Benevolence

In his book, Unrugged Individualism, David Kelley describes how benevolence is not altruism and not simply a response to misfortune in others. It is the active pursuit of the enormous value that we can get from relationships with other people. Benevolence, as a major virtue, is key to living by the trader principle.

Opportunities for trade do not simple present themselves. They must be created through our own initiative. The world does not beat a path to our door; we must go out to meet it; we must extend ourselves. In order to obtain the benefits of living with others in society, we cannot function solely as judges, we must also function as entrepreneurs.
David Kelley, Unrugged Individualism
Trade creates enormous value, both material and non-material. The benefits of economic trade are well documented throughout the field of economics. Some of the non-material values achieved through trade are friendship, love, exchange of knowledge, mutual protection, and visibility. Benevolence is the commitment to create trade and trading opportunities.

Benevolence can bee seen as optimism applied to other people and relationships. It does not consist of any particular set of actions, but a general good will towards others based on the benevolent universe premise: Successful trading relationships with others are the to be expected, so treat other people accordingly. For example, if you are optimistic about other people and relationships, then perhaps you will treat a stranger like you would normally treat an acquaintance and an acquaintance like a friend. This broadcasts a friendly, non-hostile, attitude and a willingness to trade which is a prerequisite for peaceful interaction.

Benevolence is not the same as altruism. Altruism dictates that you sacrifice yourself for the benefit for others -- that their need is a claim on your actions. Benevolence enables you to achieve your values from relationships with other people. Benevolence is very much like productiveness in its use as a tool for achieving value.

By giving a person the benefit of the doubt when interacting with them, you create opportunities that would not be available if you always assume the worst about people and act like it. This mainly manifests itself in the form of civility. Politeness takes little effort and can often achieve a lot. Politeness and the assumption that another person is not out to cheat you pave the way for beneficial interaction.

Trust between people can be built up over time and founded on the past actions of the other person; but it has to start somewhere. Initial trust is based on a positive outlook on humanity and the likelihood that the other person is a good example. Benevolence is this optimism applied to the other person. Economic trade, exchange of knowledge, and mutual protection all require some level of trust between people.

Traditionally, benevolence as been seen as being in conflict with justice. The Christians like to talk about "tempering" justice with mercy, and many rugged individualists hold justice so highly and irrationally that they view benevolence as treason to reality. These attitudes only apply is benevolence is seen simply as mercy and generosity in response to another persons suffering or need. As Ayn Rand pointed out in her "Ethics of Emergencies" essay, helping another in an emergency is a marginal issue in philosophy because, according to the benevolent universe premise, failure and suffering are the abnormal and not to be expected. They are not metaphysically important.

David Kelley points out that benevolence is never in conflict with justice. He writes that benevolence is to justice as productiveness is to rationality. Justice is the identification and judgment of people and their actions, and the decision to treat them accordingly. Benevolence is the pursuit of value based on those identifications and that decision. Benevolence is not an end in itself -- it is a means to the end of your own life.

Benevolence is a commitment to achieving the values derivable from life with other people in society, by treating them as potential trading partners, recognizing their humanity, independence, and individuality, and the harmony between their interests and ours.
David Kelley, Unrugged Individualism

Copyright 2001 by Jeff Landauer and Joseph Rowlands