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zdgroff comments on Capitalism and Selfishness - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: zdgroff 20 September 2017 06:09:32PM 0 points [-]

In general, I think this is correct and a very useful distinction. I hear people make sloppy arguments on this all the time. It's clear that capitalism and socialism do not at least obviously or superficially entail selfishness or selflessness on a conceptual level.

I do think that on a deeper conceptual level, though, there may be more connections. I took a socialist philosophy class in college taught by an "analytic Marxist" (John Roemer) who used the tools of neoclassical economics to model a more reasonable and precise version of Marxist theory. He was best friends with G.A. Cohen, one of the greatest analytic political philosophers of the 20th century (in my opinion the greatest). Both of them held the view that understandings of selfishness and selflessness were pretty key to the conceptual cases for capitalism and socialism: capitalists took selfish motives for granted, both underestimating the extent of selflessness and utterly neglecting the possibility of changing the extent of selflessness and selfishness in human beings. Socialists, in contrast, recognized that it is possible to foster different ethics and that the ethic of socialism, being more selfless than the ethic of capitalism, would feed on itself.

Interestingly, G.A. Cohen argued that socialists should abide by very similar principles to EAs in his book "If You're an Egalitarian, How Come You're So Rich?"