Re: There is No Altruism

From: Chris Capel (
Date: Wed Mar 23 2005 - 15:22:36 MST

> David Massoglia wrote:
> >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.

Hmm. Well, how are we defining altruism here? If you say that altruism
is acting against your own self-interest to benefit others, then you
have a point. That definition breaks down under close scrutiny. So
let's replace it with a more robust definition:

Altruism is a quality that some people attribute to others, the
altruists, to explain their actions. The others, which we may call
altruists, have unusual value systems which cause them to act in ways
which, to non-altruists, seem to go against the self-interest of the
altruist. This is often because the actions of the altruist benefit
others at the expense of some sort of societal success indicator, such
as money, popularity, or free time, which are held to be more valuable
by most people than the group which is benefitting from the altruist's
actions. But the altruist is still acting purely in his own
self-interest, from a behavioral point of view. The altruist himself
my agree with this assessment, or he may agree with other people. In
either case, the altruist holds two different value systems in mind.
He describes himself to the world using the world's value system, but
acts using his own value system. If he is especially perceptive, he
also describes himself using the value system he acts by. If so, the
label "altruist", to him, doesn't mean that he acts against his own
self-interest, but is simply a word to describe his peculiar value
system, which he is still consistent to. He may describe himself as an
altruist to identify those notable aspects of his value system, and
for no other reason.

Does anyone have a problem with this definition? I think it resolves
any difficulties.

On Wed, 23 Mar 2005 16:40:13 -0500, Ben Goertzel <> wrote:
> Purely natural-selection-based reasoning leads one to the conclusion that
> there should be no "true altruism", only apparent altruism based on obscured
> self-interest...
> But the evolution of complex forms involves self-organization as well as
> natural-selection, and it would appear that in the case of human evolution,
> self-organization has led to the creation of some "true altruism" alongside
> the copious self-interest-masquerading-as-altruism...

And this takes care of the rest of them. But I think neither my
explanation nor Ben's can describe all instances of altruistic
behaivor. My explanation may be more useful in cases where altruism is
more of a philosophy for the person, cultivated because of the
person's religious or political beliefs, and Ben's in cases where the
altruistic actions were what simply felt "right" in the circumstances.
I imagine the latter is the case often where maternal instinct comes
into play, or in other cases where limited altruism would be predicted
by game theory in the EEA. But note that people's natural humanitarian
leanings eventually have their roots in evolutionary adaptation as
well, so there is no thin line.

Chris Capel

"What is it like to be a bat? What is it like to bat a bee? What is it
like to be a bee being batted? What is it like to be a batted bee?"
-- The Mind's I (Hofstadter, Dennet)

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Jul 17 2013 - 04:00:51 MDT