I wish I had high praise for this essay – Philosophy Weekend: The Case Against Egoism.
An egoist may claim that when we do this, we act for our own individual benefit. This may be true, but once we commit to this collective behavior, our concern for our individual benefit begins to vanish. These are the moments when we realize that we have always been more than individual selves. We are collective selves, and the collective sense of self is often just as strong and dominant as the individual sense of self. To stretch the doctrine of egoism to accommodate this phenomenon is to stretch it beyond the point where it retains any meaning.
The doctrine of egoism is both descriptive (as a psychological theory) and prescriptive (as an ethical system). The flaw in the ethical system becomes clear once we consider that the individual is not even the basic unit of any ethical situation. The basic unit, according to our game model, is any individual or group of individuals that acts with intention. The language of ethical philosophy is itself flawed if it does not recognize the primary existence of collective units acting with singular intention, and treats them only at the individual level. Again, the best evidence that this is so is the functional evidence: a computer simulation model that does not assign attributes and aspirations to groups in the same way that it assigns them to individuals would not be able to reproduce lifelike behavior.
There is more at the link and Litkicks has a Kindle book based on the same subject at Amazon. The book – Why Ayn Rand Is Wrong (and Why It Matters)- is selling better than Mitt Romney’s snoozefest. One of their problems is the attempt to distinguish between self, acting solely in one’s own interests, the group and acting in the group’s interest. The line are fuzzy and even in behavior that becomes repetitive – giving a friend a ride – is motivated by shifting feelings. The same goal can be accomplished as a result of many different motivations. Each one may or may not have some benefit for the group. Technically I think psychologists have thrown out the word neurotic to describe certain kinds of behavior. For today we’ll assume it has its old definitions relating to compulsiveness, insecurity, anxiety, unwarranted guilt, general feelings of inadequacy – you can see why it is not helpful as a pure clinical term. In regards why we act the why we do it might be neurotic to always expect people to act with the purest of motivations. If an emergency room doctor treats me quickly because they have dinner date, the results are the same if they do so out of humanitarian reasons. Deeply ingrained psychological issues matter, especially over the long haul of life, but if it is a race than the best results regardless of motivations matter just a little more. This essay is not about the pluses and negatives of egoism, but gets to the benefits, the core fundamentals of the case against egoism-centric, The mathematics of being nice
You say there are five different ways in which we cooperate that give us an edge, in terms of natural selection. Tell me about them.
The first one is called direct reciprocity. This is when individuals have repeated interactions, so if I help you now, you may help me later. There is also indirect reciprocity, which takes place in groups. If I help you, somebody else might see our interaction and conclude that I’m a helpful person, and help me later. That’s a reciprocal process relying on reputation.
The third mechanism is when neighbours help each other – cooperators survive in clusters. This is called spatial selection, and it plays an important role, not only for people but for bacteria, animals and plants. Then there is group selection: it may be that our group of cooperators is better off than another group of defectors: here selection acts on two levels, because in our group there is more cooperation.
Group selection has had a tricky reputation, and has been attacked by evolutionary biologists. Do you think it has now been rehabilitated?
The introduction of the concept of group selection, some 40 years ago, was imprecise. But recent mathematical models explain very clearly when group selection can promote the evolution of cooperation. There must be competition between groups and migration rates should be low.
Unless I’ve lost count, there should be one mechanism left.
The last one is kin selection, which can occur when you help a close relative.
Those interested can read the rest and get into kin selection theory at the link. One of the closely related issues of being nice or rejecting egoism, is the use of punishment. This is another weak area for explaining the virtues of rejecting egoism. Many people think of punishing others as a group benefit. Jane took more than her share of food. Not punishing her will result in other people copying her behavior and it might show that the food owners are weak thus inviting more thief or even greater transgressions. We’re all punishment oriented, but some people especially so. Those people will always claim they must mead out harsh punishment for the good of the group. In reality, studies show they act out of some pretty primitive and selfish need to show supremacy, and often even the need to humiliate and display power to other group members. Despots, gang leaders, organized crime – all big on severe punishment and have little regard for forgiveness. To be clear, there are some good points in the LitKicks essay. Maybe its that I have a neurotic bias towards trying to quantify things as much as I can. This is part of the divide between scientists do philosophy and philosophers who tackle the philosophy of science. The former has the now decades old tendency to want to apply the rigor of physics to studies which do not lead themselves to tidy tangible measurement.
There is one group of people whose motivations are troublesome. People who fairly consistently only do the right thing out of fear. I tend to think they would benefit more from therapy than a philosophy lesson.
File this one away as a good addition to the arguments for regulation, The economic—and other—benefits of regulations
Is it really true, as many claim, that regulations damage the economy and undercut job creation?
First, studies have generally shown that that is not the case. Second, the current Congress essentially has amnesia about recent history. In the past few years, the movement to deregulate contributed to the development of a financial crisis that led to the loss of 8 million jobs, lax regulation substantially increased the likelihood of something like the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster occurring, and the dangers of a weak FDA were underscored by significant incidences of tainted food – from spinach to cookie dough. In these cases, the lack of regulation undermined the economy and particular industries. The potentially positive role that strong regulations can play in stimulating economic growth and a well-functioning economic system should also be considered.
[ ]…What do the criticisms of the high cost of regulations miss?
They miss a couple of things. First and foremost they are usually one-sided: We hear about the cost of the regulations without considering the value of the benefits. A series of studies over the past several decades find that the value of the benefits of regulations has consistently and significantly exceeded their costs. Also, the cost estimates typically made by the government and industry representatives have tended to be significantly overstated. When regulations are implemented they tend to be much less costly and more efficient than expected. In part, that reflects the adaptability of the American economy and the firms in it: Given a new regulation, they go out and spend time coming up with the best technology to respond.
Conservatives, and yes even libertarians are pro regulation, when it benefits their usually myopic narrow goals. The Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act would be an example. It helped increase the fortunes of a few thousand and is partly responsible for the current misery of a few million.