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Selflessness
Posted: 25 August 2007 10:56 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Is it possible to act without oneself in mind? Can one be completely selfless?

For example, one may argue that when they help somebody, they are thinking about the other person. But in reality, it make them feel good to help the other person. So that is why they do it.

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Posted: 25 August 2007 11:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I can imagine a situation in which someone acts with no thought of themselves, but I’m not sure if they actually happen or how we would know. What do you think, morgantj?

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Posted: 26 August 2007 02:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I guess the soldier who thows himself on a live grenade to protect his comrades is really thinking, “Gee, this is going to make me a hero, back home.  I hope I get a statue or at least a plaque.” 

A number of times, when I’ve been walking to my car in a parking lot I’ve seen a nail on the ground, stopped and picked it up then discarded it safely.  I suppose you could say it was self interest because I validated my opinion of myself as a good person.  On one occasion the person walking in front of me looked down, obviously saw the nail, then continued on.  Why didn’t he do what I did?  Did he have a different self-interest? 

I think one can always impute self-interest to any act, but the real question is, “Why bother trying to assign more venal intentions when we cannot know the person’s motivations?”  All we can know are the act itself and the consequences.  I think people who try to assign self-interest to all acts are just trying to make themselves feel superior by denigrating behavior of others that is helpful to someone.

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Posted: 26 August 2007 09:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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mckenzievmd - 25 August 2007 11:49 PM

I can imagine a situation in which someone acts with no thought of themselves, but I’m not sure if they actually happen or how we would know. What do you think, morgantj?

Explain the situation, and I will tell you what I think.

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Posted: 26 August 2007 10:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Occam - 26 August 2007 02:21 AM

Why bother trying to assign more venal intentions when we cannot know the person’s motivations?”

We are not talking about “assigning” intentions or motivations. Were talking about “understanding” ones motivations/intentions.

Occam - 26 August 2007 02:21 AM

I think people who try to assign self-interest to all acts are just trying to make themselves feel superior by denigrating behavior of others that is helpful to someone.

Occam

Again, who is assigning anything? This is about understanding. So you see no value in knowing if ones acts are self centered?

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Posted: 26 August 2007 10:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Well, I suspect the kind of reflexive act that Occam suggested is what I’m thinking of. People do thnigs to help others, and generally describe afterwards not thinking anything but just reacting. Dosn’t mean there isn’t a selfish motive they aren’t aware of, but as Occam rightly says, we can’t know, maybe they can’t know themselves, so I’m not sure it matters. The act, rather than it’s intent, is the data we have, and I’m not convinced it is useful to attempt to categorize it as selfless or selfish. Your turn.

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Posted: 26 August 2007 10:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Yes, the question that Occam raises between our assignment of motives and the actual motives (insofar as they really exist!) is a difficult one. Given someone’s altruistic act, it is always possible to come up with a story in which he did it out of some form of selfishness. And perhaps that’s always correct! But also, perhaps it’s not.

Can we conceive of a case in which someone does something out of true selflessness? Well, first of all, (and I’m sorry to say this) but what do we really mean by “selflessness”? If we mean that they do it without consciously thinking about themselves, then I think we can conceive of this without too much trouble. A person with a baby in a burning house isn’t going to think, “Oh, I would be better off if my child survived.” She’s going to be thinking about the child and how to save it.

There are deeper issues, of course. Biological models of altruism (that it springs from kin selection, reciprocal altruism and perhaps group selection) are never completely “selfless” in this sense: the biological bases to altruistic behavior have to depend on the actions being good for the genes. But that’s a sense of “selfless” that’s very different from the one we were discussing before. An act could be psychologically selfless (one isn’t thinking of oneself) while at the same time be biologically selfish (in that it helps one’s genes—as saving one’s baby from a fire would do).

FWIW, Buddhists are particularly concerned about promoting “selfless” behavior, since they believe that it is most conducive to enlightenment. They believe that one can achieve truly selfless altruistic behaviors, at least as I understand it. Depending on what we mean by “selfless”, I am inclined to agree with them.

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Posted: 26 August 2007 10:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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One word:  Motherhood.  If you can’t figure it out, then I’ll go into more details.

