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  1. #1
    What is, is. Arthur Schopenhauer's Avatar
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    Default Is Selflessness A Lie?

    So, lately I have been wondering if all actions are selfish actions, including, actions not taken - these still being actions, of their own sort. The premise of my argument is; that an action cannot be selfless, as they selfishly benefit the enactor of the action in some way or form.

    To clarify my position, I will provide some examples -- beginning with actions easily identified as selfish, and then moving onto ones slightly more controversial-- of misplaced faith in human selflessness and then breifly support this with my personal philosophies.

    Please feel free to challenge my position or offer some examples or thoughts about this subject. I'm sure there are a few people out there who will disagree with me on this subject; such as, those with religious beliefs and perhaps those fond of a more poetic take on life.

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    NECESSARY AND UNECESSARY ACTIONS ARE SELFISH


    • Firstly, I will begin with necessary actions such as breathing, eating, drinking, etc.. These actions are selfish simply because they fulfill our need for survival. All necessary human functions serve a selfish desire - survival; these selfish desires are absolutely necessary for us to function.

      Also, mundane actions that are unecessary to sustain ones life, medically, such as blinking, swallowing, showering, etc., are selfish as well, although the reasons as to why are not so straightforward, as they vary from action to action. I won't go into these.


    COMPASSION AND KINDNESS ARE SELFISH


    • Nextly, actions that would be considered kind, selfless, or compassionate, are also selfish. A good imaginary example of this would be a rather poor old lady who, every weekend, gives dolls to children that are dying of cancer. The average mind, not stupid minds - mind you - but trained minds, would simply accept this seemingly selfless action as just that, selfless. This, I think, is incorrect.

      There are multiple reasons as to why this granny could be behaving selfishly, it could be that she gets a warm and fuzzy feeling in her heart - thus she would be giving to recieve this emotion - when she sees the smiles on the childrens faces, or perhaps she believes that she is doing the work of god and wishes to make god happy - this is selfish if she were doing it for spiritual brownie points or even a feeling of closeness to or servitude to god -, or perhaps her daughter died of cancer and she's doing it to relieve herself of guilt or sadness.

      I think a big reason as to why I consider this to be selfish is the chemical aspect of what's going on in her brain, as the pleasurable chemicals that cause positive emotions are addicting and extremely desirable. From a scientific standpoint, if she were be doing this for a good feeling, she would be doing it for a chemical reaction. Also, performing acts praised by society, such as what granny is doing, often elicit feelings self-worth and contribution, both of which are pleasurable feelings.


    !!!!!! BIG FUCKING EDIT: - I forgot to clarify why I believe all actions are selfish.

    ALL ACTIONS ARE SELFISH


    • All actions are selfish because in order to act, one has to have a driving internal desire to act. e.g.: Imagine you want a cup; you have a desire for you to reach for the cup, so if you reach for it, you will be fulfilling that desire. This thought can be translated into any action.


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    I believe that there are absolutely no exceptions to this rule. -- Also, I was going to write more examples, but time was dragging out and I don't need to explain one idea more than once.
    INTJ | 5w4 - Sp/Sx/So | 5-4-(9/1) | RLoEI | Melancholic-Choleric | Johari & Nohari

    This will not end well...
    But it will at least be poetic, I suppose...

    Hmm... But what if it does end well?
    Then I suppose it will be a different sort of poetry, a preferable sort...
    A sort I could become accustomed to...



  2. #2
    Post-Humorously stalemate's Avatar
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    I think this is a fairly common debate, that there are no truly selfless acts because the person performing the act gets, at the least, "good feeling."

    Here is the thing though, just because the old lady (in your example) gets a warm fuzzy from giving away the dolls, doesn't necessarily mean she is selfish. You have to consider her motive, but we probably can't know what her motive is. If she only performs the act in order to get the "good feeling" then maybe that is selfish. But would she have given away the dolls if there wasn't any "good feeling" to be had? I don't think we can know.

  3. #3
    is an ambi-turner BRMC117's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MagnificentMind View Post
    I believe that there are absolutely no exceptions to this rule. -- Also, I was going to write more examples, but time was dragging out and I don't need to explain one idea more than once.
    only a sith deals in absolutes.

