Rational self-interest

apple-88x50Stephen Hicks discusses Ayn Rand’s ethical theory. This is from Part 12 of his Philosophy of Education course.


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Altruism’s solution: selflessness, sacrifice, lose/win service to others

apple-88x50Stephen Hicks here discusses altruism’s solution to the Myth of Gyges. This is from Part 5 of Professor Hicks’s Philosophy of Education course.

Clips 1-2:

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The Three Ethics Options Chart

apple-88x50Here Professor Hicks develops a three-dimensional chart to contrast egoism, altruism, and predation. This is from Part 5 of his Philosophy of Education course.

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Egoism in Nietzsche and Rand

jars10_2cover-150x229My “Egoism in Nietzsche and Rand” has come out in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. Here is the abstract for my 43-page study:

“Philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand are often identified as strong critics of altruism and arch advocates of egoism. In this essay, Stephen Hicks argues that Nietzsche and Rand have much in common in their critiques of altruism but almost nothing in common in their views on egoism.”

In the same issue, Professor Lester Hunt has a commentary on my essay and an independent reading of Nietzsche that is very valuable.

This entire issue of JARS is a symposium devoted to essays comparing Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand. I haven’t read the other contributions yet, but it looks like a lively set.

Toohey’s five strategies of altruism [repost]

[We are reading The Fountainhead this week in my Introduction to Philosophy course, so this is a re-post for new readers this semester.]

The ethics of altruism holds that others are the standard of value. One is good to the extent one puts the interests of other first, acts to achieve their interests, and when necessary, sacrifices one’s interests for their sake.

fountainhead-50x83In The Fountainhead, Ellsworth Toohey is the major strategist of altruism, and in my reading he uses five distinct variants of altruism to achieve his ends:

(1) Altruism as a policy of collectivism for the purpose of mutual self support;

(2) Altruism as a tactic of the weak to protect themselves against the strong;

(3) Altruism as a tactic of the weak to get support from the strong;

(4) Altruism as a strategy of the weak to get power over the strong in order to rule them; and

(5) Altruism as a strategy by the weak to destroy the strong out of envy, hatred, or revenge.

History provides many examples of Type 1 altruism, in, for example, religious communities that isolate themselves and live communally. The key organizing concepts of such communities are collective assets, solidarity, and conformity.

In The Fountainhead, Type 1 is combined with Type 2 in the official philosophy Ellsworth Toohey uses when preaching to the masses — for example in his speech to the strikers of the building-trades union (I:9). The key concepts in Toohey’s speech are unity and brotherhood for its own sake, on the one hand; and on the other the aggression of the owners and the consequent role of unions as a self-protection agency to fight back.

Type 3 altruism appears less in The Fountainhead, e.g., in the tactics Keating’s mother uses to live vicariously, both psychologically and — later in the novel — materially, through him. (Type 3 is much more developed in Atlas Shrugged, e.g., in the strategy that Rearden’s mother and brother pursue to ensure that he will continue to support them.)

Type 4 altruism is the altruism of power-lust. One sub-plot of The Fountainhead is the battle between Gail Wynand and Toohey. Wynand pursues the common “master” power strategy of physical wealth and intimidation (e.g., of his business competitors), while Toohey’s strategy is to use psychological power. An example from late in the novel when Toohey explains his philosophy to Peter Keating, who is now an empty shell of a man:

“It’s only a matter of discovering the lever. If you learn how to rule one single man’s soul, you can get the rest of mankind. It’s the soul, Peter, the soul. Not whips or swords or fire or guns. That’s why the Caesars, the Attilas, the Napoleons were fools and did not last. We will. The soul, Peter, is that which can’t be ruled. It must be broken” (4:14).

Toohey’s particular tactics to achieve the strategy are designed to make the strong doubt themselves. Toohey elaborates in detail:

“There are many ways. Here’s one. Make man feel small. Make him feel guilty. Kill his aspiration and his integrity. . . . Preach selflessness. Tell man that he must live for others. Tell man that altruism is the ideal. Not a single one of them has ever achieved it and not a single one ever will. His every living instinct screams against it. But don’t you see what you accomplish? Man realizes that he’s incapable of what he’s accepted as the noblest virtue — and it gives him a sense of guilt, of sin, of his own basic unworthiness” (4:14).

