On Sacrificing Selfishness

tvr's picture
Submitted by tvr on Fri, 2013-03-01 08:53

Two years ago in his blogpost "The Virtue of Selffulness" (http://www.solopassion.com/nod...), Lindsay Perigo advocated for Objectivists to abandon the fight to (re-)establish Ayn Rand's correct(ed) meanings for the terms 'Altruism' and 'Selfishness' and to instead direct one's efforts towards employing neologisms such as 'Sacrificism' and 'Selffulness'.

Whilst I agree with most of Lindsay's points and find 'sacrifism' to be a most fitting and useful neologism, I emphatically disagree with his call to surrender 'selfish(ness)' to "those who have captured it".

Our individual attempts to have non-Objectivists accept "Selfishness" as a virtue can be likened to trying to convince Westerners to (re-)adopt the 5000 year old Swastika as a symbol of good, except that our task is even more arduous, that is because there has been no history of "selfish" ever having had a positive connotation - not until Ayn Rand started waging philosophical war on it's behalf. Also, our task is, of course, vitally more important. Miss Rand's heroic battle to overturn 300 years of misuse and abuse of the word 'selfish' has not helped with the popular appeal of her philosophy, for sure, but then again attaining popular appeal was never Miss Rand's primary concern. Nor should it be ours.

I submit that to sacrifice 'selfishness' to the Sacrifists would be both an unnecessary and incalculably costly offering that can only benefit our moral and mortal enemies. What is needed is neither a surrendering of words nor a redoubling of efforts to antagonize others with them, but a multi–pronged lexical offensive. We are not facing an either-or dilemma here (looking at everyone's arguments to date one could be mistaken for thinking that we were). If enough Objectivists - including those who are in a position of influence - were to adopt and use appropriate neologisms for both the corrupted and uncorrupted meanings of 'selfish', and at the same time selectively employ 'selfishness' per it's corrected meaning, the triple whammy approach would make espousing Objectivism easier for everyone without making a compromise on Miss Rand's vision.

Going right back to the time of it's coining in the 17th century, the definitive meaning of 'selfishness' has always been that of having a disregard for others, and so using "self-" as the subject makes no morphological sense. A correct morphology should have produced a word such as "inaltruish" (comprising "in-" meaning "a lack of", "altru-" meaning "others", "-ish" meaning "having the character of"), and so 'inaltruish', together with it's variants 'inaltruishness' and 'inaltruistic', is the neologism I propose be used to flank 'selfish(ness)' in the lexical offensive. It is vitally important to realise that without employing an additional neologism such as 'inaltruish' to displace 'selfish' to mean "having a disregard for others", non-Objectivists will have little option but to continue to use 'selfish' to convey it's traditional meaning.

As for a neologism to convey what we Objectivists mean by 'rational selfishness', Lindsay has proposed and himself adopted the term 'selfful'. The reason why I am not in favor of using 'selfful' myself is that the word openly invites the ridicule of being called 'full of oneself' or perhaps 'fooling oneself' ('self-fool'). Others have already pointed this out. While being labelled 'full of oneself' could be construed as a compliment by the hardened Objectivist, the fact is that like with 'selfish' presently, the idiom as used by others will not be used to convey an Objectivist meaning, and so I see no point in adopting new terminology if it is not going to serve the purpose of conveying what one wants it to convey in a non-antagonistic way. If one wants antagonistic, there already is "selfish", right?

Which brings me to my choice for a positive neologism: 'self–ended'. I attach Lindsay's definition to it, namely: " rationally self-interested and, as a consequence, respectful of the rights of others and mindful of their wellbeing". I like this term the most because it highlights the fact that every man is an end in himself and at the same time it is difficult to disparage or misconceive.

In summary then, here is my proposed expanded list of terms and their definitions for a lexical offensive to make selfishness a virtue:

Sacrifism – the ethic of sacrificing people and/or their interests, esp. for the sake of others
Selfish(ness) - concern with one's own interests
Inaltruish(ness) - having a disregard for others
Self-ended(ness) or selfful(ness) - rationally self-interested and, as a consequence, respectful of the rights of others and mindful of their wellbeing
Selfless – having little or no concern for one's own interests
Altruism – the ethic of living for the sake of others; concerned with the needs and wishes of others to the exclusion of one's own needs and wishes

Whenever someone misuses or objects to the term 'selfish', I now respond by asking whether they mean in the self-ended or inaltruistic sense of the word.

And finally, let us be reminded what Miss Rand's thoughts on this subject are:

"I hear once in a while: 'Why do you use the word selfishness to denote virtuous qualities of character, when that word antagonizes so many people to whom it does not mean the things you mean'? To those who ask it, my answer is: 'For the reason that makes you afraid of it'" [from The Virtue of Selfishness]


Suggested replacements for

reed's picture

Suggested replacements for Selfishness... abundant living or fullness of life. Smiling

tvr

Rosie's picture

"I am an introvert by nature."

On the internet, no-one knows an introvert!

A funny thing. I had a call from an old friend this afternoon who said he had googled my name and SOLO had come up a while ago and he had been following my posts now and again. The first thing he said to me when I picked up the phone was,

"Since when have you been an introvert?!"

I laughed and said, "Since having children!"

He replied, "I see! Well, I should say that you ought to amend it to call yourself a 'hearty introvert'!!!!!!!!!"

LOL Laughing out loud

Street smarts

tvr's picture

"So how does street smarts rate on your straight line?!"

Street smarts is nothing more than common sense that has been derived from experience in a hostile environment.

What type of knowledge one possesses is not relevant to the straightness of one's 'line'. How one goes about mentally acquiring and employing one's knowledge is.

"I am an introvert by nature."

On the internet, no-one knows an introvert!

Hahaha

Rosie's picture

I am inclined to agree with you here surprisingly enough that Mr Harris's "street smarts" gave him the best odds for a most favourable outcome and the truly "good" people were the couple who set up the fund for him.

So how does street smarts rate on your straight line?!

I would have behaved differently and made different choices had the distressed door-knocker been a male.

