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Old April 17th, 2009, 10:38 PM   #1
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Is there such thing as a truly selfless act?

So I just had a 2 hour debate with my housemate as to whether or not there is such a thing as a truly selfless act.

Basically the just of it was, I say that there is not. Any action you take has some benefit, whether it be an immediate benefit (short or long lived) or a benefit in the future. There is ALWAYS something you get in return.

She didn't want to agree with me.

Discuss.
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Old April 18th, 2009, 06:55 AM   #2
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Well, just for the sake of argument, let us take the case of Michael A. Monsoor. Now he was a fairly motivated guy, joining the US Navy and becoming a SEAL (special weapons/tatics sort of group). He fought in Iraq and got a silver star, which is no small thing. But he ended up diving on a grenade to save his fellow fighters, which cost him his life.

So, while I do understand the concept that most acts have a core of self-interest in them, and generally agree with it, there are occasionally circumstances where the self-interest is a bit blurred. One might argue that seeing he was about to die, he decided to limit the damage to his mates and that made him feel better. Which might be correct, but normally these sort of things happen quite quickly and there isn't a lot of time for introspection.

So the bottom line for me is that there are things we hold more important than ourselves and those things can lead us to commit acts that are not strictly in our best self-interest, but rather in the best interest of something besides ourselves.
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Old April 18th, 2009, 11:23 AM   #3
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Hmm, that would indeed be a tough one to argue against sparks since the end result was death... since I don't believe in life after death that pretty much ends any future benefit. The only thing I can really say is that the feeling of knowing you are saving someone you care about would be very important to me.

Basically what our argument came down to is this: if the trait of selflessness is important to you and you value that trait, then you will act in 'selfless' ways in order to be consistent with that value - thereby gaining you the benefit of being the person you see as good... that would most likely make you feel good about yourself as well.

My argument isn't really necessarily on the conscious side of things. I mean I don't expect people to think "I need to feel good about myself, I'm going to donate blood"...but rather, "donating blood makes me feel good because I'm helping someone, so I'll do it" and it's that feeling of goodness that likely drives these acts.
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Old April 18th, 2009, 01:44 PM   #4
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This is actually a big philosophical thing. Technically, if you are doing something altruistic, you are doing it because you feel the need to be altruistic. It would cause you pain to not do it.

Then again, it would really just come down to semantics. You guys have actually already covered all the main points.
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Old April 19th, 2009, 03:55 AM   #5
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This is probably biologically and genetically driven, however I think most mothers can get completely selfless when the lives of their children are threatened. They will totally give up their lives and fight to death in order for them to survive.
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Old April 19th, 2009, 11:56 AM   #6
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This is probably biologically and genetically driven, however I think most mothers can get completely selfless when the lives of their children are threatened. They will totally give up their lives and fight to death in order for them to survive.
Well, to the extent that you believe in evolution and evolutionary psychology, that is an example of our most basic goal in life. That goal and purpose being to procreate and pass on our genes.

If our offspring don't survive, then our genes don't get passed on and may get phased out.

Of course, humans have to make everything overly complex with our planning, pondering and complex emotions... so one could argue how much that really subconsciously effects/applies to us.

Evolutionary psychology is one of the most fascinating topics in science I have ever read though. The theories seem so intuitive once you read them that it's hard not to believe that it does have some effect on our lives.
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Old April 22nd, 2009, 01:59 AM   #7
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Evolutionary psychology is one of the most fascinating topics in science I have ever read though. The theories seem so intuitive once you read them that it's hard not to believe that it does have some effect on our lives.
I agree with this. We seem to sometimes be completely trapped in our heads, whereas the real truth is in our daily living, we sort of escape from "real knowledge" by getting involved in all kinds of fancy theories.
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Old April 24th, 2009, 08:55 PM   #8
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I think maybe it exists in cases like the example of a soldier throwing himself on a grenade. In many instances instinct takes over. Most people who commit dramatic and selfless acts say they didn't think at all, and if they had, they aren't sure they would have done it.

The impulsive selfless act probably comes from a 'survival of the species' instinct. It seems to manifest itself when the ratio of the number sacrificed to the number saved is high, or the victims are young.
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Old April 24th, 2009, 08:58 PM   #9
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I had not heard of this before and it is quite intriguing. I am not a big psychology buff in terms of academia but alternative viewpoints are often very interesting.
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Old April 26th, 2009, 04:57 AM   #10
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I think maybe it exists in cases like the example of a soldier throwing himself on a grenade. In many instances instinct takes over.
Nice feeling though when we hear about acts like these. Like the story of the little boy who put his finger in the hole of a dyke in Amsterdam so that there would not be any flooding. The stories we tell our children are full of selfless heroics like these.
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Old January 15th, 2010, 08:42 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Delta View Post
So I just had a 2 hour debate with my housemate as to whether or not there is such a thing as a truly selfless act.

Basically the just of it was, I say that there is not. Any action you take has some benefit, whether it be an immediate benefit (short or long lived) or a benefit in the future. There is ALWAYS something you get in return.

She didn't want to agree with me.

