Word Reference defines altruism as the principle or practice of unselfish concern for the welfare of others. If we go to the Collins Dictionary we will find a very similar definition.
Altruism is a word we have always heard of throughout our life. It is some kind of axiom almost no one dares to discuss. Actually, we do not even think about it. Who on earth could doubt altruism?
However, if we give it a thought, who is really an altruist? Provided that people tend naturally to seek for their own welfare, why would they give that up in order to prioritize their peer’s needs?
In my opinion, nobody does anything for free, not even those who give their lives for the sake of the others. People who, by the way, deserve all kind of praises for their life behaviour. But they get something in return. This may seem to the reader a disruptive line of thinking and it is, indeed. But if you do not listen to Bob Dylan and think twice, maybe you will join me in my conclusions.
Let us take as an example, one of the most worshiped women in History, Mother Teresa. She founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic religious congregation, which run hospices and homes for sick people. Also created soup kitchens, dispensaries and mobile clinics, children’s and family counselling programmes, orphanages and schools.
I take my hat off to her labour. It is amazing what she did and how many people she helped. She was an altruist, was not she? Yes…or maybe not quite. As a profoundly religious person, there is little doubt she found a great happiness by serving her fellows. And, without hesitation, she felt at ease and experienced a great spiritual peace following the command of her god. Moreover, she surely was glad with the idea of going to heaven when she would eventually pass away.
I guess the philosopher Ayn Rand was having analogous thoughts when she published The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism, which is an important pillar of her renowned Objectivist philosophy. She defended that the concept of ‘selfishness’ should not be perceived as a negative behaviour, but as simply «concern with one’s own interests.» The equation of selfishness with evil, Rand said, had caused «the arrested moral development of mankind» and needed to be rejected.
This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes human being’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.
For her, an action was rational if and only if it maximized one’s self-interest. Therefore, she founded irrational and immoral to act against one’s self-interest.
She criticized the basic absolute of self-sacrifice that altruism suggests, because it meant self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial self-destruction–which implies the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.
I do not agree with her there. If you believe in freedom, you should respect human behaviour as long as it does not hurt others. The non-aggression principle opposes to the «initiation» of physical force against persons or property, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons or their property. In contrast to pacifism, the non-aggression principle does not preclude violent self-defense. I would also add non-physical ways of hostility to this equation.
Nevertheless, we must not judge either those who believe that human being good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved at the expense of anyone to anyone. They hold that the rational interests of men do not clash—that there is no conflict of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value.
Is the need of others the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence? Any human being of self-esteem will answer: No. Altruism says: Yes.
The first right on earth is the right of the ego. Human being’s first duty is to himself. His moral law is never to place his prime goal within the persons of others. His moral obligation is to do what he wishes, provided his wish does not depend primarily upon other people.
In the end, all I am saying is no one really does anything without expecting to obtain some kind of profit. This yield may be material or spiritual. And this occurs because they act naturally as human. If you disagree, try to think of something you voluntarily accomplish which does not fills you somehow. I bet you will not find it.