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Show ALL Forums  > Science/philosophy  > Is every action a selfish action?      Home login  
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 Paracetamol500
Joined: 8/16/2007
Msg: 1
Is every action a selfish action?Page 1 of 2    (1, 2)
Well the title is self explanatory:]
In my own words, Selfishness: is when you do an action just to expect a better outcome from it, for yourself.

-In example, If you believe in Judgment Day, you may give to the poor for the simple reason of obtaining blessings from God.

-If you don't believe in God, you give to the poor for the simple reason of reward from society "..Ohh he's a good man, he gave to the poor, someone give him a medal:]".

etc...

What's your opinion?
 CharlesEdm
Joined: 9/16/2006
Msg: 2
Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/7/2007 4:20:28 AM
Depends on your definition of altruism. I would define altruism as something done for another at a cost to yourself. For instance helping an old lady cross the street takes my time and effort.

Some would state that your feeling of satisfaction is payment, and so it's not altruistic, but frankly I think a certain amount of satisfaction occures whenever an action is taken and completed. So thats beside the point.

Basically. Yes I believe non selfish behavior does exist, for instance my grandfather was an atheist, but he gave a large amount of money to charity in his legacy. He knew that when he was dead he wouldn't receive any satisfaction from the gift but he did it anyway.
 Forums Browser
Joined: 8/4/2007
Msg: 3
Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/7/2007 5:35:24 AM
I would label every action as a selfish one, it's merely a matter of how positive that action reflects upon others and the individual in action.
 Ravenstar66
Joined: 8/27/2007
Msg: 4
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Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/7/2007 6:07:38 AM
That is a very good question.

I think it depends on your beliefs. Example: If there was a person who did not believe in life after death, and they gave their life to save another..I would say that was a completely unselfish act. Because in their eyes there would be no "reward" other than right action.

But if they believed in "heaven" and did that, it would be hard to say if it was purely altruistic or not. That would depend on whether they really believed they would get "brownie points" for the action.

And if they believed, as I do, that ultimately we are all one..then it's really only helping oneself.

I think the vast majority of people do something because of the pay off...whether it's in material gain, status, self-esteem...or other pleasurable feeling.

Regardless, altruism usually makes the world a better place no matter what the intention.
 wanderer1999
Joined: 2/10/2007
Msg: 5
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Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/7/2007 6:18:27 AM
Depends on your definition.

If you include psychological motivations, then you could make an argument that virtually all actions are somewhat selfish in motivation.

IE, you do something for tangible, or psychological benefit, including those acts which are done to assuage one's conscience, or to meet one's "moral" compass.

I would argue that some acts that are instinctual may be non-selfish in nature. For example, a purely biological respone like one of extreme terror, where your body freezes even though you consciously know that fleeing would save your life is one example of an action that is free of motive.

This could happen if you suffered from a severe phobia.

Actions such as sleepwalking would arguably be non-selfish.

As for those that require conscious action or inaction, probably mostly selfish if you use a broad enough definition of motive.
 swamp thing
Joined: 9/3/2007
Msg: 6
Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/7/2007 9:20:56 AM
self·ish
–adjective
1. devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.
2. characterized by or manifesting concern or care only for oneself: selfish motives.

al·tru·is·tic
–adjective
1. unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others (opposed to egoistic).
2. Animal Behavior. of or pertaining to behavior by an animal that may be to its disadvantage but that benefits others of its kind, often its close relatives.

