An Atheistic Ethic

This is a continuation of an atheistic ethic that I’m arguing for.

I think there is an element of self-interest in almost every act we do, which is the position of modified psychological egoism, and might be better called "predominant egoism." I view altruistic acts and self-interested acts on a continuum, with one side representing acts that are almost completely self-interested ones, and the other side representing those acts we would call altruistic but which nearly all contain some self-interest in them. Let me present my case.

To show this let me take some of the toughest scenarios, then in a later post I'll deal with some objections to what I’m saying.

1) How do you deal with the obvious counterevidence against psychological egoism provided by, say, the firefighters on 9/11. What does it mean to say that their actions, which apparently resulted in their risking their lives for others, were really selfish?

In the first place I'm not saying their actions were selfish. As I argued earlier, I made a distinction between selfish acts and rational self-interested acts. Selfish acts do not gain a person happiness in the long run.

These firefighters have been trained to do a job. Their reputation is on the line. They have accepted the challenge of seeing how many people they can save. They did not think they would die in the process. Besides, people do risky behavior all of the time, most of it for fun. People enjoy taking risks and accepting challenges, especially if they can get paid for it. They also love the mutual respect from other firefighters (and policemen) for being a part of an organization that saves lifes.

Of course, some of them may have been operating from the delusion that God will reward them in heaven. But if this life is all there is, and we will die one way or another, then why not be remembered for doing great deeds? For the egoist that might be the only way for your life to count. If however, someone shirks in the face of responsibility, and saves his life while letting others die, he is known as a coward from that day onward. Sometimes in such a situation as this, it's better to die and be remembered as a great person than to live with the social shame and loss of employment in the only job said person ever wanted to do.

2) The "Freedom Rider" who went south to work for civil rights at the potential -- and actual -- risk of his life to benefit people he did not know, and in so doing expanding their own political power and rights, lessening his own or those of his family and friends.

What must be understood is that human beings enjoy a challenge. They enjoy fighting a good fight and winning, like any contest. They also have a need to belong. So they join causes to belong. Life would be boring if they didn’t. Those who fought and won can say they accomplished something great in this life. Why was this considered a good fight? Because whenever the rights of some people can be denied in a democracy then the rights of all people are at risk. Many of them did so because they had friends who were black, so it was personal with them. Many of them did so because they couldn’t stomach their own country. They might’ve thought, “If this was my country, and I am a part-owner of its policies, then I object to what I am allowing to happen, since I value freedom for all. I don’t like who I am for allowing it.” To deny anyone rights is to deny everyone's rights to some degree. It's about the kind of country they wanted to live in, and they valued the rights of everyone, because everyone includes themselves and their kin.

Why should they care about anyone else? Largely because they care for themselves. How many times have you heard that in order to love others you must first love yourself? Once people do care for themselves, in the rational self-interested sense I've previously argued for, they will quite naturally love others.

3) The soldier who sees the war he is fighting is lost, but who continues to fight on and even go on a 'suicide mission' out of a sense of honor or duty.

Once a soldier is in an army he gives up his rights to his own life. At that point he’s already committed to the possibility he might die. He was either forced into the army (in other countries) or he volunteered. If he volunteered he didn’t volunteer to die, although some volunteers are not acting rationally in that they just may want to die. He volunteered for the challenge. Some of these volunteers saw no better option, given the fact that they needed structure in their life and couldn’t do well out in a free society. Some wanted the hope of an education. Some are raised in military families who highly prize their service in defense of their country, so they might not know anything different. Seeing how his family highly values military service, he will probably do so as well. As a soldier he is also trained to follow orders and it’s terribly difficult to disobey such a command, since his mission may help save other soldiers in the field, and since being a deserter brings shame upon him and his family as a punishable crime. No one knows for sure it’s a suicide mission, either. And no one knows for sure the war is lost, since a soldier on the field doesn’t have all of the information needed to make that judgment. He’s defending his homeland, his family and his friends, even if the war is in fact “lost.” And since we are all going to die anyway, what better way to die than to be a hero, since being remembered well is the only thing a man has to live on after he dies.

