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article imageAltruism: According to science it does exist, but academically, it’s pure selfishness

By Paul Wallis     Jun 20, 2007 in Lifestyle
This New York Times article started innocently enough with the revelation that paying taxes can feel good, according to a study by the University of Oregon. Well, what else would a university be studying? In Oregon?
The NYT article then covers itself by stating that it wasn’t paying taxes as most people understand it. But it was about the human compulsion to be nice to others… with which we are all so very oppressed… somewhat erratically… while presumably winning lotteries… you get the idea.
Actually, maybe you don't get the idea, because I'm following the track of the intro to the article, and it jumps the rails a few times. However, it makes up for that with the sheer number of arguable points it raises.
It seems that according to philosophy, economics, and something called sociobiology, altruism is a form of self reward, so it doesn’t win you any Brownie points on the Niceness Register. The arguments are fascinating, because according to this logic, however nice you’re being, you’re not. You’re only in it for the buzz for yourself. Meaning nothing you could or would do for anyone would qualify as nice, and even if it was, someone could say that it wasn’t.
Nice to see that the sciences have come so far in their development of meaningless single track interpretations of data.
To get around this terrible, inconsiderate-to-researchers selfishness a control experiment was devised using cash and an MRI scan. The scan checked how the brain responded to the choice of making donations. The surprise result was that there was a result, and people didn’t fit their type classifications, and it was ghastly, really…
Ah, read the thing. See if you can find any interest in actual motives that doesn’t come out of some academic singalong with an established theory from several hundred years ago. Kant is one of the more up to date references to any actual thinking on the subject.
One of the economists who commented seems to think that the “neural reward” is more interesting than the topic of helping the needy, or at any rate, who should be helping the needy. Sounds like the needy will continue to be needy until this vital question is answered.
Put another way, having run out of rationales, they’re guessing pretty hard.
Sorry to put you to all that trouble, Socrates, Adam Smith and others. I wish these "philosophers" would read some of their subject occasionally. Bigger names than Kant were of the opinion that altruism did exist. Confucius was another. Most economics is based on the theory of human activity serving some sort of useful purpose. Not that anyone would ever notice.
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