Forums > Social Discussion > Is their no such thing as a unselfish act??

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brodiemanold hand
1,024 posts
Location: london


Posted:
I had a debate a few weeks ago, a friend of mine believes their is no such thing as a unselfish act,
So i said what about someone who devotes their life to others ie children in a third world country... his responce was that they recieve self gratification so the act is selfish.
So if you do a nice thing are you just doing it for your self hmmmmm i dont like this one what does everyone else think?? smile

Dragon7GOLD Member
addict
625 posts
Location: Aotearoa (NZ), New Zealand


Posted:
No such thing as a free lunch...yea i never take anything off anyone, otherwise they own you huh. Well not always, but there are some seriously suspect people out there...though the odd act of random kindness often makes the world a better place. smile

DeepSoulSheepGOLD Member
Carpal \'Tunnel
2,617 posts
Location: Berlin, Ireland


Posted:
Your friend is assuming that the person being charitable is doing so for reasons of self gratification. Most people who do this work do not do it for themselves.

I would suggest that a cynical person looks at situations through their own eyes and mind rather than through the hearts of those who are compassionate.

I live in a world of infinite possibilities.


ado-pGOLD Member
Pirate Ninja
3,882 posts
Location: Galway/Ireland


Posted:
I believe in the selfless act,

Compassion, love, hope, support. All these things and more.

Love is the law.


_Clare_BRONZE Member
Still wiggling
5,967 posts
Location: Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK)


Posted:
People are naturally selfish though... it's not a bad thing, it's just human nature.

We're all selfish, and the people who aren't (unfortunately) are the ones who get walked over.

I don't believe in a 'selfless' act... humans always act for a reason, and no matter what that act is, the individual gets something out of it (whether that's self-gratification or the respect and admiration of peers), so it can't be selfless. Perhaps less-selfish than other actions, but not 'selfless'.

I reckon your mate was right brodieman smile

Getting to the other side smile


onewheeldaveGOLD Member
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3,252 posts
Location: sheffield, United Kingdom


Posted:
Written by: brodieman_X


I had a debate a few weeks ago, a friend of mine believes their is no such thing as a unselfish act,
So i said what about someone who devotes their life to others ie children in a third world country... his responce was that they recieve self gratification so the act is selfish.
So if you do a nice thing are you just doing it for your self hmmmmm i dont like this one what does everyone else think?? smile





I've got a degree in philosophy and this question is one that I thought about a fair bit at the time.

I'd say that if you want to answer it, the first thing is to work out what is meant by a 'unselfish' act ie define it; the rest will then fall into place.

Your friend is coming at it from the angle that whatever you do is done for a reason- even if you're helping out someone else and putting yourself at risk, unltimately you're choosing to do it, so you must want to do it, you must have an agenda; therefore it's selfish.

This would mean that all acts are indeed selfish.

However, though this makes sense, I'm inclined to question it.

Firstly on the grounds that philosophy is rife with examples of a well functioning everday concept/word, which are taken, analysed in some obscure direction, and end up being unusable.

I would suggest that this is what has happened here- we have a word 'selfish' that we know how to use i.e. we can usually tell a selfish individual from an unselfish one; then along comes your friend, and suddenly the word applies equally to everyone and is therefore rendered useless.

Secondly, we can question the definition of 'selfish' that your friend appears to be using i.e. defining a selfish act as one that provides 'self gratification'.

However, I'd want to say that that is just one aspect of what we mean by selfish, surely another equally important aspect is that it is an act that benefits others?

So if we take two individuals: -

a) is a person who lives their life primarily trying to get what they want, regardless of who they have to trample over to get those things

b) is a person who helps others, maybe out of a sense of duty, or maybe just because they love helping others

Your friend is picking up on the fact that both individuals are acting in accord with their natures and getting benefit out of their acts- concluding that both are selfish.

However, to me, and I suspect to you- the two are clearly different, and we'd say that a is selfish (because they trample over others) and b is unselfish (because they respect and help others).

Like I say, that's just a first draft attempt- I'm sure that your friend can come up with a clever answer to it smile

I'd suggest that it would be of more benefit for them to reflect on why they find their view so appealing, what is it in themselves that makes them want to believe that everyone is selfish.

