Essay on Benevolence
This article is part of a series on Positive Individualism
Benevolence: A Matter of Faith or Rationality?
It is my purpose to inquire into the proper source of benevolence. Benevolence comes from “bene”, meaning well, and “vol”, to wish, and is described  as a feeling or desire to do good towards others. An incorrect but popular assumption ascribes this notion solely to religious doctrines concerning faith, though only one possible source unveils itself upon close examination of core premises: reason.
At its core faith demands a suspension of the minds core faculties, requiring no formal epistemology. Beyond this, as faith’s ramifications unfurl, one discovers a conscribed set of mores that arrests value’s target in this world only to imprison it in an unknowable, and indemonstrable dimension whose validation via undeterred and blind belief despite any instrumentation shown to the contrary is only rewarded by a promise of a post-corporeal existence. These ramifications require no participation in the gathering of knowledge, and deny objective qualification, as they presuppose all necessary moral knowledge to have been divinely imparted in a collection of dogmatic texts. In a stark contrast, reason takes a fully active approach to unraveling, and marveling at, the awesome mysteries of existence, and thus the universe, via the marriage of logic, the art of non-contradictory identification, and induction. While reason grasps nature through a process of identifying and obeying the rules by which nature is bound, faith closes its eyes in denial and attempts to control men through the manipulation of their values in ways indemonstrable, and understated. As reason promises the consummation of our dreams, faith at its worst defames our ‘selfish dreams’, and at its best encourages only those culturally acceptable dreams as judged by a parochial conservatism, and delays all others to that ecclesiastical, and unknowable, dimension.
It is easy to convince ourselves that reason alone dismantles social control in this regard and encourages understanding and awareness, while faith demands an homogeneity in both behavior and happiness that only serves to further whatever ends the convincers may have by a myriad of means. If benevolence is to have a source, if the sheer capability of doing good towards others originates at one point, one sees that if faith and its trimmings are chosen it can only conclude in a proselytization of its target into a spiritual cage of conforming self-denial, and if faith’s counter-point reason is chosen one finds a moral landscape of beneficial trade and discussion aimed toward the core of any issue. These interfaces provide an incredible means of evaluating their efficacy in our goal of benevolence.
However, this does not locate nor guarantee the source of benevolence, only the most efficacious means of imparting benevolence. Why does reason, as it does, possess an environment of greatest efficacy towards this aim of goodwill towards men? The answer lies in the resultant morality’s nature.
Morality is the means by which we determine what to do to further values held, and it is shaped precisely by the values chosen to pursue. An intellectually honest morality seeks objective qualification, rises to logical discourse with perfection, and strives to discover values worth pursuing. Such a morality can only be constructed by an active application of reason, for faith’s epistemology is essentially dishonest in its own discourse by ignoring evidence and internal contradiction, imposing arbitrary choices through divine edict, observing intrinsic quality without qualification, by forging consequence, and in so many other ways.
Benevolence is always directed towards man’s life, in whatever form imagined, and so it is a sensible parallel to a morality directed by reason which invariably will place man’s life as its highest value. Comte’s altruism’s logical conclusions annul benevolence through the nullification of man’s value. According to altruism man in and of himself holds no value beyond that which he assigns to the purpose of others, and yet those beneficiaries in and of themselves hold the same null value beyond that attributed to other’s purpose. At this point exists a class of terms, each term valueless ad infinitum, establishing no over-arching principle regarding value without placing in that demesne an endless relativity of man as a means rather than end, as purely sacrificial fodder.
As previously observed, through so many mechanics, an epistemology of faith invariably extolls the virtues of Comte’s altruism, while once again providing motivation for such backwardness through the promise of salvation from an already dictated flawed existence.
How may a system of belief that holds man’s life as only sacrificial and endlessly flawed and evil even begin to be benevolent to, or encourage benevolence towards, him? The only answer lies in a diseased doctrine where morality becomes the enemy of man’s life, or joy; where one can only hope for benevolence to be shown to him in as much as a self-begrudging act of others as one does for others, exchanging not value but animosity supported by a loathing of duty. The only benevolence possible is a pretext covering man’s true desires oppressed by irrational edicts, and if man truly is flawed it is this ‘flaw’, this inconsistency in the face of such impossible demands, that allows him to survive. In essence, in this doctrine created by faith’s epistemology man’s own life is regarded as the terrible, as the ultimate implementation of evil, as the antithesis to good and is robbed of all possibility of originating benevolence through the attribution of such acts to the grace and glory of the supernatural. What morality could be more evil than this systematic, and unfortunately successful, destruction of man’s life, value, and happiness where benevolence lies only on an unattainable yet superfluous level?
