ethical egoism & altruism

alright, to get the people who dont know what im talking about caught up, ill do a little explanation

ethical egoists perform all of their actions only if the actions benefit them directly

altruists’s actions are purely for the benefit of others

here is my question; mostly about the ethical egoists:
do ethical egoists go for instant gratification, or is it possible for an e.e. to perform several (or many) neutral tasks in order to benefit them in the long run?
and what about altruists? their actions are, as i have said, purely for the benefit of others, with no benefit for themselves. is it even possible to be an altruist as all your actions will have some sort of consequence, so surely, even if by pure chance thre will be some positive outcome for you and you alone?
i guess both of these questions can be reversed and thrown at the other.
just tell me what you think on this

there are no neutral tasks

no, they get recognition of their benevolence… that is a benefit for them… there is no purely altruistic act


This is not the case. When I have a small group of friends at my place for weed and booze, I do not make them pay… they’re my friends, there are rules of hospitality that I follow because I deem them important. I may not always receive the same treatment, but I don’t then take revenge on whoever made me shell out - he’s still my friend.

I apologize for trotting out this tired old cliche’d example, but:

How does it benefit Mother Teresa to do all that charitable stuff if she can only be beatified a saint after her death? She can’t be doing it for the recognition, cause the benefits didn’t come until after she died…

I object to this reasoning; I think there is something to Maslow’s hierarchy, which distinguishes esteem and self-actualization. Doing a good, altruistic act in order to earn, or obtain, respect or esteem from someone else is not the same as doing an an altruistic act for some inner principle or for intrinsic pleasure, such as the Mother Teresa example clearly demonstrates. Although, one clearly sees that self-actualization is deemed as acts for intrinsic pleasure, which is I assume is ethical egoism. But, might I ask what if anything is wrong with that? Why do we imply that this is bad?

and if they don’t return the favor at a later date your friendship wanes… be honest…

really? you have no clue about the motives of a nun? (or any of the faithful?) how does one get to heaven? ask her about who is and who isn’t going to hell…

that is extreme selfishness…


as I said before, ask MT who is and who isn’t going to hell and why… pure selfishness at its finest…

nothing is wrong with ethical egoism, it is the standard…


No act can be purely altruistic. But don’t get discouraged.

Think of it as an asymptote you can continually get closer to. It gives you something to do :laughing:

Isn’t altruism at heart about intent?

It is the motivation for the act that determines whether or not it is altruistic. Sure, there is a range of potential motives for every action – but simply because I could be donating money to the Salvation Army because the constant ringing bells make me feel guilty doesn’t mean I am necessarily doing so. I could be donating money purely because I believe it is a worthy cause, thus making the act altruistic.

Granted, determining the motives of another human being is challenging at best … but otherwise we are left with guys like Impenitent painting pictures of Mother Theresa as an evil, selfish witch hellbent on helping others! The nerve!

you are making the assumption here that they are after recognition. this is not necessarily true. it is possible to do something simply for the sake of helping others or simply for the sake of doing it. true, you may get recognition, but this does not mean that it was the reason of the action.

for example, a bodyguard takes the bullet for someone, and dies. yes, he will get recognition, but at the time, i doubt that he jumped in the way of the bullet thinking "i’m gonna be on the news!

What about this viewpoint, quoted from an essay by James Pryor?

Ultimately, it says, everyone always acts for selfish motives. Whenever we do something on purpose, it’s our own purpose that we’re trying to achieve. We’re always pursuing our own ends, and trying to satisfy our own desires. All that any of us are really after in life is getting more pleasant experiences for himself, and avoiding painful ones. Sometimes it may seem that we’re doing things for other people’s sake. For instance, we give money to charity, we buy presents for our children, we make sacrifices to please our spouses. But if you look closer, you’ll see that even in cases like these, we’re still always acting for selfish motives. We only do such things because it makes us feel good and noble to do them, and we like feeling noble. Or we do them because when people we care about are happy, that makes us happy too, and ultimately what we’re after is that happiness for ourselves.

i can agree with that, but this is not the argument.
you are looking on a more subconsciouss level, while what is being discussed is much more conscious. these are our immediate thoughts. altruism & ethical egoism are actions we perform because the outcome is known to us. yes we do these kind acts to feel noble, but we are not thinking, “man am i gonna look cool when i give those kids this money” (or at least most people that give money to charity and such dont think so, i hope)
our immediate thoughts center around the welfare of either ourselves or those that we believe we are doing this for, and that is what ethical egoism and altruism are.

but like i said, i do agree with what you said though :wink:

Imp your so wrong, you just happen to be the kind of person who will never do anything altruistically. that doesnt mean it doesnt happen.

for some reason bums try and talk to me, i think maybe its because i look like the pure stereotypical rich white kid who they hate/envy. i ALWAYS respect the fact that they want to get something off their chest to a rich white kid and i always listen.

it doesnt make me feel big, that happened to its extreme a long time ago. the only thing on my mind is the fact that a person besides me is getting something they want, including some spare change. the only thing that puts that on my mind is the fact that if i were a bum and initiated a conversation with someone, i would be really upset if nobody talked to me.

Imp, there is a problem with you and your kind. You have a problem. that is the result of this argument, your brain is broken. your parents raised you wrong, you went through high school socially wrong. something is wrong with you.

if all altruism was done because people wanted to get to heaven, then yeah youre right, those people are idiots. usefull, but idiots. i dont think thats the way they are, i think people as shallow as that are just fine eating special bread and telling people they believe in jesus.

this is why it is neccesary that god not reveal himself to us in any way. if we know that he exists, then selflessness is impossible, because everybody will be trying to make sure they get on his good side. he has not revealed himself, therefore he either doesnt exist or i am right. and im always right.

thats a good point. but doing good to friends is actually based on the idea that they will do good for your life. nobody becomes friends with a vegetable while they are still in the coma.

doing good to bums and people in africa is completely unrelated, and nobody goes over there expecting to receive anything except for smiles.