Some actions are selfish, other actions are not selfish.
 Tossed_Salad
Joined: 6/23/2007
Msg: 7
Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/7/2007 10:51:11 AM

Basically. Yes I believe non selfish behavior does exist, for instance my grandfather was an atheist, but he gave a large amount of money to charity in his legacy. He knew that when he was dead he wouldn't receive any satisfaction from the gift but he did it anyway


but did he not have the 'satisfaction' while alive of knowing that that provision was in his will?
 nipoleon
Joined: 12/27/2005
Msg: 8
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Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/7/2007 11:47:37 AM
On one level every action is a selfish action, in that whatever you do to others ; good or bad ; reflects upon yourself.
However ( and this is a big however ) the true object is sublimation of the ego.
That is, doing good for others with NO expectation for yourself, not even in Heaven.
There are a lot of people who think they can " Bribe God ", by doing things with the expectation of receiving a reward in the after life. They think that by doing certain things, keeping certain habits, praying the right way, believing the right thing, or what ever, that they can keep a score card and receive credit in Heaven.
Well, God don't play that shit !
You do not have the wisdom or knowledge to know what is truly good or evil.
When you have reached the point where all the actions of your life are purely your own and free from all outside influence and expectation, then you are worthy of passage to the next level of existence.
 ronosaurus
Joined: 7/22/2007
Msg: 9
Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/7/2007 2:03:47 PM
My personal viewpoint has been altered through reading "A General Theory of Love"; Lewis, Amini, Lannon. They describe and discuss the consequences of the evolution of our "three part" human brain (reptilian core, limbic brain and neo-cortex) with particular emphasis on the limbic brain. I am inclined to believe that acts of altruism are inspired by the emotional learning that is embedded in the limbic brain as opposed to the cognitive learning that is embedded in the neo-cortex. Actions may be mediated by learning in the neo-cortex when individual survival is threatened, however I do not believe this is selfishness.
Simplistically, the limbic brain ensures the survival of the species; the neo-cortex ensures the survival of the individual, while the reptilian brain controls involuntary behaviour. Ergo, not all action is selfish action.
 emotionalheat
Joined: 6/27/2007
Msg: 10
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Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/7/2007 2:26:46 PM
There are a couple of points that hasn't made it this far in the discussion.
Is there will, intent and choice in the selfless act you are questioning?

If one is given a choice, reviews it and with free will enacts it and it accoplishes the intent that was meant, then my first answer would be - we are always and ever watchful of how our discisions affect self. This does not mean that an indifidual will always choose a course of action based on the best possible outcome for themselves, but it never includes an outcome more devastating than one is willing to accept.

There is also another thing to be kept in mind. We are animalistic, in that our heritage that links us to particular physiology, includes an intrinsic set of intincts.

When one acts in accordance with an instinct, it is without thought, and thereby does not allow for choice by review. One does not take an hour to consider their actions, when those actions are instintually driven. Rushing to ones death to save another is not one of those actions that one stops to mull over.

For those who believe that there truely are selfless acts, it will be most interesting to hear what those acts are.
 lucaspa
Joined: 5/28/2006
Msg: 12
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Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/7/2007 5:50:05 PM

For those who believe that there truely are selfless acts, it will be most interesting to hear what those acts are.


What do you think of the example of a soldier that throws himself on a hand grenade to protect his buddies? In many of those cases, the individual could have thrown himself clear and suffered minor injuries or none. What did the soldier gain?

Robert E. Lee once said that "duty is the most sublime word in the English language. One can never do more and should never wish to do less." In doing his "duty" to Virginia Lee lost everything: his property (Arlington National Cemetary is Lee's home), his health, and altho he won many battles, in the end he lost the war. Would you really consider whatever psychological boost Lee got from doing his duty "selfish"?
 ronosaurus
Joined: 7/22/2007
Msg: 13
Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/7/2007 6:43:42 PM
to charlesedm: post #2.
Wikipedia has some interesting alternative definitions of altruism.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altruism
 emotionalheat
Joined: 6/27/2007
Msg: 14
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Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/7/2007 8:39:55 PM
Lucaspa, soldiers go through a very specifically designed course before they are ever put into a combat situation. They are 'indoctrinated' into a whole new world, a whole society of values that they are not normally condition for. They must be re-educated, and that education is extremely well enforced. What they learn is that there is only one thing of greater value than their unit, and that would the officers or said unit, or any other unit. This is valuable training that serves to keep many alive.