4) The soldier who falls on a grenade to save his fox hole buddies.

Once the grenade hits the dirt this soldier is dead anyway, one way or another. If he chooses to run away, his life will never be the same, even if he does get lucky to save his own skin, and that's not sure. The guilt will be unbearable if he lives. Like Sophia in the movie "Sophia's Choice," she died the day she chose to save one of her children while letting the Nazi take the other one away. So why not do what the soldier was trained to do and save others by falling on the grenade? In the process he will be remembered as a hero, and by saving others who will continue to fight he will help protect those who will remember him back home.

5) Why should we care for pets? Because they give us pleasure. It makes us feel loved. They make us laugh. To hurt them is not acting rational. It would betray a hatred for oneself, and that’s not acting out of rational self-interest.

30 comments:

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

John: minor point, but because of a couple of comments elsewhere, I'd like to suggest you refer to this system as a 'non-theistic' one rather than an 'atheistic' one. "Non-theistic" simply implies 'does not depend on a god.' 'Atheistic' can imply -- or be taken to imply -- 'is inherent in atheism,' something which we would, I believe, both deny.

imaybecrazy said...

Okay, I am asking for some help on this one. Now bear with me. Because ethics will come into question.

Now I am or would be considered a Christian. I read and believe the truth of the bible, I believe in salvation through Christ.
You know these are my beliefs. And because I have them then I would be labeled a Christian. And I would say that yes I was a Christian if someone asked me.

Now, I am married. I am a college student. I get A's and B's. I also work as an accountant part time, I work with numbers, people trust me with their finances and I have not given them a reason not to. I pay all my bills on time, I have even saved money and started prematurely paying back my student loans.

Okay, I'm good with money, I study literature at school also. So I have the ability to read and write and comprehend what I'm reading according to the professors who instruct my classes.

I am a home owner, actually paying a mortgage. I have many friends and associates who value and respect me. I am a very social person.
I am as you would say very high functioning.
If I committed a crime I would not be able to plead insanity. I am sure of it.

I have a physical every year and my last one was three months ago. I exercise I eat right, I don't drink or do drugs. My doctor tells me I'm in great shape physically and as far as he or anyone can tell I am in great shape psychologically and emotionally.

Here is the thing, I believe that God's Holy Spirit is inside of me or that I am inside of it. I can feel it, hear it , sometimes see it. It propels me in everything I do. I believe it is the driving force the motivation of everything I do, my whole life.

Okay. Now I would like to hear what any of you think about this. If you do not believe me then think hypothetically. Not that you would have to because I'm sure it would not be impossible to find someone else who fits the same discription.

If I am crazy what kind of crazy am I? And is this crazy a bad crazy or what makes it crazy since I seem to be operating at my full potential while benefiting or contributing to society as well?

Here is another thing. Is it ethical for me to tell other people about Christ? Yes or no. You probably will say no, or you may say yes but have conditions.

I just want to see where people will go with this.

Maybe we can have an interesting discussion.

Kiwi Dave said...

Crazy? I don't know. Mistaken? Yes. Would you regard suicide bombers who are convinced they are acting out Allah's will and are going to get 72 virgins as crazy or mistaken or both?

Is it ethical for you to tell other people about Christ? Sure - as ethical as it is for this blog to tell you that you are mistaken.

imaybecrazy said...

Okay. Now I want to make the distinction between myself and people who do crazy things. I don't do crazy things. I have never been violent, I have no criminal record, I've never been arrested.
Yes I would regard suicide bombers as definitly crazy and mistaken because they kill other people and themselves with bombs strapped to their chests.
That is not me.
Please, I hope that some of you can give me a response that is more engaging, something that can be continued.
I can't really respond to what kiwi dave said.

Let's talk.

Jarrod said...