    "If you seek to aid everyone that suffers in the galaxy, you will only weaken yourself… and weaken them. It is the internal struggles, when fought and won on their own, that yield the strongest rewards. You stole that struggle from them, cheapened it. If you care for others, then dispense with pity and sacrifice and recognize the value in letting them fight their own battles. And when they triumph, they will be even stronger for the victory."
    ―Kreia to the Jedi Exile
    "I put the fires out."
    "you made them worse."
    "worse...or better?"

  4. #4
    What is, is. Arthur Schopenhauer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stalemate View Post
    Here is the thing though, just because the old lady (in your example) gets a warm fuzzy from giving away the dolls, doesn't necessarily mean she is selfish. You have to consider her motive, but we probably can't know what her motive is. If she only performs the act in order to get the "good feeling" then maybe that is selfish. But would she have given away the dolls if there wasn't any "good feeling" to be had? I don't think we can know.
    The lack of a good feeling could also be caused by selfishness, perhaps she dislikes the idea of giving, perhaps she has something better to do, etc.. Having said that, she would probably be donating, not with the intent for a good feeling, but to give - even so, a good feeling is inescapable if she is giving sincerely.

    Edit: Clearing up the last sentence, or really, this entire paragraph: The good/bad feelings would be the driving/subconcious force behind her actions.
    INTJ | 5w4 - Sp/Sx/So | 5-4-(9/1) | RLoEI | Melancholic-Choleric | Johari & Nohari

    This will not end well...
    But it will at least be poetic, I suppose...

    Hmm... But what if it does end well?
    Then I suppose it will be a different sort of poetry, a preferable sort...
    A sort I could become accustomed to...



  5. #5
    Senior Member Survive & Stay Free's Avatar
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    I think its a common debate too, I remember at uni sharing in the consensus that there was no such thing as unselfish action for pretty much the same reasons that you outlined and the more moralistic and simplistic reasoners recoiling in horror at the very idea.

    There are what I would consider "unselfish" acts however, I mean this in a negative, not a good sense, I believe that individuals who have no sense of self, who are unreflective, who exhibit a great deal of thoughtlessness and couldnt be described as wakeful, watchful or mindful but instead play games, behave in habitual manners, obey unconscious internal scripts and the like can be selfless.

    They are likely to be self-sacrificing in a maddening or immediately or eventually sickening to themselves and others, in no small part because they will behave in a manner and then expect others to behave in a reciprocal or similar manner and become frustrated when those people dont.

    Ironically this perverse altruism is infact a sign of pretty deep rooted and unconscious narcissism of a controlling variety, there's all sorts of seeming contradictory but none the less real characterisations of this when you think about it the "caring" sadist, like in One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest.

    That's not to preclude or suggest that genuine self-sacrifice or altruism isnt possible or even in some contexts virtuous but I'd very much believe that its a very poor relation to mutuality, congruence and share and share alike reciprocity. After all helping, being helped and the role of helper and helped are all characterised by power relationships or disparities that most people who pay homage to altruistic goals or norms over look or minimise.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by MagnificentMind View Post
    The lack of a good feeling could also be caused by selfishness, perhaps she dislikes the idea of giving, perhaps she has something better to do, etc.. Having said that, she would probably be donating, not with the intent for a good feeling, but to give - even so, a good feeling is inescapable if she is giving sincerely.
    There is one problem with generalizing it this way... you can get a good feeling from a lot of different acts so there is no reason for her to help others in order to increase the concentration of endorphins.

    The question would then be does she get more of a good feeling from doing for others than she does from entertaining herself? This is where the objective science breaks down... we can only subjectively assume that the woman's motives for getting a good feeling from helping others rather than from doing something for herself are the result of a chemical addiction to endorphins unless we undertake a study to prove it...

    We'd have to quantify the levels of certain chemicals she receives as a reward for doing good for others vs a reward for doing good for herself, then we would also have to determine that simply eating a piece of candy or watching tv does not produce the same exact chemicals in identical or greater concentrations. If at any point we found an activity that produced endorphins in higher concentrations then our chemical addiction theory breaks down... and now we are entering the highly subjective realm of personal motives and those are damn hard to pick out of other people based on your perspective of reality. My guess is that if we were to study this it would not be very cut and dry for each participant.

