We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Storm in a teacup or too many references to book pages

Last week when I posted my response to an objectivist’s objections to altruism, I knew that I was opening a can of worms. How did I know that? Because, like Brian, I am also put off by the vicious religiosity of so many Randian responses to any criticisms of their sacred texts (a few more mentions and this will be a runner-up for the most quoted phrases competition). Sacred texts may be important when it comes to discussing the underlying issues, but neither Brian nor me were doing that in our postings (see related articles below). Brian was objecting to two ‘behavioural problems’ often exhibited by the objectivists and I was responding to a general point about altruism. Therefore, Antoine, no amount of referencing to pages of the sacred texts is going to do justice to the issues raised.

I think it was perfectly legitimate for Brian to mention the fixed-sum economics in connection with the Randians. He acknowledges that they may not believe it explicitly and self-consciously any more than most other people do, but observes that ‘everything else they say is said as if they believe in fixed sum economics’. I see the fallacy sneaking in through a backdoor in their belief system – their views on altruism and its moral inferiority to selfishness.

Unearthing the ‘original’ definition of altruism that sent Rand and the objectivists spitting mad just confirms Brian’s point about ‘definition hopping’. I defined altruism as concern for other people, or unselfish or helpful actions. Randians may base theirs on Comte’s definition of altruism, which is very extreme, treating ‘devotion to other people’s interests as the ideal rule of morality’. It spells out an ethical system that goes directly against the fundamental trait of human nature – the survival instinct. (This is not to say that I do not consider ethical systems based on the conflict between our natural propensities and ethical requirements legitimate and I intend to deal with this in my sequel on Kant.) What I find unpalatable is the conclusion that altruism is immoral, disregarding a) other meanings of altruism and b) common sensical observations that selfless acts are beneficial both in themselves (make the altruist a better person) and in their consequences (the recipient of a selfless act is better off).

This brings me to my original point – perhaps Randians, in their advocacy of capitalism and the virtues of individualism and self-interest, feel that anything that undermines their ‘campaign’ must be purged. I join the campaign whole-heartedly and fervently. As Antoine points out, there still exist the sort of people who believe that profit is a dirty word, but I don’t see why, in trying to defeat them, I should leave them a monopoly on altruism, compassion and generosity.

So, Antoine and Perry, I am not denying the contribution objectivists have made to the discourse about freedom, individualism and ethics of entrepreneurship. I am merely reserving the right to disagree and object to dogmatism, inconsistency and irrational conclusions whatever direction they are coming from.

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