Imp if i dont believe god will individually reward me, and i still do anything good while knowing i wont be recognized by anybody i care about, what then? either altruism exists or i am just an idiot lying to myself. spine tingles dont lie. it ambiguously, undescribably feels good to help people try and youll know.

Those acting in what they beleive to be their own best interests should do so in a rational manner…its not just about indulgence, its about watching out for yourself in a way that makes sense to you…and the world will be the judge of how much sense it actually makes in terms of how succesful you are…

As for altruists…they get what they want…it just happens that what they want is the feeling they get from altruistic actions…

Everyone, in the end follows what they have deemed to be the best course of action…some people it works out for, others it doesnt…some people are right, others are wrong…

I have a two things to add to this:

First, without getting into complicated wording, here is an important difference between ethics and desires. You can never do anything you do not desire, and if you desire to do something in your power you have to do it. You are able to do something you consider unethical, however, because of some weakness in your resolve.

Second, an ethical egoist could require the same morals as an altruist, but not necessarily. If it does have the same code, I would not have a problem with it. If it doesn’t, I would.

I think, we are missing one very fundamental principle here; namely that, we are not purely rational beings. We can act solely out of emotion—without any conscious thought or motivation attached—we can act out of pure love or compassion, or sometimes out of spite or anger…

While you focus on the mind, you neglect the mention of the heart.

Sometimes having a rope attached to a whole squad of rockclimbers can get you all killed, other times, this tactic may offer a good chance to snag on the mountain side. There are many, many variables.

You can attempt to plan out an egoists ethics plan for every possible occurrence, if you prove to yourself that somehow its the most correct for your existence. I’d call it a waste of time. It doesn’t rule out impulsive selfless acts. Have you ever been told to think before you act even though you had but a split second to make the best choice? Expectations to make calculated decisions in minute amounts of time, that if followed to completion would take a lengthy period, are ludicrous.

I believe that a person’s happiness, contentment, satisfaction in life depends largely upon interaction with humans, and I’ll be damned, on this Earth, if I have to deal with a perpetual scowl for the rest of my life.

Sometimes that calls for a little social energy expenditure that is productivefor both myself, through a smile and respectful eye contact (maybe), and the other, laughing beneficiary. It sure goes over well in the work place. ‘Bad’ stress decreases markedly while I stress a little good ‘stress’.

Have you read anything about the theory of ‘coevolution’ ?

In an article by Ernst Fehr and Suzann-Viola Renninger featured inScientific American: Mind they state “Our species is apparently the only one with a genetic makeup that promotes selflessness and true altruistic behavior.”

If the conscious choice between ethical egoism and altruism is in fact influenced by an intrinsic behavioral ‘code’ in our DNA, then we have a lot to consider.

But besides that, I’d just like to ask you to define the absolutes of ethical egoism and altruism and then tell me how they apply in reality. I happen to be a selective altruist and moderate at that. With strangers (the kind I may encounter in my daily routine, not the one’s Sally Struthers squeezes out tears for), I usually give them the benefit of the doubt, but with known ‘enemies’ I’m more apt to be practical. I don’t go out of my way. I walk my path and if I happen to share that path with others on ocassion, it might as well be a good time, as long as we’re sharing.

When I have to consider the ocurrence of a bullet directed at a loved one alongside a chance to shield them, it gets a little more confusing. In this situation, the most rational plan I have come up with is to save the stronger and more reliable one of the two. Even if I somehow made the correct, rational decision (and it happened to be a refused martyrdom), would remorse still creep up naturally for me? Would it be different for others?

One other thing, Mother Theresa’s life has been cited as a case for altruism, but I doubt her life was one of torment. Her generosity seems to have come natural for her. I’d be willing to say that Mother Theresa had a more enjoyable and full life than most high-society types can even imagine. Her existence was a blessing whether, purely human or of a supernatural type.

My brother once risked his life by pulling a five year old child out of a riptide. The child was a stranger to him. I can’t see how he did such an act for recognition, since he never sought it afterwards. To say all acts must ultimately be selfish is a rather narrow view of the self. Supposing we have a will in which to act, possessing the choice, assuming that one cannot choose to be selfless is what it sounds to be, an assumption.

no, they get a benefit… it is not altruistic… simple A or ~A logic…


and to assume that some acts are selfless is what it sounds to be, an assumption. (and good for your brother)
but as FM earlier mentioned, “it ambiguously, undescribably feels good to help people” so the act is not selfless… some people shoot herion, some smoke crack, some do good deeds… same “high”


but imp theres a difference between doing an act because it will make you high and doing it because you know somebody else will be happy, and then their happiness causes yours.

if GCTs brother knew that the kid was dead and he was just saving a corpse and nobody would be happy because of his actions, he (probably?) would not have done it. even though he would have appeared to be the same brave hero, and he could have been proud of doing the same action, the fact that he did not create happiness causes there to be no “high”

if everybody went out and got high by helping people, thank the lord. the reason why they got high was because when they did it the first time altruistically, they discovered that making people happy makes you happy. its just not a drug man, thats so cynical.

are you going to help people imp? cause it will make you high. is this a facade or are you really one of those “the glass is an infinite void of empitiness” kinda guys?

and why do you think it makes us high? pure coincidence? some kid was randomly born one day with a genetic mutation that spewed seratonin when he helped people, and this allowed him to get laid more often, even though nice guys, as a rule, dont get laid? what would ockham say…