Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Altruism or Egotism?

The question springs from an answer to an earlier log. To my correspondent's proposal that the very idea of ethics “requires in an essential way the bond with another,” I reply that regarding such bonds I remain agnostic.

Let me clarify that I am not proposing a philosophical egotism in the style of Ayn Rand -- nor much less a Milton-Friedmanesque political economy. Absolutely not.

The point of departure is myself merely because I am the unique constant to myself. The other, male and female, can always go off merrily skipping away in verdant pastures … I'm one that I have left.

The right to satisfy my needs, however, does not imply a justification of oppression of the he, she and all of you who are not me. It merely means a certain hierarchy of needs.

My correspondent does not stop with altruism, but instead raises the matter of self-awareness (or conscience) in philosophical terms. The questions prompt me to imagine a whole series of Descartes thinking in their attics in Paris, London, Florence, and deriving from such thought patterns of knowledge that are impossible to collate or to compare. Then there are the problems of error and the surprise, which arise from outside the self.

This strikes me as attempting to know too much. What I propose is much simpler: that the task of developing a scheme by which it is evident what I must do and what I must not needs to begin with a healthy respect towards myself. To love to myself passionately.

The gospel says it: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 22:39). But how shall I love my neighbor as myself if I do not love myself first?

Let's be clear about this: it's not an idea that began with or is unique to Jesus or Christianity. The Hebrew scripture already taught it (Lev. 19:18), as did Confucius five centuries before Jesus, Mohammed in its last speech, the Vedas in India, Gautama Buddha in his second truth, et cetera, et cetera.

The idea is a commonplace, almost an archetype.

The difference I propose lies in the place of precedence. Instead of denying myself in pursuit of heavens, salvations and nirvanas, I propose fulfilling myself first. Loving oneself enthusiastically, without thinking about another one, dividing oneself, holding back, until my self overflows with love and from this a love of others is born.
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