In the case of a soldier throwing himself on a grenade - first consider, how much time did that soldier have to consider his actions? My guess is seconds. Then consider that if there is a grenade this must be some kind of combat area, which means that the training is so recently ingrained and then reinforced with the situation, that when the instict kicks in, the first thought to get to the brain says, save my unit. I would consider this more a reflex action, most directly related to the training and mindset that is required in a combat situation.

Given enough time to consider, logically the whole situation, it doubtful there would be the same result.

I have actually been thinking about this and for a moment I thought I had a good example. If I were asked to undergo surgery for the purpose of donating, an organ or part of an organ, in order to keep someone alive. My first thought was, yea, I could do this. But then I started adding conditions to it. Well, actually, I would do it, in the case of a child, or a young adult, or somone who had children depending on them. Then I thought, but why would I risk that for someone I don't know? My answer was unexpected - it would give me purpose in this life, even it was just that I was here to donate that organ, I would have fulfilled my destiny.

Sounds a little melodramatic, but it's true. Some sacrifices are worth the risk, when it fulfills a basic need. We all need to feel useful and productive, it gives us value and worth beyond money.
 Double Cabin
Joined: 11/29/2004
Msg: 15
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Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/7/2007 11:22:02 PM
When you focus on the unit, call it training if you wish, the outcome is a selfless act IMHO.

Charles's words on Altruism reasonate with me.

Think of a nun, a professor, his young wife in 1950s Louisianna, taking canned foods out to minority sharecroppers cut off by hateful mobs. They put their lives on the line.

Think of a man that chopblocks a horse before it can stomp a child he didn't know until three days before. He put his life on the line.

Do people choose to be hereos? Or do they rise to extraordinary circumstance?
 Tossed_Salad
Joined: 6/23/2007
Msg: 16
Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/8/2007 6:59:58 AM
does it really matter?

even if an act is for "selfish" reasons, i.e. feeling good about yourself,

perhaps that doing such an act makes you feel better about yourself than spending all your funds shopping on Rodeo Drive or going out partying and getting crunk, says something about your character?
 Corvus
Joined: 11/29/2006
Msg: 17
Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/8/2007 8:17:05 AM
Hmm, I believe that everything originate from "one." You're never alone with the universe around you, so, having said that, I think that everything action is selfish in the way that every action effects the universe which one is apart of.

Contrarily, I think if you are egoless, your actions won't directly expect something in return, it may just happen. The thing is, when you get those things in return, you toss them away, so really, you keep paying back.
 backwarduck
Joined: 3/22/2007
Msg: 18
Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/8/2007 9:46:35 AM
The first act is always selfish.

I learned this many years ago from a great teacher, thinking my actions where unselfish.

The first act is for myself, then I can give to others unselfishly.
 Paracetamol500
Joined: 8/16/2007
Msg: 19
Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/8/2007 11:33:05 AM
I'm thinking that it might be fairer to introduce a sliding scale for clarifying the concept of 'selfishness'. So, now we have selfishness by degrees. Accordingly, unless one's own benefit reaches a certain degree, when balanced upon a scale against benefits to others then we might be guided, as a rough guideline, to steer away from considering such acts as selfish. Thus, those acts that tip the balance of benefits in the favour of the would be philanthropist/altruist would be open to a greater degree of examination and consideration as a selfish act, depending on how sharply the balance was tipped


This would work as follows. Someone does a good act they benefit from the warm glow it gives them but those that benefit from that act, other people and other animals, say, benefit to a much greater degree than the active agent. The person who acts is aware that the benefit others gain will outweigh the benefit they will receive from the act but they're happy enough with that smaller benefit/pleasurable moment.

If this is an accurate way of seeing things then it would seem that acts are only truly selfish when the protagonist knowingly stands to gain, and acts in order to gain, more than the passive benefits received due to the act.

