Share
Explore BrainMass

Altruism and Selfishness

In her book, The Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand makes the following claim, "If the [drowning] person to be saved is a stranger, it is morally proper to save him only when the danger to one's own life is minimal; when the danger is great, it would be immoral to attempt it. Conversely, if one is drowning, one cannot expect a stranger to risk his life for one's sake, remembering that one's life cannot be as valuable to him as his own."

1. Do you believe that there are any moral (ethical) obligations that you have to other people (friends, family, acquaintances, or strangers) that are not based on your own perceived self-interest?
2. If so, what are these moral (ethical) obligations and what are they based on?
3. If not, does it follow that you do a kind of personal cost-benefit analysis every time you are required to make a decision about what to do or not do? (Notice that an affirmative answer to this question seems to undermine any possibility of genuinely altruistic actions.)
4. If this is what you do, explain the kind of reasoning process that you go through. Can friendships and loving relations be genuine if they are based only on perceived self-interest?
Your initial post should provide a clear explanation for the difference between actions based on perceived self-interest and actions based on something other than perceived self-interest and should define altruism and altruistic behavior.

Reference
Rand, A. (1964). The virtue of selfishness. New York, NY: Signet.

Solution Preview

Dear student,

Altruism and selfishness are important concepts in moral philosophy and represent two distinct values that can be used to guide our actions. I have given a response to each of the questions plus and introductory paragraph on what the difference is between actions based on perceived self-interest and those not based on perceived self interest. I encourage you to read these carefully and expand on these ideas, and of course to augment what I have here, with your own thoughts.

I hope my responses are of use, and I wish you every success in your studies and for a continued interest in philosophy.

Regards
Anita (OTA)

------------------------------------------------

Difference between altruism and selfishness.

In her book, The Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand makes the following claim,
"If the [drowning] person to be saved is a stranger, it is morally proper to save him only when the danger to one's own life is minimal; when the danger is great, it would be immoral to attempt it. Conversely, if one is drowning, one cannot expect a stranger to risk his life for one's sake, remembering that one's life cannot be as valuable to him as his own."
Rand, A. (1964). The virtue of selfishness. New York, NY: Signet.

The above quote is denying that we have a moral obligation to save another person's life if our won life would depend on it. Indeed what Rand is telling us, is that it would be immoral (in breach of our moral obligation not to act) if we were even to attempt it. In other words, it would be wrong if we were to attempt saving another person's life, if own life was then in danger. This kind of moral reasoning is based on self-interest - that my interests are more important than yours, and I ought not act contrary to my own interests - in other words, I ...

Solution Summary

The solution provides insight and advise in tackling the question set (4 items) on altruism and selfishness (see above) based on the work of Ayn Rand.

$2.19