The amorality of love



Murali did his undergraduate degree in molecular biology with a minor in biophysics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He then changed direction and did his Masters in Philosophy also at NUS. Now, he is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

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69 Responses

  1. Avatar James Hanley says:

    See, this is why it’s best to avoid those types of moral arguments altogether. Love is an evolved response that promotes the passing on of our own genes. Perhaps morality is just a post-hoc attempt to make something more of it than that. If we need justification, just get utilitarian; we like love.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to James Hanley says:

      Love is an evolved response that promotes the passing on of our own genes.

      I think it is more. My dog loved me, I loved my dog, and there was no passing-of-genes involved; that’s taken care of, in part, by pleasure.

      I don’t want to anthropomorphize my dog here, I do not believe for one minute that we are the only species capable of love, though that’s not an argument against it being part of evolutionary need to pass on genes.

      Watching animals and the love they express for one another (including love for other species), can be very instructive here; love leaves you to set aside some of the fight-or-flight responses, it can change the behavior of the animal to one that verges on more social, more protective. I think it might suggest that the capacity for love might be a prerequisite for morality. I certainly think that the way an animal treats another it loves would, to a human, seem more moral then they way the same animal will treat another animal it doesn’t love.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic says:

        Sure dogs love us–we’ve carefully bred them to!

        More seriously, I think the capacity for love is an evolutionary product. But that doesn’t mean it can only be directed to children. While evolution is not in fact about “survival of the fittest,” one must survive at least long enough to have offspring (or assist in ensuring one’s close relatives have offspring), and love for others, especially family members, but also friends, is surely an aid to that. And once love becomes that non-specific, there’s no particular reason why it can’t extend to any critter with which we form friendships.

        As to non-humans, I think there’s no doubt that some species experience something that is at least an analogue to love. It’s impossible to say it’s love in the sense we mean love, since we can’t experience their internal lives, but its phenotypic expressions are awfully darn similar to the way humans express love. And there’s no particular reason to think that love evolved only after humans did–it quite possibly evolved (at least in a rudimentary form), long before humans did, and each succeeding species going off on its own path it might have changed in different ways for each, so that there is a base commonality between humans and certain other mammals, but with important (but probably unknowable) differences.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic says:

        phenotypic expressions thanks for that term; I needed it here.

        And it’s that base, I’m suggesting, that’s required to ask the questions that might lead to developing a moral structure.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic says:

        I should note that phenotypic expression involves an interplay between genes and environment, and is not purely genetically determinist. (I.e., we know all too well how to damage a child’s capacity for love.)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to zic says:

        Are we sure that animals experience love? At least in the way that we do? I always struggle with that. It often seems like anthropomorphizing. Perhaps someone should write on that!Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic says:

        @kazzy I’m sure. But I have a lot of experience with animals, and not all animals species are the same.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic says:

        I should note that phenotypic expression involves an interplay between genes and environment, and is not purely genetically determinist.

        I think science is coming to understand that genes (nature) are always subject to the environment (nurture). Without that, or so it seems to me, genetic selection is simply dependent on breeding/survival, a linear selection, and less likely to result in species success and change over time. It would make evolution dependent on the success of random mutation and generationally dependent, instead of fractal, with some ability of many members of the species able to adapt simultaneously in response to the environment.

        So yeah, it seems a given. I realize this is not necessarily a commonly held notion.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to zic says:


        Do you mind if I shoot you an email at the address associated with your handle here?Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic says:

        Not at all, @kazzy.

        /wonders what she did wrong.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to zic says:

        Are we sure that animals experience love? At least in the way that we do?

        In fact, you’re not sure that other people experience love (or anything else) in the same way that you do.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to zic says:

        There is a degree of skepticism that allows one to state that whether other people dream is unknown and unknowable. Sure. If one is willing to relax one’s skepticism to a somewhat less than perfectly rigorous standard, one can quickly come to the conclusion that other people aren’t that different from you when it comes to this sort of thing. (If you’re one of the people who doesn’t dream, never dreams, it must sound crazy to hear that I spent last night at Cedar Point trying to find Petronius, the New York cat.)

        It’s the same for animals, I’d think. When Cecilia comes up to the couch and chirps, I know that she’s telling me to make room for her and, when I do, she jumps up and lies down with her front paws on my right leg. She purrs when I pet her and if I somehow manage to sit still, she falls asleep next to me.