I am no "community do-gooder" and not desperately social these days either which is why I was amazed and surprised at her reply hence the (!)s. I may have helped a few individuals over the last 15 years I have lived in this community but many have been unknown to me and (I would have thought) I to them. As for helping out any people I know, I would think that was nothing out of the usual between friends so no big deal there. I simply find it interesting how rumours about people can circulate in a community. I am a kind person but how this became a "label" eludes me. I am not really big on gossip or interested in those idle-minded sorts of relationships. I am an introvert by nature.

Rosie

tvr's picture

1. "In explaining why X, Y" does not translate to Y being the cause of X, it simply means that Y is related in some way to X. Many people jump to the conclusion with the expression that Y caused X (as you have). I submit that the quote and TV clip were framed so as to take advantage of people's tendency to jump to conclusions. The fact is that you derived your conclusion on inconclusive evidence, i.e. on nothing more than an intimation. I took your use of the quote as being an intimation, but since you have now stated that you actually came to a conclusion as a result of the intimation this means I was giving you more credit than you deserved in respect of your objectivity.

What Harris is on record as saying is that he puts his decision not to pawn the ring down to his character. His "thanking the Lord" in the TV clip and article for his character is, I submit, nothing more than a humble gesture of self-congratulations and not in any way Harris attributing his character to being a pious man (or his grandfather being a pious man), which seemed to be the direction you were taking the story prior to your last post.

2.

"I think his quoted explanation identifies the reasons for his good act, notable his having some character having been raised by his reverend grandfather from the age of 6 months - this is not to be confused with the notion of a religious upbringing, of course! "

There are two very "worldly" motivators that much more likely influenced Harris' actions than anything that is connected to his being raised by his Reverend grandfather almost a lifetime ago. The first is that Harris already had (supposedly, according to him) one experience where he found and returned an expensive ring – a Superbowl Ring no less, which would have been worth tens of thousands of dollars - and then receiving a nice reward for the 'good deed'. There is no doubt that that experience must have come to his mind in this situation. The second is the cold hard reality that any street-smart guy in a homeless situation such as Harris was in would have been cognizant of the fact that if he did proceed to pawn the misplaced ring it could invite theft charges. The more expensive the ring, the higher the odds of that happening. Harris was not to know that Miss Harding would not go to the police and make up a story of the ring being stolen so that she could lay an insurance claim. Harris only had the ring in his possession the one night, he slept on what he was going to do. Do not forgot that he did say he seriously considered immediately pawning it on the first day. Who knows what he would have done two three or four days later. Regardless, he did the right thing during those first 24 hours and decided to hold onto it. Good for him. But as he said himself, all he did was not to sell another person's ring and so he does not deserve all the attention or fundraising. The only person in all of this who has really gone out of their way is the husband of the wife, who set up the online fundraiser and got in touch with the TV stations. That was going beyond the necessary! I wonder what his moral code and background is.

5. I missed your second example. I do not see how there is a conflict of interest in the scenario provided all the director/shareholders acted rationally. Rationally means with long-range thinking, which includes protecting their reputations as competent and honest directors.

6. If what you did was to your benefit, which may simply be to obtain justice for a girl in distress through not fault of her own and in so doing make the world a better place for you and your family to live in, then you were acting rationally to do what you did. These are 'worldly' reasons I am giving by the way. If I were in the same situation though, being a guy, and having no reputation as a local lawyer or community do-gooder, hugging and inviting into my house for the night "a thin, pretty in a very fragile way, clean and tidily dressed woman" who was not known to me and who knocked on my door at 11pm at night, I hope you can understand why I would need to think twice before doing what you did. I would almost certainly help her one way or the other though based on what you wrote.

tvr

Rosie's picture

1.

This tv video I found online has the homeless man quote from the article I posted:

"In explaining why he didn't keep the ring, Harris said he had a religious upbringing.
"My grandfather was a reverend," Harris said. "He raised me from the time I was 6 months old and thank the good Lord, it's a blessing, but I do still have some character.""

It is arguable that the reporter's conclusion "he had a religious upbringing" from his words comes within the definition of intimation but, to me, it is a direct conclusion from what he says.

2. I looked at a large number of articles online from all over the world about the fundraiser itself but there was only talk of his good deed and no mention of his faith.

A man who does good because he knows it is good is infinitely more deserving of praise than a man who does a good act for reasons he cannot identify.

I think his quoted explanation identifies the reasons for his good act, notable his having some character having been raised by his reverend grandfather from the age of 6 months - this is not to be confused with the notion of a religious upbringing, of course! Eye

3. missing

4. When I said "Do you know any "straight lines?" I was being facetious! I.e., Do you know any perfect people??!! Eye

Very interesting science lesson, though, thanks. Smiling

I can appreciate your analogy better than I could before now.

5. Rational men can experience conflicts of interest. They can resolve them sometimes. Other times the conflict of interest remains despite the rationality of the people involved.

One example I gave is the traditional company 1 and 2 issue where the rational man considers his conflict of interest and decides is it insufficient to discharge his responsibilities as adviser to company 1.
The second example I gave in the first post where I brought this up was where there are different methods for calculating the worth of a company. Each may be rational but a conflict of interests arises between the two companies' directors over the price.

6. I gave you as much context as I had before I made my decision to offer her my hand, then give her a cuddle (!), invite her in for a cup of tea (!), listen to her stories for an hour and a half then make up the spare bed for her to stay the night as I did not think she should be left alone. The next morning I talked to her some more and got her to arrange a couple of appointments with professionals whom I thought relevant to her needs.

The next morning, as I took my children to school, the younger one said, "Why did she come to our house? Why do all the insane people always come to you for help?!"

I asked her the first question when I got back, actually. Her answer amazed and surprised me. She said that I have a reputation in my community for being a lawyer, clever (!) and very kind. She said that although she had never met me she had seen me about the place and thought I looked the way people talked of me (!). And then she said something that really touched my heart. She said, "You are even nicer and kinder than I thought you would be."

(And now that I have heard that, I better start living up to it!)