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Mriana
“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 26 August 2007 11:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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mckenzievmd - 26 August 2007 10:42 AM

I’m not convinced it is useful to attempt to categorize it as selfless or selfish. Your turn.

I’m not attempting to categorize, I’m attempting to understand. Determining if one can act selflessly or not can help us determine the why to what one does. Ones motives, if you will.

“Base Motives are the underlying reasons why people do what they do. Often interpreted as relational to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory and unconscious or subconscious motive theories, base motives explain actions and their underlying thoughts and memories, both repressed and conscious.

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has also been seen as an attributing factor to the understanding of personal base motives. This theory helps explain what humans need and in what order they seek these needs. Some believe knowing this hierarchy can help explain any action a human may take.

The base motive definition has since evolved into understanding or deducing calculated, willful, deliberate hidden or covert personal agenda. Base motives are seen as a conscious and cognizant approach at intentionally hiding ones’ ambitions. An entity, be it an individual, city-state or country can and will mislead, disinform and misguide other entities intentionally; albeit, this can be considered strategy, diplomacy and manipulation to the benefit of predetermined actors in any given theater.

Still, some consider base motives to sway between Sigmund Freud’s unconscious model and Abraham Maslow’s much more conscious model. Base motives are accepted scientifically as fact.”
Taken from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Base_motive


Are you still unconvinced that the topic is useful.

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Posted: 26 August 2007 11:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Mriana - 26 August 2007 10:53 AM

One word:  Motherhood.  If you can’t figure it out, then I’ll go into more details.

One word: attachment. If you can’t figure it out, then I’ll go into more detail.

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Posted: 26 August 2007 12:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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It maybe attachment, but a mother, a real mother, doesn’t do things thinking about herself, but rather her children.  There are a lot of caring and loving mothers who go without their needs being fulfilled in order that her children have their needs met.  They give up their lives to raise their children and think of their children’s needs.

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Posted: 26 August 2007 12:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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morgantj - 25 August 2007 10:56 PM

Is it possible to act without oneself in mind? Can one be completely selfless?

For example, one may argue that when they help somebody, they are thinking about the other person. But in reality, it make them feel good to help the other person. So that is why they do it.

I think in reality we help others because it makes us feel good to do so.

What I think is terrible is for people to pretend they are being selfless, when they are helping others, or for those who don’t want to, to be told they are being “selfish.”

The reason not to be “selfish” is that we are generally happier if we are not, which is a much better motivator than telling people it is “bad” to be “selfish.”

I think people need to be told it is fine to be selfish and if you want to be happy be utterly selfish and go and help somebody!

Stephen

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Posted: 26 August 2007 12:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I do think we will need to nail down about what sense of “selfless” we are talking. There’s a sort of ethical sense of selfless in which we aren’t acting with a thought to our own selfish benefit. There’s a biological sense in which we aren’t acting out of the good of our genes. There’s perhaps a Buddhist sense in which we aren’t acting out of “attachment” (but then we need to figure out precisely what this thing “attachment” is) ... etc.

... if we don’t nail down what we’re trying to discuss, we’ll end up talking past one another.

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Posted: 28 August 2007 10:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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dougsmith - 26 August 2007 12:19 PM

I do think we will need to nail down about what sense of “selfless” we are talking. There’s a sort of ethical sense of selfless in which we aren’t acting with a thought to our own selfish benefit. There’s a biological sense in which we aren’t acting out of the good of our genes. There’s perhaps a Buddhist sense in which we aren’t acting out of “attachment” (but then we need to figure out precisely what this thing “attachment” is) ... etc.

... if we don’t nail down what we’re trying to discuss, we’ll end up talking past one another.

Can one be completely selfless in all of the senses of selflessness at the same time?

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Posted: 28 August 2007 10:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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morgantj - 28 August 2007 10:17 AM

Can one be completely selfless in all of the senses of selflessness at the same time?

Perhaps. I don’t know exactly how to define “attachment” though, so I’m a little lost as to know when one really acts without it.

... and I’m sure there are other senses of “selfless” that we haven’t touched upon yet.

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Posted: 28 August 2007 10:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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lastnite I started reading Robert Trivers, Natural Selection and Social Theory. The first chapter is Reciprocal Altruism.

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