Saturday, October 24, 2009

Altruism, Why Is This a Virtue?

Why is altruism a virtue? Defined as the act of doing for others when no reward is apparent. This idea is not just silly, it's damaging. Its effect on us all is recidivistic.

Inherent to the definition is that altruistic acts have no reward. If an elderly woman drops an object and I help her pick it up, have I suffered loss? Have I lost value to myself only to help her out? Can I not be motivated by joy? Can I love my neighbor, not out of moral compulsion, but because the act itself is inextricably linked to the reward of joy? If we continue to obsess that there is no reward then we kill the motivation to love. Altruism is a cancer.

What about heroism? Can we not be devoted to people, to a cause, with such euphoric passion that danger fades as a pressing concern? An idea can be more valuable than our lives. Why have we deified death as the ultimate arbiter of our actions? Remember that great man from history who changed the world because he made certain of his safety at all times? Of course not. The opposite of danger is not safety, it's boredom. Why would we discourage heroism by claiming it has no reward?

Altruism is a sham, and it blinds us to the possibilities of the human experience.


Storm Jingram said...

This is a very insightful post, and not obvious to most. I encourage you to elaborate on this very very important point. Impressive.

Brian Phillips said...

While I agree that altruism is a sham, I don't agree with your definition. Auguste Comte, who coined the term, defined altruism as placing the welfare of others above one's own welfare.

Altruism does not mean being kind to others; it means sacrificing one's own values for the benefit of others.

Brian Shelley said...


Thanks. I'll read the link.

I have a nasty habit of using the common vernacular instead of precise definitions don't I? Keeping me on my toes.