I'm not sure I see how psychological egoism - however modified - fully accounts for some of the scenarios you gave. I can imagine a firefighter, for instance, who risked his life for others simply because it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. His self wouldn't be involved at all. Perhaps duty motivated him - but duty doesn't have to involve a worry over reputation or enjoyment in the face of a challenge. Why not accept "I do this because I do this" as the motivation for rushing into a burning building?

Among all altruistic acts, it seems like there's quite a few wherein the person chooses to do - or just does - the act without having in mind the underlying motivations you listed. So, saying that there's an element of self-interest in every act we do seems a bit dishonest to many altruistic experiences. Let's say I was the fireman, and in the burning building I died while pushing someone out of the way of a falling roof beam. You question me after I die about why I risked my life for someone else's. I think I could say "No, I wasn't at all worried about my reputation - I didn't care what anyone might've thought of me, no matter if I had stayed or run away. No, I don't remember taking an ounce of satisfaction in the challenge of my job, and my job certainly wasn't fun. It simply paid the bills. And any lofty Golden Rule moral definitely wasn't at work; I don't buy it much anyway. I just saw the person in danger, and I saved the person's life. Doing my job, I suppose, but for no reason other than it's my job. Now, I did save a person, that's true. If he'd been a cat, he'd be dead instead of me."

Caring for people just because they're people doesn't seem to require any ego at all.

Now, if you're saying every act involves some ego because we're bound as selfs to our selfs, that doesn't seem like much. Could you clarify why you're positing these "selfish" motivations when, to me, it doesn't seem like they have to be there at all. Even if the selfish motivations are there somehow - just hidden, maybe, from the person - how are they supposed to guide an ethic when they're not always discernable?

carl said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lee Randolph said...

Hi John,
I don't know where you are going with this series of articles, but I think I do.
I think that clearly, and ethic based on observation and understanding of our world and human beings is the best way to go. Using that to determine the most successful outcome for a group is, in my mind, is as good as it can possibly get. This type of thinking could permit dilemmas like "is it all right to kill one person to save three others", but at that point, it could be hashed out in the court.

While I know this example will make me vulnerable to harsh criticism I accept it because considering the inconsistencies in the various english bible versions, Christians can't even agree on their own doctrine. Does the bible condemn homosexuals or just thier acts? Once saved always saved or not? Baptism required for salvation or not? Infant baptism or not? Pergutory or not? Young earth or not? etc.

Using empirical methods over faith is what enabled progress in medicine, Science and Law and is arguably and obviously a better method.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Jarrod,
your firefighter said "its my job".
What does that entail?
He needed a Job. That indicates self interest. Maybe he liked it and preferred to that over being a security guard or soldier, that indicates self interest.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Carl,
that was a pretty wordy and preachy post.
That "by thier fruits ye ahall know them" fails logically. Because in the set of those that display 'fruits' that are considered christian are non-christians, therefore you can't 'know them' now can you?

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Carl: you have been asked repeatedly to comment on topic. Your comments might in fact be interesting and worthy of refutation when they refer to the posts they are appended to, but they usually do not. I am sure you can find something to say that directly touches on what John is talking about, but until you do, your posts will be, regrettably, deleted rather than disputed.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi imaybecrazy,
I have a problem with this holy spirit, holy ghost thing. I think it is a self-delusion.
here is a reprint of a post I made to richdurant that applies to your request for dialogue.

Richdurant said the Holy Ghost helped determine truth. This post only addreses the facet of HG regarding truth determination, but it applies to all facets of claims about the HG.

As a christian, this claim is one that I wrestled with. How does the HG confirm it? What I mean is that one doesn't have to be the HG to quickly realize, as a child might, that if you harm you neighbor somehow you run the risk of retaliation. This goes for most of the MEANINGFUL ethical commandments that turn up in most religions. How do you tell when the HG confirms it and it is not just human reasoning?