Guilty individuals are weakened and much easier to manipulate and rule.

Type 5 altruism is the most disturbing case of altruism. Type 4 altruism is about achieving power in order to rule, but ruling is still a positive goal. Type 5 is about getting power as a means purely to destroy. Rand clearly sees it operative, but many readers wonder whether she exaggerates her enemies’ positions.

Rand provides many examples of Type 5 altruism in Atlas, especially in the characters Lillian Rearden and James Taggart. But it was first made explicit by Toohey when he explained to Keating the real purpose behind his communal organizing, his writings critical of individuality, and his promotion of mediocrities. When Keating whinily asks him what he really wants, Toohey snaps: “Howard Roark’s neck” — and then elaborates: “I don’t want to kill him. I want him in jail. You understand? In jail. In a cell. Behind bars. Locked, stopped, strapped — and alive” (4:13). Toohey has no positive goal: he only wants to destroy an outstanding man.

Toohey is a fictional character, so his words alone don’t have much evidentiary status. But plenty of real-life individuals give us the evidence we need to see Rand’s point:

augustine-50x68St. Augustine included the spectacle of Hell as one of the viewing pleasures for those in Heaven: “the good go out to see the punishment of the wicked . . . so as to witness the torments of the wicked in their bodily presence” (“The Saints’ Knowledge of the Punishment of the Wicked,” 426 CE).

Church father Tertullian exulted over his imagined destruction of the world and the torments of kings, philosophers, poets, and athletes in Hell:

tertullian-50x63“that last day of judgment, with its everlasting issues; that day unlooked for by the nations, the theme of their derision, when the world hoary with age, and all its many products, shall be consumed in one great flame! How vast a spectacle then bursts upon the eye! What there excites my admiration? What my derision? Which sight gives me joy? Which rouses me to exultation?—as I see so many illustrious monarchs, whose reception into the heavens was publicly announced, groaning now in the lowest darkness with great Jove himself, and those, too, who bore witness of their exultation; governors of provinces, too, who persecuted the Christian name, in fires more fierce than those with which in the days of their pride they raged against the followers of Christ. What world’s wise men besides, the very philosophers, in fact, who taught their followers that God had no concern in aught that is sublunary, and were wont to assure them that either they had no souls, or that they would never return to the bodies which at death they had left, now covered with shame before the poor deluded ones, as one fire consumes them! Poets also, trembling not before the judgment-seat of Rhadamanthus or Minos, but of the unexpected Christ! I shall have a better opportunity then of hearing the tragedians, louder voiced in their own calamity; of viewing the play-actors, much more ‘dissolute’ in the dissolving flame; of looking upon the charioteer, all glowing in his chariot of fire; of beholding the wrestlers, not in their gymnasia, but tossing in the fiery billows …” (De Spectaculis, written 197–200 CE).

aquinas50x69St. Thomas Aquinas echoed Augustine: “In order that the bliss of the saints may be more delightful for them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, it is given to them to see perfectly the punishment of the damned” (Summa Theologica, Supplement, Q. 94, Articles 1 and 3; written 1265–1274 CE).

And American “Great Awakening” leader, Jonathan Edwards gave a 1739 sermon entitled “The Eternity of Hell Torments” with the following disturbing affirmation:

edwards-jonathan-50x57“The sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever.” And: “Can the believing husband in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving wife in Hell? Can the believing father in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving children in Hell? Can the loving wife be happy in Heaven with her unbelieving husband in Hell? I tell you, yea! Such will be their sense of justice that it will increase rather than decrease their bliss.”

So Toohey is in “good” company, so to speak.

