[From Frank Schulwolf]
When dealing with philosophical concepts such as altruism and ethics it is important to understand that they are not floating abstractions that only exist in a void.They are not to be plucked arbitrarily from an a la carte menu in support one’s narrative. They are formed in a context. Concepts come about via a process of differentiation—one which separates similarities from differences within a given area of existents. They are components of a philosophical system.
Philosophical systems are not the exclusive province of philosophers and academics. Philosophy is the organizer of man’s mind, the integrator of his knowledge and ultimately, the selector of his values. Philosophy is the foundation of science and a necessity for rational beings. We all have philosophies—the only questions are whether we know it and whether or not it is correct.
The hallmark of valid philosophical systems is the presentation of a non-contradictory integrated system of thought. This is the basis of all philosophical examination.
The totality of altruism presents a vastly more complex problem than the satisfaction derived from the selection of a proper charity by virtue of its distribution efficiency. Because altruism is often, misleadingly used as a synonym for charity, much as pragmatism and practical are regarded as synonyms, it is important to understand its full implications.
Here is what Wikipedia has to say about altruism. “Altruism in biological organisms can be defined as an individual performing an action which is at a cost to themselves (e.g., pleasure and quality of life, time, probability of survival or reproduction), but benefits, either directly or indirectly, another third-party individual, without the expectation of reciprocity or compensation for that action.”
Altruism is the philosophical doctrine that the right action is that which produces the greatest benefit to others. Does the phrase “greater good” sound familiar?
Altruism corrupts human benevolence by regarding the individual as morally indentured by virtue of their existence, while on the flip side, a recipient holds an implied I.O.U. on the production of others. Another name for this is slave labor.
For free men, charity does not constitute a moral duty. There is nothing wrong with helping others when there is need. It is however, unacceptable as a moral requirement, such as the battle between those who hold that your life belongs to God and those who claim that it belongs to your neighbors. Human good does not hold that human sacrifice from anyone to anyone is required in the name of a moral good. Human life belongs to the individual. Not to a god, nor to the state. The good is to live it productively.
In life, everything is interconnected in some fashion. Sometimes the interconnections are obvious; sometimes they are obscure. Philosophy suffers the burden of being one of the more esoteric of human disciplines, at least as far as the typical man in the street is concerned, and thus its connections to everything else in the world are often more obscure. But the connections between philosophy and everyday life are very direct. Although philosophical ideas are the first in line of men’s ideas, they usually find their way indirectly into everyday life by being processed and displayed in more ostensible forms, such as art, music, architecture, cinema, literature and academic lecture halls devolving subsequently to clichés in barroom dialogues.
The transmission of ideas from philosophical thinkers into the mainstream in the 21st century is even more obscure than in previous times. By virtue of sheer volume social media and other methods of mass communication have not facilitated the process but perhaps added to the obscuration of the process.
A brief review of historically prominent altruist thinkers—contemporaries, all of whom rejected enlightenment thinking:
Comte 1798 - 1857
Altruism from the French altruisme, coined by the French philosopher August Comte. Comte derived it from the Latin word alteri, meaning other people. Comte was a child of the French Revolution and an ardent supporter of Republicanism. He is also known as the father of sociology. What is interesting about Comte is that he rejected religion, the presumed source of altruism, in favor of Republicanism. So here we see the sacrifice of an admittedly controversial moral code for the good of the state, with yet another moral code calling for self sacrifice. From here it is but a short step to authoritarian government.
Kant 1724 - 1804
Kant holds that it is dutiful sacrifice that constitutes a man’s claim to virtue; the welfare of any recipient is morally incidental. Virtue, for Kant, is not the service of an interest—neither of the self nor of God nor of others. (A man can claim moral credit for service to others in this view, not because they benefit, but only insofar as he loses.)
If men lived the sort of life Kant demands, who would gain from it? No one. The concept of “gain” has been expunged from morality.
Here on full display is the essence and climax of the ethics of self-sacrifice, finally, after two thousand years, come to full, philosophic expression in the Western world: your interests—including the interest in being moral—are a mark of moral imperfection because they are interests. Your desires, regardless of their content, deserve no respect because they are desires. Do your duty, which is yours because you have desires, and which is sublime because, unadulterated by the stigma of any gain, it shines forth unsullied, in loss, pain, conflict, torture. Sacrifice the thing you want, without beneficiaries, supernatural or social; sacrifice your values, your self-interest, your happiness, your self, because they are your values, your self-interest, your happiness, your self; sacrifice them to morality, i.e., to the noumenal dimension, i.e., to nothing knowable or conceivable to man, i.e., as far as man living on this earth is concerned, to nothing.
The moral commandment is: sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice. Sacrifice being an end in itself.
Fichte 1762 - 1814
Fichte, who always came out on the side of subjectivity, argued man is morally the property of others—of those others it is his duty to serve. As such, a man has no moral right to refuse to make the requisite sacrifices for others. If he attempts it, he is depriving men of what is properly theirs, he is violating men’s rights, their right to his service—and it is, therefore, an assertion of morality if others intervene forcibly and compel him to fulfill his obligations. “Social justice” in this view not only allows but demands the use of force against the non-sacrificial individual.
Hegel 1770 - 1831
War, Hegel opined, is a “positive moment” wherein the state asserts itself as an individual, establishing its rights and interests. Sacrifice on behalf of the ‘individuality’ of the state is the “substantial tie between the state and its members—and so is a universal duty.” The state—as actualized freedom and the progress of Spirit itself—provides a greater source of meaning than civil society.”
Observe the contradictions in the above. As products of the Age of Enlightenment, the authors of The Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights and The Federalist Papers clearly understood the principles involved. States are made up of individuals. A state is not an individual, rather it is a collection of individuals. A state as such, has no rights. It is solely an individual who may possess rights. The only legitimate function of the state is the protection of those rights. It is their purpose in being.
Comte was not the first to sound the clarion call to self sacrifice. Plato preceded him by some 2300 years, after that Thomas More and Immanuel Kant. Others would follow—Hegel, Heidegger, Fichte, Marx and Hitler to name just a few. Think of them as the pathfinders, the facilitators, for it was their ideas that formed the rationale. It was their “intellectual prowess’ that put the stamp of respectability on madness.
The moral good is an ethical determination. According to the philosophies du jour, an objective ethical determination, one based in principle, we are told, is beyond our reach, because objective truths do not exist. They cannot exist because what is good for you may not be good for me, i.e.,there are no absolutes. Flying a false flag of reason, Comte’s Logical Positivism, carried it farther by proclaiming that knowledge consists of linguistic manipulations. Thus unlocking the magical backdoor through which postmodernism hopes to gain entry into the world of thinking. To those who prefer the visceral, more intellectually slothful approach it is at once the triumph of feelings over reason and a golden egg.
When in search of the ethical, those who choose to think soon recognize that it is impossible to do so without established principles. Principles in turn require the ability to abstract. Without abstractions we soon find ourselves hopelessly mired in the concrete, unable to proceed.
Principles are value based, general truths upon which other truths depend. Thus a principle is an abstraction made up of a number of concretes. It is only by means of principles that it is possible to establish one’s long-range goals and evaluate the concrete alternatives.
Without principles it is impossible to formulate consistant ethical decisions. It is under these circumstances that we encounter such abberations as situational ethics.
The present state of our ethics speaks eloquently to the extent to which principles have vanished from public discourse, reducing our cultural atmosphere to that of the petty and the vulgar.