Rosie

tvr's picture

1.

"I intimated nothing. I directly quoted the man as stated from the article."

If we are going to be pedantic about it, you didn't directly quote Harris as I mistakenly said you did, you quoted the reporter who in quoting Harris himself intimated that Harris returned the ring due to his religious upbringing. Harris never stated he returned the ring mainly or solely due to of his religious upbringing. Your quoting the reporter's intimation in the context of our discussion was itself an intimation that he had.

As for whether it would have been more rational to take the ring to the police station immediately or not depends on the circumstances. Perhaps Harris thought his best chance of returning the ring was to wait for the lady at his regular spot. He turned out to be right.

2.

"he declares he was stopped from pawning the ring due to his religious upbringing"

Per above, he never declared any such thing. You are putting words in his mouth and drawing a conclusion from what the reporter intimated. Even if he did say it (which he didn't), that doesn't prove that his calling upon his religious upbringing lead to any more of a rational and beneficial outcome than if he had a rational 'worldly' morality.

Also, the beneficial aftereffects he experienced are evidence of nothing other than some serendipity following a lucky break with the reporter. For every good act like this one there are surely hundreds or thousands more that do not result in such an aftereffect. But they are good nonetheless. Good for the soul. And for the world one lives in.

What I would like to know is how many people contributed money to Harris because of his moral act irregardless of his 'faith'. If a man of conviction and not faith had done the same thing, gotten the same news coverage, and then the same donors withheld their generosity simply because the moral act had been done knowingly, i.e. selfishly, and not unknowingly, i.e. altruistically, then I would say that that is a moral blight on all who gave their money solely because to his 'faith'. A man who does good because he knows it is good is infinitely more deserving of praise than a man who does a good act for reasons he cannot identify. That is not to say the latter person does not deserve praise - (s)he does. But to me it is the difference between praising a human being and a pet animal for their choices and actions.

4. The straightest lines in nature exist as beams of light, or if you are looking for something solid, try crystals. Man makes straight lines all the time. Dangle a weight on a piece of wire and it will be straight. Straight lines are rare though because there is a ba-jillion ways to make a non-straight line, but only one way to make a straight line. That is why my analogy with morality holds so well. There is only one way to be moral: to never allow one's mind to accept a contradiction as being real. Rationality is having a fidelity to reality, it is a particular mindset. Allowing even one contradiction to enter one's mind as being a fact of reality is to dispel oneself from the perfection of rationality and fall into the imperfection of degrees of irrationality. One can redeem oneself from the latter by resuming a fidelity to reality, which necessarily involves identifying and removing the contradictions one has previously accepted (which for the vast majority of people would be no quick and easy task). Your circle analogy doesn't hold, because when it comes to morality, there can be no compromise between rationality and irrationality. To permit the irrational in any degree at all is to be irrational. To be crooked, no matter how small the degree, is to not be straight.

5. I don't see your point here. If one identifies that there would be a conflict of interest and one then acts to remove or avoid that conflict of interest, then there is no conflict of interest. That is the rational approach.

6. Not enough context to answer you. And I cannot answer for other Objectivists. From what you have described though I would attempt to gather more information from the woman about her predicament and decide how to act according to what her situation is and how virtuous she seems. But generally I treat all out of the ordinary events as suspicious until there is enough evidence to deem them otherwise. I am curious though to know what her situation was and what you did...

tvr

Rosie's picture

1. Not really worth arguing about but to intimate something is to indicate or make known indirectly; hint; imply; suggest. I intimated nothing. I directly quoted the man as stated from the article. (Any of that "context" provided by you is what is, in fact, "intimation".)

Incidentally, though, it would seem to me that so rational a man as an Objectivist would logically have preferred to adopt the rational practice when one finds something valuable, of taking the ring to the police station rather than the pawnbroker. Is this not the rational thing to do? Don't you think that to hold on to it is to accept there is a possibility that the woman won't come to you to reclaim it, or to wonder whether you might change your mind and give in to temptation, or to treat it as a kind of insurance policy for a rainier-than-usual-day, perhaps? After all, since you wouldn't accept the unearned, if she did come to you before going to Lost and Found at the police station, you would quite simply direct her to that rationally instituted office of every police station.

2. "self-interest is something greater or higher than the immediate"
What I meant by this, and which I think may be a different thing from Objectivism, is that where the Objectivist sees "self-interest" in the practice of his moral standards of perfection (that straight line you talk of!) and would hold back the ring because he does not accept the unearned and all the other rational reasons and conclusions you have provided, my interpretation of "self-interest" in a spiritual sense does not stop at the practice of morality and expressing one's values, but includes the results of so doing which, here, were greater by far than his imagination could have led him to believe. E.g., the enormously successful fundraiser, the publicity and the ensuing worldwide acclaim to him and his integrity, the reunion with his family, a new job, an "interesting discussion" on the world-famous website, solopassion.com and the valuable lesson he has given to all people - not just those who were so moved by his choice to donate money, possibly because they empathised with how great a temptation such a poor man had resisted.

The point has been laboured already, that the homeless man, who is not an Objectivist, was homeless, poor, hungry, no family, in need, more likely than not tempted to steal for his livelihood, certainly to beg. For sixteen years he had lived this kind of life. However, unlike Fagin or Oliver Twist or any of the thieves and rogues on the streets, rather than give thanks for his good fortune from his now cup of cornucopia he declares he was stopped from pawning the ring due to his religious upbringing. I.e., he attributes this hesitation to something "spiritual" within; not something intellectual ( something you have altered the meaning to declare is Objectivism's spirituality but which you must know is a different thing entirely). If he had taken it to the police station as the rational Objectivist would have done for he would not have considered holding on to it in case the woman did not show up, in which case to pawn it, it is likely that none of the other wondrous things would have happened for there would not have been the relationship between the man and the woman. It would have been all very drawn out, impersonal and formal down there at the police station with PC Blog requiring his many forms to sign and receipts to prove her ownership and his raspberry sandwiches!

