Let altruism be altruism

My cliffs notes from The Stamp Collector:

This is an argument against nihilism, the belief that nothing does or can matter. Dispensing with nihilism is necessary to make altruism accessible as a source of intrinsic motivation, to offset listless guilt — the guilt of doing nothing when it seems like there should be something more to life.

People will tell you that humans always and only ever do what brings them pleasure. People will tell you that there is no such thing as altruism, that people only ever do what they want to.

People will tell you that, because we’re trapped inside our heads, we only ever get to care about things inside our heads, such as our own wants and desires.

But I have a message for you: You can, in fact, care about the outer world.

And you can steer it, too. If you want to.

Evidence for this are the analogy of the stamp collector — a robot designed to take actions that increase the number of stamps in its inventory — and the analogy of human altruists working from the same principle.

“Naïve philosophers” fall to the homunculus fallacy when attempting to understand the robot. They refuse to see what it is in fact doing: Taking actions that result in the outcome it seeks, with its best available information. Differentiating between its internal representation of its inventory and its actual inventory is fallacious, because it doesn’t have any more meaningful access to its internal representation of inventory than its external inventory.

Similarly, the naïve philosophers mistake human altruistic behavior as pleasure-maximizing. But behaviors such as giving away all of your money to charity, or jumping in front of a moving car to save a child, stress that theory to the breaking point.

We can and do choose to care about things outside of our heads. Don’t get bogged down in whether altruism is real; just accept that it’s accessible to you.

This post is part of the thread: Replacing Guilt Cliffs Notes – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

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