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

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brodieman


brodieman

old hand
Location: london

Total posts: 1024
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


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Pyrolific
BRONZE Member since Jan 2001

Returning to a unique state of Equilibrium
Location: Adelaide, South Australia

Total posts: 3288
Posted:I think that a lot of people bandy around pub philosphy which serves their own interests. Eg everyones selfish, so if I commit a selfish act I'm no worse than the next guy.



I think thats a load of bollocks, and is responsible for a LOT of unneccessary suffering in this world.



Josh


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Faberg
GOLD Member since Aug 2003

veteran
Location: Dublin, Ireland

Total posts: 1459
Posted:Written by: L i g h t n i n g

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?



Written by: L i g h t n i n g
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?





i dunno if i totally agree here with you mike. there's always an exception to the rule.

one of my best friends' dad died when she was about 13. he dontated his body to science. my friend and her family were not prepared for this at all and were devestated. it was written in his will, but had never been discussed before, not even with his wife.

she still talks about it quite a bit, and the fact that they couldn't give him a proper funeral (nothing to bury!) meant for her that there was no closure, and the pain dragged on.

more than a year later his remains were returned to be buried, and the family had to endure all of the emotional turmoil once again. according to her, it was like losing her father twice.

my friend and her family have never really forgiven her father for what they term "his selfish actions", as he put his own wishes or needs first, without a thought for those he left behind in pain.

so in this case, anatomical or organ donation is seen as selflish, at least in the eyes of those whom he's hurt.....

just my 2 cents....


My mind not only wanders, it sometimes leaves completely smile

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_Clare_
BRONZE Member since Oct 2002

_Clare_

Still wiggling
Location: Belfast

Total posts: 5967
Posted:Morning everyone



Bender, you said: "not 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!"



Very nicely put sir... that selfishness exists and that we are all constantly performing selfish acts is really a given, meaning there is no such thing as a selfless act (which was the original point of this thread).



It most often happens that we are selfish without standing on anyone elses toes - that is what inspires our actions.



This, of course, only applies when you are alive. Faberge, when your mate's dad was still alive he probably thought it would be a really great thing to do for humanity to leave his body to research - he would have still had selfish reasons to make this decision. However, after his death he caused a lot of pain to his family by not having told them. He didn't show much consideration for them by this, but if he died suddenly, perhaps he didn't have time.



Josh, I'm not sure if you've read the rest of the thread, but along with everyone else, I'm only trying to answer the question brodieman asked. This is not to do with selfishness in the context of the consideration of others, but the definition of the word. It is not 'pub philosophy' and I find it quite insulting that you have interpreted the argument as self-serving. Perhaps you should read some of the posts. Btw, as we are all selfish, no one is any better or worse 'than the next guy', but if you commit an act that hurts someone else then that has to be taken on its own merit as a reflection of self.



Tutu, omigod, that one is never good on a Thursday morning. biggrin

But I agree... there can be no true freedom unless we don't exist, but if we don't exist can it be called freedom?! And if we don't exist what is there?! Lol



Take care and have a lovely day smile


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brodieman


brodieman

old hand
Location: london

Total posts: 1024
Posted:oh wait i thought of a unselfish act.... giving your life for another you have no biological or social gain

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TuTuMan
BRONZE Member since Mar 2017

TuTuMan

Mushroom Fueled Frenzy
Location: Philadelphia, PA, USA

Total posts: 139
Posted:everything we spawn from our brains is selfish! the intent might not be selfish but the root of everything we do is.. we thought of it.. we choose to think of it.. therefore it is selfish..

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

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Doc Lightning
GOLD Member since May 2001

Doc Lightning

HOP Mad Doctor
Location: San Francisco, CA, USA

Total posts: 13920
Posted:Written by: mo-seph

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



You kidding?

You get paid big $$$$ to donate sperm!


-Mike )'(
Certified Mad Doctor and HoP High Priest of Nutella

"A buckuht 'n a hooze!" -Valura

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Doc Lightning
GOLD Member since May 2001

Doc Lightning

HOP Mad Doctor
Location: San Francisco, CA, USA

Total posts: 13920
Posted:Written by:
so in this case, anatomical or organ donation is seen as selflish, at least in the eyes of those whom he's hurt.....



I dunno. My father also donated his body. My personal opinion is selfish is snatching up a perfectly useful human body just so that you can "feel better" by nailing it in a wooden box and bury it 2 meters underground where it won't do anyone any good.

My cadaver's body taught six medical students the anatomy of the human body. Because of that, tens of thousands of patients will directly benefit from our care over the course of our careers. Furthermore, many of us will teach other medical students and resident physicians in our careers, and so literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions of patients will benefit indirectly from my education over the next...well, for eternity.