I don't think one can tell, since I saw many Christians following what seemed to be their own agenda, claiming they knew it came from god.
And if one can't tell, then there is no value to having the spirit indwelling is there. Its not doing its job.
What would really be useful is for the HG to present some christian with a bullet proof thesis on the ethics of stem cell research, keeping an apparently brain dead person alive artificially, harvesting organs from Anencephalic babies, cloning for medical purposes, and the rest of the problematic medical ethical issues that present themselves in this day and age. I think its telling that no scripture was ever produced that introduced ideas and technology that was advanced enough to doubt whether a human from that time period could have conceived it.
For example, some of peers of the bible prophets such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Pythagorus, Theophrastus, Euclid, Archimedes, Eratosthenes, Hipparchus, Dioscorides, Ptolemy, Galen,
(etc) works are extremely enlightened for their time, and it is the kind of thing I would have expected to come out of Jesus or a prophet. But it didn't. Socrates and Aristotles way of getting at the truth was seminal and shapes much of philosophical thinking across cultures, more so than Christianity.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

John: I'm sorry, but I'm with Jarrod on this one. I think your point is very valuable -- for example, it does fit the case of someone who chooses to become a policeman, a soldier, or a race car driver, knowing that by doing so he is putting himself in a position where everytime he goes to work he has a greater than average chance of dying. But you cause problems by trying to stretch it into a 'Universal truth." (This type of 'universalizing' is always a dangerous temptation, and I hope you pounce on me anytime I fail to resist it.)

It's not always wrong to bend or hammer a fact to fit it into a theory, but when you fall in love with a theory it is too easy to twist the fact so much it is unrecognizable. For example, your soldier-grenade story. Sometimes a soldier does NOT know he is 'dead already.' He has the option of taking cover or falling on the grenade, and often chooses to fall on the grenade.

In fact, I think the following demonstrates the error in assuming this is a Universal reaction. First, for a non-believer like us, his life is 'all there is.' Therefore, if a person is 'acting without thinking' and his main driving force is 'rational self-interest' or 'psychological egotism' given the fact that any personal satisfaction in doing a life-surrendering act only lasts for a minute or so, would he not always act to save his life? (Again, if he is planning things out, the argument can be made, but I'm thinking of a situation where a 'spur of the moment decision' must be made.)

But the fact of the matter is that in many cases a person in that situation will choose to risk, or even sacrifice his life, against his self-interest.

Point made?

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Lere and 'maybe':

I'd like to make a suggestion -- again just a theory but one which I have observed in myself and others. (I believe, again from personal exoperience that this is also relevant to the 'psilocybin discussion,' but it is too late to tell that story.)

Our minds can translate our observations into metaphorical terms. For anyone used to handling artistic creation, we know how this feels and 'compensate' for it. But for someone who is not used to his mind acting this way, he may confuse the 'metaphor' for 'reality' may 'reify' the metaphor.

Tomorrow I wil give an example, but right now *Good night* or there won't be a tomorrow -- at least as far as my participation in DC goes.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi prup,
no, point not made.
anyone choosing to give their life for someone else has made a choice. This is a preference. What drives the preference is debateable, but I think it is plausible that the person chooses not to live with the decision not to have saved the life.
this indicates self interest.

John W. Loftus said...

Prup, I’m offering “an” atheistic ethic, not “the” atheistic ethic, and it’s not broadly a “non-theistic” ethic, since I am excluding from consideration pantheistic ethics.

Jarrod, two of the scenarios I mentioned were about the snap judgments of a rescuing firefighter or a soldier falling on a grenade. In these two cases people act based upon who they are, how they view themselves in conjunction with those around them, and what they are expected to do. In any type of snap judgment like that people go into auto-pilot and act out of the type of person they have trained themselves to be, since no one can turn their character on and off like a faucet. They just act based upon who they are and what they have come to value throughout their lives. So I do agree with you that "I do this because I do this" as the motivation for rushing into a burning building, simply because that’s who they are as persons.

Jarrod said…Perhaps duty motivated him.. Yes, I agree here. The firefighter accepted the duty to rescue people. But I’m asking why he accepted that duty in the first place. Why? He accepted the duty to save lives and put out fires, even at the risk of his own life. It was his job. He probably doesn’t want to do anything else with his life. He enjoys the challenge and the risks involved. Other jobs are probably boring to him. He loves the excitement. He loves the camaraderie and respect of his co-firefighters. He loves feeling important, and doing something that everyone respects and needs. He loves the personal rewards and the money he earns. But to have the things that he values the most he must also take the risks. So he was duty bound to risk his life for others.

