Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The virtue of non-sacrifice

In this entry I want to examine the virtue of non-sacrifice and how Christianity opposes it. This is not my first entry on objective moral principles, as I have previously examimed the virtue of honesty and the virtue of non-coercion.

That Christianity contradicts the virtue of non-sacrifice is almost tautological. After all, the most admired symbol of Christianity is the bloody Jesus on the cross, a pitiful failure, which is a clear representation of sacrifice. In Christianity, sacrifice is seen as noble and holy. No one is held in higher esteem than one who suffers, and this is even echoed in our modern values. But to sacrifice oneself is more than suffering - it is willful suffering.

Sacrifice is immoral because it is a destruction of our values. But sacrifice is often praised mistakenly. Many actions, such as parenting or charity, are seen as sacrificial when they in fact serve the person's values - not necessarily financial values, but also emotional and social values. These kinds of mistakes are always the consequence of conflating these different kinds of values. So always be clear when you are using terms like "sacrifice" and "altruism", that you are not simply confused about the values effected in the situation.

Here is David Kelley (what, you expected me to quote anyone else on morality ?) on the arbitrariness and irrationality of self-sacrifice :

[A]n arbitrary action is one without any value behind it. It is an action inconsistent with one’s objective hierarchy of values. Because life is a full-time job, arbitrary action is anti-life. At the same time, action directed at anti-life goals is arbitrary. In other words, people can choose goals that are arbitrary. No one can deny that a suicide bomber is purposeful, for example; but he does not aim at a value in objective terms. A suicide bomber is a particularly drastic example of explicit self-sacrifice. But one’s life is at stake in any case of arbitrary action, albeit in a less totalistic manner.
David Kelley, "The Logical Structure of Objectivism", chapter 6

The paradigmatic example of the suicide bomber is perhaps extreme, but judicious, since the suicide bomber and the Buddhist monk do have something in common. Both are not motivated by personal values but rather by destructive beliefs - in both cases, belief in some form of afterlife.

To say that non-sacrifice is virtuous, therefore, is more easily deduced by first understanding that sacrifice is vicious. And sacrifice is vicious because it is an abandonment of our values and an abandonment of rationality in one's actions. To sacrifice oneself is to give up on making one's own judgments, which is a prerequisite for virtue.

This is not to say that sacrifice serves no role at all. As I discussed before, religious morality is inherently utilitarian to the belief system. Sacrifice, therefore, serves the interests of whoever controls the belief that prompts the sacrifice. The suicide bomber serves the interests of his religious authorities, and the Buddhist monk serves the interests of his temple's master.

Post a Comment


At 7/06/2006 11:05 AM, Blogger Bahnsen Burner declaimed...

Kelley writes: "A suicide bomber is a particularly drastic example of explicit self-sacrifice."

You know what I have always said - Jesus and suicide bombers have something chiefly significant in common with each other: both willingly embrace a premature death.


At 7/07/2006 6:58 AM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

Martyr/victim. Not only can you not have it both ways, but also both mindsets are a trap.

At 7/08/2006 7:39 PM, Blogger Joe Otten declaimed...

I'm no fan of sacrifice here, but I don't see much merit in your choice of arguments against it.

It "is immoral because it is a destruction of our values"? Quite possibly, but this would depend on its overall consequences. You seem to be arbitrarily restricting the consequences under consideration.

To be frank, if you are disregarding the consequences for other people, then morals are redundant. Abandoning morals, and then calling some Rand-approved manifestation of self interest "moral" is just a misappropriation of the term moral.

At 7/09/2006 2:16 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

joe otten: Naysaying is not an argument.

At 7/09/2006 6:19 PM, Blogger Joe Otten declaimed...

The egoist definition of morality is not an argument, it is just a definition.

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