        I suppose that it’s perfectly possible to say that Cecilia doesn’t love me, she just enjoys physical pleasures like being petted and the warmth my leg provides her paws and she associates me with pleasure in general because I am the one who feeds her… and, I suppose, we could easily argue that that’s not love. And we can easily argue that children don’t “love” their parents.

        But I can’t help but notice that that sounds like someone who “doesn’t dream, never dreams” complaining about other people who claim to find themselves in amusement parks looking for their long-dead pets.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic says:

        @james-hanley this reflects nicely on this discussion:

    • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

      “There is one advantage in writing about the romantic passion. Love is such a tissue of paradoxes, and exists in such an endless variety of forms and shades, that you may say almost anything about it you please, and it is likely to be correct.” –H.T. FinckReport

  2. Avatar Kazzy says:

    “Why is your mother/sister/wife/friend more deserving of/entitled to your concern than someone else’s mother?”

    Interestingly enough, this came up in a recent discussion I had with my 7th and 8th graders about justice. I first asked them if they treat everyone equally. When they acknowledged that I didn’t, I asked if this meant they were unfair or unjust. While all could acknowledge that they could probably stand to be more fair or more just in certain instances, they had no qualms with treating people of varying degrees of closeness in different ways. “I’ll buy my best friend a birthday present, but not someone I barely know.” They were largely satisfied with the idea of treating everyone with a basic degree of respect/care and those closer to them with a greater degree. This was largely in line with my own beliefs, but it did cross my mind that such thinking wasn’t without its problems.Report

  3. Avatar zic says:

    On point 1, I think we often fail to appreciate the spectrum of empathy/consideration people have, and measure others by our own spot on that spectrum.

    I think of that spectrum and anchor it to five points.
    1. No love. These are people who are psychopathic, who have no empathy for others at all.
    2. Family love. These people may care about direct family members or a few individuals, but no concern for anyone beyond those few loved souls.
    3. Tribal love. These people may care about their family and friends, their extended social group, perhaps their town or nation; but don’t have much empathy for people outside of the tribes with which they identify. The love they express is ranked, family first, tribe second.
    4. Broad love. These people love family, tribe, but also have some love and thought for others who they do not know or identify with; they have some concern for the lives of people far from them. Family still tends to come first, but the strangers may sometimes take precedence over the tribe.
    5. Sacrificing love. These people of themselves to their own harm, they put others beyond their tribe or family first, not so much in a grand heroic gesture, but on a daily basis.

    At one end of this scale, we find people like Ted Kaczynski. At the other, Mother Teresa. Both ends seem to be somewhat rare. Most spend our lives from level two to four, and where we reside often seems shaped by our economic well being and our experience with others.

    I suspect that the shifts we make along that scale are evidence of our moral growth and moral failures. I also think that our body chemistry, as it changes through our lives, shapes where we sit on that scale to some degree; particularly the levels of hormones related to our sexuality.

    Is it immoral to buy an expensive ring instead of mosquito nets? If you’re at level 5, you would think so. What about the new smart phone or camera? A dress shirt for work? Meat, instead of beans and rice, for your family’s dinner? At what point does this morality slip into moral socialism?Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to zic says:

      Adding: I used ‘moral socialism’ at the end there; there’s probably a better term; but there’s another storm moving in, and I suffer the language impairment of impending migraine. If someone has the term, I’d be grateful. Moral socialism at least hints at it.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to zic says:

      Psychopaths can have love — indeed, great love for other people.
      It’s liking others that they tend to have trouble with.
      (that, and steering away from innate tendencies towards sadism, if present.)Report

  4. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Building on what Zic said, the number of people capable of truly universal or sacrificial love is exceedingly small. It might be noble to expect this sort of love from everybody, God certainly seems to think so in the Bible. “You shall love your fellow as yourself. I am the Lord.” makes it abundently clear that universal, cosmopolitan love is a goal. Its also something that a lot of people are incapable of. The closest most people get in his love for a particular group they happen to belong to and that type of love tends to be problematic.

    The particular types of love, familial or romantic, can be used as a way to direct people towards a more universal, cosmopolitan type of love even if they never really get there. It might involve some waste along the way like giving an expensive knick-knack to a romantic partner rather than spending it on the poor but its usually a much safer expression of love for the world than the type of fraternal love referred to above.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Something bugs me about this. I understand that moral duties in general ought to have a particular cosmopolitan cast to them, especially our more general injunctions. But it seems weird to say that we do not just have a duty to do right by everyone, we have a duty to have a particular affect towards everyone.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Murali says:

        But it seems weird to say that we do not just have a duty to do right by everyone, we have a duty to have a particular affect towards everyone.