By doing that they are stepping out of the field of philosophy/debate of a topic that can go futiley round and round in circles for ever; and into the field of self understanding and transformation.

"You can't outrun Death forever.
But you can make the Bastard work for it."

--MAJOR KORGO KORGAR,
"Last of The Lancers"
AFC 32


Educate your self in the Hazards of Fire Breathing STAY SAFE!


onewheeldaveGOLD Member
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3,252 posts
Location: sheffield, United Kingdom


Posted:
Written by: Firepoise







We're all selfish, and the people who aren't (unfortunately) are the ones who get walked over.






Just briefly point out that the fact that 'we're all selfish', is logically incompatible with the existence of 'people who aren't (selfish)'



Sorry (I'm still in 'philosophy mode' smile)

"You can't outrun Death forever.
But you can make the Bastard work for it."

--MAJOR KORGO KORGAR,
"Last of The Lancers"
AFC 32


Educate your self in the Hazards of Fire Breathing STAY SAFE!


stripesSILVER Member
stranger
41 posts
Location: england


Posted:
gosh but this is getting deep!

I don't think we're all selfish, and I think people who say we are are either deeply cynical and world weary, or are saying it to excuse themselves.

everyone is capable of being selfless, self gratification does not mean that an act is not selfless. I doubt very much whether the pleasure a person gets out of helping children in the third world is enough to make it "worth their while"- i think it probably helps the children a whole lot more than anyone else.

so what if it makes you happy too, that just means that your desires and pleasures are unselfish too, which means that you are truely unselfish, rather than being some hypocrite who smiles on the outside and hates on the inside.

remember; they can't break you if you don't have a spine


mo-sephenthusiast
524 posts
Location: Edinburgh, UK


Posted:
Strange, I was thinking about this the other day. I agree that most actions we choose will make our lives better in some way, even if it's just the warm glow of having helped someone etc, or making the world a little more like we believe it should/could be. But for me selfishness has connotations of doing this at the expense of others, and there are many acts we do which don't put our own happiness before that of others. So again, it comes down to definition of selfishness.

monkeys ate my brain


ado-pGOLD Member
Pirate Ninja
3,882 posts
Location: Galway/Ireland


Posted:
Ah yes, the old chicken and the egg.

I help you, now I feel good. Did I know i'd feel good before I helped you? Did it influence my decision to help you. If I knew it wouldnt feel good to help you, would I have done it anyway?

There are so many different ways to approach this question, The example of the reward system is the most basic. Getting rewarded emotionally (thus chemically) is something we learn from childhood. I would argue that it is not everyones primary motivator. Nor is everyone chasing money and or power.

I like where your headed OWD, if all people are selfish then the very definition of the word is moot. As is the word selfless. I would assert that these words were not constructed out of idealism or cynicism but out of necessity.

Written by:

selfish

\Self"ish\, a. 1. Caring supremely or unduly for one's self; regarding one's own comfort, advantage, etc., in disregard, or at the expense, of those of others.

They judge of things according to their own private appetites and selfish passions. --Cudworth.

In that throng of selfish hearts untrue. --Keble.

2. (Ethics) Believing or teaching that the chief motives of human action are derived from love of self.

Hobbes and the selfish school of philosophers. --Fleming.





Written by:



selfless
.
Having, exhibiting, or motivated by no concern for oneself; unselfish: Volunteers need both selfish and selfless motives to sustain their interest (Natalie de Combray).

selfless

\Self"less\, a. Having no regard to self; unselfish.

Lo now, what hearts have men! they never mount As high as woman in her selfless mood. --Tennyson.

selfless

adj : showing unselfish concern for the welfare of others [syn: altruistic] [ant: egoistic]



Love is the law.


DomBRONZE Member
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3,009 posts
Location: Bristol, UK


Posted:
Yeah, I'll back up the point that it depends upon the definition of selfish. It's not intended as "doing something for your own benefit", it's "being concerned chiefly or only with oneself, often to the detriment of others".

So doing something for someone else because it makes you feel good is not selfish. Nature was clever built in a reward system into emotions.