Clarity of vision allows one to see that the simple discovery of reason’s efficacy in achieving a true benevolence points directly towards the parallelism enjoyed by a morality ruled by rational thought. This mirror-like juxtaposition finally fixes a purely rational morality as the originator of any truly consistent sense of benevolence, but we must answer how this morality brings about this true benevolence to fully convince ourselves of this conclusion.
Rational self-interest, ‘enlightened’ self-interest, or, unabashedly, selfishness is the only principle by which rational men may exist and act consistently and is imperative to benevolence. There are two claims to be addressed here: both concerning necessity, but different in their instrumentation.
Concerning the one requisite principle of consistent rational men, all we must do for validation is examine the irrational demesne of solipsism. The rules of non-contradictory logic (a redundancy in terms) quickly confine solipsism to the realm of irrationality through simple applications of deduction: if I am a man, and others are men, we must possess the qualities of man in equilibrium; or if my consciousness allows me to act, others acts must imply the same consciousness, therefore my consciousness cannot originate without their consciousness likewise originating. Values are hierarchic in nature, for choice demands a selection of value based on the interned values’ extremity. It is here one can observe all circularity in rational values’ target, that being the maximum of all values held: one’s own life.
If we choose other’s lives as the highest value we must deny our own life that position, at the same time we must base our decision on qualitative facts to pull it out of the celestial body of whim. What quality do our own lives possess that other’s lives do not to establish this differentia? If it is that we are the possessors of our own lives, and not that of others, we find that this quality creates an aliorelative term without asymmetry, and provides no distinct intension upon which to base our decision.
This is not subterfuge, however I will provide a more basic, but unrelated, example. If others well-being is our sole rational aim, one must accept that survival of oneself, in so far as that survival serves the means of others, is absolutely necessary to achieve said goal. As well, to increase efficiency, and decrease obstruction, all resources beyond that sustaining ones most basic survival will be spent on others, thus one’s own life is robbed of ‘want’ and subsists on ‘necessity’ for all other possible values are deemed pointless. Yet it is precisely here that rationality unravels the construction. The principles of trade prove to us that the increase of productive potential lies in a trading of values, and not in mutual suffering, yet mutual suffering, in the form of self-denial, is all that is promised to anyone consistently following this construction. The same principal that has deemed all other values beyond the most basic necessities as pointless will turn upon this revelation and must deem the mutual suffering as equally pointless.
The only salvation, and the only act compatible with this proven principle of trade, is that of placing one’s own life as one’s highest moral value; in effect eliminating all pointless suffering on both sides of the interaction, damning all else to the realm of solipsism. In this sense one learns that sacrifice, that of discarding a higher value for a lower one or nothing, is incompatible with rationality if one’s aim is to benefit life efficaciously, and is a vice in the rational moral landscape. The only conclusion then is that a rational concern for one’s own interests, that being selfishness, is the only principle to produce moral consistency in a rational man.
Selfishness is imperative to benevolence because it is only through selfishness that a proper structure of value, as demonstrated, can exist. Veritably it is value that is ultimately required for benevolence and it is selfishness that guarantees value’s existence in an objectively qualifiable form, for, as already demonstrated, altruism’s classic string of relations among terms of nullified values provides no foundation to confine moral value’s terms, nor those of benevolence. Value, in this, and all, contexts is to be regarded as agent-relative, possessing purpose, benefactor, and beneficiary, and in now way intrinsic, circularly pointing in upon itself, nor divinely imprinted. Benevolence requires value, and thus selfishness, due to its very nature: that of imparting good upon others. Good is a term of pure value, encapsulating within its letters everything one sees as the antithesis of the undesirable: suffering, damnation, encumbrance, etc. Benevolence is an expression of value in two ways: improving, or wishing to improve, another’s life, and that of holding the principle as valuable.
Just as hedonism is a distortion of selfishness, through an elimination of discretion or purpose, altruism is a bastardization of benevolence: making no distinction of its target. Benevolence towards dictators, terrorists, the oppressed, murderers, thugs, rapists, victims, and racists is not only sanctioned, but standard, expected, and encouraged! It’s called ‘unconditional love’, and it serves to destroy all principle through a compromise of values. By affording this value, and meaning, to all without qualification nor discriminatory eligibility, we equate our family and our loved ones as equal in value to mobsters, serial killers, and all who may seek to destroy us. We discover a gross familial responsibility to criminals who have forsaken the respect of an individuals right to his own life. Our search or individuals who increase our happiness is robbed of its very essence by eliminating all desirous qualities sought and imposing a wicked egalitarianism eliminating discretionary powers.
All these aspects obviously work in concert against the pursuit of our own life, and cause us to suffer pointlessly via our associates. Currency is relative to choice whose ramification is value, and choice necessitates discretion, whose demonstrated destroyer is unconditionality. If sacrifice is barred from rational men’s actions by its own irrational nature, then there is no selfless action, as all psychological and physical interactions are actions of trade: just as one uses currency to pay for a product whose value is admired or required, one employs one’s respect, appreciation, deference, and most noblest quality of love as currency to properly reward the virtues of the appreciated individual. (Love being the recognition and deep appreciation of values and virtues of the other whose qualities you hold in the highest of esteem.) Due to the presence, virtues, intelligence, and sense of life of the other that brings you pleasure, a healthy emotional transaction ensues when reciprocated.
How can a selfish man be benevolent? Rational men value their own life and align their interests with reason, and because of this are men with an incredibly deep sense of value, not only through a consistency of principles, but through a recognition of ‘the unique nature and glorious potential of the individual, rational human life: to think, to create, to love, to experience pleasure, to achieve happiness here on earth.’  As demonstrated, benevolence requires value, and selfishness provides the only consistent foundation for value. The implied premise of this question is that selfishness is greed. Greed is an hedonistic distortion of selfishness: is it rational to use a hazardous method of waste disposal that poisons an area in the face of great profit? Greed dictates an affirmative, subverting as it does all honest value to that obtained through the involuntary sacrifice of others, the stepping on the broken, while selfishness recognizes no honest value in an enterprise predicated on the violation of others.
With reason and trade so efficient in the improvement of others lives, and the resultant dismantling of artificial and dishonest social control, is it any wonder that today’s witch doctors, both intellectual and ignorant, have painted the selfish capitalist as the greedy brute, content in destroying all around him in order to increase the extravagance of his own life? There is nothing guilty in the acquisition of profit, but to obtain that profit through involuntary endangerment of others violates the deepest reciprocal value of all consistently rational men: others’ lives as their core value and the enabler of all their values. Just as no one can appropriate one’s one life, robbing one of their single guaranteed possession, without likewise forsaking and offering up his own for sacrifice, no rational man can profit by forcing others to suffer. Once again it is reason that serves to protect and epistemologically secure our lives so that we are able to act benevolently.
Isn’t sacrifice the core of benevolence? It is in the cult leader’s best interest to confuse the terms sacrifice and investment in the minds of his followers. All of our modern emotional language equates sacrifice with the ability to gain admiration, have pride under a pretext of modesty, and acquire self-righteousness. Rational or irrational, no one desires to be wrong, lest our debates provide us guaranteed moral solutions. The rational man understands the previously demonstrated rule of beneficial trade, and knows that achievement is not zero-sum: the achievement of one in no way affects the potential of another. Only the conception of a world where true sacrifice is the only currency leads to the erroneous belief that there is only one pool of resources and only so many individuals available to give only so much to said pool. In perpetuum it is the cult leader and his disciples, whether it is the Communist Party in Soviet Russia or the Catholic Church doesn’t matter, who profit from this pool, proving themselves to be the brutes they so vehemently froth at the mouth over.
Clarity permits then the conclusion that sacrifice only encourages poverty, self-loathing, and animosity towards the successful, while trade rewards achievement, excellence, and sharing. If our aim is benevolence, to improve man’s life, it will only be found in the investment of trade. Investment is not sacrifice, and often on a personal level involves a cross-over in currency, and a delay in gratification. Helping a friend in need monetarily is an investment in the well-being of a value one holds dear. If one truly sacrificed to permit benevolence one would never achieve one’s aim: friends would be put up for slaughter to save Argentinian Nazis, life savings would be dumped on terrorists, and jails would be filled with innocents in a deal to let criminals go free. In short, if sacrifice were necessary for benevolence, the people of the world would suffer incommensurably.
When one gazes upon the inspiring and glorious landscape of man’s achievement, one witnesses the fruits of benevolence: achievement aimed towards the expansion of man’s life. Humanity has moved past the pursuit of the most basic survival at all costs, an animality of of amorality and incognizant of value, to being that which pursues happiness, beauty, glory, love, and above all, value and meaning.