Knowing where to draw the line is difficult, measuring one person's benefit against another's seems an infeasible task to complete with any degree of accuracy. So, whilst we have identified the beginnings of a 'selfish principle' we are far from considering it an exact science. I can envisage further modification being required. Yet, it seems to me that humans, in general, do have a fairly reliable intuitive sense for these things.

What do you think about this?
 backwarduck
Joined: 3/22/2007
Msg: 20
Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/8/2007 3:14:49 PM
The very act of acting unselfishly is in itself a selfish act.

Yes, rune3, helping our selves is the first step in helping others.

We need to understand why we act.

To act unselfishly we must have all of our own selfishness taken care of first.

Why do we feel the "need" to act unselfishly?

My act, my goal, my reason, my first step is to gather positive energy to be released at the point of death to feed the eagle (The Eagles Gift, Castaneda).

And I meet other socially conscious woman... well, this is a dating site...

The very act of making love is one of the most unselfish and most selfish things two people can do together. Don't ya love it? The giving and the taking, and the taking of the giving, and the giving of the giving...

I love to take my partner and ... oh, was i typing out loud???
 Montreal_Guy
Joined: 3/8/2004
Msg: 21
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Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/8/2007 3:29:51 PM

n the case of a soldier throwing himself on a grenade - first consider, how much time did that soldier have to consider his actions? My guess is seconds. Then consider that if there is a grenade this must be some kind of combat area, which means that the training is so recently ingrained and then reinforced with the situation, that when the instict kicks in, the first thought to get to the brain says, save my unit. I would consider this more a reflex action, most directly related to the training and mindset that is required in a combat situation.

Given enough time to consider, logically the whole situation, it doubtful there would be the same result.


Although you are correct about the psychological training, and it's impact on the individual, I refuse to see such and act as one done simply by reaction. The bond formed between men in combat is far closer than almost anything else we can imagine.

One's duty isn't to flag , political system, or country - it's to your fellow brother.

You see the same type of selfless act , even when there is time to think about it. I've heard and read about literally hundreds of those occurring.

You do something good because you cannot imagine doing otherwise.


The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But... the good Samaritan reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"

-Martin Luther King, Jr.


As a timely example, just remember those first responders on 9/11. Most of them had lots of time to think, and the knowledge to know exactly what they were facing. How many firemen spent minutes looking at those buildings as they drove towards them ?

That didn't stop them, and they did what they were supposed to do.

They didn't do it for their salary, nor for any personal gain. Many of them were scared, because that was the only logical thing to be - as in combat. There's this myth that "heroes" are never scared. That's simply wrong. The man with courage continues on in spite of his fear, and that's what makes him so special.

They did what had to be done, and they were the only one's that could do it.
 ItsMargo
Joined: 4/24/2007
Msg: 23
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Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/9/2007 4:32:34 PM
I have never done one heroic thing in my life, and I rather doubt I shall have the opportunity to discover if I am capable or not.

I am a giver, and in the giving, I “get” myself. Even in the instances where I give without an expectation of a return from the other, I very much get a return. So I would say every act I have done in my life has had a selfish element to it even when others may have benefited from it.

As long as we view ourselves as a separate, isolated being in the world I cannot see that it is ever possible to truly drop self from any equation. Everything we experience reflects ourselves.

I suppose the closest one might come to it is when one manages a sense of connection to all beings. If you had the sense of connection to all living things then you would not see yourself as separate from them.
 lucaspa
Joined: 5/28/2006
Msg: 24
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Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/9/2007 4:47:19 PM
Lucaspa, soldiers go through a very specifically designed course before they are ever put into a combat situation.


IDEALLY, yes. But thru most of history that ideal has not been met. More often than not, soldiers are thrown into combat with minimal -- often even non-existent -- training. At Shiloh in the Civil War, many of the troops had never loaded or fired their weapons. One "veteran" soldier (who had been in one fight) went up and down one Uni0n regiment showing the soldiers how to load.

