RE: There is No Altruism

From: Christopher Healey (
Date: Wed Mar 23 2005 - 15:12:49 MST


Holy language-traps, Batman!!!

When Ettinger talks about self-interest, does he draw a distinction between immediate self-interest and deferred self-interest? That is the territory in which altruism lives. If you subtley redefine it to mean ONLY complete and utter selflessness, you drive it from it's homeland into the places where ideal gases roam.

I'll go so far as to call this whole mess a false dichotomy. Self-interest and altruism are not two extremes along some continuum; altruism's inception lies in self-interest combined with facilities for long-term planning. And detecting and punishing cheaters, who would take advantage of such goodwill. Many others have done great justice on this topic, so I'm not going to spend any time propounding it. A great example of such an intertwined relationship between concepts, which appear to be in opposition but are not, is detailed in Matt Ridley's "Nature via Nurture", if you're interested.

Ettinger also uses the argument that if the processing in a mind consists of manipulating internal concepts, then all we're really doing is executing some internal value judgement to maximize our internal happiness. Maybe I'm missing something, but we are hardwired to the world around us. Some of those internal mental states reflect actual execution of our manipulations. Drawing a line in the sand, at the edges of ones "mind", seems an arbitrary distinction. It's all in play; might as well call it *all* internal, or at least all relevent (in this hubble volume at least).

I think that when we see cooperation based on such deferred self-interest, that *is* what most of use would call altruism. Our altruism does exist, but it exists in a finely tuned balance between our multiple independent drives. No wonder it's such a tough topic to make any headway on. It is those drives that implement our altruistic motivations, based on their evolutionary social utility in different circumstances.

-Chris Healey

-----Original Message-----
From: on behalf of David Massoglia
Sent: Wed 3/23/2005 2:26 PM
Subject: There is No Altruism

It has been interesting to see the chats concerning the self-proclaimed
altruism of Eleizer and the differing view proposed by Robert Ettinger
(originator of the Cryonics Organization in Michigan).

The purpose of this is to either debunk the self-proclaimed view of altruism
or find a view that altruism really exists. I am clearly leaning to the
view of Ettinger and that all claims of altruism relate to self-interest or
self-values. If true, the claims of altruism would be stated as personal

His view is basically that people are motivated by self-interest to feel
good. He calls this view "me-first, feel-good". He basically states that no
one does anything, ever, for altruistic purposes. The only sacrifice anyone
chooses, ever, is that of one value or facet of his psyche in favor of
another. Thus, your only motivation is to please yourself or avoid something
worse. His book, Youniverse, is on the cryonics organization web page. The
following is from page 89 of Youniverse relating to altruism as quoted:

"The main point is the primacy of self-interest cannot be denied, claims of
altruism are always language traps. To the extent the behavior is motivated
(rather than accidental or a hard-wired habit pattern), no one "ever" makes
a "sacrifice" for someone else or something else. The only sacrifice anyone
chooses, ever, is that of one value or one facet of his psyche in favor of
another, the momentarily dominate value or personality aspect. In other
words, your only motivation is to please yourself - the currently dominant
aspect of your psyche- or to avoid a worse alternative. There is no

In other words: it is not possible to sacrifice oneself for another person
or for a principle. It is only possible to set one value, or one presently
perceived good, above another. In the extreme case ( I assume he means
sacrificing your life for someone), you value your prospect of survival less
than your desire for virtue or guilt avoidance."

Thanks for any comments.

David Massoglia

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