30 March 2011

Austrian Tautologies: Altruism

As far as I can tell, we are left exactly where we were after that first essay. No altruism to be found. If you made a "sacrifice" it was, by direct virtue of your action, "worth it to you" (at the time of the action) or you would not have taken that action. It is really just that simple. (By the way, this does nothing the render the action more, or less noble, whichever the case may be in the eyes of an observer.) As a fellow anarchist buddy of mine puts it, "altruism is praxeologically impossible." Agreed, still.

The basic argument is that the only way one would make a “sacrifice” is if one valued the results of one’s sacrifice to worth more than the costs of the sacrifice.  More simply, altruism doesn’t exist because people only act if they believe they will profit.  This is simply tautological reductionism based on Misesian rationality.

But this begs a question for Christians:  If that which is considered altruistic is actually greed, then what is the spiritual value of giving?

Accepting the definitional impossibility of altruism, I would argue that giving still has spiritual value in that it still teaches sacrifice.  Some people make sacrifices in order to afford nice cars; Christians make sacrifices in order to help others.  And even if one truly does want to help another person, it doesn’t change the fact that there are opportunity costs, so there is always sacrifice in that sense as well.

Furthermore, there is virtue in in training one’s mind to value helping others over satisfying one’s personal desires.  Even if helping others is inherently selfish, as the Austrian school of economics would define it, it is still virtuous to train one’s mind to desire to help others.

Thus, as a Christian who subscribes to Austrian economic analysis, I have little worries about the inherent spirituality of this tautological trick.  Even if I am being self-interested by helping others, it doesn’t change the fact that a) I am helping others and b) doing so willingly.  That’s what God demands of me, and that’s what I’m going to do.


  1. Country Lawyer30 March, 2011 05:26

    Its a retarded argument. Define something in such a way as to make it impossible to occur and thus "prove" everyone is selfish.

    Its complete and utter bullshit.

    Turn it around.

    In order for someone to be altruistic according to this game a person has to do a good deed, make a sacrifice for another without having any reason for doing so. Essentially it has to be an unconscious decision that benefits another and do nothing for the person in order for it to be altruistic, but then it would n't be altruistic because it wouldn't be a willful sacrifice.

    Its simple game playing. It is better to take a behavorist's approach to altruism because its more intellectually honest than this word game.

    It does not matter what people think, it is only their actions that matter.

    If a behavior negatively impacts a person in the material world (the world we live in) and benefits another nonrelative individual and the person doing it does not get nor reasonable expect a reward in the material world, than it is altruism, plain and simple.

    The rest is just sophistry done by selfish pseudo intellectuals that want to feel better about being selfish bastards and drive home to anyone listening (especially impressionable young college kids) that they're selfish too.

    This is a secular, progressive, marxist argument hiding as something else.

  2. @Country Lawyer- I don't disagree with you on this. I am not fond of the semantics used by Austrians on this matter, but the only way for their model to remain consistent in light of Misesian rationality is define altruism away.

    Behavioral economists have noticed the flaw in this tautology (wherein all human behavior is defined as rational) and have largely rebelled against it. Unfortunately, behavioral economists have not offered a better tautology in its place, and so we're stuck between two competing definitions that aren't practical or realistic in any meaningful way.