_Clare_BRONZE Member
Still wiggling
5,967 posts
Location: Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK)


Posted:
xx
EDITED_BY: _Clare_ (1175343413)

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_Clare_BRONZE Member
Still wiggling
5,967 posts
Location: Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK)


Posted:
Ahem, btw, it took so long for me to write my reply that everyone else had commented... sorry, didn't mean to offend anyone smile

Getting to the other side smile


ado-pGOLD Member
Pirate Ninja
3,882 posts
Location: Galway/Ireland


Posted:
Written by:

There is nothing wrong with an action for another 'that makes you happy too' - but taking pleasure in your good deed, by definition, is selfish, because it shows that your agenda for doing that 'good deed' in the first place was to take pleasure (try to distance yourself from the idea that to be selfish is 'wrong').





Written by:

I help you, now I feel good. Did I know i'd feel good before I helped you? Did it influence my decision to help you. If I knew it wouldnt feel good to help you, would I have done it anyway?





Would you do it anyway?

Love is the law.


_Clare_BRONZE Member
Still wiggling
5,967 posts
Location: Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK)


Posted:
xx
EDITED_BY: _Clare_ (1175343452)

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MikeGinnyGOLD Member
HOP Mad Doctor
13,923 posts
Location: San Francisco, CA, USA


Posted:
There is one selfless act that I can think of. And only one:

Anatomical or organ donation.

-Mike

Certified Mad Doctor and HoP High Priest of Nutella



A buckuht n a hooze! -Valura


Paddyback from the dead...sort of
884 posts
Location: 4341'N 7938'W


Posted:
Curious, Lightning...I can defintely see how that might be considered the *most* selfless act, but the *only* one? Why would you discount similar kind actions?

_Clare_BRONZE Member
Still wiggling
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Posted:
xx
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ber sealThe Official London juggling ber spy. shh! dont tell any one
419 posts
Location: the world (London)


Posted:
All I have to say is lets all have a BIG grouphug and a beerchug .

and if you were wondering it cos I want all of these

ubbloco

When people says "plz" cause its shorter than "please" I say "no" cause its shorter than "yes"


_Clare_BRONZE Member
Still wiggling
5,967 posts
Location: Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK)


Posted:
Lol... the only problem with philosophy is that it can, occasionally, detract from drinking time (tis hard to do both at the same time, and hugging while thinking (or drinking) is just wrong)

So hug beerchug hug beerchug hug beerchug beerchug

Getting to the other side smile


onewheeldaveGOLD Member
Carpal \'Tunnel
3,252 posts
Location: sheffield, United Kingdom


Posted:
Written by: Firepoise



For a philosopher, Dave, I think you've really over-simplified the argument with your two examples





just briefly,

After many years and a degree of studying philosophy, I came to the conclusion that the very essence of finding truth was to simplify.

So many arguments that have been going round and round for centuries do so because of an insistence on seeing complexity as the mark of good philosophy.

Define the terms properly (so you know what you're talking about) then simplify- there's not a problem in philosophy that won't dissolve instantly when you do that smile

"You can't outrun Death forever.
But you can make the Bastard work for it."

--MAJOR KORGO KORGAR,
"Last of The Lancers"
AFC 32


Educate your self in the Hazards of Fire Breathing STAY SAFE!


TuTuManBRONZE Member
Mushroom Fueled Frenzy
139 posts
Location: Philadelphia, PA, USA


Posted:
every action that we decide is a result of our mind. Who controls our mind? Obvously we do, so every action is selfish. The meaning of the action might not be selfish but the cause of the action is.

::::does a little monkey man dance::::
You'll understand when you see his dancing feet


Paddyback from the dead...sort of
884 posts
Location: 4341'N 7938'W


Posted:
Written by: Firepoise


Lol... the only problem with philosophy is that it can, occasionally, detract from drinking time (tis hard to do both at the same time, and hugging while thinking (or drinking) is just wrong)




Hard to do both?? I find they go hand in hand. smile A little wine goes a long way to help loosen the mind from the routine thinking one has to do to survive a day. A LOT of wine on the other hand... ubbloco

OWD, I fully agree man. I took a philosophy of mind course this year and I was blown away at how silly some of the theories were. I find the mark of "good" philosophy is not only complexity but the attempt to compartmentalize all that which cannot be strictly defined (or at least that which exists on a continuum).

