Re: virus: Joy

Tracy Harms (
Wed, 1 Nov 95 23:30:13 MDT

To David Leeper:

Janet Taylor wrote the following sentence

> Even altruisum is
> performed because it brings more joy to be the giver than whatever is
> given up.

to which you gave extended reply, in two separate messages.
I am in strong agreement with your discussion in the message entitled _virus:
Re: Rationalism_, but toward the later post _virus: Joy_ I am far less pleased
by your argument. Perhaps you should have left well enough alone.

In specific, you replied:

>1) This statement has no meaning, because the word "joy" has no meaning.

The word /joy/ certainly does have meaning! I'm most amazed to encounter such a
statement in this context. That it has meaning, and that you understand its
meaning, is attested to by your offering a "more carefully worded" substitute
("prefers to perform"). If /joy/ had no meaning, such substitution would not
make any sense, either.

> "Joy" differs from individual to individual, that is, it is subjective.

Whether or not something differs among individuals has nothing to do with
subjectivity. Body mass differs from individual to individual, too, but that
doesn't make it "subjective".

> We end up with something like "Individuals perform
> altruistic acts because they prefer to perform them."

Janet's line of inquiry DOES tend to fall into this sort of tautology, and that
does pose a deficiency which we must point out, but the problem with it is
simply that what we seek to explain is why individuals have preferences. So I
*do* agree with the point you make as #3 --- but #2 was off track. For although
her statement is tautological for Dawkins' purpose, it actually has an important
meaning. She claims that altruistic acts are by nature consonant with economic
calculation. That is far from meaningless; in fact, it stands as as apparently
in conflict with Dawkins' theory and so may have utility in the testing process.

In summary, I agree that Dawkins' theory is a huge step forward in a very
important problem, the problem of unit-of-evolution, and the consequences of
that theory are especially noteworthy for providing cogent answers to serious
puzzles such as the evolution of altruism. But I'd like to see this argued
without falsely accusing people of making meaningless statements. INADEQUATE
and MEANINGLESS are not synonymous! Thank you.