unedited notes on:
Altruism & Ethical Theory
In cybernetic ethics the underlying principle of human action is the survival of the species. In this respect, selfishly working towards one's own ends, or sacrificing one life to the betterment of society, all work towards the same end. The evolution of rule systems such as legal codes, customs etiquette, and professional and ethical codes also work towards the betterment of humankind. Ethics and altruism are linked in this common goal.
Over a span of a billion years of genetic development, individual biological systems which have cooperated with other biological systems have survived better than systems that have acted for self-serving purposes. The fact that a mother will sacrifice her well-being for her children, or that a soldier will fall on an exploding hand grenade to protect other people reflects an inherent biological principle that such actions give a system (i.e. animal, insect, or human systems) a competitive edge over selfish systems. Thus, over vast spans of time, altruism becomes a practical and functional part of a surviving biological system.2
Altruism can act as a catalyst for ethical change in society. There is an inspirational quality to altruism. To act for seemingly higher purposes has the effect of giving hope and purpose to life in a world that is not always kind and giving. Altruists are often motivated to sacrifice their income and worldly pleasures in the hope that someday the world will be a much better place. The altruistic act fulfills the altruist's life and inspires others in the process. In a sense, the altruist may be fully paid for the acts of selflessness and giving, on terms they understand, appreciate, and find acceptable. An outside observer may not believe that a sacrificing mother has been compensated for the care and attention she has given her children, but that observer is not privy to all of the intimate details of the her life that might show that some rewards have been received for all her seemingly selfless effort.
So much is speculated about altruism but so little information is sought from those who are altruists. Some find meaning in life by adopting an identity. Not everyone can derive an intense meaningfulness from such an identity. In giving the altruist has a meaningful place in the world and a reason to live.
Intense altruistic feeling probably evolve over time, ultimately reaching a tipping point, or point of no return, in which the meaningful connections to other people have grown so strong that an altruist will sacrifice for others. The fact that we live in a world where one person will give up their life for the well being of a stranger is an extraordinarily moralizing event. It is a circumstance that adds spirit and support to those who might otherwise liver on the verge of a hopeless existence. Self sacrifice, thus, fulfills the altruist while at the same time inspiring others in the world to go forward into the darkness of certain times and find their own meaningful existence.
The idea of evolving ethical systems and a theory of altruism finds its common connection in "biological survival." While there are some more direct connections between ethics and altruism that could be cited, they are not important enough to be cornerstones of logic for an ethical theory.
See the article Why Ethics Belongs in the Field of Science and not Philosophy
1. The virtues of the simplified argument, see Occam's Razor, "Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate."
2. Efficient actions as well as the highest of ideals are forced into play in a world of fiercely competing biological systems. Ideals serve much like the coordinates that are entered into an airplane's autopilot. Ideals keep the society on course much as the mathematical coordinates in an airplane keep it on course. To have these ideals reaffirmed by sacrifice, large and small, repeatedly throughout the course of history, affirms humanity's sense of confidence in making it to some useful end. One cannot minimize the effects of fierce competition for survival in the world when contemplating the nature, utility and value of altruism in surviving the species. Biological systems that are less responsive to goals lose a certain degree of efficiency because they cannot focus energies on their long term survival and are instead distracted by satisfying their immediate wishes. Altruism promotes highly functional behavior that assures the survival of individuals and societies, whether the nobel sacrifice is parents going into debt to send their children to college, or a soldier in battle falling on a grenade to protect his or her comrades. All such actions serve the singular purpose of enabling the survival of the human species.
Note:Philosophers ask why a person is giving yet the altruist is in the same position of asking others why are they so insensitive, greedy, and selfish in a world that seems so interconnected. The obligations of the altruist perhaps seem obvious if the world is to be a better place.
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