Discuss.

Even if every act is followed by a benefit it doesn't mean that a person does it because of the benefit.. I refuse to think that people can't be selfless. What about Mother Teresa? Are you really going to say someone like her wasn't selfless? So what if she did have any benefits, she didn't do it FOR the benefits.
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Old January 17th, 2010, 07:22 AM   #12
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I do believe in a sort of secular karma, but i think i invented it to justify some of my own selfless acts. I think most of this is just twisting words. I ean, you can argue down to doing something because it makes you feel good. You want to feel good. Okay, why does it make you feel good? Because you have a conscience. Okay, why is your conscience telling you to do this? Because you believe it's right. If you never wanted to do what you thought right, your psychology would invent a justification for not doing it and you'd consider it "wrong" to do something.

I also read a brilliant article on it a while ago. I might try and find it and share it sometime, if i remember.
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Old January 18th, 2010, 01:29 AM   #13
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I do believe in a sort of secular karma, but i think i invented it to justify some of my own selfless acts. I think most of this is just twisting words. I ean, you can argue down to doing something because it makes you feel good. You want to feel good. Okay, why does it make you feel good? Because you have a conscience. Okay, why is your conscience telling you to do this? Because you believe it's right. If you never wanted to do what you thought right, your psychology would invent a justification for not doing it and you'd consider it "wrong" to do something.

I also read a brilliant article on it a while ago. I might try and find it and share it sometime, if i remember.
So what would the example be of a truly selfless act? Does it exist? All acts follow a decision that is made, and usually this would be the difference between not doing anything, or perhaps selecting from a few choices. Is a true selfless act possible?
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Old January 18th, 2010, 09:24 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by WanderingStar View Post
Even if every act is followed by a benefit it doesn't mean that a person does it because of the benefit.. I refuse to think that people can't be selfless. What about Mother Teresa? Are you really going to say someone like her wasn't selfless? So what if she did have any benefits, she didn't do it FOR the benefits.
Well, I'm willing to bet she wouldn't have done it if there were NO benefits to herself. If it didn't make her feel good about herself, make her feel she had a purpose in life, and give her joy for helping... would she have continued to help?
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Old January 19th, 2010, 05:50 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by deanhills View Post
So what would the example be of a truly selfless act? Does it exist? All acts follow a decision that is made, and usually this would be the difference between not doing anything, or perhaps selecting from a few choices. Is a true selfless act possible?
A lot of charitable acts, i'd say, are selfless. Just because it might make you feel good, doesn't mean that's the reason you did it. There are people, i imagine, that toss a few coins to a homeless person because it makes them feel good, but many individuals consciously donate to charitable organisations because they want to help people or make things better for people.
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Old January 20th, 2010, 02:06 AM   #16
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A lot of charitable acts, i'd say, are selfless. Just because it might make you feel good, doesn't mean that's the reason you did it. There are people, i imagine, that toss a few coins to a homeless person because it makes them feel good, but many individuals consciously donate to charitable organisations because they want to help people or make things better for people.
Some say for a charitable act to be truly selfless that no one should know that you have been responsible for the act, that it should have been made anonymously?
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Old January 20th, 2010, 06:50 AM   #17
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Some say for a charitable act to be truly selfless that no one should know that you have been responsible for the act, that it should have been made anonymously?
That's almost all of them. It's just that the ones that get coverage are enormous amounts in a single donation - it might not be all that much for an individual, of course - and they're usually named. But as far as i'm aware, most aren't. Usually just sticking a few coins in a tin, or something.
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Old January 22nd, 2010, 12:11 AM   #18
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That's almost all of them. It's just that the ones that get coverage are enormous amounts in a single donation - it might not be all that much for an individual, of course - and they're usually named. But as far as i'm aware, most aren't. Usually just sticking a few coins in a tin, or something.
I can't see anything "selfless" in sticking coins in a tin. Mostly it is about "self"? But doing something for someone else, without expecting to be rewarded, or acknowledged, now that probably has a greater chance of being a truly "selfless" act?
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Old January 22nd, 2010, 01:07 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by deanhills View Post
I can't see anything "selfless" in sticking coins in a tin. Mostly it is about "self"? But doing something for someone else, without expecting to be rewarded, or acknowledged, now that probably has a greater chance of being a truly "selfless" act?
I would think donating an organ to someone you will never meet might be one.
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Old January 22nd, 2010, 11:04 AM   #20
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Well maybe we are looking at this the wrong way. People often do charitable things because they like to help other people, so yes, they are receiving self-satisfaction and good feelings from that- but it doesn't mean they aren't selfless. It just means that when they do something selfless they still receive the benefit of feeling good. In my opinion that is still selfless.

However, some of you don't seem to think so since they do receive the benefit of feeling good.

So what about someone that does not like to give things, who hates it in fact. Yet, this person knows it's the right thing to do, and they give money to a charity and they aren't happy about it, they receive nothing in return and they would have rather kept the money for themselves.

I think that person has truly been selfless, they did something they DIDN'T want to do, received NOTHING in return, and helped others. Isn't that the definition of selfless?
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