        I don’t see how this is even possible; there are too many needs, and doing right by one person will often mean an injustice to another. Again, I struggle for the words, but it seems like the goal is doing right for most is the goal, with a standard of doing right underlying it. This is a discussion where the greater good matters; a discussion fraught with difficulties when the good of the individual and the greater good are conflated.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Murali says:

        That wasn’t really my point. My point was that the people need love and that familial, friendship, or romantic love can be safer choice than group love in many instances since group love can manifest as racism, sexism, or classcism.Report

  5. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I suspect there is more to the socialization issue than you imply, Murali. Love encourages deep identification with particular individuals, particularly in the young. It gives people forming impressions and ideas about how to co-exist with others in a civil society; it gives a practical model for treating others well and valuing their welfare. A step towards maturity is externalizing that personal behavior — understanding that other people, like you, love others and are loved by others. Harming one person thus effects a cascade of pain throughout a social network. Perversely, this lesson is learned best when one is inadvertently placed in the cascade. But even if not, it still seems to me that without love, there is no empathy, and without empathy, there is no morality and no common society. At best there might be a clinical self-interest collective, but a cruel and compassionless one, not the sort of thing we’d enjoy identifying as our own society.Report

  6. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    There is an inherent flaw in these kinds of discussions which is deeply rooted in lazy linguistics, I think.

    There’s that old canard about Eskimos having 100 words for “snow]” so why can’t we have an many for “love,” which I think is one of those accidentally deep questions. The question is always posed in kind of a romantic, “why-don’t-we-have-more-poets-like-me” way. But the truth it really touches on is that we really could use all of those words.

    We throw the word “love” around quite a bit, and in fact we do so rather half-hazardly. Because of this we tend to link of love as a single thing, but it isn’t. The love of my children is a very different thing than my love of a beautiful woman I’ve just met, and both have nothing in common with my love of my pets, which of course have nothing to do with my love of jazz.

    And so I think the very act of asking a question such as, “we love X, why can’t we love Y” is deeply problematic at its very conception. I do have a love for my fellow man, but comparing my love of my family to that love is like asking why I can’t drive this orange I’m eating to work because both it and my car are both objects. They simply aren’t related.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Think of LOVE as a family resemblance concept, with the various types perhaps floating around a prototype at the center. Instead of having a bunch of words, we can just have a bunch of modifiers: friendly love, paternal love, maternal love, brotherly love, romantic love, platonic love, and so on, many of which will have a great deal of overlap. That way we convey that we mean love first, and a specific type of love second, even if we’re not quite sure what love is in its essence (because it doesn’t have one).Report

    • Avatar Patrick in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      They’re related in one sense; if you don’t have the capacity for one, you probably can’t have a capacity for the other.

      The OP seems to be drawn from the perspective that personal love detracts from communal love. That communal love is the most moral love, and that personal love is in a way less so.

      But I don’t think communal love is really possible at all without personal love. A child is born of love, is raised in a community that has love, and through their upbringing learns to generalize their parental love/self love to others.

      Note the sociopath, for the counterexample of what things are like if you can’t experience personal love.

      It’s kinda like walking before you run.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Awesome comment, Tod.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      So, Tod, you didn’t write this up as an essay for the symposium…why? 😉Report

  7. Avatar Roger says:


    As I read your post, I keep getting lost in “pretzely” Möbius strips of logic between what is, what should be and what is “justified.” Perhaps it is just my poor comprehension.

    My take on it is that love of children is a fact, and one easily explained via evolution. Romantic love is easily explained as well by an evolutionary adaptation for a social, slow-maturing species. Love of ones clan or tribe…. Same basic story with different details.

    I am not saying anything normative about these, just that they are evolutionary solutions to evolutionary problems. Love is.

    Large modern societies are built using the bricks that evolution gave us. In some cases cultural solutions, aka norms and institutions, work to modify or tame our innate tendencies such as the various forms of love. In other cases they try to build upon or amplify them.

    Societies have taken many paths over the years, with varying results. Whether any particular society is successful or not depends upon how it works in practice and most importantly what our (their) goals are.