    If all people were walking around motivated by the next endorphin fix I could think of a lot of activities they'd rather be doing than helping out others in need.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Little_Sticks's Avatar
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    If I designed a robot that was made for the purposes of building various objects by taking materials I give it and repairing certain parts of itself and building the various objects, would all that it does be considered selfish? Even though the robot will eventually be put in disrepair and stop functioning, or die?

    Let's complicate this by saying that I took out its programming to repair itself, then it would stop functioning very quickly, but it still has time to build many objects. Is this robot functioning selfishly?

    If I give it emotions and I program it to feel some kind of happiness or pleasure in its programming when it builds something or repairs itself, is it selfish?

    If I program it further to repair another robot, but not feel happiness or pleasure in doing so, then is it being selfish when it repairs another robot?

    If I program it further so that it feels happiness or pleasure when it repairs another robot, is it being selfish?

    What does it mean to have a 'chemical reaction' and feel 'pleasure' in our minds scientifically?

    Does it really make much sense to label all actions selfish, when from an objective standpoint they can be argued as simply actions, neither selfish nor selfless. Then does the question of what is selfish or selfless become up to the an individual's intellectual perspective?

    If these questions are off topic, please let me know how I can correct them or you can ignore them.

  8. #8
    What is, is. Arthur Schopenhauer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by spin-1/2-nuclei View Post
    There is one problem with generalizing it this way... you can get a good feeling from a lot of different acts so there is no reason for her to help others in order to increase the concentration of endorphins.

    The question would then be does she get more of a good feeling from doing for others than she does from entertaining herself? This is where the objective science breaks down... we can only subjectively assume that the woman's motives for getting a good feeling from helping others rather than from doing something for herself are the result of a chemical addiction to endorphins unless we undertake a study to prove it...
    The strength of the chemicals does not matter, as they are still there in the end.
    INTJ | 5w4 - Sp/Sx/So | 5-4-(9/1) | RLoEI | Melancholic-Choleric | Johari & Nohari

    This will not end well...
    But it will at least be poetic, I suppose...

    Hmm... But what if it does end well?
    Then I suppose it will be a different sort of poetry, a preferable sort...
    A sort I could become accustomed to...



  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Little_Sticks View Post
    If I designed a robot that was made for the purposes of building various objects by taking materials I give it and repairing certain parts of itself and building the various objects, would all that it does be considered selfish? Even though the robot will eventually be put in disrepair and stop functioning, or die?

    Let's complicate this by saying that I took out its programming to repair itself, then it would stop functioning very quickly, but it still has time to build many objects. Is this robot functioning selfishly?

    If I give it emotions and I program it to feel some kind of happiness or pleasure in its programming when it builds something or repairs itself, is it selfish?

    If I program it further to repair another robot, but not feel happiness or pleasure in doing so, then is it being selfish when it repairs another robot?

    If I program it further so that it feels happiness or pleasure when it repairs another robot, is it being selfish?

    What does it mean to have a 'chemical reaction' and feel 'pleasure' in our minds scientifically?

    Does it really make much sense to label all actions selfish, when from an objective standpoint they can be argued as simply actions, neither selfish nor selfless. Then does the question of what is selfish or selfless become up to the an individual's intellectual perspective?

    If these questions are off topic, please let me know how I can correct them or you can ignore them.
    In my opinion you're exactly on target... It's true that our bodies have chemical reactions associated with pleasure, but it does not determine the selfishness or selflessness of an act... as I pointed out earlier, you can quantify an addiction to endorphins (as I thought was suggested in the OP), but you can have an addiction to crack cocaine as well... So scientifically we can prove that our bodies have certain concentrations of endorphins and even measure them after certain acts etc, but it isn't a cut and dry issue... and certainly says nothing about motives (in any kind of meaningful way)...

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by MagnificentMind View Post
    The strength of the chemicals does not matter, as they are still there in the end.
    Not necessarily, the concentrations are very important... if the motivation for doing something is the receipt of chemicals then the concentrations that are released matters..

    take for example the fact that some things make you happier than others.. If you want to approach this from a purely chemical view point then why would you suppose that is true? You can't explain it without talking about the concentrations of the chemicals....

    this is why it isn't productive to over generalize these kinds of things... biochemistry explains a lot of things about our bodies and minds etc, but it isn't as clear cut as we would like it to be... there are many things going on that cannot be completely quantified, so speaking of this merely from a chemical standpoint is overly simplistic...

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