But with that responsibility he still does not unduly risk his life for others. If it is utterly foolish to run into a burning building to save a child he won’t do it. No one expects him to do so, either. If he takes such a risk he may not be acting rationally. If he does this anyway people might consider him foolish, especially if he dies with the person he tried to rescue. If he succeeds he would be considered a hero, and he’ll gain the rewards that go with being a hero. He may want to be a hero so bad that he is willing to take a risky chance with death. Others may not be rational and have a “death wish” who don't care whether they live or die. Does he think about all of these things as he enters a burning building? No. but that point can be happily conceded.

A modified psychological egoism that I think is defensible is one called “predominant egoism,” where we act unselfishly only rarely, and then typically where the sacrifice is small and the gain to others is large or where those benefiting are friends, family, or favorite causes. Such a view is not troubled by a soldier falling on a grenade counter-example, since it allows exceptions. But I wanted to argue that even in such a case it can be still be argued that there was some self-interest involved, whether or not you judge my case to have succeeded.

imaybecrazy said...

I sense a lot of hostility in your post lee randolph. The HG in me really reacts and tells me to be careful when having conversations with people who hate people like me so much.

Is it ethical to hate a person because of their beliefs lee?

I see that you claim to have been a religious leader and so a lot of your arguments include anecdotes from when you were one. And who can argue with that solid proof?

You say that I am delusional. Yet every other aspect of my life is inconsistent with your statement. I have been a Christian for seven years. Wouldn't this delusion by now effected other parts of my life? How can some one be delusional for seven years, twenty four hours a day and still make reasonable and rational decisions, still function in society and even contribute to society?

When I told my doctor that I have been a Christian for the past seven years he did not get worried and suggest that I see a psychiatrist. Instead he asked me what church I went to and then he told me what church he went to. He went on to ask me if I ever did any missionary work, I said as of yet no and then he told me about how he spent five years in India working in a Hospital for a Christian missionary organization.

Now according to you, my doctor would not be fit to treat me or anybody else and therefor if you had your way, you would take away a doctor's license, a doctor who volunteered five years of his life to help people who needed it, a doctor who never committed malpractice, just because he believes in the holy ghost...? Is that ethical? No that is called persecution.

The Holy Ghost informs our experiences. Every one has their own ideas as to what is ethical. Everyone has something that informs their experiences.

Let me ask you something: Where do your thoughts come from? Your inner monologue. If this is your basis for making decisions how do you know you can trust it? How do you know it is yours?
Why should I believe you that you have a voice in your head telling you what to do? Is that voice you?
Are their ever more than one voice, conflicting voices? For instance when the alarm clock goes off in the morning, is a there a voice that tells you to stay in bed while another voice tells you to get up? Are they the same voice having a conversation with it self or more than one? How do you know?
Why is this a rational way to make decisions or to know what truth is?

Is it ethical to create a culture where people are seen as a means to an end? Is it ethical to create a culture where people can get drive through abortions?

What do you say to people that feel remorse after getting an abortion? Do you try to desensitize them with arguments that the voices in your head dictate to you?

If stem cell research becomes legal then it will also become profitable. Where will the fetuses come from? A fetus farm?

Something inside of me and I believe that it is the Holy Ghost, Spider Man would call it his Spider Since, tells me that this is wrong, that this is evil, forget about ethical.

Lee Randolph said...

hi imaybecrazy,
where do you see the hostility and hate?
The original post was for richdurant, not you.
in either case, i don't see the hostility and hate. Please explain.

richdurrant said...

I would like to know too Lee because I neither sensed or do I see any hostility in your post.

imaybecrazy said...

