The proper method of judging when or whether one should help another person is
by reference to one’s own rational self-interest and one’s own hierarchy of
values: the time, money or effort one gives or the risk one takes should be
proportionate to the value of the person in relation to one’s own happiness.
To illustrate this on the altruists’ favorite example: the issue of saving a
drowning person. If the person to be saved is a stranger, it is morally proper
to save him only when the danger to one’s own life is minimal; when the danger
is great, it would be immoral to attempt it: only a lack of self-esteem could
permit one to value one’s life no higher than that of any random stranger.
(And, conversely, if one is drowning, one cannot expect a stranger to risk his
life for one’s sake, remembering that one’s life cannot be as valuable to him
as his own.)
If the person to be saved is not a stranger, then the risk one should be
willing to take is greater in proportion to the greatness of that person’s
value to oneself. If it is the man or woman one loves, then one can be willing
to give one’s own life to save him or her—for the selfish reason that life
without the loved person could be unbearable.