Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by Bowser, Feb 25, 2018.

  1. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    What's the distinction between "selfish" and healthy?
    Everything natural, like not wanting to die, can be called selfish. But if everything we do is selfish, why bother having a word for it?
    Or attaching a negative connotation to that word?
    No, the concept of selfishness was accusatory from its origin. It is used to designate actions that serve the individual at the expense of the community, while altruistic or generous refers to actions that serve the community at some cost to the individual. That the individual feels good about this - and is inclined by nature to feel good about it - doesn't change the nature of the act.
    You can turn any situation upside-down or inside-out to show that words don't mean what they mean, but the only purpose that serves is render language less serviceable as a vehicle of communication.
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  3. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    Well, let's put up a few rough definitions of altruism and selfishness and see how they hold up.

    Selfishness - an act where your wants are put before the wants of another, and you benefit significantly more than the other.
    Altruism - an act where another's wants are put ahead of yours - the other benefits significantly more than you do.

    Notice that such a definition of altruism does not require you to gain no benefit.

    Stepping in to suffer in someone's place so they they do not suffer is about as selfless as it is possible to get. The fact that this is alleviating his own feelings - feelings of empathy for the object of his affection - does not mean he is being selfish. The other is definitely gaining significantly more in the bargain. (literally taking her place in hell.)

    He is certainly not putting his own health , welfare and livelihood ahead of hers.
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  5. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    If the sole motivation of the act is to alleviate one's own suffering, then this fits with the first part of your definition of a selfish act. The issue then would be whether you benefit more than the other... but why should this matter? If the other benefits as a by-product, how does this raise the act above being selfish?
    If it is the relative benefit of the action that determines, then who is the arbiter? How can they tell?

    I don't think the relative benefit is the arbiter of whether something is selfish or altruistic, as your definitions would suggest. Rather I think the person's motivation is. The altruist is motivated by alleviating the suffering of the other, the selfish person is motivated by alleviating their own. For the truly altruistic this motivation is absolutely irrespective of what befalls them, and for the truly selfish it is absolutely irrespective of what happens to the other person.

    I'm not sure acts can simply be determined as being altruistic, certainly not on the relative outcome of the act. What might appear altruistic if determined by outcome could in fact be utterly selfish, as it depends upon the individual's value system and the relative value they place on things.
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  7. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    I think you're looking at edge cases, and assuming there's no valid middle.
    It's not a binary outcome - most human feelings and actions aren't.

    I would argue that, for most intents and purposes - and notwithstanding the obligatory need to allow for finer degrees of scrutiny - it's a perfectly serviceable definition.
  8. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    So instead of actually coming back with any relevant response, you simply choose to dismiss the arguments because you think I'm looking at "edge cases"? Seriously? I thought you were better than that. Why not actually have the decency to address the points made. They are not applicable only to the extremes but also to the middle you think I'm assuming doesn't exist.
    Also bear in mind which forum we're in. If you don't want to have such a discussion and simply want to assert your position is correct, feel free. Just give me fair warning so I won't waste my time further.
  9. cluelusshusbund + Public Dilemma + Valued Senior Member

    cluelusshusbund said:
    Well... as you can see in my example below... my choosin to go to hell in place of my wife is clearly altruistic.!!!
    "if my wife was bein sent to hell an i was givin the option to take her place... i woud be altruistic an take her place in hell... cause i coudnt stand it knowin that i coud have saved her but didnt.!!!"

    Yep you’r right… cant beleive i didnt catch that myself

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  10. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    Is there such a thing as a "sole motivation"?
  11. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    It still seems to me that someone who behaves altruistically because they enjoy doing so, regards such behaviors as matters of personal honor and satisfaction, etc,

    - is personally motivated by intrinsic reward rather than externally provided social or economic payoff, avoidance of externally imposed threat, etc -

    is to that extent more rather than less altruistic.

    What's the alternative - that one must dislike and regret and wish to have avoided some behavior to classify it as altruistic?

    And that recognition - that one can be positively motivated and take pleasure in altruistic behavior - is necessary if we are to discuss evolutionary bases for altruism, altruism in non-human species, etc.
    birch likes this.
  12. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    No, the alternative would be more a question of whether altruism actually exists.

    If one defines it by outcome rather than motivation then yes, it can be shown to exist.
    If one defines it by motivation then it is far trickier to say that a given action is altruistic, as evidenced by the example from cluelusshusband. I feel the motivation, the intention behind the action, is key, especially if one wishes to use selfishness as the antonym.

    I would also say that judging altruism by outcome is a biological or behavioural definition, while motivation is more a psychological definition.

    So are we looking at things here in a biological sense or a more psychological sense?
  13. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    Hmm, I sort of saw it the other way around - that you were the one making a dismissive case. I saw you finding exceptions, and then leveraging that to suggest (essentially) that all cases are exceptions i.e. that there is no such thing as a "true" act of altruism - essentially because no act is "purely" unselfish.

    I may have misinterpreted, but I did not mean to make it personal, I was intending to address what I saw as a logical flaw in the argument, not criticize you.