    I am not sure if I am agreeing or disagreeing with you or just saying something different altogether.Report

    • Avatar Rod in reply to Roger says:

      You nearly mirror my own thoughts here, Roger.

      Perhaps the difficulty is conflating love as a feeling, as an emotional response to a person, object, or situation, with love as an action, as some concrete expression of caring in response to such a feeling. I struggle to see how an emotional response, in and of itself, can be construed as moral or immoral. Normal or perverse maybe. Appropriate or twisted, perhaps. Even useful or counter-productive in some cases. But to my thinking, morality is a property which attaches to actions, so we should more narrowly concern ourselves with loving as an action.

      For example, a parent will normally feel love for her child. This emotion will then motivate (because that’s what emotions do, what they’re for) her to do certain caring actions that advance the well-being of the child. This action vector from the feeling to the behavior is well-known and considered normal expected behavior in a parent. Knowing this, a parent who doesn’t actually experience the emotion due to some mis-wiring in the brain may very well perform the same caring actions so as to conform to societal expectations. Does her internal state effect the morality of her actions? There may well be other worries, but I’m hard-pressed to see how.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Rod says:

        Yeah, I guess the phrase that threw me in his post was whether “love is justified.” It seems like asking if meiosis is justified. Love is. What does justified have to do with anything?

        Is he asking “should society amplify and sacralize love as much as it does?” Can society place too much value on some forms of love? Again, the answer to these questions hinge upon our values and goals.Report

  8. Avatar Pinky says:

    To Murali and Tod – I’ve been thinking about philosopher Josef Pieper during this symposium. He wrote on the virtues, including love. He defined love as the affirmation that “it is good that you exist”. Not an affect, not something different in kind when directed toward children or jazz.

    Interesting guy, by the way. In 1936, he wrote a short book about the virtue of fortitude. His primary point was that fortitude is not simply active (courage in battle for example) but also passive (for example, courage in the face of suffering). A fairly straightforward point, but one that would have been controversial in 1936 in Germany, where courage was being used as an excuse for aggressiveness.

    Anyway, he took his book around to several publishing houses, including one (I forget the name) which had a reputation for encouraging new authors. They reviewed it and the editor said to him, nice, but aren’t there seven virtues? Thirty-five years later, in 1971, Pieper finished his seventh book on the virtues, this one about love. His toughest book to write, he’d given up on it more than once. He makes the point I said earlier along with a lot of other insights. Another point he makes is that since love is a virtue, which is a type of habit, we gain in our capacity to love through repetition. Mother Teresa’s all-encompassing love is not beyond most people’s power, only most people’s current ability.Report

  9. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Consider some of the quotations you cite:

    1. Love makes us disposed to feel concerned about the wellbeing of at least some persons.

    2. …Love is thus justified because it characteristically motivates us to find out what would make our loved ones happy.

    3. Love is justified because love is necessary for a stable family unit, which is itself necessary if widespread social coordination is to be possible.

    To me, each of these views is deeply confused, and express that confusion with great clarity: it misidentifies love with a belief about a concept which requires a justification rather than as an experienced emotion that is realized in people irrespective of the analysis we (or they, or you, or The Scientists!) employ.

    It’s akin to saying that the experience of the taste of pineapple is a concept that requires justification. But that makes no sense. The experience is just what it is. Our judgments about that experience, however, are malleable and subject to change via abstract reasoning and reflection.

    Love isn’t a concept, it’s an emotion. The frustratingly ineffable nature of that emotion compels some people to conceptualize it and make it into a belief with conceptual content, which can be analyzed and expressed in propositional form subject to truth values. I think that’s just a fundamental mistake, myself, even tho an analysis of differing concepts people adopt to account for their (and others) behaviors are inaccurate or counterproductive depictions of the emotionally held content and what it entails. And that too reveals the basic confusion, it seems to me: love doesn’t entail anything unless it’s being viewed as a concept.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to Stillwater says:

      Yes! This says it better than what I was trying to get at yesterday. Well said, SW.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Stillwater says:

      Love isn’t an emotion, or at least not just an emotion. Love is also a commitment. I know that not everyone here is going to agree with my theological approach, but I hope we can all agree that love isn’t simply an emotion.

      The classic example is from the marriage vows. You can’t promise to love as long as you both shall live if love is an emotion. It’s like promising to find Monty Python and the Holy Grail funny for the rest of your life. I find it really funny now, and I probably always will find it at least a little bit funny, but I can’t promise to have a set of emotions. I could promise to laugh, or promise to watch it every day. That’d make sense. I could promise an action.