4. I think this is a faulty analogy. And, as a matter of interest, do you know any "straight lines"?!

I think a better, more appropriate and logical analogy, if you want to analogise shapes with rationality and "degrees of irrationality" (which I note you have subsequently substituted with opposing qualities or moral values in humans), is a circle. Your "perfection" would be where the entire circle is coloured to represent full rationality (or the quality or moral value in question) and where there are lapses of either, that lapse is measured and figuratively presented within the circle by way of a "pie" (or a dot if the lapse is only a oncer!) and that part of the circle will be coloured in the opposite colour. Your analogy is not logical to me as I do not agree with you that rationality and irrationality are two qualities that are so separate and unrelated as to be unaffected one in relation to the other in each human being. They are opposites. You can not have them both existing at the same time at any time in relation to a particular point without equal and opposite effect of one to the other.

5. Again, a point of logic. Your claim was that no rational man can have a conflict of interest. I have pointed out that rational men often find themselves in conflicts of interest. That these conflicts can be resolved is a different point from the one you made and I addressed. In the example I gave, the law requires the person with the conflict of interest to step down however I can assure you that there are many cases where these rational men who have encountered conflicts of interest exactly as I have described have not done so (whether deliberate and thinking it wasn't too much of a conflict to matter or ignorance) and which have created grounds for subsequent legal challenges over the otherwise signed and sealed agreed terms and conditions of sale.

6. My help is not from any duty to God - in the cases described, it is from agape love. Just for fun and interest, tell me how you, as a rational Objectivist, would deal with a situation that happened to me at 11pm last night and then I will tell you how I, as a Christian, dealt with it and let's see if there is a difference and where that difference lies, OK?!

At 11 pm there was a bang bang bang on my front door. I was in bed reading and my children were in bed (supposedly going off to sleep!). I got out of bed, went to the front door and, before opening it, asked who was there. The small voice of a woman answered stating her name. I opened the door to find a thin, pretty in a very fragile way, clean and tidily dressed woman with one arm folded across her torso and the other holding her bowed head and obviously distraught. She looked between 45 and 50 years old.

So. What would the rational Objectivist man do?!

Postscript. I have presumed already that you would have actually gone to the door and opened it! I will also presume that you would have asked her, as I did, what was wrong. Her reply was to mutter something almost incoherent. I think she said, "You will think I am crazy! No one believes me." Her body language as she spoke was to move back from the door and to turn both her body and head away from my gaze.

Rosie

tvr's picture

1. I submit that you did intimate it, by directly quoting Harris and then omitting and then ignoring the rest of the context which I provided;

2. Harris had a morality to call upon. Good for him. It worked for him in this circumstance. He doesn't know why it worked, only that it was the right thing to do according to his morality. An Objectivist almost certainly would have come to exactly the same conclusion under the circumstances but called upon a very different morality and not only have known that it was the right thing to do, but also known why. You write "self-interest is something greater or higher than the immediate" as if it were at odds with what Objectivism holds self-interest to be. It isn't. So there is no point to your point other than reinforcing my point, which is that Harris' 'worldly' thinking is what made him honest, not his biblical morality, and that his act was one of integrity, no different to any person's action which is based on their morality, in this case a morality that says (or from which one can conclude) it is not right to take a persons property from them including when there is the opportunity to do so under a misapprehension. I submit that Objectivist morality, which eschews taking the unearned from others, would tell one to do just the same as the homeless man did, yet Objectivism involves "worldly thinking", perhaps the most worldly thinking possible. I submit that truly worldly thinking is 'spiritual' thinking;

3. No problem;

4. When it comes to moral standards, the standard is perfection. When one does not attain the standard of perfection, then one necessarily attains a degree of imperfection. To be "half-perfect" is an oxymoron. An example of perfection would be a straight line. One would not look at a semicircle and say that it is half straight, or any curvature and say that it is partly straight - what one has is degrees of curvature;

5. I submit that there is no conflict of interest if the adviser to Company 1 refuses to advise in this instance, which would be the rational thing to do under normal circumstances, or, at least, the rational thing to offer. If the owners of Company 1 do not insist upon or accept his temporarily stepping down from his role of adviser in this instance, then it is they who are being irrational;

6. As I say, my actions would depend entirely on the full context of the situation. But in general, yes, I would help in the hypothetical examples you gave. But my help would not be out of any duty to 'God'. It would be for purely self-interested reasons, namely, in response to the value these people have to me simply by the fact that they are rational (or potentially rational) human beings, and because there is a value in having a harmonious society where the default setting is mutual good will.

tvr

Rosie's picture

Apologies to you for the delay in replying to your prompt reply. My comments to your points are as follows:

1. In your first point you intimate that the only reason Harris did not pawn the ring was because of his religious upbringing.

I did not intimate this; it was a direct quote from the homeless man in the article.

2. But before invoking his religious upbringing he had to have first identified the fact that the event was out of the ordinary and probably too good to be true. If he had not identified that fact (i.e. stopped to think rationally), he could not have then applied his morality to the facts. He is not 'honest' simply because he applied his biblical morality to the facts and not sell the ring - that was, I submit, an act of integrity, not honesty. Thinking in a way that one is true to oneself is honesty. Acting in a way that one is true to oneself is integrity. The honesty was primarily to be found in his stopping to think and identify the fact that the ring was probably not meant as a gift and his not evading that fact of reality.

Possibly you are correct in this but possibly there is a little more to it which I shall elaborate. Mine is only speculation to be sure but it is speculation from one who also had a religious upbringing and still has some character, like our fellow, and who has read many books about human nature (fiction and non-fiction) and who also has a high level of both empathy and imagination!

I think we both agree that there was something that prevailed upon him not to pawn the ring. He (not me) attributes this hesitation to his "religious upbringing" from the age of 6 months and goes on to thank the good Lord and say that he still has "some character". A religious upbringing teaches morality - right from wrong. Character (to me) is the habit of practising morality. Some character to me implies the recognition in oneself that this habit has not always been followed. As a man who for 16 years has had no job or home or connection with his family and has been on the streets begging - not busking - to stay alive, it would not surprise me at all to learn that any departure from his moral upbringing would entail departures from the morality of his upbringing, in particular, it would be easy to imagine that theft would be something a starving person might be tempted to engage in. (Indeed, in a recent thread, we see that Jean Valjean from Les Miserables was tempted when starving to steal a loaf of bread.)

