and effort for nothing, Michael Dell serves people by trading with them—by exchanging value for value to mutual advantage—an exchange in which both sides gain.
Trading value for value is not the same thing as giving up values for nothing. There is a black-and-white difference between pursuing values and giving them up—between achieving values and relinquishing them—between exchanging a lesser value for a greater one—and vice versa.
In an effort to make their creed seem more palatable, pushers of altruism will try to blur this distinction in your mind. It is important not to let them get away with it. Don’t be duped!
Altruists claim, for instance, that parents “sacrifice” when they pay for their children to attend college. But this is ridiculous: Presumably, parents value their children’s education more than they value the money they spend on it. If so, then the sacrifice would be for them to forgo their children’s education and spend the money on a lesser value—such as a Ferrari.
Altruists also claim that romantic love requires “sacrifices.” But this is ridiculous, too: “Honey, I’d really rather be with another woman, but here I am sacrificially spending my time with you.” Or: “I’d really rather have spent this money on a new set of golf clubs, but instead I sacrificially bought you this necklace for your birthday.” Or: “It’s our anniversary—so I’m fixing you your favorite dish for a candlelit dinner—even though I’d rather be playing poker with the guys.”
Is that love? Only if love is sacrificial.
Altruists also claim that American soldiers sacrifice by serving in the military. Not so. Our non-drafted soldiers serve for a number of self-interested reasons. Here are three: (1) 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. (2) Our soldiers serve in exchange for payment and education—which are clearly in their self-interest. (3) They serve because they are fascinated by military science and want to make a career of it—another selfish motive.
Do some of these soldiers die in battle? Unfortunately, yes. Theirs is a dangerous job. But American soldiers don’t willfully give up their lives: They don’t walk out on the battlefield and say, “Shoot me!” Nor do they strap bombs to their bodies and detonate themselves in enemy camps. On the contrary, they do everything they can to beat the enemy, win the war, and remain alive—even when the Bush and Obama administrations tie their hands with altruistic restrictions on how they can fight.
The point is that a sacrifice is not “any choice or action that precludes some other choice or action.” A sacrifice is not “any old exchange.” A sacrifice is, as Rand put it, “the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of a non-value.”6
Whether or not one is committing a sacrifice depends on what is more important and what is less important to one’s life. To make this determination, of course, one must know the relative importance of one’s values in regard to one’s life. But if one does establish this hierarchy, one can proceed non-sacrificially—and consistently so.
For example, if you know that your education is more important to your life than is, say, a night on the town with your friends, then if you stay home in order to study for a crucial exam—rather than going out with your buddies—that is not a sacrifice. The sacrifice would be to hit the town and botch the exam.
Life requires that we regularly forgo lesser values for the sake of greater ones. But these are gains, not sacrifices. A sacrifice consists in giving up something that is more important for the sake of something that is less important; thus, it results in a net loss.
Altruism, the morality of self-sacrifice, is the morality of personal loss—and it does not countenance personal gain. This is not a caricature of altruism; it is the essence of the morality. As arch-altruist Peter Singer (the famed utilitarian philosopher at Princeton University) explains, “to the extent that [people] are motivated by the prospect of obtaining a reward or avoiding a punishment, they are not acting altruistically. . . .”7 Arch-altruist Thomas Nagel (a philosophy professor at New York University) concurs: Altruism entails “a willingness to act in consideration of the interests of other persons, without the need of ulterior motives”—“ulterior motives” meaning, of course, personal gains.8
To understand the difference between egoistic action and altruistic action, we must grasp the difference between a trade and a sacrifice—between a gain and a loss—and we must not allow altruists to blur this distinction in our mind. Egoism, as we will see, calls for personal gains. Altruism, as we have seen, calls for personal losses.
Now, despite its destructive nature, altruism is accepted to some extent by almost everyone today. Of course, no one upholds it consistently—at least not for long. Rather, most people accept it as true—and then cheat on it.
All the major religions—Christianity, Judaism, Islam—advocate altruism; their holy books demand it. All so-called “secular humanist” philosophies—utilitarianism, postmodernism, egalitarianism—call for altruism as well. (Note that “secular humanists” do not call themselves “secular egoists” or “secular individualists.”)
“Alter” is Latin for “other”; “altruism” means “other-ism”; it holds that you should sacrifice for others. From the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim points of view, the significant “others” are “God” and “the poor”; in the Old Testament, for instance, God says: “I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11). From the utilitarian point of view, the “other” is “everyone in general”; the utilitarian principle is “the greatest good for the greatest number.” From the postmodern and egalitarian points of view, the “other” is anyone with less wealth or opportunity than you have; in other words, the better off you are, the more you should sacrifice for others—the worse off you are, the more others should sacrifice for you.
Sacrifice. Sacrifice. Sacrifice. Everyone believes it is the moral thing to do. And no philosopher has been willing to challenge this idea.
Except Ayn Rand: “There is one word—a single word—which can blast the morality of altruism out of existence and which it cannot withstand—the word: “Why?” Why must man live for the sake of others? Why must he be a sacrificial animal? Why is that the good? There is no earthly reason for it—and, ladies and gentlemen, in the whole history of philosophy no earthly reason has ever been given.