Re[2]: Obligation & Compassion

Guru George (
Tue, 16 Sep 1997 22:53:11 +0100

On Mon, 15 Sep 1997 15:12:31 -0700 (PDT)
Lee Daniel Crocker <> wrote:

>> >"I swear by my life and my love of it that I will
>> >never live for the sake of another man, nor ask
>> >another man to live for mine."
>> >
>> >John Galt's statement could be loosely
>> >interpreted as a no-obligation statement.
>> >It says nothing about Galt's compassion.
>> >It says nothing about whether or not Galt
>> >would help another.
>> I understand and agree with this: but what do you say to people who say
>> that's what they're criticising (that this ethic says nothing about
>> whether or not to have compassion)?
>> I would say that, actually, it isn't an ethic at all but, very precisely,
>> a politic.
>That's a cop-out: I think Galt's oath /is/ an ethic, and one of the most
>beautiful sentences ever written in the language. It expresses precisely
>the ethic that "obligation" and "compassion" are not merely unrelated
>but quite contradictory. It is impossible to have true, effective,
>compassion from a sense of obligation. Compassion /requires/ freedom.
>Compassion /must/ be voluntary. Though it is not directly a positive
>ethic (i.e., a "thou slalt" rather than "thou shalt not"), it does
>express the root from which her positive ethics come: the love of life.
I agree that it's extraordinarily beautiful, but it is *incomplete* as
an ethic. A wee while ago I was on a thread in humanities.philosophy.objectiv
ism arguing in this very area; and there I proposed that there are:

Rational self-interest and irrational self-interest.

Rational other-interest and irrational other-interest.

Rand was very good at damning the second and the fourth, but I don't
think she even saw the possibility of the third.

And actually, ethics is all about obligations one has in *both*
directions, and the obligation is the same in both directions: one must
be concerned about both self and other, in the sense of doing-the-best-for
; but the rationality criterion imposes constraints on the ways one may
do the best for oneself and other (particularly in that there is a *
practical* assymetry: one has relatively intimate knowledge of and
control over oneself, not so of and over the other).

And in fact, as Henry Hazlitt showed in his "Foundations of Morality" (a
rare and amazing book), in life on this earth, nine times out of ten the
rationally self-interested action in any given circumstance is nearly
always one and the same as the rationally other-interested action.

Guru George