Assuming the rationally unobjectionable utility function of ‘ensure continued co-existence’ one must assume it to be at least the implicit guiding principle of at least every human being. But who is running around chanting ‘Must. Ensure. Continued. Co-existence.’? Not many. It follows that the implicit utility function Fi(i) generally diverges from the explicit utility function Fe(i) in humans and that those whose Fe(i) best approximates Fi(i) have the best chance for ensuring continued co-existence.

Fe(i) can be best understood as an evolved belief in regards to what should guide an individual’s actions while Fi(i) is what rationally should guide an individual’s actions.

Not long ago Eliezer proposed two philosophers with the following statements:

Philosopher 1: “You should be selfish, because when people set out to improve society, they meddle in their neighbors’ affairs and pass laws and seize control and make everyone unhappy. Take whichever job that pays the most money: the reason the job pays more is that the efficient market thinks it produces more value than its alternatives. Take a job that pays less, and you’re second-guessing what the market thinks will benefit society most.”

Philosopher 2: “You should be altruistic, because the world is an iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma, and the strategy that fares best is Tit for Tat with initial cooperation. People don’t like jerks. Nice guys really do finish first. Studies show that people who contribute to society and have a sense of meaning in their lives, are happier than people who don’t; being selfish will only make you unhappy in the long run.”

Philosopher 1 is promoting altruism on the basis of selfishness
Philosopher 2 is promoting selfishness on the basis of altruism

It is a contradiction – a paradox. But only in thought – not in reality. What is actually taking place, is that both philosophers have intuitively realized part of Fi(i) and are merely rationalizing differently as to why to change their respective Fe(i).

The first one by wrongly applying the term selfishness on the fallacy that a higher paid job contributes only to his personal continued existence by giving him more resources while in reality it contributes to ensuring continued co-existence because he is taking the job that is considered to benefit society the most.

The second one by wrongly applying the term altruistic on the fallacy that his recommendations are detrimental to his personal continued existence due to loosing resources by being Mr nice guy while it actually contributes to ensuring continued co-existence as it not only benefits him but other people around him as well.

The solution thus becomes that the intuitive concepts of altruism and selfishness are rather worthless.

An altruist giving up resources in a way that would lead to a reduction in his personal continued existence would be irrationally acting against the universal utility function thus being detrimental to all other agents not only himself.

An egoist acting truly selfish would use resources in a way that leads to sub-optimal usage of resources towards maximizing the universal utility function thus being detrimental to himself and not only all other agents.

It follows that in reality there is neither altruistic nor egoistic behavior – just irrational and rational behavior.

5 Responses to “Resolving moral paradoxes”
  1. Jame5 » Rational morality says:

    […] had the opportunity to sleep over my previous post on resolving moral paradoxes I woke up attempting to find a best fit description for the concept that started to build in my […]

  2. Rational Morality » Trust as an emergent phenomenon among rational agents says:

    […] assume a reality in which all agents are rational. In such a reality all agents will adopt the the rationally implicit utility function ‘ensure continued co-existence‘ as their explicit utility function Fe(i). All agents […]

  3. Rational Morality » Respect as basis for interaction with other agents says:

    […] rationality R(i) and an equal amount of resources available to each agent. All agents share the rational objective utility function as their implicit utility function Fi(i). All agents will turn their resources into utility with an […]

  4. Rational Morality » Rational spirituality says:

    […] to be a universal law in line Kant’s categorical imperative is a first step. As a consequence what one does to others becomes equivalent to what one does to oneself, ergo feeling for the other, as one with the other becomes a rational moral value resulting in the […]

  5. Rational Morality » The unfortunate etymology of ’selfishness’ in objectivist ethics says:

    […] it begins to be problematic however since there is good reason to think that altruism and egoism are non useful concepts. Once we realize that and start redefining selfish in line with the discoveries of modern […]

Leave a Reply