In a forthcoming journal article, “Egoism in Nietzsche and Rand” [pdf], I discuss these five strategies from The Fountainhead in fuller detail, Rand’s use of them in Atlas Shrugged, and I make connections and contrasts to Friedrich Nietzsche’s earlier harsh critique of altruism. The article is to be published in the next issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (Volume 10, Number 2).

[Update: “Egoism in Nietzsche and Rand” [pdf] was published in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 10:2, Spring 2009, 249-291.]

Idealism, not politics as usual [Section 11 of Nietzsche and the Nazis]

[This is Section 11 of Nietzsche and the Nazis.]

11. Idealism, not politics as usual

It is important to emphasize that the Nazis put their program forward forthrightly and as a noble—even spiritual—ideal to achieve. They promised not merely another political platform, but a whole philosophy of life that, as they and their followers believed, promised renewal. And they called upon Germans to exercise the highest virtues of altruism and self-sacrifice for the good of society to bring about that renewal.

Program point 10 urges individuals to put the common good of Germany before their self interest. Point 24 repeats it. Hitler and Goebbels repeatedly urge Nazism as a spiritual and ideal vision in contrast to the usual power-grubbing politics of the day.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler insisted that “All force which does not spring from a firm spiritual foundation will be hesitating and uncertain. It lacks the stability which can only rest on a fanatical view of life.”[22]

He called upon individuals not to be egoistic but be willing to sacrifice: “the preservation of the existence of a species presupposes a spirit of sacrifice in the individual.”[23]

michael-100pxIn Goebbels’s autobiographical novel, Michael, a book that sold out of seventeen editions, the leading character is explicitly likened to Jesus Christ: Michael is the ‘Christ-socialist’ who sacrifices himself out of love for mankind—and Goebbels urges that noble Germans be willing to do the same.[24] A widely-used Nazi poster featured a religiously spiritual figure with its arm encircling a young Nazi soldier.

Hitler regularly praised Germans for their spirit of altruism: “this state of mind, which subordinates the interests of the ego to the conservation of the community, is really the first premise for every truly human culture.”[25] Altruism, he believed, is a trait more pronounced in Germans than in any other culture, which is why he claimed to be so optimistic about Germany’s future.

This message of National Socialism as a moral ideal and a spiritual crusade was appealing to many, many Germans—and especially the young. By 1925 the party membership in the north was mostly young: two-thirds of the members were under thirty years of age, and in a few years the Nazis had attracted a large following among university students.

Goebbels especially called out to the idealistic young to be the heart of the Nazi future in Germany:

“The old ones don’t even want to understand that we young people even exist. They defend their power to the last. But one day they will be defeated after all. Youth finally must be victorious. We young ones, we shall attack. The attacker is always stronger than the defender. If we free ourselves, we can also liberate the whole working class. And the liberated working class will release the Fatherland from its chains.”[26]

References

[22] Hitler 1925, p. 222.

[23] Hitler 1925, p. 151.

[24] Goebbels 1929, in Mosse ed., 1966, p. 108.

[25] Hitler 1925, 298. Hitler distinguishes altruism from “egoism and selfishness” and also labels it “Idealism. By this we understand only the individual’s capacity to make sacrifices for the community” (1925, p. 28). Egoism and the pursuit of happiness he sees as the great threat: “As soon as egoism becomes the ruler of a people, the bonds of order are loosened and in the chase after their own happiness men fall from heaven into a real hell” (1925, p. 300).

[26] Goebbels 1929, p. 111.

[Bibliography.]

[Return to the Nietzsche and the Nazis page. Go to the StephenHicks.org main page.]

Toohey’s five strategies of altruism

The ethics of altruism holds that others are the standard of value. One is good to the extent one puts the interests of other first, acts to achieve their interests, and, when necessary, sacrifices one’s interests for their sake.

fountainhead-50x83In The Fountainhead, Ellsworth Toohey is the major strategist of altruism, and in my reading he uses five distinct variants of altruism to achieve his ends:

(1) Altruism as a policy of collectivism for the purpose of mutual self support;

(2) Altruism as a tactic of the weak to protect themselves against the strong;

(3) Altruism as a tactic of the weak to get support from the strong;

(4) Altruism as a strategy of the weak to get power over the strong in order to rule them; and

(5) Altruism as a strategy by the weak to destroy the strong out of envy, hatred, or revenge.