And I don't need to bury my father twice. That's being taken care of by the medical school. If I really wanted to go through it all over again, I could have asked for his ashes back.


-Mike )'(
Certified Mad Doctor and HoP High Priest of Nutella

"A buckuht 'n a hooze!" -Valura

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ado-p
GOLD Member since May 2004

ado-p

Pirate Ninja
Location: Galway/Ireland

Total posts: 3882
Posted:here is something I wrote earlier

I do believe that there is a such thing as a selfless act. An act of love is a perfect example. The love is there before the act. The willingess to act is there as part of the love. If it feels good afterwards, it should, otherwise we would all suffer from apathy and our actions would be based on logical decisions.

I dont believe that all acts of mine that benefit me are selfish. The reward is often a by-product of the act not the motivation for the act.

Its the approach to this question that is fundamently wrong. The selfishness is based in the motivation not in the result of the action.

I apologise if I am not making this make sense. I dont always find it easy to put down in words some things that are clear in my head as concepts.


Love is the law.

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Doc Lightning
GOLD Member since May 2001

Doc Lightning

HOP Mad Doctor
Location: San Francisco, CA, USA

Total posts: 13920
Posted:Ok, maybe we should define a selfless act?

A truly selfless act would be an intentional action that benefits another while providing no gain to the individual doing the act of any sort, whether tangible or not.

So here's the problem. Every single thing we do is motivated by something. Even when you reach into your pocket and toss a coin into a collection box, you are making a conscious and weighing the benefits and costs. You aren't going to give more than you can afford, and you wouldn't do it if you didn't get something out of it, even if it's the fleeting and very mild sense of satisfaction from knowing that you just donated 25 cents to the "Save the Mauve-Footed Zahuicke Bird from West Palawafa" campaign. You made the decison to do it based on something.

Even if you walk out on your 50th floor balcony and drop a couple of $100 bills over the edge and then walk away, the decision to do so is motivated by something...even if it's amusement at the mental image of what will shortly be happening 500 feet below you.

So now that I think about it, even anatomical donation is ultimately selfish. I remember Mr. W, my patient at the VA who died of lung cancer wanted an autopsy so that "maybe you can learn something from me." Was it truly selfless? No, because it allowed Mr. W to know in his last moment of consciousness that he was making a contribution to the advancement of medical science.

So I retract my statement that anatomical or organ donation is truly selfless. It may be the MOST selfless act that I can think of, but it is not truly selfless. Even dying to save a stranger isn't selfless, because in your last split-second of life, you know that you have done something extraordinary.

Sucks, huh? ubblol


-Mike )'(
Certified Mad Doctor and HoP High Priest of Nutella

"A buckuht 'n a hooze!" -Valura

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_Clare_
BRONZE Member since Oct 2002

_Clare_

Still wiggling
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Posted:xx
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TuTuMan
BRONZE Member since Mar 2017

TuTuMan

Mushroom Fueled Frenzy
Location: Philadelphia, PA, USA

Total posts: 139
Posted::::slowly backs away::::::runs away screaming::::

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

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Pyrolific
BRONZE Member since Jan 2001

Returning to a unique state of Equilibrium
Location: Adelaide, South Australia

Total posts: 3288
Posted:I read the rest of the thread, and yes, I stand by my assertion that some of the sentiments in this thread are 'typical pub philosophy' which serve as a justification for behaviour that would otherwise not measure up in some way.

I've had this conversation on several occasions with different groups of people, in pubs or similar environments..

I put it in the same basket as people who make the argument ' but if I dont do it, someone else will, so I may as well do it'

Question;

how can you act in a way that is selfish and doesnt harm others?

seems to me that you cant.

Josh


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Na'shanna'l


Na'shanna'l

stranger


Total posts: 9
Posted:Hey OneWheelDave, I am also going to school for philosophy. Its alot of fun huh. On to the question. Alright, while it could be argued that your definition of selfish is different, for the sake of argument let's just say that selfish is an act that brings self gratification. Even then I would say that there is such a thing as an unselfish act. For the act to be selfish it would have to be a conscious choice of the giver to do the act so that they will feel better about themselves. This is selfish. However, if the giver was to do the act with no regard for themselves, and then feel good about it this is selfless. What it basically boils down to are the reasons for which the act is done not the feelings that occur afterward. As I'm sure you've guessed I do believe that there is such a thing as a totally selfless act. I'm not saying it happens all the time, but it does occur.

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_Clare_
BRONZE Member since Oct 2002

_Clare_

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Radzyn
SILVER Member since Mar 2004

Radzyn

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Posted:*head 'splodes*

~Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come.