    By 'extremes', I meant hypothetical cases of acts that are 100% selfish, and cases that are 100% selfless.
    By 'middle', I mean hypothetical cases of acts that are not 100% self-serving, and have a component of selflessness to them.
    You seemed to be arguing that, ultimately, self-serving interests and altruistic acts are mutually exclusive (since you said any amount of self-serving means it isn't "truly" altruistic.)

    I see your argument as saying:
    1] If an act has a selfish component, then it cannot be "truly" altruistic.
    2] Every act must have some component of selfishness to it (by your reaction to cluelesshusband's ultimate act of sacrifice).
    And I cannot help but draw the conclusion from these that "truly" selfish acts cannot exist in your view.

    If those are not the logical points of your argument, then I am happy to be corrected.
  14. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    Having reflected on the above, I think this boils down to a very simple case of Proof by Contradiction.

    A given altruistic act does not qualify as a "truly" altruistic act if it has a self-serving component. (argued on post 53)

    Even a man who acts because he literally has a gun to his head is still acting in his own interests, and it therefore qualifies as self-serving. (This is not an outrageous example: CluelessHusband's example had him sacrificing his soul for his loved one. And that was suggested as having a self-serving component.)

    Thus, an act that has no self-serving component is not an act of free-will at all. i.e.: altruism, as an act of free will, cannot exist.

    So either altruism does not exist, or the premise is false.
  15. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Dont worry - I didn't see it as anything personal, just saw it as a dismissal of an argument without discussion. But I accept that that was not your intention.

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    1. Yes, if I refer to "truly" altruistic then that would be reference to the absolute position, the extreme.
    2. Not sure I agree with this. I only picked up on his explicit statement that he was motivated by alleviating his own trouble. Is it possible that someone can do something entirely without expectation of any personal reward at all, psychologically or otherwise. I actually think it's possible (or at least I am not dismissing the idea), but if so then it is not as often as might seem to be the case. if I am motivated by duty, by guilt, by a desire to feel happy, then this I see as negating an act as being "truly" altruistic.
    But I accept that from what I have described as a biological viewpoint it would possibly be identified as altruistic.
    3. I think you meant to conclude that truly altruistic acts cannot exist in my view? Well, I think they might, given what I have said above.

    But it goes to definition/understanding, I think. If you mix what I see as a biological viewpoint (judges altruism or selfishness by outcome) with psychological viewpoint (motivation) then you will get confusing results: an altruistic outcome may be the result of an apparent selfish motivation etc.

    Your conclusion seems to be a non sequitur as I cannot see where the issue of free will comes from, and why you're concluding that an act with no self-serving component is not an act of fre-will? Neither your premise nor your counter states (or implies) that an act of free will must include a self-serving component? Is this what you are suggesting?

    Note, at this juncture I'm only disputing the logic of your argument, not the intention or conclusion, which I will reserve until I can see that the argument is logical.

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  16. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    Is there such a thing as sole motivation?
    I don't believe any deliberate human act has one single motive. When it comes to more complex actions, that require some thought,
    we have competing impulses and desires and aims. If an act satisfies more than one aim at the same time, it's efficient.
    If it satisfies the needs of both the actor and his community, it's efficient and beneficial.
    If it benefits the actor more than the community, it's self-serving.
    If it benefits the community more than the actor it's altruistic.
    You can classify it one side of the line or the other as soon as the balance tips one side or the other.
    Then you can push each act farther in the selfish direction, or farther in the altruistic direction as the balance indicates.
  17. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    The free-will aspect was an anticipation of a loophole that may be raised. But it has confused the issue, so I will withdraw until/unless it is needed.


    All actions must have some self-serving component to them, otherwise they would simply not be acted upon at all.

    Try to think of any act that might not have a self-serving component.

    CH offered what I would argue is the pinnacle of selflessness: sacrificing one's life to save another.
    But even that has been posited as having a self-serving component.

    So, the question then becomes: what is more selfless than sacrificing one's own life for another? (I mean, it's literally making you self-less - without self.)
  18. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    In human beings psychological attributes often have biological roots, natures, and expressions. Our biological nature includes many aspects of our psychology. We have minds - that's a biological, ecological, physical reality.
    Self-serving is a loaded term.
    There is a difference between enjoying something, taking satisfaction in something, and benefitting by it. There are also differences between benefitting by avoiding or minimizing loss and benefitting by positive gain, qualitative differences between gains and losses in different ratios, time and perception discounts, and so forth.
    There are evaluation systems (often employed by simplistic economists and game theorists, for example) in which the above statements are not true, more or less by assumption or even formal axiom. Though often borrowed carelessly by analysts in other fields, for their aura of "objectivity" maybe, they are not appropriate for a discussion of human life in general, aspects of it such as charity and kindness, and so forth. They don't work.

    They don't even work all that well for biological "altruism" - such as vampire bat bloodsharing, social mammal and insect behaviors, self-sacrifice in reproduction, etc.

    Maybe take as a touchstone example the string quartet playing on the deck of the Titanic during the evacuation.

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