History provides many examples of Type 1 altruism, in, for example, religious communities that isolate themselves and live communally. The key organizing concepts of such communities are collective assets, solidarity, and conformity.

In The Fountainhead, Type 1 is combined with Type 2 in the official philosophy Ellsworth Toohey uses when preaching to the masses — for example in his speech to the strikers of the building-trades union (I:9). The key concepts in Toohey’s speech are unity and brotherhood for its own sake, on the one hand; and on the other the aggression of the owners and the consequent role of unions as a self-protection agency to fight back.

Type 3 altruism appears less in The Fountainhead, e.g., in the tactics Keating’s mother uses to live vicariously, both psychologically and — later in the novel — materially, through him. (It is much more developed in Atlas Shrugged, e.g., in the strategy that Rearden’s mother and brother pursue to ensure that he will continue to support them.)

Type 4 altruism is the altruism of power-lust. One sub-plot of The Fountainhead is the battle between Gail Wynand and Toohey. Wynand pursues the common “master” power strategy of physical wealth and intimidation (e.g., of his business competitors), while Toohey’s strategy is to use psychological power. An example from late in the novel when Toohey explains his philosophy to Peter Keating, who is now an empty shell of a man:

“It’s only a matter of discovering the lever. If you learn how to rule one single man’s soul, you can get the rest of mankind. It’s the soul, Peter, the soul. Not whips or swords or fire or guns. That’s why the Caesars, the Attilas, the Napoleons were fools and did not last. We will. The soul, Peter, is that which can’t be ruled. It must be broken” (4:14).

Toohey’s particular tactics to achieve the strategy are designed to make the strong doubt themselves. Toohey elaborates in detail:

“There are many ways. Here’s one. Make man feel small. Make him feel guilty. Kill his aspiration and his integrity. . . . Preach selflessness. Tell man that he must live for others. Tell man that altruism is the ideal. Not a single one of them has ever achieved it and not a single one ever will. His every living instinct screams against it. But don’t you see what you accomplish? Man realizes that he’s incapable of what he’s accepted as the noblest virtue — and it gives him a sense of guilt, of sin, of his own basic unworthiness” (4:14).

Guilty individuals are weakened and much easier to manipulate and rule.

Type 5 altruism is the most disturbing case of altruism. Type 4 altruism is about achieving power in order to rule, but ruling is still a positive goal. Type 5 is about getting power as a means purely to destroy. Rand clearly sees it operative, but many readers wonder whether she exaggerates her enemies’ positions.

Rand provides many examples of Type 5 altruism in Atlas, especially in the characters Lillian Rearden and James Taggart. But it was first made explicit by Toohey when he explained to Keating the real purpose behind his communal organizing, his writings critical of individuality, and his promotion of mediocrities. When Keating whinily asks him what he really wants, Toohey snaps: “Howard Roark’s neck” — and then elaborates: “I don’t want to kill him. I want him in jail. You understand? In jail. In a cell. Behind bars. Locked, stopped, strapped — and alive” (4:13). Toohey has no positive goal: he only wants to destroy an outstanding man.

Toohey is a fictional character, so his words alone don’t have much evidentiary status. But plenty of real-life individuals give us the evidence we need to see Rand’s point:

augustine-50x68St. Augustine included the spectacle of Hell as one of the viewing pleasures for those in Heaven: “the good go out to see the punishment of the wicked . . . so as to witness the torments of the wicked in their bodily presence” (“The Saints’ Knowledge of the Punishment of the Wicked,” 426 CE).