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onewheeldave
GOLD Member since Aug 2002

Carpal \'Tunnel
Location: sheffield

Total posts: 3252
Posted:Philosophically I've stated my view and have no desire to expend time and energy clarifying, elaborating and defending it.

I'll walk away from this debate and leave it to everyone else to settle it.

Before I go though I'd like to leave a different perspective for those who may stumble across the arguments in this thread and be adversly affected by this view that unselfish acts are impossible.

(And it does happen, though most people can stand back when engaged in debates over whether life has any meaning, whether the world is real etc, etc and treat it as an intellectual curiousity; others can take it to heart and be genuinely distressed- I know this from experience).

It comes from that good old standby of practical good sense- buddhism, and its concept of 'compassion'.

Compassion comes into play when we endeavour to reduce the suffering of others. In many ways it covers similar ground to 'unselfish', but avoids the philosophical problems that come with that term.

While an individuals act of compassion may be rooted in selfishness (they feel good by being kind) this does not detract in any way from its status as a compassionate act.

The essense of it is that the act is performed with the intention of bringing benefit to another, and if the ultimate root of that is that it feels good to do so, then that's ok.

Because, at the end of the day, people who get pleasure from helping others are what we mean by compassionate.

Though I should point out that, where buddhism is concerned, intention is not the be all and end all; awareness of consequence is vital as well.

This is because it is possible to do an act intended to benefit, which actually causes harm- in that situation it is important to acknowledge and learn from that.


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bender
GOLD Member since Nov 2001

still can't believe it's not butter
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Total posts: 6979
Posted:i am happy because others are happy,
that is the loving hypocrisy of compassionate selfishness.
:causes a rip in space-time:

"Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others, cannot keep it from themselves"
James M. Barrie

"I like Tacos, TACO TACOTACOOOOOO"
-Gir


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Stone
GOLD Member since Jun 2001

Stream Entrant
Location: Melbourne

Total posts: 2830
Posted:I dont think you need a degree in philosophy to believe that some people can act unselfishly wink

I suppose it depends where u live, but I believe many people act unselfishly in every day life. After all, not all people are driven by greed.

In Australia, we dont get paid when we donate blood. Most would consider that to be a relatively unselfish act. And Im sure that when we sign that paper for organ donation, the last thing we want to know is that our body will be used for medical science. Shudders at the stories.

I also think saints like Mother Theresa do exist to set examples for the rest of us.
smile smile smile


If we as members of the human race practice meditation, we can transcend our fear, despair, and forgetfulness. Meditation is not an escape. It is the courage to look at reality with mindfulness and concentration. Thich Nhat Hanh

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bender
GOLD Member since Nov 2001

still can't believe it's not butter
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Total posts: 6979
Posted:yeah sincerely righteous peepuls rise above pedantry cus to only talk of good is never enough.

i wish i was humble, sos i can brag about it heh heh


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Pyrolific
BRONZE Member since Jan 2001

Returning to a unique state of Equilibrium
Location: Adelaide, South Australia

Total posts: 3288
Posted:Your definition of selfish / unselfish makes the argument meaningless.

saying that self-gratification is the one and only overriding factor in determining pseudo-altruistic behaviour is ignoring a large number of factors. Even tho it can make sense to a certain degree, it doesnt make sense when the real consequences of the act are considered. I dont believe in the worth of philosophy which doesnt add any understanding of a situation. I put this philosophy in that category.

You say you dont use this philosophy to justify 'selfish' acts, and thats great. but Ive met many quite friendly seemingly nice people who do.

Can you at least admit that it is possible for this kind of philosophy to detract from the work of giving people, and could be used as a justification for others-harming behaviour? Even if you personally are above letting it do that to you?

Josh


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andythepoi


andythepoi

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Location: manchester, uk

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Posted:hi, i've been a samaritan ( absolutely confidential, non judgemental emotional support for those in distress for whatever reason, with a particular emphasis on the suicidal, for those of you who don't know) for 6 or so years, and its REALLY really hard work sometimes, but your friend is right, on the whole doing this vol work DOES make me feel good about myself and my place in the world. HOWEVER, that is purely coincental, i did NOT join to get feeling, but because my life was going so dam well I decided to give something back to society and those for whom things weren't so pleasant. It was purely unselfish and if the good feelings and sense of reward I get from it sometimes were to cease immediately and never appear again i would STILL do it, just to try and help someone going thru bad stuff. Guess what I'm tryna say is that people doing good things for others DO get a feeling of self satisfaction....but for ME, and I'm sure millions of others, that feeling is totaly serendipitous and not even in the list of reasons why i do it.

