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Selflessness
Posted: 28 August 2007 05:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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Well, I am not convinced yet that someone can be completely selfless. It appears that I may believe in “Psychological egoism

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Posted: 28 August 2007 05:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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narwhol - 28 August 2007 05:00 PM

Your Niece maintains social bonds that are important to her by letting your daughter hang onto her Barbie, and your Aunt, “by selflessly giving him one” on her birthday, is possibly considering and anticipating that morbidity will one day affect her and setting an example to others that she can then hope to have reciprocated when and if the time comes.

I’m playing devil’s advocate here, I don’t actually think that humans always do everything solely for their own gain.

my niece, Paige, is 5. she doesnt have a detailed understanding of her “social bonds.” at the same time, she is old enough to know that not offering Charley her Barbie is not something she would get into trouble for. So its doubtful she did her act of kindness to avoid getting in trouble.

and my aunt Betsy didnt do it out of considering the future. She did it because he simply needed a bath despite that she didnt necessarily have to be the one to give him the bath.

I am not doubting that in many instances people act due to selfish motives, but its hardly universal or without exception. People tend to respond more to sincere altruism then if it has selfish motives.

If you buy your wife, husband or partner flowers s/he will appreciate it more if its not a ruse to get him/her to not nag about golfing with your buddies this weekend. (Theres a lesson in here for guys.)

Or, if you jump in front of an oncoming vehicle to push someone out of the way you will be looked at as a hero (especially, if the person you help is a stranger like ). Its not likely that anyone who does such things are thinking about being rewarded

Of course, in all situations there will be some residue of the self in our decisions. Thats a natural product of how we function. But we do carry out acts for others thant dont benefit us which is about as selfless as we can get.

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Posted: 28 August 2007 05:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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i wanted to mention this separately so it didnt get missed in my above post:

Miracle Under 137th Street: Subway Save For Ages
http://wcbstv.com/topstories/local_story_002141609.html

“In an incredible case of heroism and bravery, a man who fell onto subway tracks early this afternoon and a good samaritan who then jumped on the tracks to save him miraculously suffered only minor injuries after an oncoming subway train actually ran over them.”

anymore evidence required of selflessness?

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Posted: 28 August 2007 05:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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I’ll offer this group a challenge and a suggestion, prefaced by my observations as an attorney of thirty years’ standing. One of the fundamental lessons of the law is that principles, which we call “the law,” are important, but until those principles are applied to cases, their real meaning isn’t known. The US Supreme Court, for example, nearly always decides particular cases. In doing so, they take established principles and clarify them (if they’re doing their jobs as they should). Without a body of case law, the US Constitution would by now be entirely meaningless. Science isn’t much different: hypotheses are necessary starting points, but only after data are collected do those hypotheses become theories. It’s no different with a concept like selflessness.

So I offer a friendly challenge to the people participating in this discussion: offer examples of selflessness that you favor and examples of selflessness that you disfavor. For example, those who have already posted, illustrate your point with some examples, real or imagined. Be specific in your descriptions. This would be a fascinating exercise, from which I think we would learn a great deal, and which might help us individually and as a group to communicate more effectively. Because “I gotta tell you”, as they say, reading this I don’t really know where anyone stands on anything in particular. That may sound like an odd comment considering the tone of at least a few of the posts, but the person who seems the most skeptical toward selflessness may in fact favor it the most when it comes down to applications. And let’s be honest, no principle means a thing except in how it is applied.

I do hope this will generate many replies. It would be a fascinating and enlightening exchange.

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Posted: 28 August 2007 05:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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placlair,

see my previous post

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Posted: 28 August 2007 05:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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morgantj - 28 August 2007 05:20 PM

Well, I am not convinced yet that someone can be completely selfless. It appears that I may believe in “Psychological egoism

OK, now we’re getting somewhere. There are many interesting arguments for moral egoism, from Socrates onward. That’s basically the view that we should act in the best interests of others because doing so is in our own best interest as well. True selfless acts are not only impossible, they are in a sense meaningless—acting in one’s own true self interest is acting as ethically as one can.

The problem, of course, for any serious ethical scheme like this is to distinguish one’s true self interest from what one does out of apparent self interest, even though the latter is in fact bad for us. For example: we may believe it is in our self interest to steal from others, but in fact stealing has bad consequences which somehow reverberate through society and make ourselves worse off. (Or some such thing).

I am not arguing that such an ethical system is correct; only that it has a long history and can be made plausible with careful work.

As for truthaddict’s example, I think that’s about as close to an example of selflessness as we’re going to find. It was also never clear to me exactly what this heroic person was intending to do—the train would have killed two just as easily as one. But putting this story up makes it clear that this is a comparatively rare event.

Other examples of ethical behavior which might be termed “selfless”: firefighters running into burning buildings to save people. Doctors traveling to plague-stricken areas to treat the sick. Examples of sacrifice in wartime, e.g., throwing oneself on a grenade. Bodyguards throwing themselves between assailants and their charges.

