Posts tagged with: altruism

JMM_19 1Our most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, vol. 19, no. 1, has now been published online and print issues are in the mail.

In addition to our regular slate of articles examining the intersections between faith, freedom, markets, and morality, this issue contains a new entry in our Scholia special feature section: “Advice to a Desolate France” by Sebastian Castellio. Writing in 1562, Castellio was one of the first early modern defenders of freedom of religion on the basis of freedom of conscience, in the midst of a turbulent time of conflict between Roman Catholics and Protestants in sixteenth-century France. His insights should still be valuable today, both to scholars and others who value that same freedom.

As is our usual custom, this issue’s editorial, “Self-Interest and Moral Contexts,” is open access. In it, I examine the necessity of context for determining the morality of the choices of market actors:

The economic idea of self-interest as the driving motivator of economic (and other) behavior is as widely accepted by economists as it is criticized by others. The critics, generally, object to the assumption that “widespread and/or persistent human behavior can be explained by a generalized calculus of utility-maximizing behavior,” to quote George Stigler and Gary Becker. Is not that selfishness? And is not selfishness immoral? And do not people, at least sometimes, act morally? Furthermore, should not they be encouraged to act altruistically instead of only thinking of their own interests?

In reality, context complicates such moralisms.

The full editorial can be read and downloaded here.

Read the entire issue here.

Subscription instructions to access all of our content can be found here.

I recently wrote on the implications of “pathological altruism,” a term coined by Oakland University’s Barbara Oakley to categorize altruism in which “attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm.”

In a segment from the PovertyCure series, HOPE International’s Peter Greer offers a good example of how this can play out, particularly in and through various outreaches of the church:

Oakley’s paradigm depends on whether such harm can be “reasonably anticipated,” and as Greer’s story indicates, far too often the church isn’t anticipating much at all. Ship the stuff, check the box, and sing our merry songs. (more…)

In a new paper, “Concepts and Implications of Altruism Bias and Pathological Altruism,” Barbara Oakley of Oakland University argues that scientists and social observers have mostly ignored the harm that can come from altruism. Though “the profound benefits of altruism in modern society are self-evident,” Oakley observes, the “potential hurtful aspects of altruism have gone largely unrecognized in scientific inquiry.”


Aiming to lay the groundwork for such inquiry, Oakley focuses on what she calls “pathological altruism” — “altruism in which attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm.” As for whether such behavior is “intended,” Oakley believes it can emerge from “a mix of accidental, subconscious, or deliberate causes,” though it can be more clearly identified by whether an external observer would conclude that the harm was “reasonably foreseeable.”

In other words, the pathologically altruistic have a sort of tunnel vision, a way of looking at the world around them that lends toward destructive self-sacrifice. Some already know it, others simply should. (more…)

Many of you know Jay Richards from his regular lecturing at Acton University. He has a newly co-authored piece in The Daily Caller, “Enterprise is the most ‘effective altruism.’” There’s more to be said on the complex issue of helping the poor than can be put in a single op-ed, of course, but there’s some great food for thought here, particularly for those who view business and markets as necessarily part of the problem. Jay and Anne Bradley use the example of Microsoft to explain the confusion:

The Gates Foundation has saved an estimated 5 million lives thus far. But we rarely hear of the countless lives saved or improved by the profit-seeking activities of Microsoft…. One effect is the Foundation itself. To be able to start such a large aid organization, Bill Gates first had to be a successful entrepreneur. As a philanthropist, Gates is not “giving back” to the world, as if he had taken from it in the first place. His philanthropic giving is possible only because he first “gave” as an entrepreneur.

… Microsoft succeeded only because they provided value for hundreds of millions of people. Gates had to meet the needs of his customers … And to stay ahead, he had to invest wisely rather than consume or give away all the profits.

Prof. Giovanni Patriarca, recipient of the Acton Institute’s 2012 Novak Award given recently in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, was interviewed by RomeReports Television News Agency in a video released Friday.

Articulating the main points of his lecture “Against Apathy: Reconstruction of a Cultural Identity,” Patriarca told RomeReports that Western democratic society is abandoning its traditional values and, therefore, its very culture of responsible freedom and creativity. He placed part of the blame of the West’s moral decline and widespread apathy on an ever-increasing “fast-paced, digitalized and materialistic lifestyle.”

Patriarca told RomeReports the problem of apathy in Western culture is really centered on the “fundamental role religion plays” in restoring man’s civic responsibilities and altruistic desire to freely choose creative magnanimous action in the service of God and society—the Judeo-Christian moral and vocational platform on which a free and enterprising Western culture is founded. Therefore Patriarca also warned that the Western culture’s “openness of religion,” its so-called  “spiritualism a la carte” which has led to a relativistic, hashed religious culture that is fundamentally unmotivated and too radically self-centered to sacrifice altruistically to overcome the immense challenges of the world’s current economic crisis.

In religion, he says, “we regain lost hope and rebuild from [it] a sense of charity, respect, reconciliation, and forgiveness … to find solutions to problems that will be difficult, but will be positive and creative … to stimulate our growth together.”