Therefore, to me, for the homeless man to find the ring, regardless of any thought that it was too good to be true, and to be tempted to seek its value and pawn the ring would not be altogether surprising from the points of view of both his needs and presumably some earlier acts of theft. Clearly, my thoughts and speculations have been the more common also or his not doing so would not have caused such a fuss in the news and for it to be considered so unusual a thing for him not to have pawned the ring that it invoked sufficient feelings of awe and sentiment that thousands of people within a very short time expressed this feeling in giving donations to him of up to $188,000. (The fundraiser has risen further, I read recently!)

Not only did his righteous act bring forth all this money in donations but it is a lesson to us all that self-interest is something greater or higher than the immediate for it has changed his life (infinitely more than the keeping of the money for the pawned ring) with the reconnection with his family and his "some character" impressing someone enough to give him a job.

My submission, thus, is that his was not an act of worldly rationality. (Though it was moral.)By the world's standards, it was an act of irrationality. And it is this upside-down-ness of things - but which are based on the morality of the Bible - which I have observed over and over are the ultimate truths and, if followed, will always provide the most wondrous results. Things that an ordinary human being could not even dream of in his wildest imagination. These things are spiritual. They are not things that ever result from worldly thinking.

3. I for one have never heard of the bible story, and again, I cannot find it on Google (this time with my search settings unrestricted). What evidence do you have that most Christians know of the story, and do you have a citation?

The story is from Luke 21:1-4 and Mark 12:41-44. I am embarrassed to say that neither story mentions her wedding ring - just the giving of all she had in money! I believe I saw a film when I was little in which this story was presented using poetic licence and the woman removing her wedding ring! So although the principle is there, only those Christians who saw the film I saw would remember the donation as a ring! Silly me. I am sorry to have wasted your time trying to find it.

4. Re your claim and fourth point that I am contradicting myself by acknowledging his rational act and inferring he is irrational for begging and not busking, there is no contradiction. One can be quite irrational and still act rationally in some or even most instances. Rationality as a character trait is not something that one holds in degrees, only irrationality is. One is either rational, or one is irrational in degrees.

I don't understand this in terms of logic. Surely if one is irrational in degrees one must be rational in degrees also. On your reasoning, when a person, A, is being "irrational in degrees" how does this affect the measure of A's rationality at the time of his being irrational in degrees if not in saying his rationality was equally and oppositely affected to the same degree?! Eye

5. Re your second point, it may be a man's rationality that enables him to identify conflicts of interest, however I submit that it is his lack of rationality that gets him into conflicts of interest.

Person A is an adviser to Company 1 and a major shareholder and director of Company 2. Company 1 wishes to take over Company 2 and terms of agreement need to be agreed. Person A has a conflict of interest because he has an interest in both companies. Despite this conflict of interest he is a rational man and the directors of both companies are entering in to a rational act of business in terms of the takeover.

A second and separate conflict exists between the rational directors /shareholders of the two sets of companies by virtue of the various methods (all rational) for assessing the price of Company 2 as well as the directors' obligations to the shareholders of both companies in this situation.

6. Re your third point and example, I would help such a woman depending on the full context of the situation. I have helped in such situations in the past. If my help was demanded and she was wearing a t-shirt supporting Obama, then I would be dissuaded to help. If she showed respect for my individual autonomy and there was no sign that she was morally to blame for her situation, then I would help on the basis of good will and her potential value to society, which means to me (indirectly).

I have no doubt that you and most people would help in such a situation. I think what you say is theoretical only; when there is an emergency, one immediately chips in when ever one can, how ever one can. To not do so, and turn away when you know you can help because of an Obama tee-shirt or the like, is inhumane and so wrong that I balk at your even suggesting it if you consider yourself a moral man. No offence intended because I don't believe you would turn away and you have said yourself that you wouldn't. To do so, according to the upside-down-ness of the effects of practising God's "non-worldly" morality, in my view,would never be to act in your really-o-truly-o long term best self-interest. (And I add, too, the corollary: that my belief is that if everyone were to follow God's morality at all times and in all places, to do so would be to put you on your true path and a life beyond your wildest imaginations. Mostly, to do so is not so disparate from Objectivism either which is why I reckon it is so appealing to former religious people who have had bad experiences with Christians not acting in a truly Christian way.)

Rosie

tvr's picture

Interesting discussion.

In your first point you intimate that the only reason Harris did not pawn the ring was because of his religious upbringing. But before invoking his religious upbringing he had to have first identified the fact that the event was out of the ordinary and probably too good to be true. If he had not identified that fact (i.e. stopped to think rationally), he could not have then applied his morality to the facts. He is not 'honest' simply because he applied his biblical morality to the facts and not sell the ring - that was, I submit, an act of integrity, not honesty. Thinking in a way that one is true to oneself is honesty. Acting in a way that one is true to oneself is integrity. The honesty was primarily to be found in his stopping to think and identify the fact that the ring was probably not meant as a gift and his not evading that fact of reality.

As for the bible story, I submit that there is no evidence that he knew of the story, let-a-lone called upon it to guide his actions. In fact, his actions indicate the opposite, i.e. he did not keep the ring like the beggar in bible story, and that this is despite the obvious parallel to his own situation yet he never mentioned it in the interview. Also, I for one have never heard of the bible story, and again, I cannot find it on Google (this time with my search settings unrestricted). What evidence do you have that most Christians know of the story, and do you have a citation?

Re your claim and fourth point that I am contradicting myself by acknowledging his rational act and inferring he is irrational for begging and not busking, there is no contradiction. One can be quite irrational and still act rationally in some or even most instances. Rationality as a character trait is not something that one holds in degrees, only irrationality is. One is either rational, or one is irrational in degrees.

