Published by the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas (founded in 1990 by Mortimer J. Adler and Max Weismann)
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Monday, March 10, 2008

Good Instincts

Jim Holt in The New York Times, March 9, 2008
By the logic of natural selection, any tendency to act selflessly ought to be snuffed out in the struggle to survive and propagate. So if someone seems to be behaving as an altruist — say, by giving away a fortune to relieve the sufferings of others — that person is really following the selfish dictates of his own genes.

(via Arts & Letters Daily)

--Terrence Berres


  1. This line of reasoning was developed in E.O. Wilson's "On Human Nature", where he showed the benefit to the gene pool to have some fraction of the population sacrifice themselves for the good of the whole.

    Most ethical systems are based on such a principle - to convince individuals that it is good and right and noble to sacrifice their individual interest for the collective good. Kant calls it noble. Nietzche and Rand call it being someone's willing victim.

  2. Add-on to previous post.

    This realization, that most ethical systems are designed, not to produce the happiness of the individual but the collective good causes severe psychic shock to those who realize its truth. Some feel betrayed by God and humanity. Some feel liberated. Most just pretend it isn't so, especially the promoters of said ethical systems. Calling someone elses behavior "selfish" or "egotistical" is one of the most self-serving things anyone can do and one of the last things they are willing to admit is selfish.