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Posted: 28 August 2007 06:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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Morgantji,

morgantj - 28 August 2007 04:50 PM
StephenLawrence - 28 August 2007 04:26 PM

I think I’ve had experience of acting in a way that people would call unselfish towards people and have made sacrifices to do it but am quite certain that I’ve always done it because I wanted to.

StephenLawrence - 28 August 2007 04:26 PM

because I wanted to.

I see, so you acted unselfish because you wanted to. Um, How is this not selfish?

It is selfish! That is my point.

But still it can be a wonderful thing.

I just think we are better off not kidding ourselves or anybody else about this.

Stephen

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Posted: 28 August 2007 06:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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truthaddict - 28 August 2007 04:58 PM

stephen,

i get the impression that you are setting the parameters of this to confirm what you already want to confirm.

you are expecting to have evidence of someone doing something for others with no regards to their own subjective mind in order to say people can act selflessly. of course, we will have some reason for doing it. generally, because we feel it is the right thing to do. why do we get pleasure from helping others in need? similarly, we could ask why certain birds find the smell of a decaying carcuses as sweet and welcoming. the answer probably lies in general behaviors that are genetically driven.

like I said earlier, thats just a semantical argument by redefining what we generally mean by selflessness.

the issue of how we operate as an organism (as an individual with a subjective mind) is not the issue because I think we are unanimous in that’s how we function.

so any form of selflessness is going to occur within those constraints. and a good example of that is reciprocal altruism. their are plenty of people who do things that cost them though benefit someone else.

Ok, well in that case it is obvious we can be selfless in the way you describe and it is obvious we can’t be in the way I describe.

But then what is it that is in dispute?

Stephen

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Posted: 28 August 2007 06:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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I’ll play with you, placlair, here goes:

I would consider a guy who works as a car mechanic stopping to help someone who’s car has a flat tyre on a rainy day an act of selflessness that I would favour.  I would consider Llamist buddhists’ passivity in the face of the chinese occupation and torture to be unethical.

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Posted: 28 August 2007 06:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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I guess I should make clearer that I’m not sure I favor the selfless behavior of the guy who jumped in front of the subway train in NY. I do think it was selfless, but I also think it was reckless. And had he died, one should remember he was leaving a daughter up on the subway platform.

Any time you put your own life in danger to save another person, or more than one person, that is clearly an ethical act ... but if there is virtually no chance of making a difference, and/or if you would be hurting more people than you help, the act seems more reckless than ethical.

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Posted: 28 August 2007 06:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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I believe the standard meaning for “selfless” is without regard for one’s own interests. There’s been a lot of tweaking of the word to argue a pre-conceived point that objectively at least, if not subjectively, a self-serving rationale can be constructed for almost anything. I think that’s an academic exercise and, as Placlair points out, it’s what happens in the real world that matters. In the real world people do sometimes do things without intentionally considering their own interests, and I consider that acting selflessly. Even if they are ultimately selected to do so for self-serving reasons, such as kin selection, it is irrelevant from the point of view of proximate motivations and intent, which I think is what most of us think is truly meant when talking about selfish and selfless behavior.

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Posted: 28 August 2007 06:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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Correct me if I am wrong, but are we saying that one can act selflessly, but even this selfless act is motivated by one’s own true self interest? If so, how is it that we can call the selfless act truly selfless.

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Posted: 28 August 2007 07:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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By tweaking the definition of the word selfless.  However, much as I’m against tweaking the meanings of words, on this occassion i think we sort of acknowledge the fact that to some extent our “selfless” actions can be construed as gainful to ourselves, but sometimes our own gain can and does slip our minds.  None of us are entirely rational, cold and logical all the time; we try our best, but sometimes even the most logical amongst us can slip up and commit an act that can be said to be selfless (in that our own gain just fails to cross our mind).  An anology could be when you see a traffic light is on green, but it takes until you’re nearly at the lights before it registers because your mind is on something else.

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Posted: 28 August 2007 07:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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Or you write the word green when you should’ve written red, but it’s late and you’re tired and should be in bed by now, would be another example.

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Posted: 28 August 2007 07:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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Correct me if I am wrong, but are we saying that one can act selflessly, but even this selfless act is motivated by one’s own true self interest? If so, how is it that we can call the selfless act truly selfless.

I’m not sure how to be any clearer than my previous post, but I’ll try. If by “truly selfless” you mean doing something that is neutral or harmful to our interests in even an indirect way, than I don’t know. I suspect we can be selfless in this sense, but someone can always come along and say, “Well, throwing yourself under that train for a stranger actually makes society more peaceful which makes your kids more likely to survive and breed which increases the frequency of your genes and so it is a selfish thing to do.” But if a truly selfless act is one in which one doesn’t even think about the possible consequences for oneself, or one expects to be harmed by the act with no short or long-term recompense, than yes I think we can and do perform such acts. Even if these turn out to benefit us, they are selfless in intent if we didn’t expect a benefit at the time. And intent is I think implicit in the very words selfish and selfless, so I think it is the crucial deciding factor for how we categorize an act with them.

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