Back on topic, I agree largely with ado-p's chicken and egg thang. I can definitely following the argument that there is no such thing a selfless act because we're just doing what we know will make us "feel good inside"; thus, it's a benefit to us and not selfless. The tricky bit is that, as Dom says, we've been made for that to make us feel good, so you get the whole problem of which came first.

It's funny that people talk about original sin, as though people were perfect up until that point and sin tainted everything. Given the nature of evolution, sin would be expected, and "original altruism" would have tainted everything for the better.

_Clare_BRONZE Member
Still wiggling
5,967 posts
Location: Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK)


Posted:
xx
EDITED_BY: _Clare_ (1175343519)

Getting to the other side smile


TuTuManBRONZE Member
Mushroom Fueled Frenzy
139 posts
Location: Philadelphia, PA, USA


Posted:
no problem biggrin



yeah i did pretty much boil it down to a sentence. You can also apply that to saying "we are never really truly free" or "there is no such thing as freedom." the moment we decide on something we arent free to do anything but what we just choose. It sounds good on paper, but when you sit down and think about it.. freedom can never exist unless YOU dont exist to percieve reality. But even then.. you dont have the freedom to percieve reality... ::mind explodes::: ubbloco



Yeah wierd things come out of the mind of TuTu after a morning of eningeering classes... on that note i think its time for another beer smile
EDITED_BY: TuTuMan (1089230532)

::::does a little monkey man dance::::
You'll understand when you see his dancing feet


Bender_the_OffenderGOLD Member
still can't believe it's not butter
6,979 posts
Location: Melbourne, Australia


Posted:
no all that glitters is gold,
not all that is given is totally selfish.
if you have faith that the universe is ultimately balance,
then you have faith that what you get is what you give,
then eagerly accumulating positive karma through right action;
or harvesting goodwill with loving-kindness,
this his Holiness the Dalai Lama calls "to be wisely selfish"

with the right intentions, selfishness can rock!
so can knitting tennis balls!

Laugh Often, Smile Much, Post lolcats Always


MikeGinnyGOLD Member
HOP Mad Doctor
13,923 posts
Location: San Francisco, CA, USA


Posted:
Written by: Paddy


Curious, Lightning...I can defintely see how that might be considered the *most* selfless act, but the *only* one? Why would you discount similar kind actions?




Because when you make an anatomical or organ donation, you have no idea who will benefit or how. You may be chopped into pieces and your parts used for education or research. Your liver might be transplanted into someone who you would absolutely hate if you ever met them.

I can't think of a single other gift that someone can give where the recipient is completely anonymous and you will never know whether your gift helped someone or not.

Can you think of another example?

-Mike

Certified Mad Doctor and HoP High Priest of Nutella



A buckuht n a hooze! -Valura


mo-sephenthusiast
524 posts
Location: Edinburgh, UK


Posted:
Donating sperm? But I guess it's along similar lines...

monkeys ate my brain


Paddyback from the dead...sort of
884 posts
Location: 4341'N 7938'W


Posted:
Never though of it that way...good points. I can't think of anything else that meets all those requirements, but I can think of some that meet some of them, so I'd still be a little hesitant to say that organ donation is the *only* altruistic act.

Like, I give a 20 to a guy on the street. I don't know him, I might hate him, and I don't even know if it'll do him any good as he might waste it. Doing that wouldn't up there with organ donation, but I'd say it's enough to considered *an* altruistic act to some degree.

Bender_the_OffenderGOLD Member
still can't believe it's not butter
6,979 posts
Location: Melbourne, Australia


Posted:
heh heh mike, you make me look at the term 'giving of youself' in a new light! smile

Laugh Often, Smile Much, Post lolcats Always


TuTuManBRONZE Member
Mushroom Fueled Frenzy
139 posts
Location: Philadelphia, PA, USA


Posted:
does anyone agree about the freedom thing though that I posted?

::::does a little monkey man dance::::
You'll understand when you see his dancing feet


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