Now, if the ring were worth less, the extent that it is worth less will be proportional to the extent that the homeless man's good judgment will be called upon to eliminate the odds of there being a mistake. So long as he is honest (i.e. thinks rationally) in his assessment of the situation, and he acts according to his rationally derived principles of morality, then he would qualify as acting rationally, honestly, and with integrity (which means 'spiritually' in Objectivist parlance). He would need to be consistently rational to actually be rational.

Re your second point, it may be a man's rationality that enables him to identify conflicts of interest, however I submit that it is his lack of rationality that gets him into conflicts of interest.

[edited]: Re your third point and example, I would help such a woman depending on the full context of the situation. I have helped in such situations in the past. If my help was demanded and she was wearing a t-shirt supporting Obama, then I would be dissuaded to help. If she showed respect for my individual autonomy and there was no sign that she was morally to blame for her situation, then I would help on the basis of good will and her potential value to society, which means to me (indirectly).

Isaiah 55:8-9 and Matthew 25:35-45 (Food for thought)

Rosie's picture

Isaiah 55:8-9

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Matthew 25:35-45

35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

(my emphasis)

Sad

tvr

Rosie's picture

Thank you very much for your reply. I enjoyed reading it. Smiling Some of it rang very true to me but a number of things struck me as not quite right. Smiling

I think these are my main concerns with what you said:

1. In your reply, you said that self-interest requires honesty (fine) yet, for the purposes of the story, the honesty required in your definition of self-interest was of not acting where there may be a doubt as to the legitimacy of a gift . This "honesty" you later then described as "common sense". Are they the same thing to you?

The article says :

In explaining why he didn't keep the ring, Harris said he had a religious upbringing.
"My grandfather was a reverend," Harris said. "He raised me from the time I was 6 months old and thank the good Lord, it's a blessing, but I do still have some character."

Character. What is this? Presumably, for the purposes of our story it meant to question whether an expensive ring found in a donation cup was dropped in error and not a legitimate donation/gift as one might have thought by the prima facie act of its being found in a beggar's donation cup itself (and bearing in mind the Bible story whose parallel can't be ignored by me or anyone aware of this parallel Bible story). His religious upbringing he claims gave him the character to wait a period of time to test whether or not the donor/owner returned for it, whether through error or regret, and not to pawn the ring.

To you, though, what he claims for himself does not indicate any religious or spiritual discernment but plain common sense and a selfish, honest, considerate, perfectly rational act of self-interest from a homeless beggar who doesn't busk and is therefore, according to you, irrational in fact. Eye (I wonder if you have ever been hungry or homeless?)

Now, if what you have said (and how I have presented it) does not strike you as contradictory, unlikely and a little absurd, here is an additional rational problem of logic I see in your explanation. Let us imagine that the woman and her fiance were not rich and the ring, instead of being large and worth $4,000, was small and worth $150. In the same circumstances - a woman's sentimental engagement ring was inadvertantly dropped in to the donation cup - would the man have not pawned it? The homeless man admits he took the big ring to the pawnshop to see what he could get for it - presumably, until he discovered its high value, his intention was to pawn it or he would have just held on to it without regard to its value, bearing in mind that the sentimentality of a ring to a woman is the same regardless of its monetary value. Obviously one can not ever know for sure now, but it did strike me that had it not been worth so much, the homeless man might not have withheld it from the pawnbroker. So I wonder whether this definition you provide of self-interest requiring honesty in the way you have said, is actually itself honest - in the sense you describe as evasion - for to imbue self interest with the necessary requirement honesty in this way but, as in this case, only if the ring were of monetary value, doesn't seem consistent or right to me.

I don't know whether I have explained my point very well. Perhaps you could tell me if you don't know what I mean and I can clarify it?

2. Conflicts of interest do not exist between people when they are being rational.

As a lawyer I can assure you that conflicts of interest arise all the time - and are understood and recognised as such because men are being rational. It is their rationality that allows them to see the conflict of interest. I don't understand why you would say that. Have I misunderstood you?

3. Giving for giving's sake in response to need for need's sake is certainly not condoned under Objectivism, and that is how most charity is given due to the morality of altruism. In order for charity to be considered an act of self-interest, and thus moral under Objectivism, charity should only be performed in response to virtues present in whomever one is helping. For charity to be a rational act, it is not another's need one responds to in giving, but their virtues, since it is only another person's virtues that makes that person a potential value to oneself.

So you would ignore a stranger (because she possesses no virtues known to you) who has just fallen down outside a pharmacy and cut her knee very badly on some glass so that it is pouring blood, sees you and asks if you would give her $2 to buy a bandage from the pharmacy?

Or give $5.50 to an unknown mother in a bakery with two hungry children who, intending to buy a pie each for her little ones, discovers to her horror that her eftpos card is not working?

Both these small acts of giving and many others like them I have done and would not hesitate to do again. They do not require the person to have virtues known to me that I am rewarding. They come from the principle, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." What you have said sounds a cold-hearted and thoroughly inhuman principle to live by, to me. Sad

4. No rational man would beg if circumstances caused him to be homeless and jobless. He would busk. The earnest attempt of being of value to his fellow man and not seeking the unearned is the virtue that other rational men would be responding to in being charitable, if not for the fact they received value from (i.e. enjoyed) the busking itself.

Perhaps not, but I am not sure that beggars are always your "rational man" - although you have yourself attributed the homeless man in the story to be more "rationally self interested" and "honest" than many working men I have met in terms of his honesty yet he failed to busk for his money. He begged. Your comments seem to contradict themselves a little, to me. Am I right or missing something? I would also assume from your comment that you are not familiar or have become ever acquainted with the effects of mental illness and/or long-term unemployment and/or other forms of human suffering/isolation/physical malformation etc.

Not every "rational man" can busk either. Indeed, there are some buskers whom I am sure Linz would put $100 in their hat to stop. Eye

(BTW 3. and 4. provoked me to post the Bible passages above!)

Rosie

tvr's picture

Thanks for the link. I just figured out now that I had my search settings on 'NZ results only' from a previous search. I did quite an exhaustive search though!