Well it comes from my informed experience. Something that I sense. The simple fact that you devote so much time and energy first of all, also you refered to the HG as holy ghost thing. It is a derogatory comment meant to hurt people who you know love and value the Holy Ghost.

Also you are calling people dellusional.

And then you said this,
"And if one can't tell, then there is no value to having the spirit indwelling is there. Its not doing its job."

Your reasoning here does not make any sense I believe you phrased this statement in order to hurt people who beleive in the HG by telling them that something they beleive in, because it can not be proved according to your criteira, is not true and you want to make them beleive that they are crazy.

I understand that there is a systematic way that some of you go about debunking Christians. You are not my friend you have made that clear by being a member of this group. Your aim is to make me feel crazy, stupid, inadequate and so on and you have a systematic approach. I have been reading the posts here and am trying to figure it out.

So far I have been comapared to a terrorist, and called crazy. We will see what else you try. I will learn from you.

As I said the HG informed me of your hostility but I can easily find it by reading many of your posts.

You are on a mission. I know that.
Or maybe I'm just being dellusional after all...

Lee Randolph said...

Hi imaybecrazy,
I don't think you are sincere so I am going to stop responding to you.
take care.
lee

Jarrod said...

OK. So, saying that all acts have selfish (not in the bad sense) motivations draws support from the multitude of acts that do have selfish motivations and the idea that all acts must ultimately follow that pattern. The problematic cases would be the instantaneous acts of apparent altrusism, like the firefighter and soldier.

Sure, the firefighter may have took his job - and by doing so, he submitted to do what would be required, like saving a life at risk of his own - for selfish reasons, but I don't think those reasons have to be called into play when we think of his altruistic act. I see that altruistic acts can eventually be tied to selfish motivations, but I'm not sure that doing so "fits the facts" well enough, does justice to what happens. It seems a tad too psychoanalytic.

We both accept that "I do this because I do this" can count as a reason for doing something altruistic. But I stop there and say I don't see any selfish motivations. And since "I do this because I do this" is the reason for the altruistic act, where does the egoism in the act come in? Sure, egoism may underlie someone's life - but we're talking about altruistic acts, not altruistic lives, and what makes altruistic acts so remarkable is precisely that they seem to violate the predominate trend of egoism in a person's life.

John W. Loftus said...

Jarrod, said, Sure, egoism may underlie someone's life - but we're talking about altruistic acts, not altruistic lives, and what makes altruistic acts so remarkable is precisely that they seem to violate the predominate trend of egoism in a person's life.

I don't deny there are altruistic acts. Where rational self-interest comes into play is largely to be found in one's character and life, which is chosen to bring holistic happiness.

Someone who chooses a character based upon rational self-interest in the pursuit of holistic happiness will have to sacrifice immediate pleasure for long term pleasure all of the time. He or she will have to do altruistic acts on occasion based upon duties he willingly accepts from the people he values.

In those split seconds when he must decide to sacrifice his life for others he acts based upon a character that he has chosen and cannot be turned off. In those situations he may die, but since we all die 'tis better to be remembered well since that's all one has to live for at that point. But usually rational people do not believe they will have to die for someone else in keeping the duties they commit themselves to for the purpose of gaining happiness. But taking such a risk is also somthing such a person values and which brings him happiness.

Have you ever heard of someone who died while doing what he loved and people commented, "he died the way he would have wanted to?" That's what I mean.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi all,
since we are talking about altruism, here is an interesting article from The Times Online about altruism in chimps.

Chimps beat us to that human touch

Isn't kindness one of the fruits of the spirit?
I guess these chimps have fruit too. ;-)
Seriously though, this indicates that to some degree altruism may be hardwired.

Logismous Kathairountes said...

I have a point to make about the Holy Spirit. Lee said:

"I don't think one can tell, since I saw many Christians following what seemed to be their own agenda, claiming they knew it came from god.
And if one can't tell, then there is no value to having the spirit indwelling is there. Its not doing its job."

