Altruism is a philosophical term, which denotes a concern for other people’s welfare. It is a core aspect for most cultures, however it differs with regard to whom the concern should be directed and for what reasons it should become necessary. The opposite of the term is selfishness, and it is distinguishable from loyalty, duty and love. By nature it involves the provision of material value to people other than one’s self, and as such involves sacrifice. Rand states that “sacrifice is the surrender of a greater value for a lesser value or non-value” (50). This implies no compensation or benefits for pure altruism. The case on whether it is better to spend $400 U.S dollars on a new generation IPod or seek better alternatives for its expenditure may be responded differently by different philosophers depending on their philosophical standings on morals and duty.
Peter Singer, an Australian ethicist, may respond to the question on the IPod by stating that there are indeed better ways of using money. In his article “Famine, Affluence, and Morality,” Singer states that human suffering as witnessed in disastrous emergencies such as those in Bengal could be avoided if only individuals were able to make the right decisions (Singer 229). The decisions implied in this case include those of making altruistic sacrifices to donate to charities that aid the displaced and famine-stricken individuals. According to Singer, “My next point is this: if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it” (230). In this argument, Singer purports that these sufferings from hunger and death are bad, and by virtue of that, there is a need to prevent them by all means. He furthers his argument by stating that the sacrifice to avert such a situation should be a moral decision, if the individual has the capability to prevent the bad ending in the disastrous emergency situation without a negative effect of sacrificing an equally significant choice. Therefore, in such a situation, Singer would call for a contribution of $400 dollars to a better course because the purchase of an IPod is of less moral importance. However, according to his further arguments, I may be morally obliged, but never compelled. Additionally, he states that: “Because giving money is regarded as an act of charity, it is not thought that there is anything wrong with not giving. The charitable man may be praised, but the man who is not charitable is not condemned” (Singer 233). Therefore, while my new generation is morally obliged to sacrifice IPod price, I am still not condemned for avoiding doing the same. Singer defines the acceptable levels of contribution as those restricted to the confines of what is comfortable, meaning “…no more, and no less, than "I ought to” (243). Therefore, there is an obligation to provide, but within limits-implying that it does not necessarily have to be the whole $400 dollars, but could be just a part of it.
On the other hand, the definition of altruism as philosophically reviewed by Rand entails a sacrifice of greater value for lesser value or non-value. Rand holds that a man needs to have a value system, which would normally be compromised in order for an action to be considered an altruistic sacrifice. Rand states that: “… all choices, including one’s acts to other men. It requires that one possess a defined hierarchy of rational values” (50). These are values that determine rational conduct, moral choices and value judgments. The compromise in this case implies that the value of the sacrifice should go to the recipient of the sacrifice. For example, helping a family or a friend in need out of love or friendship may not be considered an altruistic sacrifice. That will be rather an expression of selfish values and a response of personal value within another. As such, it would require the sacrificing person to offer his sacrificed contribution to a stranger, or rather unknown person in order to warrant the altruistic sacrificial state. In view of this, Rand would have responded to the posed question - on whether there was nothing better to do with the money - stating that the best and most valuable thing would be the IPod. It features in the personal value system as a valuable choice, and to the individual, the most valuable choice is the better choice. However when viewed for an altruistic sacrifice from various angles, where one may need to help some unknown stranger, then helping the person would not be the best option for me to use my $400 dollars. However, such a use would be truly altruistic in terms of sacrifice because I chose the least value or non-value option to spend my money on, rather than pick what I may regard as better in my value system.
In Rand’s view, true altruistic sacrifice entails offering what is of value. On the other hand, Singer views the sacrifice as offering what is not necessary to an individual or rather what may be considered extraneous and non-important. However, with a limit of ensuring that it is not beyond what one ought to give or rather within comfortable confines, where the individual may have to sacrifice his/her convenience.
In conclusion, the consideration of all these elements would lead me to make a conclusion that my IPod is of the best value within my value system. As such, I would respond to my father by stating that my use of the $400 dollars is the best choice of value. However, out of the obligation to help alleviate bad happenings, I may have to make contributions to the suffering people as stated by Singer. However, this has to be what is within my comfortable confines of contribution. Since I love listening to music and it is my passion, the foregoing of my purchase may not be within comfortable confines, and perhaps the comfortable contribution in this case would be the sale of my older generation IPod so as to offer the donation to suffering people. Additionally, since charitable contributions are an obligation with praise for givers and non-condemnation for the non-contributors, I should not be condemned for failing to give up my purchase for a worthy course, but of least value to me. However, if I was to help a friend or loved one, I may choose to give up my $400 dollar IPod purchase only if that particular person featured highly on my value system or was a stranger in an emergency. That is to say if only s/he is more valuable to me than the IPod, but then again this would be determined by the relational dynamics between me and the person. In this regard, Rand states that, “The virtue involved in helping those one loves is not “selflessness” or “sacrifice” but integrity. Integrity is loyalty to one’s values and convictions” (52). As for the case involving a stranger, Rand states that “it is on the ground of that generalized will and respect for the value of human life that one helps strangers in an emergency” (54). Therefore, I would say that foregoing of my purchase will solely depend on the case, whether or not it is an emergency, when it will come to dealing with strangers.