cheers


btw....if YOU feel the need....08457 909090 in uk 1850 609090 in ROI or jo@samaritans.org


It's smashing to be back x

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_Clare_
BRONZE Member since Oct 2002

_Clare_

Still wiggling
Location: Belfast

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Pyrolific
BRONZE Member since Jan 2001

Returning to a unique state of Equilibrium
Location: Adelaide, South Australia

Total posts: 3288
Posted:Im not offended dude, Ive had a lot of conversations on this board, and This one doesnt even come close to offending me smile

Firstly, youre the one who continues to insist I'm talking about you personally. But I dont know you at all. All I've ever said is that this argument (its not yours personally, you didnt invent it, however you have championed it throughout this thread) that all acts are selfish acts has been used as a justification by people I have met (this obviously doesnt include you) for acting in ways that would otherwise seem dodgy - usually indirectly harming others. Your statements of 'Selfishness is good!' also raise questions for me.

You state that if taken as a true or false, this requires only a simple answer. but I dont think a complete answer in issues which can have an effect on life can be summed up with true or false.

In what way is it liberating to realise that all acts are selfish acts?

Josh


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Doc Lightning
GOLD Member since May 2001

Doc Lightning

HOP Mad Doctor
Location: San Francisco, CA, USA

Total posts: 13920
Posted:Where was the rule that we had to resolve this discussion? Discussions are only fun if there is no clear-cut answer.

I mean, we could talk about something clear-cut and non-controversial, like...whether Bush or Clinton was the better president. But what fun is that? wink


-Mike )'(
Certified Mad Doctor and HoP High Priest of Nutella

"A buckuht 'n a hooze!" -Valura

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_Clare_
BRONZE Member since Oct 2002

_Clare_

Still wiggling
Location: Belfast

Total posts: 5967
Posted:Lightning, nicely renamed... and it's good to see your patients still have a sense of humour smile

Josh, I'm very glad you weren't offended and I apologise for taking anything you said personally (though, as I said, I was at the end of a draining week and everything was getting a little hectic).

I think I took it personally because, as you said, I was the only one ''championing" the debate and because you began your post "Your definition of selfish / unselfish makes the argument meaningless", followed by "You say you dont use this philosophy to justify 'selfish' acts, and thats great. but Ive met many quite friendly seemingly nice people who do. " and "Can you at least admit that it is possible for this kind of philosophy to detract from the work of giving people, and could be used as a justification for others-harming behaviour? Even if you personally are above letting it do that to you?", which, you must admit, could be taken as rather inflamatory if you read it in a grumpy way.

Anyways, nevermind.
To answer your question, many people (especially those with a religion, Catholicism springs to mind) find it difficult to be truly comfortable doing things for themselves because of the social attitude that 'selfishness' is wrong.... this can often be a terrible hindrance in their lives, stopping them from following their dreams and could lead to them getting 'walked over' (even in 2004 many women still feel they 'have' to get married, have children etc to earn the respect of peers and family... to do your own thing, they believe, is 'selfish').

So, as I said, for some people, the realisation that all acts are selfish (whether considerate or inconsiderate), can be liberating, helping them see that it is ok to do your own thing.

This is not going to be a problem for anyone on this forum because the type of people who firedance (in general) are strong, and aware of themselves... but that doesn't change my point.

I think that answers it.

xx smile


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Pyrolific
BRONZE Member since Jan 2001

Returning to a unique state of Equilibrium
Location: Adelaide, South Australia

Total posts: 3288
Posted:ok fair I see where youre coming from with the release from guilt thing. I think guilt and regret are shite feelings - I think youve got a point there - thanks for taking the time (and mental strain) to explain it smile

Josh


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brodieman


brodieman

old hand
Location: london

Total posts: 1024
Posted:i i suppose the infanitely random number of personalitys could possabibly mean that some people are not capable of a unselfish act and some are
i suppose because every one is diffrent so their for are their motivations.

hugs

mike


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_Clare_
BRONZE Member since Oct 2002

_Clare_

Still wiggling
Location: Belfast

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Flame
SILVER Member since Jan 2004

Flame

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Location: VIC, MELB

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Posted:I have a few theories on this one. I think selfishness is looked on as a dirty word maybe a little too often. Most people do charity work to either keep themselves busy or to help people which can have a great satisfaction so really either way its a self fulfilling act. Buts whos to say its not a win win situation for everyone. I believe these are people are just more thoughtful they think of others as well as themselves. Why cant we look after others while we look after ourselves.

I believe we are the only one who looks after our needs but no one said we cant look after others at the same time.

Flame smile weavesmiley


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Flame:"Yes mate this is Pink?"
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