The assumption that altruism is desirable
#1
From http://richarddawkins.net/discussions/59...-desirable
Quote:I have a question based on things I often see in atheist circles, and which I see in the first few pages of RD's The Selfish Gene, such as:

Quote:Be warned that if you wish, as I do, to build a society in which individuals cooperate generously and unselfishly towards a common good..."

"Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish."

I ask, in all intellectual seriousness, what is the basis for Richard Dawkins (and many atheists/agnostics/secularists/etc.) working on the assumption that generosity and altruism are desirable?

As a secondary question somewhat parallel to the first: "What's in it for me?" If I am a sentient, individual human being, what is my rational motive for being generous or altruistic? Does altruism only serve vague genetic tendencies, or can there be a conscious, rational basis for choosing to be altruistic?

Please note that I'm asking this based on the definition of altruism as "contributing to the welfare of others at the expense of one's own welfare." That means I don't consider things like working longer hours to put one's child through college (which is motivated by the selfish joy one takes from one's child), helping a mechanically-clueless friend fix his car (which is motivated by the selfish joy one takes in the friendship), etc. to be altruistic.

To circle back around, in light of the fact that altruism requires sacrifice, my two questions are:

1) What non-religious, rational justification is there for desiring altruism on any scale?

2) Is there any element of that justification that can satisfy an individual's personal values, or must the justification be rooted in Borg-like notions of "perpetuating the collective"?

I look forward to thoughtful replies to this issue burning up my mind! Thanks!

Isn't the assumption simply because it is? i mean who doesn't like it when you help them or who likes it when you are selfish?
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#2
If selfishness is defined in the Ayn Rand sense, then rarely any deed is self-less. If any deed is intentional and rational then it would be selfish. So problem of altruism doesn't come in this context. But we can add the clause of "not with explicit gains" to the definition of altruism.

Quote:1) What non-religious, rational justification is there for desiring altruism on any scale?

The reason why most people involve in altruism (at any scale) is because of some cherished values. Borrowing this line from AI's this post: "According to this RSA talk excerpt listing several examples of how individuals work voluntarily without expecting what would be considered a reasonable or fair remuneration, we are 'not just profit-maximizers but purpose maximizers'". This is also referred to as symbolic utility.

And having values is a very desirable act. Thats equivalent to saying "know what you want". Thus altruism is a very rational concept and doesn't need to involve religion at all. I don't even think its root would have been in religion. Humankind would have most likely discovered altruism much before religion.

Quote:2) Is there any element of that justification that can satisfy an individual's personal values, or must the justification be rooted in Borg-like notions of "perpetuating the collective"?

Naturalism holds that we are fully caused beings, so basically we are what our genes and environment makes and our environment is caused by genes of others. So end of the day everything is because of the genes. And the purpose of genes (atleast what seems to be) is perpetuation. So the answer would most certainly be the later one.

But above paragraph is generalizing a lot just like saying "everything is natural" and not recognizing anything as artificial. If we resort to practical definitions then the answer would certainly change. If an individual has Humanistic attitude, a lot of his actions will be altruistic out of "personal values".

Finally there is very rational angle to altruism too. Reciprocity, which is just one step before altruism, is based on the principle "I don't step on your toes and you don't step on mine". This gets then extended to I will help you now and you help me later (what finance guys call as goodwill I guess). The altruism that we observe is just a complicated form of this principle.
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#3
I tend to agree with Rand that there is no realism in the concept of selflessness. Any act performed might not bear material benefit, but always has a psychological or mental gain involved. Thereby it becomes selfish. Altruism then simply becomes acts of doing good to/for others, so as to encourage them to be kind too. This of course makes a lot of rational sense, because it boils down to the golden rule of morality. "Selfless" does not exist in my dictionary, to me it simply means mutually inclusive selfishness, where the act you perform has a positive effect on whoever it is for, as well as you, thereby making a bubble of positive gain. The bigger this bubble is, the more people benefit from it, but always including you.
The few rare exceptions such as soldiers giving their life, etc comes down to what Kanad said, about psychological gain from cherished values. The value here being indoctrinated patriotism, which is very deeply ingrained (thus he/she is a soldier) so performing an impulse action to give up your own life for the "Greater good" makes profound sense as a quick decision.
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