Another post in the Food for Thought series, triggered by this nomination from Citizen Tom.
One rather famous verse in the synoptic Gospels (such as in Matthew 21) includes this line: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”
The same chapter contains many other recognizable phrases, and it has long intrigued me how many different Biblical expressions have made it to English conversational or literary use. For example, in this chapter are found the expression “Many are called, but few are chosen” and “Show me the money!” (often translated as “show me the tribute money” or “show the the tribute coin”).
The gallery in this PopSci website is called “10 animals that are smarter than you think” and is interesting, despite leaving out octopuses (which is correct, I suppose, as I think that they are very smart).
The vampire bat is described as demonstrating “advanced social intelligence” and “reciprocal altruism.” But is it truly altruism, or is it more likely a wise investment for self-preservation? The researcher quoted in the caption notes “the bats seemed to keep track of who had shared with them in the past, and they were much more likely to reciprocate with those who had been generous to them on a previous occasion.” They would give blood to other bats, independent of whether those bats were related, with an eye toward getting the favor back in the future. And ones who had been generous would be rewarded with a meal instead of relatives, which means the vampire bat version of “blood is thicker than water” needs a number of adjustments.
So, then, would “altruism” — what these creatures do is described as “reciprocal altruism” which might be a bit closer to “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” from a larger and genetically closer fellow mammal. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, but it seems to me to be a mis-use of the word “altruism” if the bat discriminates who it helps based on an expectation of, or reward for, returned favors.
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle
I’ve been enjoying recent re-visits to Ayn Rand’s work, and my own Lady Anne has just re-read the full text of Atlas Shrugged and is plowing through Rand’s non-fiction work now. This makes for enjoyable discussions (but I confess a bias toward always considering discussions with my Lady to be enjoyable). Along the way (and spurred by Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness available here as a .PDF file), some lively and surprisingly vehement discussions about definitions of “selfishness” and “self-interest” and “altruism” have taken place, and I have another post on that topic coming soon. But for my purposes at the moment, in this discussion of thought-provoking Bible verses pursuant to the Food for Thought award based on Citizen Tom’s rather flattering nomination, I’m going to look at Biblical treatments of wealth, and a slightly different take on altruism.
(This wound up being something of a scattered ramble on different philosophers in history.) I mentioned recently Ayn Rand’s definition of selfishness, as “concerned with one’s own interests.” It’s straightforward enough. In the ensuing discussion, I described this as less opaque than some of the definitions of Bertrand Russell. (I had miswritten his first name as “Bertram”; my apologies.)
I don’t have his works online (edit: found a collection), though some parts of this no doubt exist. Here’s a nice example, from his treatise on Denoting I read last year:
Thus `the father of Charles II was executed‘ becomes: `It is not always false of x that x begat Charles II and that x was executed and that “if y begat Charles II, y is identical with x” is always true of y‘.
This may seem a somewhat incredible interpretation; but I am not at present giving reasons, I am merely stating the theory.
Citizen Tom has a series of posts discussing altruism (as seen by Ayn Rand) and Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. I’m in the odd position of largely agreeing with him, and with Ayn Rand — despite his objecting to Rand’s writings. He describes well the dangers of enforced “altruism”: