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Re: [ontolog-forum] Self Interest Ontology going offline

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Ali Hashemi <ali@xxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 15 Aug 2011 20:47:52 -0400
Message-id: <CADr70E0JoBCxOPmsKYPvj6pdw58-z29Tkpkd4sq4Cw5bqCuAiw@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Hi Rich

On Mon, Aug 15, 2011 at 2:27 PM, Rich Cooper <rich@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

[RC] You could be right about this; I haven’t exactly gotten the list to see eye-to-eye, and I do agree that what I have posted are definitely my own opinions, as other posts to “correct” them have been the opinions of the “correcting” posters.  But “unfounded”?  I disagree on that adjective, and believe that my opinion is well shared by economists who have NOT bought into the Keynesian theories, or who have realized that Keynes was only a theoretician without grounding. 


Economists who have no background in actually practicing the theories, of course, disagree with the others.  Paul Krugman, for example, continues to preach Keynesian doctrine, while Art Laffer, a far better analyst IMHO, seems convinced by the Hayek viewpoint, and by the experienced view of other more practitioners who aren’t as enamored of theory as to lose sight of actual data. 

Apologies for the insensitive language. I was thinking of the claims regarding climate change and disproportionate tax burdens when I was writing this. While I appreciate subjectivity and the fact that there are multiple ways of looking at many things, that's not the same as admitting that all perspectives are equally valid and deserve the same attention. I've spent too much of my time trying to engage proponents of homeopathic medicines, new age believers, climate change deniers and just plain misinformation re tax burdens to respond tactfully.

While something like the efficacy of homoeopathic medicines can't entirely be disproven, the evidence is scant to support it and the perspective is not just one of subjective interpretations, patients might forego useful procedures and indeed, engage in harmful practices out of misinformation. Similarly, while anthropogenic climate change can't be completely proven, a lot of evidence supports it, and to divert attention to those who claim it is a fantasy that we do not need to address is trying. To pretend that subjective or relative interpretations somehow make all perspective equally sound is disingenuous. Hence the bursque language. Similarly people who claim that taxes are so high so that businesses won't employ individuals, or to state the tax burden of a demographic without the context of the other types of tax, nor mentioning the share of wealth for the demographic - it is misinformation and disingenuous... Anyway, I hope we can move on.

[RC] Yes, and I think you have a point.  My attempt to relate these issues to the self interest ontology hasn’t succeeded, and may only have opened up more nonessential, nonproductive discussions.  Would you like to contribute a post that you see as more directed to the issue, perhaps using Maslow’s ideas as a basis?

Sure, in the revised hierarchy (see page 293), they note the effect that a life history (page 299) has on the stages which affect a person's needs and motivations. With broad strokes here, at a primary level, before one can satisfy "higher order/level" motivations and be able to attend to self-interest in a more abstract / conceptual / thought-out manner, one needs to satisfy basic physiological constraints. 

Someone deprived of food, nourishment, physical health etc., will have a very difficult time conceiving let alone practising more conceptual types of desires. Notions of self-interest that can be employed by a particular organism are dependent on satisfying a various ecological realities including physiological needs. It seems that some baseline of socializing or engagement is arguably a physiological need for many humans (see page 296).

A further deviation from Maslow's original hierarchy is that needs such as shelter, hunger etc., are present throughout life. It's not as if one satisfies them once and they're done with, but rather they are constantly in a state of flux. If I have not eaten for a couple of days, even though I am generally well, in most circumstances motivations regarding satisfying my hunger will come to dominate my behaviour and any conceptualization of self-interest - absent serious dedication and focus on my part (i.e. hunger strike etc.). Of course, this is a broad generalization, but it illustrates a basic observation, the hierarchy isn't neatly delineated, but rather at a constant state of interplay with the present circumstances of the individual, dependent on their particular life histories.

One of the fundamental claims in the paper is [1]:

At the broadest level, an evolutionary approach implies that
all behavior is goal-oriented, resulting from psychological
adaptations that were designed by natural selection to deal with
recurrent threats and opportunities. A considerable body of
comparative and neuropsychological evidence now supports
the assumption of multiple motivational and cognitive systems (Kenrick et al page 295)
An implication is that self-actualization might also need to be understood in terms of mating and status. They also recognize limits in such generalizations - in that these archetypes are realized in unique ways by individuals and need not always apply to everyone.  This is due to the fact that they are making the claims about evolutionary groups (i.e. human species as a whole) and not about individuals (or particular life histories). The table on page 305 summarizes a lot of the ecological stimuli / cues which affect which aspect of the hierarchy might be dominant, hence mitigating any purely conceptual / ideological / abstract rendering of self-interest.

Wherein they write:

As a minimum, we have noted that each motivational system is
connected to a set of different threats and opportunities. 
Moreover, the behaviors, feelings, and decision rules involved
in making one’s mate happy are different than those involved in
defending against infidelity and those involved in making
friends are different from those involved in catching cheaters
on social contracts. Thus, it is perhaps more appropriate to think
of motivational systems as somewhat akin to Martindale’s
(1980) notion of ‘‘subselves’’—as sets of subprograms for dealing 
with general categories of adaptive problems, linked in
associative networks (Kenrick, 2006; Kenrick & Shiota, 2008;
Kurzban & Aktipis, 2007). For example, seeing an attractive
member of the opposite sex can prime a network of thoughts and
feelings involving one’s own partner and one’s own mate value,
activate strategies designed to increase or decrease commitment
to the relationship, and so on (e.g., Gutierres et al., 1999; Maner,
Rouby, & Gonzaga, 2008; Roney, 2003)...
Socially shared
experiences that result from one’s particular culture will also
be important (e.g., Japanese and Americans respond differently
to opportunities to interact with someone at a different level of
the social hierarchy; Nakao, 1987). As discussed earlier, it is
becoming increasingly clear that those cultural experiences are
not necessarily arbitrary from a biological perspective and that
they are often linked to ecological factors. (Kenrick et al page 307)

 I think self-interest is defined more in terms of motivation, as they conclude:

A consideration of the ultimate functions of
behaviors and of life-history development counsels the explicit
inclusion of motivational levels linked to mating and reproduction. 
Reproduction for humans is not ultimately about selfgratification, 
but involves a considerable diversion of resources
away from selfish goals and toward other human beings in our
social networks. A consideration of life-history trade-offs also
implies that later developing motive systems never fully
replace earlier ones and that they continue to coexist, ready
to be activated depending on current opportunities and threats
in the environment, in interaction with individual differences.
Thus, a key point of this revised perspective is the focus on the
ongoing dynamic interaction between internal motives and
their functional links to ongoing environmental threats and
opportunities. (Kenrick et al, page 309)

In this light, I might consider how the different motivations define different types of self-interest and what the semantics of each might be.


Whoa, I am not a Randian, having not found her belief system all that appealing.  She grounds her theories solely in selfishness, not in enlightened self interest.  I wouldn’t want to live in her world.  I believe in more beneficence in political measures, not solely in selfishness, which she elevated beyond all other considerations. 

Apologies for assuming.

I find “moral” statements to be just as much personal opinions as the ones I and others have posted here.  Morality, IMHO, is in the mind of the moralizer, and doesn’t translate well into facts and rules for OTHERS to follow.  The study of morality is useful for those of us who want to determine our own morality, but should not be used as a basis for law, other than stopping catastrophically immoral actions, such as violent ones and imposing value judgments into law. 

I would suggest you actually read Haidt's work. It's not as much about moral statements. Very briefly, in his "Moral Foundation Theory", he identifies the following 5 fundamental categories which arise to various shades of morality [2]:
  • Care for others, protecting them from harm. (He also referred to this dimension as Harm)
  • Fairness, Justice, treating others equally.
  • Loyalty to your group, family, nation. (He also referred to this dimension as In-group)
  • Respect for tradition and legitimate authority. (He also referred to this dimension as Authority)
  • Purity, avoiding disgusting things, foods, actions.
He argues that these 5 vectors account for many of the world`s different moral codes and religious values. He interestingly also found a correlation between which of these dimensions of morality are invoked (and in what preference order) with political preferences of subjects in multiple cultures (i.e. not just US undergrads).

In light of the Kenrick article above, we can combine the two to gain one useful perspective and a start to semantics for self interest. From Kenrick we learn that different notions of self-interest apply when the ecological context is dominated by certain motivations, for instance regarding group social dynamics (i.e. status, mating, affiliation, self-protection). The work by Haidt can provide a grounding for some of the semantics in the rules governing the social notions of self-interest.

For instance, appeals to In-group identification and Purity of said groud, perhaps made through Authority easily leads to varieties of self-interest that allow atrocities such as the holocaust in WWII, the holocaust in Rwanada, the degradation of black people by South Africans, or further in the past by the Americans, Europeans and Arabs. Appeals along these vectors can also account for religious exclusion and domination by extremists of any of the major faiths. Self-interest, but whence and for whom?

Similarly, appeals to the importance of caring and fairness can help describe the notions of community self-interest that many North American "liberals" or "humanists" espouse in practice. Again, these are all at the higher, cognitive levels of self-interest, though perhaps competition for scarce resources, or perceived inter-group threats factor in as well.

[1] Douglas T. Kenrick, Vladas Griskevicius, Steven L. Neuberg and Mark Schaller. Renovating the Pyramid of Needs : Contemporary Extensions Built Upon Ancient Foundation. Perspectives on Psychological Science 2010 5: 292 - http://www.csom.umn.edu/assets/144040.pdf

[2] Moral Foundation Theory page - http://faculty.virginia.edu/haidtlab/mft/index.php


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