jvanhaaften

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It’s Supposed To Feel Like This: 8 emotional challenges of altruism

I thought this was a really great post! I think giving because “it is the right thing to do” works in the short run but not in the long run.

I firmly believe that there is no such thing as true altruism ( to act in selflessness and disinterest).

If you will, allow an assumption inspired by neoclassical economic theory that rational people act in their own self interest. Well, if I am rational (as I would like to believe) then I would not give unless it benefits me in some way. And I would also not trust someone who tells me they give selflessly because that would mean (s)he is not a rational person.

And if you entertain these ideas, it leaves one with an extremley uncomfortable question. If I want to give -and I am a rational person, what is it then that I am getting in return for giving?

I think that it is extremely important for effective altruists to understand what they get in return for giving. It is even dangerous to say that we should give because it is “the right thing to do” for the following reasons:

  1. Selflessness is a vulnerable motive. A person who gives because it is the “right thing to do” may truly have these “good” intentions. But if self interest is not involved, how long will selflessness last?

  2. Selflessness is a cover for ulterior preferences. Efficiency is met when full preferences are expressed. If a person acts selflessly without preferences how can we have confidence that effective solutions are being met and that the selfless agent does not have hidden preferences?

There are so many ways that giving effectively serves our self interests. For example, I am inspired by cures for diseases. And I would like to see as many diseases cured as possible in my lifetime. So, I wonder, what if every human has the capacity and surplus energy to put towards finding cures? That is one reason I want to help end global poverty. And because I have expressed self interest, I think people can trust my motives.

I strongly believe in the effective altruism movement and I also strongly believe that effective altruists should give selfishly not selflessly for the long term ( health and sustainability being two reasons). I think EAs should spend energy on helping others find their self interests in giving.