It seems to me that you were listening to what other people claimed they were told by the Holy Spirit, and comparing those things, to objectively verify the existence of the Holy Spirit by seeing if all the different agendas people attributed to Him came from one intelligent non-self-contradicting being. Since their accounts contradicted each other, the result of your test was that there is no Holy Spirit.

But there's a problem. This is not a test that a person with the Holy Spirit dwelling in them would perform. A person with the Holy Spirit experiences the Holy Spirit, and knows that He's there - And knows that people who say things that contradict that Spirit are liars.

This is why so many Christians reading this thread would think that you were never a Christian - Because they experience the Holy Spirit, which you say you don't believe in. It's like if you were to deny that I'm using a computer to post this comment - I would think that you had never used a computer before, and didn't understand them. I'm experiencing it right now - How can you deny that it exists?

I understand that self-deluded people believe in their delusion, and would say this exact same thing to a person who denied it. You might have said the same thing back when you were a Christian. So I'm not really making an argument. I'm just trying to foster some mutual understanding, and explain why certain arguments you might make just aren't going to make sense to many Christians.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi logismous,
I see your point and I have a rejoinder. I am going to do an article on my view of why I think the holy spirit is not doing its job, or doesn't exist. I don't want to influence Johns article to get off topic debating the holy spirit.
Please stay tuned, I'd like to see your thoughts on this.
Hi Richdurant, if you're still out there, I'd like to continue discussing it with you then, if you're game.
take care.

richdurrant said...

Hi Lee I am and it sounds like an interesting topic to tackle. I'll look forward to it.

richdurrant said...

I also most likely will not be online until early thursday morning

Paul A said...

I still question whether people consciously make the 'moral calculations' you allude to in your description of rational self-interest. I doubt the soldier on the suicide mission or the firefighter in the burning building are really thinking, "Woah, I'm going to die if I keep this up but, hey, at least people will think I was a cool guy!"

Rather I believe that these calculations, if carried out at all, are part of the subconscious. Any conscious thinking is done on a purely altruistic level and, because altruism is defined by intent rather than consequences, are genuinely altruistic acts. At least that's what I tell my wife when we argue over the existence or otherwise of altruism :-)

Penicillin said...

Thank GOD that Loftus, like Barker, left the church!

Can you imagine the damage these guys could have done if they stayed? (By their own admission, both continued preaching after they no long believed)

We have too many "pastors" like that.

At least they had the guts to quit.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

John:
Sorry, but I continue to be totally unconvinced by your argument. Again if you had argued that 'rational self-interest was one of the main motivating factors, no dispute. Even if you had argued it was the most important one, I could accept it in many cases.
But your 'rational egotist' is much like the economist's 'economic man' seeking in all ways to maximize his income. An ideal case, but even economists have conceded that for the theory to be useful in the real world a number of other factors including satisfaction with job and environment, idealistic goals, etc. have to be factored in.

Too often your 'explanations' of the 'rationally self-interested' factors behind decisions are nothing more than seeing the result and working it into your schema. Sadly, -- yes, this is an exaggeration -- like the guy who shoots arrows against the barn door and then draws the bullseyes around them. (I also second Paul a's comments here.)

For your discussion to be valid, you have to work from the decision point forward. At the time of the decision, what are the factors affectig the person's decision. I think you will find, in many examples of 'altruistic acts' that a rational calculacation of self-interest would cause a different decision to be made, one that would give the person equal satisfaction without the risks or loss that the altruism involves.

I continue to insist that altruism, 'time-binding,' the gratitude that makes us want to leave the world a better place, and other factors -- including 'sub-group identity' (I won't do this because it would reflect badly not so much on me but on the sub-group I am a member of._ and one other I'll be discussing shortly all can be equally powerful factors in the decision.

Yes, it is possible to twist the 'rational self-interest' idea to fit these cases, but by that time, you have a position where it is so general that it can 'explain anything' and therefore can, in fact, 'explain nothing.' (Much, in fact, like the idea of God or divine Providence acts in some believer's hands.)

I will get back to the commenters here and the byways and highways they have gone down, but I have one more comment that fits better in the next post.