      So love, properly understood, can have an emotional aspect to it, but love is (maybe primarily) an act rather than a feeling.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Pinky says:

        Love is also a commitment.

        if it is, then that’s a description of love. It’s a concept, one that can be true or false insofar as it’s descriptively accurate of the basic emotion which (appears to) cause those behaviors.

        Or this: the term “commitment” in the phrase “love entails commitments towards others” is ambiguous between mere behaviors (without any emotional content) and emotional content that gives rise to those behaviors. Clearly – it seems clear to me, I could be wrong – acting in accordance with a conception of personal commitments can be motivated by a desire to conform to certain cultural norms (one of which is a normative concept of what love entails) or out of an internal compulsion which manifests as those behavioral expressions irrespective of the normative concept.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Pinky says:

        I am not following the logic, Pinky. An alternative explanation is simply that when people promise to love, that they are making a mistake, or making a social declaration for signaling purposes, or that they are referring to another type of love (commitment or caring).Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Pinky says:


        I think love is often portrayed as commitment. One example would be from the story of Michelle Obama’s father getting up an hour early to prepare for his job because of his disability. There was a definite connection between this as love and as commitment.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Pinky says:

        Zic, yeah, I see what you and Pinky are saying. Love is not just a feeling. I concur.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Stillwater says:

      But we still reify love. People say it is better to have loved and lost than not loved at all. People associate God with love and say things like God being in essence about love or some such.

      So, either lots of people are confused about what love is, or emotions, like other affective states are subject to moral appraisal. At the very least we can evaluate whether love is a morally adequate/good grounds for action.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Murali says:

        I’m not sure what it means to reify an emotion, as if emotions weren’t things with spatio-temporal limits and causal efficacy already.

        Granted, I don’t think love is merely an emotion, but even if it were…Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali says:

        also, presumably, it seems that to say if A loves B, B’s wellbeing everything else equal is weighted more heavily in A’s utility function. And how one weights the various goals in your utility function is subject to moral appraisalReport

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Murali says:

        This is what happens when people think like economists. For one, we end up with models of phenomena that ignore everything that’s not easily quantifiable in terms of simple utility functions.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Murali says:

        At the very least we can evaluate whether love is a morally adequate/good grounds for action.

        Building on what @pinky said, that love is (at least in part) a commitment, is commitment morally adequate/good grounds for action?

        I’m committed to many things, and those commitments cause me to take action; but the moral grounds for those actions are, for each action, a separate thing, or so it seems to me; sometimes moral (caring for my children, for instance) sometimes not (ignoring those same children because something else is distracting my attention).Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali says:

        This is what happens when people think like economists. For one, we end up with models of phenomena that ignore everything that’s not easily quantifiable in terms of simple utility functions.

        This. I think it’s an instance of a more general tendency, tho.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Murali says:

        Right, it is, I was mostly just capitalizing on an opportunity to take a swipe at economists.

        What I’m getting at is that the potential ways in which love can make things better are myriad. For example, imagine that we treat love, or at least one aspect of it, as shared goals. That is, when you love someone, you take on to some extent their goals, make them your own. So people become more productive members of society when they are loved. I can think of several other ways in which love might be said to be something more than the particular intentional state that Murali is describing.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Murali says:

        “But we still reify love. ”

        We reify and sacralize lots of abstractions. Libertarians do it all the time on liberty and property rights. Progressives do the same to egalitarianism.

        There is obviously a social role to sacralizing and deifying abstract concepts such as the above. Said another way it (reify in grand sacralizing) serves a social purpose. It is a cultural solution.

        Can this sacralizing go too far? Hell yes.

        Is this your point?

        “At the very least we can evaluate whether love is a morally adequate/good grounds for action.”

        But people have already stressed that there are dozens of variations or subsets to the love concept. Obviously, trivially, some of these are great reasons for action. Others not so much.

        In other words, it depends. Love can be a good or bad reason.Report

  10. Avatar Damon says:

    “Why is your mother/sister/wife/friend more deserving of/entitled to your concern than someone else’s mother?” Because she’s MINE. Plain and simple. Of course, “love” of a pet is not the same as love for a child, although you couldn’t tell that to my ex. Our cats WERE her children. God forbid you cross her related to them.