When I write of man’s life, it is not the vacuous pursuit of the most basic survival that I mean, though the continuance of life, survival, is of utmost importance. I refer to this greater embodiment, the pursuit of value and meaning, and all its illuminated ramifications. While men have found this quality, and its ally hope, historically in religion it is only be means of subverting, or sidestepping, the epistemology of faith that most men have been able to achieve its manifestation.
The effect of the epistemological primacy of faith over reason is self-evident in the unfortunately long period aptly named the Dark Ages. In this painfully long period during which faith was supreme monarch, technological advancement was laggard, few, and far between. Despite the presence of scholars and intellectuals such as Queen Eleanor of Aquitane, Heloise and Abelard, Louise Labbe, Marie de France, and others, there existed a compelling, undeniable, and inexorable intellectual vacuum. In comparison, observe the technological advances of much shorter periods such as the Renaissance, and the Industrial Revolution. The main difference between these periods is a return to logic and reason, and a rise in Aristotelian principles.
All of the achievements that have come to improve man’s life on earth are borne out of the correct application of logic, and reason, from the carefully planned angled of a successful bridge, the intricate workings of a computerized system, to the meticulous research that goes into defeating life-threatening ailments. This is the promising province of reason and its benefits are plain to see. Periods dominated by reason have achieve more aggregate benevolence towards man’s life in their short, but bright, durations than faith in its millennial rule.
It is entirely rational for men to experience benevolent desire because it is pertinent to his rational self-interest (selfishness) to improve his environment, and increase efficacy and security, due to its import on his own life as well.
The misuse and misinterpretation of rational men’s efforts does not undo the good they have wrought nor is the fault of reason, by the same principle that rocks are not evil simply because irrational brutes may hurl them at others rather than use them to build houses.
Faith’s epistemology denies the ultimate validity of man’s life as an end upon itself, and serves as a self destructive mechanism: when faith eradicates reason, all value of life vanishes. Exemplifications are numerous: the Spanish Inquisition, the Nazi Genocide, and Islamic Extremists. This metaphysics and epistemology only produces a resentment of this world, and an inextricable culture of death. Man must suffer in sacrifice, and in such self-denial assign evil to that which he may enjoy, producing an environment of fear towards an unexplainable world manipulated by dark forces beyond his control. Who can be happy and experience joy in such a tragic world? The only salvation is escape, and the only ultimate escape is the grave, so the seeking and imparting of good is futile, if not impossible (which must be why it must come from god’s grace), leaving man to resign himself to misery and sacrificial subjugation. The best example is Mother Theresa who syphoned large quantities of money into buildings that were not hospitals, but in fact houses for dying, and who told the impoverished that it was beautiful when they accepted their lot, denying them all but the most rudimentary medical attention, while she had herself flown into America hospitals when her health was falling. There could not be a more vivid example of the faith-based mentality of sacrifice: the specters of the impoverished of Calcutta were sacrificial offerings, and Mother Theresa was the preserved collector. There is no benevolence in this world-view, and clarity allows us to finally submerge its epistemology forever.
A rational world-view affords us a neutral reality, simply being with no intention, and allows man to act in accordance with its rules to achieve his values and flourish. With no benevolence to be found in a self-destructive system whose main aim is to relegate the importance of man and his life to a secondary role, one can easily convince oneself that benevolence may only exist in so far as reason can keep this self-destructive system at bay, that only through reason may man be able to achieve his full potential, and in this to achieve happiness, and that reason is, by its very nature, the ultimate benevolent benefactor (in faith’s anthropomorphic epistemological terms) of man’s life. While reason may serve to moderate faith, at worst, any compromise of reason with faith’s epistemology proper is detrimental to reason, and thus detrimental to every individual alive.
The most benevolent act one can do is to establish within oneself the principle of selfishness, for this one principle guides one to act towards the best solutions, sacrificing no one to no one and benefiting all involved. I quote John Galt:
“The world you desired can be won. It exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours. But to win it requires your total dedication and a total break with the world of your past, with the doctrine that man is a sacrificial animal who exists for the pleasure of others. Fight for the value of your person. Fight for the virtue of your pride. Fight for the essence of that which is man: for his sovereign rational mind. Fight with the radiant certainty and the absolute rectitude of knowing that yours is the morality of life and that yours is the battle for any achievement, any value, any grandeur, any goodness, any joy that has ever existed on earth.” 
- “benevolent.” Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 19 May. 2007. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/benevolent>.
- Epstein, Alex, Ayn Rand Institute. Thursday, April 10th, 2007.
- Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Signet, 1985.
This article is part of a series on Positive Individualism
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