Re "self-ending", yes, that does sound suicidal doesn't it. Funny. It was the first time I'd used the word with '-ing'. The '-ing' variant excluded, I still like the term.

Now to your claims.

>>"it would have been as equally honest for the homeless man to take a gift of charity from the begging cup as to not do so"

Honesty is the virtue of never faking reality, including to oneself. The man told the reporter that he knew the ring would be very expensive if real upon first seeing it. Common sense under the circumstances made him question whether a mistake had been made. Only a lack of common sense or an act of evasion (i.e. dishonesty) would lead one to conclude that the expensive ring was definitely meant as a gift.

>>"From the homeless man's point of view, therefore, what was placed in his begging cup was a gift and charity and perfectly honest to accept it."

Clearly the homeless man did NOT think it was a gift, he chose not to pawn it and to wait for the owner to return. He knew the odds were that it was placed in his cup by mistake. To blank out what he knew to be the case and tell himself that was it a gift would have been dishonest.

>>"Under your definitions, it would have been rationally self-interested and to be concerned with his own interests to pawn the ring for much-needed money for a poor man."

Not if he knew or suspected it landed in his cup by mistake, as was the case.

>>"Since it was in his begging cup, and to all intents and purposes a gift of charity, there were no rights of others or their well beings to consider - so, rationally speaking, there was really only cause to consider his own well being at that point."

His own 'well-being' required that he remained honest. The well-being of the ring owner was to get her ring back. Conflicts of interest do not exist between people when they are being rational.

>>"Yet something stopped him from doing that. It is this something I think is of the utmost importance because it is - it has to be - something spiritual. And it is this spiritual aspect that Objectivism does not acknowledge to its detriment because it exists, like it or not."

That something spiritual was his thinking and not evading the facts of reality. What happened that was of the utmost importance was that the homeless man acted rationally. Objectivism acknowledges the importance of such 'spirituality' as it's primary ethical tenet.

>>'His not pawning the ring could be considered selfless ... but what it certainly was not was selfish or self-ending under your definitions."

Being honest, i.e. staying true to oneself, is not selfless at all - it is entirely selfish and in one's own best interests. Maintaining a clear conscience is *pricelessly* valuable.

And lastly...

>>"Charity is charity. Gifts are gifts. Charity and gifts are, by definition, unearned. I do hope you are not under the mistaken impression that Objectivism does not allow its adherents to either receive or give gifts or charity for even I know that this is not the case."

Charity is a particular type of gift, namely, one given to those who are in need for the purpose of relieving their need and is an expression of piety. A more common type of gift is a present, which is an expression of love, friendship or gratitude and is given in response to the value the other person (or their actions) represents to oneself. Giving for giving's sake in response to need for need's sake is certainly not condoned under Objectivism, and that is how most charity is given due to the morality of altruism. In order for charity to be considered an act of self-interest, and thus moral under Objectivism, charity should only be performed in response to virtues present in whomever one is helping. For charity to be a rational act, it is not another's need one responds to in giving, but their virtues, since it is only another person's virtues that makes that person a potential value to oneself.

No rational man would beg if circumstances caused him to be homeless and jobless. He would busk. The earnest attempt of being of value to his fellow man and not seeking the unearned is the virtue that other rational men would be responding to in being charitable, if not for the fact they received value from (i.e. enjoyed) the busking itself.

Terry

tvr

Rosie's picture

Tried to find the story via a Google search but drew a blank. I submit that the story was a fabrication or grossly embellished.

That is very odd! I googled the words, 'homeless man' 'ring' and 'Kansas' and pages and pages of links appeared as well as a video or two. This one I will refer to below. There is no doubt as to the authenticity of the story; and it was on the National Programme, after all! Eye

Funnily enough, though, when I was required to google "self-ending acts" from your reply (as this expression was unknown to me and made no sense on the face of it, particularly when related to "selfish" - though it might have been different had you related it to suicide! Eye ), there was no reference to the expression whatsoever! After puzzling over this for a bit, I then remembered you had compiled a list of all those new made-up words and new definitions in your main blogpost and so I found it there, with the other important ones for the purpose of my reply, as follows:

Selfish(ness) - concern with one's own interests
Self-ended(ness) or selfful(ness) - rationally self-interested and, as a consequence, respectful of the rights of others and mindful of their wellbeing
Selfless – having little or no concern for one's own interests
Altruism – the ethic of living for the sake of others; concerned with the needs and wishes of others to the exclusion of one's own needs and wishes

being honest and not accepting the unearned are entirely self-ending (i.e., selfish) acts.

In the story, it would have been as equally honest for the homeless man to take a gift of charity from the begging cup as to not do so. Charity is charity. Gifts are gifts. Charity and gifts are, by definition, unearned. I do hope you are not under the mistaken impression that Objectivism does not allow its adherents to either receive or give gifts or charity for even I know that this is not the case. From the homeless man's point of view, therefore, what was placed in his begging cup was a gift and charity and perfectly honest to accept it.

You may also recall from the Bible that a woman places her gold wedding ring in a collection for the poor so, in a religious society like the USA, it would not be totally unrealistic for a religious person to see this homeless man, make this connection or have this association and give her ring in imitation. Nor would the story from the Bible be unknown to the homeless man and to acknowledge the gift to be genuine, as you will see in the article that his grandfather was a minister and he mentions his own religious upbringing.

Under your definitions, it would have been rationally self-interested and to be concerned with his own interests to pawn the ring for much-needed money for a poor man. Since it was in his begging cup, and to all intents and purposes a gift of charity, there were no rights of others or their well beings to consider - so, rationally speaking, there was really only cause to consider his own well being at that point. Yet something stopped him from doing that. It is this something I think is of the utmost importance because it is - it has to be - something spiritual. And it is this spiritual aspect that Objectivism does not acknowledge to its detriment because it exists, like it or not.

