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Just have to say this. Altruism is a silly idea.

I know we’re out of this unit, but its been bugging me a little.

There is no altruism. It doesn’t even make sense on the most basic level. Egoism is by definition doing an act in self interest. Where confusion starts is when an act of good is committed without obvious personal gain, we call that altruism, but it is not. If you disagree just bear with me for a little while. Or feel free to argue, I like that too.

Also sorry about the oddly worded sentences, it was tricky sounding natural while using the same words so many times in a sentence.

Anything you do is fueled by a desire to do it. Even if you’d rather not, or you dread the idea, the very fact that do it is proof that your desire to do so was greater than your hesitation. Every thing you do is fulfilling your want to do it. This is almost imperceptible, the desires that drive us, and deciding any particular situation can become fairly muddy with details. For example there are positive and negative considerations around picking up someones pencil, but in the end, if you did it, its because your drive to do so was great enough.

By this logic, every action is the product of our own interests. Altruism is selfless, and that simply doesn’t make sense.



6 thoughts on “Just have to say this. Altruism is a silly idea.

  1. It may not make sense, but I don’t think that it necessarily means that it doesn’t exist. People didn’t think Gravity made sense before Newton, but that doesn’t mean that gravity doesn’t exist.

    I also thik that many people believe in altruism simply because in a world this corrupt, and grey world, it gives them hope, and belief that this world still has something of value. It gives them something worth believing in, worth living for, because sometimes the truth is that mankind doesn’t need to be told what’s true, but rather what comforts them, what keeps us aspiring, and believing in ourselves. And, that, because we believe it, makes it our reality, and despite it possibly not being true, it doesn’t matter, because it is our reality.

    Posted by riczhang | October 3, 2012, 5:34 am
  2. > Anything you do is fueled by a desire to do it.

    Nice try. But the use of a metaphor to make this point disguises the vagueness inherent in it. Leaving aside what is meant by ‘fuelled by’ (do you really mean ’caused by’? Or merely ‘suggested by’?), what exactly is ‘a desire to do it’? Any account of ‘desire’ it seems to me would be insufficient.

    At the macro level, for example, many of our behaviours are habitual or instinctive. Our hearts beat, we breathe in and out – the are involuntary. We act without thinking to save a puppy – these are instinctive. We react to danger with a fight-or-flight response – these are adrenal. What role does ‘desire’ play in any of these, if any?

    At the micro level, it seems there is no single and simple explanation for any given behaviour. The thought of correcting your bad spelling occurs to me, for example. What motivates me to post a comment saying it should be ‘bear’ and not ‘bare’? Do I have a ‘desire’ to correct the spelling? What about other factors weighing into the decision – how much time I have, how much effort it will cost me, a calculation of whether you’ll ever reads the reply.

    At best, we can say that an as yet undefined entity, ‘desire’, may play a part in the causation of some behaviours. That falls far short of the argument needed to say there is no altruism.

    Posted by Stephen Downes | October 3, 2012, 11:16 am
    • Thanks for these pointed and articulate questions, Stephen. I especially appreciate your deconstruction of ‘desire,’ and where it may (or may not) fit into other motivating factors of human behaviour:

      “Our hearts beat, we breathe in and out – the[y] are involuntary. We act without thinking to save a puppy – these are instinctive. We react to danger with a fight-or-flight response – these are adrenal. What role does ‘desire’ play in any of these, if any?”

      The necessity, or prospect, perhaps, of attempting to define ‘desire’ is an interesting point to consider as well.

      A question/challenge for Toren: Do you think there is a way to recast this argument as a more defensible syllogism or argument that may make your perspective clearer? How have Stephen’s questions influenced your thoughts about altruism?

      Posted by Bryan | October 3, 2012, 4:58 pm
  3. ‘ Fueled by’ wasn’t meant to be a metaphor, but you’re right that it wasn’t very clear. Caused by would be better. I am defining desire as any impulse to perform the action (Acting by instinct may be the same as acting on impulse, but I’m not confident). Fulfilling an action on impulse is essentially fulfilling our own wants, to appease your impulse. While this may not be selfish by the common definition, it is not selfless and therefore not altruistic.
    I spelled “bear,” I don’t know what you’re talking about.

    In a complicated decision, whether you’re going to needlessly correct my spelling, as you say there are many factors weighing into the choice. I believe I actually addressed that though, if minimally. An act is more likely to appear selfless if performed while there are factors weighing against it, but the positive must outweigh the negative or the actions wouldn’t be performed. The fact that the act may be for the good of others is irrelevant to the fact that the act is appeasing your own impulses.

    At Richard, are you agreeing with me, and just questioning the value or ethics of the idea? I believe people can think what they want, but that doesn’t devalue the question.
    At Jackson, I’m not sure if I can create a defensible syllogism because my premises are being argued, not so much my conclusion. My thoughts on altruism are unchanged. The questions he brought up were thought of but poorly addressed in my first post.

    Posted by torendarby | October 4, 2012, 2:12 am
    • I am disagreeing with what you said, along with the value, and ethics of the idea. What I think is that because we believe that Altruism exists, for whatever reason that may be, then that is good enough to be our reality, therefore also implying that to be our truth, and in the eyes of humanity, the only truth, and the only one that matters, so therefore it must exist.

      It’s the same as why people believe in God, and why God therefore is real. People for the sake of their own sanity, or for the sake of their own self pick-me-up ideologies, believes that there is an objective moral law in the world, and that most people toe that objective line in the sand. But, because there is an objective line (Meaning it is defined not by you, or by the human race’s opinion, but by someone/thing above us), then there must be a source for that objective moral law. And, because there is a source for that law, then therefore God, or a variant of God, or gods must exist. So, therefore God is real, at least to us, which is good enough to be reality, and the truth.

      So, what I’m saying is that you’re being too cynical of the world in assuming Altruism doesn’t exist, when in fact, in the eyes of humans, (which constitutes reality) it does, as does God/god to a lot of people out there.

      Posted by riczhang | October 4, 2012, 3:06 am
      • I like the idea, and I can’t disprove that belief creates reality, even if I disagree with it.
        However, I do not believe in altruism (or God really for that matter), so therefore, at least for me, my claim is valid. Also I don’t believe cynicism has anything to do with the matter, I believe I was being purely scientific.
        Can you support your idea that reality stems from what we believe? I’m interested to hear more.

        Posted by torendarby | October 4, 2012, 4:04 am

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