Re: Compassion vs. benevolence

Kathryn Aegis (
Mon, 15 Sep 1997 17:15:05 +0000

Lee Daniel Crocker:
>I point this out because I don't want to confuse what I am calling
>"compassion" with mere benevolence, as Rand used the term. The former
>is a choice I make freely, and that I would not criticize others for
>not making; the latter is a moral imperative.

Moral imperatives imply that there exists an underlying ideology or
dogma to guide them, and I think that we need to move beyond enforced
morality in order to critically assess the importance of lending help
to another human. It is in this area of human psychology that
Western religion has erected many barriers to understanding (many
other cultures do not utilize the concept of compassion). We are taught
from childhood by well-meaning adults that to perform an act of
benevolance means that we possess the quality of 'compassion', which
equates to being a 'good' human. If you were to undertake a serious
examination of any act of benevolence, however, you would probably
find an expected return on the investment of time or worldly
possessions. The 'bum on the street' example nicely illustrates this,
because many people who would like to think of themselves as
compassionate hesistate to hand money over to someone when they do
not know how it will be used, for food or for substances.

I do not think that to understand the decisionmaking
process by which someone decides to perform an act of benevolence
necessarily diminishes its value, but I also find little value in
mysticizing the act with the dietrus of religious beliefs. Actually,
gaining an understanding of why humans perform acts of benevolence (and
an area of 'benevolence theory' focuses on just that) can lead to
structuring ways in which humans can be provided with opportunities to
help each other more effectively.


Kathryn Aegis