Church father Tertullian exulted over his imagined destruction of the world and the torments of kings, philosophers, poets, and athletes in Hell:

tertullian-50x63“that last day of judgment, with its everlasting issues; that day unlooked for by the nations, the theme of their derision, when the world hoary with age, and all its many products, shall be consumed in one great flame! How vast a spectacle then bursts upon the eye! What there excites my admiration? What my derision? Which sight gives me joy? Which rouses me to exultation?—as I see so many illustrious monarchs, whose reception into the heavens was publicly announced, groaning now in the lowest darkness with great Jove himself, and those, too, who bore witness of their exultation; governors of provinces, too, who persecuted the Christian name, in fires more fierce than those with which in the days of their pride they raged against the followers of Christ. What world’s wise men besides, the very philosophers, in fact, who taught their followers that God had no concern in aught that is sublunary, and were wont to assure them that either they had no souls, or that they would never return to the bodies which at death they had left, now covered with shame before the poor deluded ones, as one fire consumes them! Poets also, trembling not before the judgment-seat of Rhadamanthus or Minos, but of the unexpected Christ! I shall have a better opportunity then of hearing the tragedians, louder voiced in their own calamity; of viewing the play-actors, much more ‘dissolute’ in the dissolving flame; of looking upon the charioteer, all glowing in his chariot of fire; of beholding the wrestlers, not in their gymnasia, but tossing in the fiery billows …” (De Spectaculis, written 197–200 CE).

aquinas50x69St. Thomas Aquinas echoed Augustine: “In order that the bliss of the saints may be more delightful for them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, it is given to them to see perfectly the punishment of the damned” (Summa Theologica, Supplement, Q. 94, Articles 1 and 3; written 1265–1274 CE).

And American “Great Awakening” leader, Jonathan Edwards gave a 1739 sermon entitled “The Eternity of Hell Torments” with the following disturbing affirmation:

edwards-jonathan-50x57“The sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever.” And: “Can the believing husband in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving wife in Hell? Can the believing father in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving children in Hell? Can the loving wife be happy in Heaven with her unbelieving husband in Hell? I tell you, yea! Such will be their sense of justice that it will increase rather than decrease their bliss.”

So Toohey is in “good” company, so to speak.

In a forthcoming journal article, “Egoism in Nietzsche and Rand,” I discuss these five strategies from The Fountainhead in fuller detail, Rand’s use of them in Atlas Shrugged, and I make connections and contrasts to Friedrich Nietzsche’s earlier harsh critique of altruism. The article is to be published in the next issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (Volume 10, Number 2).

[Update: “Egoism in Nietzsche and Rand” [pdf] was published in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 10:2, Spring 2009, 249-291.]

The four healthcare debates

caduceus-101x100 Like many of you, I am engaged with thinking through the healthcare proposals and debates and am occasionally frustrated with the scattered focus and the talking past the other guy’s position. So, as a start, I propose a clarification of the questions involved.

As I see it, the overall healthcare discussion is a four-dimensional debate:

1. Ethics: Is health primarily an individual self-responsibility or a collective responsibility? Should I see myself as responsible for my own health decisions and finances, or should we all see ourselves as mutually responsible for our health decisions and finances? This is the debate between the individualist-self-responsibility-egoist axis and the communitarian-collective-responsibility-altruist axis.

2. Civil society: What is the power of voluntary, decentralized institutions such as for-profit physicians, hospitals, and insurance companies and non-profit institutions such as the United Way, the Red Cross, charity hospitals, volunteers and pro bono professionals? Are they sufficient to supply our health care needs, with particular focus on the needs of those who are poorer or less capable? This is the debate between the optimists and the pessimists about the power of voluntary civil society.

3. Politics: What is the proper use of government as a centralized, compulsory institution? Is its role properly limited to protecting our lives, liberties, and property, or is its role properly expanded to include the provision of key values such as health care? This is the debate between the libertarians at one end of the political spectrum and the socialists at the other end.

4. Economics: For any health delivery system, how absolutely and comparably effective will it be at delivering quality, quantity, and innovation in health? This is the debate between those who argue that free markets deliver those goods better and those who argue that governments do.

And some follow-up questions:

Are these the four main issues?
Are there important sub-issues that should be highlighted?
Which of the four is/are most controversial?
Which of the four is/are actually driving the current debates over health care?