Tuesday, January 06, 2015
Following a link in a recent news story, I came upon an interesting
notion that has been making the rounds in academia: pathological
altruism. James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal sums it
up as follows:
[Barbara] Oakley defines pathological altruism as "altruism in which attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm." A crucial qualification is that while the altruistic actor fails to anticipate the harm, "an external observer would conclude [that it] was reasonably foreseeable." Thus, she explains, if you offer to help a friend move, then accidentally break an expensive item, your altruism probably isn't pathological; whereas if your brother is addicted to painkillers and you help him obtain them, it is.This is an interesting idea, but it is already in trouble, since there can be many reasons outside the ethics of altruism for helping others, such as friends. More precision is needed for such work to realize its full potential, and Ayn Rand's clarity regarding the nature of altruism would be quite helpful in that regard:
What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.One can see here that, while individual acts of altruism may or may not harm the recipient, they always harm the donor to some degree, and are always pathological in that sense.
Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice -- which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction -- which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.
Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: "No." Altruism says: "Yes."
While I am glad to the altruistic academic establishment waking up to the potential their creed has for destruction, I must add that, to mimic the style of academia, more work is needed.
Today: Corrected some typos.