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Thomas Nagel visited Loyola University during my first semester there while taking David Ozars Survey Ethics course. Naturally, most of us from class attended his lecture up in the scenic Hussey Lounge atop Damen Hall. He was not a particularly good speaker. It was my first visit to the lounge and I must admit to being distracted by the lovely panorama of the Loop to the south and the Lake to the east.The book was better, though I have trouble understanding why there is a controversy about the idea of altrustic behavior--enough that Professor Nagle has devoted much of his career to arguing on the pro side of it.It is a commonplace in evolutionary biology and psychology to distinguish between individual- and species-survival drives. Indeed, the sociobiology fad of the time was substantially based upon the biological evidence. One can, of course, reduce such species-survival drives as our caring for children to a kind of genetic selfishness, but that is perspectival and does not change the fact that we are often motivated in the interests of other individuals.It seems to me that a fruitful approach to the problem is to question the whole self/other distinction, recognizing that the senses of agency/responsibility/selfhood vary between cultures and eras. To take a familiar example of this, consider the many cases in the bible of a member of a family/clan/nation performing an act which the entire collective is identified with--sometimes on to many generations. Consider, for instance, the doctrine of original sin, that in Adams fall, so fell we all, as well as that of our redemption through the efficacy of Jesus sacrifice millenia ago.From another angle, consider the psychological commonplace of questioning the integrity of the person as agent. Instead, the person is regarded as a kind of shorthand reference to an individual body, while the personality is regarded as being made up of more-or-less associated complexes. Our culture favors well-integrated complexes of course, the association of bodies with ethical agents being convenient, but recognizes that this is a fiction insofar as, say, law makes exception for crimes of passion, religions (and the arts) honor certain states of possession, and psychotherapy profits off of various modes of disintegration and maladjustment.Rather than questioning altruism, why not question the notion of selfishness? What is the self anyway? Our culture has a tendency to think of it as being somehow foundationally atomic, individual in the sense of being indivisible. But it might just as well be seen as an ever-changing compromise formation which may, for a time, under certain pressures, appear as solid as a diamond, but which certainly has not the gems perdurance. Just as our ever-changing bodies ultimately decompose entirely, so too, and often much more suddenly, do our selves. Indeed, bodies occasionally last longer than selves.Furthermore, the notion of having a unique self or soul does not stand up to analysis. What would constitute such uniqueness? Our private thoughts and memories perhaps? But how do we apprehend this inner, private life of our selves? I do it entirely in terms of the most common, public semiotic and symbolic forms. I know myself in terms of language, very broadly defined, and the languages used are ones taught me by others, understandable to others. Indeed, I know myself as an other. Indeed, and this is important, there is a real sense in which altruism to oneself is as vitally problematic as altruism to others. Masochism, self-destructiveness in many forms, are common phenomena if not universal.

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