    I once compared my relationship to others as an onion. Lot’s of layers. Starting from the innermost layer in terms of high “giving a damn” to low.

    1) People/things I’m willing to visit severe consecquences on those individuals who harm them.
    2) People I’m willing to do great things for.
    3) People who are of minor importance and who’s absence would cause some notice in my life.
    4) Everybody else.

    I think everyone, to one degree, has this layering. Mine, most likely, is much more compact.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Damon says:

      “Why is your mother/sister/wife/friend more deserving of/entitled to your concern than someone else’s mother?”

      How about this for an answer: effectiveness. A person may love a stranger equally, but not equally deeply. The mother in Bangladesh is just as worthy of love as my mother, and in fact just as worthy of my love as my mother, but I don’t know what her needs are. During a crisis/famine/whatever I have a moral obligation to assist her, but I can’t be expected to understand and assist her in the way I understand and assist my mother. There’s something Kantian about this answer, that by taking care primarily of those closest to me I’m acting in the way that I wish everyone would. I think it solves Murali’s last objection to theory #2.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Pinky says:

        Riffing off you and Damon…

        Leaving aside Murali’s use of the term “deserve”, I greatly agree that we tend to operate in concentric circles like an expanding onion. We start with ourselves, our immediate family, our extended family and friends, our neighbors, our country, out eventually to humanity or life in general.

        I also agree that this is pragmatic. In a world of universal altruism, we run into the knowledge problem of not knowing what everyone else wants or needs in their unique circumstances. Just as importantly, we lack effective and timely feedback mechanisms telling us if our help was even effective or not.

        Indeed a pragmatic universal altruist would benefit by assigning people whom we know best and asking us to put that person’s welfare first, and then expanding out from there. And guess who we know best, have fewest conflicts of interest with and receive the best and most immediate feedback from? Ourselves, followed by our family….

        Of course the pragmatic universal altruist would also caution that we need to ensure our benefit circle was not exporting problems outside the circle. Otherwise we would tend to generate as many problems as we solve, getting on net nowhere.

        Now, a selfish person would seek to cheat on this and help themselves and their circle at the expense of others. But luckily we have game theory, which teaches us that this devolves into a Hobbesian nightmare.

        Thus the altruistic, egoistic and utilitarian solution is to rig institutions so that exporting of problems was self defeating.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Pinky says:

        Why not learn? I don’t say that you have to learn about every single person on earth… but if your $100 could save a kid’s life, why not learn what they’d need?
        After all, that $100 isn’t going to buy your mother a life (it might buy her a microwave, capiche?)Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Pinky says:

        “In a world of universal altruism, we run into the knowledge problem of not knowing what everyone else wants or needs in their unique circumstances. Just as importantly, we lack effective and timely feedback mechanisms telling us if our help was even effective or not.”

        Luckily, there are folks out there with enough hubris to think they know what will help other people. Some people think the free market might help folks, others think other things.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Pinky says:

        Well, yah but I don’t love strangers. They generally fall into category 4, the high “i don’t give a damn” rating.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Pinky says:

        You are missing the point of concentric circles, Kim.

        Nothing about what I said suggests not helping children or not learning about others. Indeed, the metaphor of the circle implies the more you have learned about the beneficiary, the closer to your circle they fall and the better you will be able to help.

        I strongly value not just, NOT HARMING, but also extending out ones circle.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Pinky says:

        “Why not learn? I don’t say that you have to learn about every single person on earth… but if your $100 could save a kid’s life, why not learn what they’d need?”

        Makes me think that people should start organizations that inform others about needs in far-away countries, and ensure that donations arrive there.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Pinky says:

        oh, we have. Teach a man to fish…Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Pinky says:

        Those are the ones my wife and I volunteer at as well.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Pinky says:

        Specifics, roger?Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Pinky says:

        Nope, just generalities. We volunteer with organizations which supply and deliver food and/or clothes to truly needy third world regions with minimal interference by authoritarian parasites.*

        * substantial portions of remote aid are captured by stationary bandits, thus essentially subsidizing the dominance and exploitation regimes.Report

  11. Avatar Pinky says:

    “Well, yah but I don’t love strangers. They generally fall into category 4, the high “i don’t give a damn” rating.”

    Well, that would lead me to conclude that it’s hard to tell a universal altruist from anyone else at a quick glance. I have no trouble accepting that conclusion.Report