His not pawning the ring could be considered selfless, it could also be considered an act of altruism (under the second part of your definition), it could be the link between our consciences and God - but what it certainly was not was selfish or self-ending under your definitions.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Rosie

tvr's picture

Tried to find the story via a Google search but drew a blank. I submit that the story was a fabrication or grossly embellished.

Even if it was true though, being honest and not accepting the unearned are entirely self-ending (i.e. selfish) acts.

Self-interest? Selffulness? What is it really?

Rosie's picture

On the NZ National Programme Talkback Show this afternoon, a woman recounted a very moving story of morality, altruism and happy endings from what some might call ‘karma’, but what I would attribute to God. I thought it would be cheering, and might even provoke some thought/discussion, if I were to share this story - even if only as an antithesis to my last, very depressing post on Annals of Airhead America. Smiling

If you don't agree with the "spiritual" side to it (and most here would not, I know this) then, to rationalise it, I have posted it on this thread because I think it raises questions of what, precisely, is self-interest or selffulness? To most, the obvious answer would be that "self-interest" in this story would have meant to pawn the ring and take the money. To me, this story confirms that self-interest is something greater; it is in following that mysterious thing called your conscience and doing what is morally right. And sometimes what is morally right is indeed "sacrificism" or altruism.

So here's the story:

An elderly Kansas man who was homeless found a beautiful ring amongst the coins in his “begging cup”. He took it to a pawn shop who valued the ring at about $4,500. Rather than pawning the ring for the much-needed money, because the homeless man did not feel comfortable or “right” about doing so, he decided to hold on to it.
The next day a woman came to his “begging spot” and asked whether he had seen a beautiful ring as she had worked out that it must have fallen off her finger about the time when she was in this spot – possibly when she was searching her pockets and bag for some coins for him. The man answered her honestly and produced the ring. He said that if the ring fitted her finger she could have it. It did, of course, and he returned it, feeling pleased that he had followed his gut and not pawned it the day before.
The woman was so grateful and charmed by this homeless man’s honesty that she began an appeal on his behalf, using her story to win people’s hearts and generosity. Within an incredibly short time $180,000 was raised. The homeless man was interviewed on television and this was witnessed by a member of his family whom he had lost touch with and had not seen for over sixteen years. She immediately came to his aid and he moved in to her home with her family that same day.

His comment to the news reporter who interviewed him the day after he moved in with his sister was that he had slept on an airbed that night and he felt like a king.

Greg

tvr's picture

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Keep doing what you are doing, if it is working for you.

Selfishness works just fine for me too, if my audience is active-minded.

The sole reason to use neologisms such as 'self-endedness' (or 'selffulness' or 'rational self-interest') is to facilitate engaging people's minds. Once one has engaged them, then one's choice of words to denote concepts does not matter, only the concepts themselves and employing concise definitions matters.

>>"We’ve lost selfish, liberal, altruism, capitalism.."

I submit that selfish was never lost because it was never found in the first place. It was because it had never been found that the other three were lost. It was a mistake for Ayn Rand to intimate that she was resurrecting the word to it's rightful place; what she was doing was giving birth to it. It's up to us and future generations to do the hoisting so the term can achieve it's proper stature. I am simply saying that employing a lexical offensive of appropriate support words can help with the lifting.

Worth returning to this one, Terry

gregster's picture

I've been meaning to add to this for a few days now. Things come up..

Lindsay: “What have we to lose by adopting "selffulness" and "sacrificialism"?” Imagine fifty years hence, an historian attempting to gain an insight into Objectivism’s development, and his reading back through the innumerable web remnants. How antagonistic to his learning would it be to have to re-trace the context of each mutating concept (word)? I say it’s fine to create any word you’d like, but don’t expect it to lend any long-term clarity.

What next? We’ve lost selfish, liberal, altruism, capitalism.. Do we need new word concepts for these, and they’ll be many others, just so the plebs don’t misunderstand?

Rational self-interest does just fine for me, if selfishness isn’t working. Capitalism is great, as long as the newbie is reminded that what is oftentimes wrongly called capitalism, can not be seriously viewed as Capitalism. Same for altruism, but here it just needs to be reinforced that altruism is not benevolence – it is self-sacrifice.

And if the newbie is up to it, one could go on to describe the outcomes of altruism and its inherent contradiction. Which is, that altruism - the sacrifice of a higher value to a lower value; the placing of an other over oneself - cannot be practiced consistently without bringing disaster. The immoral is not the practical. The result would be each individual wandering around as a Zombie, the ultimate race to the bottom.

Lindsay

tvr's picture

Thank you for your feedback. Correction/s made.

The main points I am making are threefold: that all 'self-' words are our moral ground to claim and so we should claim them; that surrendering selfishness is unnecessary; that adopting a word to replace the negative meaning of selfish is just as important as adopting one to replace the positive meaning, that is, if one wants not to surrender the term selfish.

Choosing the best weaponry in the lexical offensive is important, even more important, I submit, is some Sun Tzu strategizing.

Which weapons (neologisms) one uses comes down to personal preference, ultimately, but I should and shall bow to your experience in that area.

Terry

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Thank you so much for taking the trouble to pen a thoughtful reply to my original article.

Please note that I changed "sacrificism" to the much easier "sacrifism." Objectivists could, if they were given the signal, start using this en masse in lieu of "altruism" and we'd never have to defend ourselves against charges that we're opposed to kindness and benevolence ever again.

As for your objections to "selffulness" ... well, our opponents are going to pour scorn on whatever we come up with. Better a new term that we have the opportunity to explain than an old one which is irretrievably wedded in popular usage to brutishness and thoughtlessness. Note Nicholas Dykes's comment in his review of my book: "selffulness" to him suggests fulfillment, and he likes it. And it's manageable. I fear "inaltruishness" is simply too ungainly. Take it from an old-fart wordsmith! Eye

I prefer to use “rational

Mike82ARP's picture

I prefer to use “rational self- interest” rather than selfishness for reasons previously stated. I don’t really see the point of introducing neologisms to one either unfamiliar with philosophy or Objectivism as it detracts from the topic, namely Objectivism.

IMHO, of course.

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