Altruism

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment. Life's most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?

The very core of peace and love is imagination. All altruism springs from putting yourself in the other person's place.

If the meaning of life is not a mystery, if leading meaningful lives is within the power of all of us, then we do not need to ask the question `What’s it all about?’ in despair. We can look around us and see the many ways in which life can be meaningful. We can see the value of happiness while accepting that it is not everything, which will make it easier for us at those times when it eludes us. We can learn to appreciate the pleasure of life without becoming slaves to appetites which can never be satisfied. We can see the value of success, while not interpreting that too narrowly, so that we can appreciate the project of striving to become what we want to be as well as the more visible, public signs of success. We can see the value of seizing the day, without leading us into a desperate scramble to grasp the ungraspable moment. We can appreciate the value in helping others lead meaningful lives, too, without thinking that altruism demands everything we have. And finally, we can recognize the value of love, as perhaps the most powerful motivator to do anything at all.

The recognition of the fragility of human life and all in it, as well as the ever-present possibility of tragedy, is essential to understanding the role of love in the meaningful life… Altruism cannot be motivated by pure reason alone. The desire to do good is rooted not in reason but in the varieties of love: the love for a partner, familial love or a kind of general love or fellow feeling for others. Without such love, all the rational reasons in the world would not motivate us to do good.

To see altruism itself as the purpose of human life is confuse means and ends. We need to know whether good deeds are essential for life to be meaningful or whether they just comprise one possible road to fulfillment. Helping others cannot be the purpose of life, because helping others is just a means to an end… Altruism is thus not the source of life’s meaning but is something that living a meaningful life requires.

There are three basic types of human transactions: (1) the threat system – “Give it to me or I’ll kill you” or today’s more sophisticated version: “How much will you pay me to stop harming or annoying you?”… (2) the exchange system, the narrow waveband of market transactions with which economics concerns itself, and (3) the integrative system, i.e., the transactions based on the love, sharing, and altruism of which human beings are capable in spite of the denial of these phenomena in economic theory.

Altruism declares that any action taken for the benefit of others is good, and any action taken for one's own benefit is evil. Thus the beneficiary of an action is the only criterion of moral value - and so long as that beneficiary is anybody other than oneself, anything goes.

If it is true that what I mean by “selfishness” is not what is meant conventionally, then this is one of the worst indictments of altruism: it means that altruism permits no concept of a self-respecting, self-supporting man - a man who supports his life by his own effort and neither sacrifices himself nor others. It means that altruism permits no view of men except as sacrificial animals and profiteers-on-sacrifice, as victims and parasites - that it permits no concept of a benevolent coexistence among men - that it permits no concept of justice.

Altruism declares that any action taken for the benefit of others is good, and any action taken for one's own benefit is evil. Thus the beneficiary of an action is the only criterion of moral value -- and so long as that beneficiary is anybody other than oneself, anything goes.

Beware of an inordinate desire for wealth. Nothing is so revealing of narrowness and littleness of soul than love for money. Conversely, there is nothing more honorable or noble than indifference to money, if one doesn’t have any; or than genuine altruism and well-doing if one does have it.

To talk about the need for perfection in man is to talk about the need for another species. The essence of man is imperfection. Imperfection and blazing contradictions - between mixed good and evil, altruism and selfishness, co-operativeness and combativeness, optimism and fatalism, affirmation and negation.

If we want to know what happiness is we must seek it, not as if it were a part of gold at the end of the rainbow, but among human beings who are living richly and fully the good life. If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double Dahlias in his garden. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar gold button that has rolled under the cupboard in his bed room. He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living 24 crowded hours of the day. If you live only for yourself you are always an immediate danger of being bored to death with the repetition of your own views and interests. No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellowmen. If your ambition has the momentum of an express train at full speed, if you can no longer stop your mad rush for glory, power, or intellectual supremacy, try to divert your energies into socially useful channels before it is too late.
For those who seek the larger happiness and greater effectiveness open to human beings there can be but one philosophy of life, a philosophy of constructive altruism. The truly happy man is always a fighting optimist. Optimism includes not only altruism but also social responsibility, social courage and objectivity. The good life demands a working philosophy as an orientating map of conduct. This is the golden way of life. This is the satisfying life. This is the way to be happy though human.

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.

The beginnings of altruism can be seen in children as early as the age of two. How then can we be so concerned that they count by the age of three, read by four, and walk with their hands across the overhead parallel bars by five, and not be concerned that they act with kindness to others?

Animal Liberation will require greater altruism on the part of human beings than any other liberation movement. The animals themselves are incapable of demanding their own liberation, or of protesting against their condition with votes, demonstrations, or boycotts. Human beings have the power to continue to oppress other species forever, or until we make this planet unsuitable for living beings. Will our tyranny continue, proving that morality counts for nothing when it clashes with self-interest, as the most cynical of poets and philosophers have always said? Or will we rise to the challenge and prove our capacity for genuine altruism by ending our ruthless exploitation of the species in our power, not because we are forced to do so by rebels and terrorists, but because we recognize that our position is morally indefensible?

A child who has been breast-fed for nine months and no longer wants to drink from the breast does not have to be taught to give it up. And a child who has been allowed to be egoistic, greedy, and asocial long enough will develop spontaneous pleasure in sharing and giving. But a child trained in accordance with his parents' needs may never experience this pleasure, even while he gives and shares in a dutiful and exemplary way, and suffers because others are not as good as he is. Adults who were so brought up will try to teach their children this same altruism as early as possible.

A gene might be able to assist replicas of itself that are sitting in other bodies. If so, this would appear as individual altruism but it would be brought about by gene selfishness.

Are there any plausible ways in which genes might 'recognize' their copies in other individuals.'? The answer is yes. It is easy to show that close relatives--kin--have a greater than average chance of sharing genes. It has long been clear that this is why altruism by parents towards their young is so common.

What is the selfish gene? It is not just one single physical bit of DNA. Just as in the primeval soup, it is all replicas of a particular bit of DNA, distributed throughout the world. If we allow ourselves the license of talking about genes as if they had conscious aims, always reassuring ourselves that we could translate our sloppy language back into respectable terms if we wanted to, we can ask the question, what is a single selfish gene trying to do? It is trying to get more numerous in the gene pool. Basically it does this by helping to Program the bodies in which it finds itself to survive and to reproduce. But now we are emphasizing that 'it' is a distributed agency, existing in many different individuals at once. The key point of this chapter is that a gene might be able to assist replicas of itself that are sitting in other bodies. If so, this would appear as individual altruism but it would be brought about by gene selfishness. it still seems rather implausible.

A gene might be able to assist replicas of itself that are sitting in other bodies. If so, this would appear as individual altruism but it would be brought about by gene selfishness.