So, in many of the instances I have read, that indoctrination you assume had not taken place.

Then consider that if there is a grenade this must be some kind of combat area, which means that the training is so recently ingrained and then reinforced with the situation, that when the instict kicks in, the first thought to get to the brain says, save my unit. I would consider this more a reflex action, most directly related to the training and mindset that is required in a combat situation.


1. That assumes the training. But what is the real reflex in combat? RUN AWAY!
2. Why should there be a reflex to "save my unit" instead of "save myself". After all, that reflex has been with us from birth.
3. It appears that, to get around this example countering your idea that every action is selfish, you have introduced a THIRD category of action. We have "selfish", "unselfish", and "reflex". It appears that you don't consider reflex to be either selfish or unselfish. Correct?


Then I thought, but why would I risk that for someone I don't know? My answer was unexpected - it would give me purpose in this life, even it was just that I was here to donate that organ, I would have fulfilled my destiny.


I think you are stretching to find a "selfish" reason. We are in the position that Karl Popper warned us not to get into: no matter what the data is, you can fit it into your theory. That is, no matter what the action is, you will find a way to make it selfish.

So let's try to follow Popper. Popper stated that hypotheses/theories were only valuable if there were some piece of information that, if found, would show the theory to be false. Your theory is that every act is selfish. So tell us, what POSSIBLE action would show your position to be false?
 ass_clown
Joined: 8/31/2007
Msg: 25
Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/9/2007 6:36:40 PM
people have different opinions about this, but a more objective opinion would claim that, yes, every conscious decision made by humans (and every other social animal) is selfish.

you can call it altruism or whatever you like, but that's the result of humans instinctively understanding that we have a higher probability of success if we cooperate than if we don't. biologists call it mutualism. normal person calls it being friendly.

we're gene machines, programmed with instincts to propagate our species. evolution has given us the gift of the greatest success of any species on this planet, in no small part to being friendly.
 Lucretius
Joined: 7/11/2007
Msg: 26
Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/12/2007 3:15:57 AM
No,making an annonimous donation to a charity isn't. But,politicians or celebrities who wait until there's as many news cameras on them as possible before they start doing something helpfull is somewhat self promoting and selfish.
 Paracetamol500
Joined: 8/16/2007
Msg: 27
Is every action a selfish action?
Posted: 9/14/2007 9:15:06 AM
I get the impression that rational self-interest is, an idealised, pragmatic morality.

So, if I behave in ways that are of type x then I will get to live, ideally, in a world that looks like y but, if I behave in ways that are of type z then I will not live, ideally, in a world that looks like y.

Now, consider the following thought experiment; one day you discover, to your dismay, if not horror, that your favourite brand of coffee is produced by a company that exploit and oppress people in the developing world. To continue buying that brand of coffee is to invest and thereby support the continuation of z type behaviour. Of course, this compromises the establishment and/or continuance of a y state world, in the long term at least.

However, things do not end there. The company that produce the coffee are very demand sensitive and if there is a decrease in demand then many people in the West and in the developing world will lose their livelihood and suffer due to; having homes repossessed, children that go hungry and get ill, older family members that get ill and die. With this in mind it may be thought that widespread withdrawing of support from the coffee company will lead to consequences that are counter to a y world due to the result of insufficiently considerate, or type z, behaviour, since this act, too, produces suffering to others as one rationally pursues his or her selfishness.

The upshot being that in an attempt to act in an x way to secure a y world one in reality seems unable to avoid type z behaviour. So, what is to be done?

There are, all too frequently, a number of considerations, which force us to weigh the harm and benefits to one group of people against the harms and benefits bestowed upon another group when judging an act for its moral worth. Rational self interest doesn't seem to account for the complex social web in which we are a part. Our actions ripple out in different directions and so we look to one group of people and say that this action will not kill, maim or rob them whilst somewhere else, perhaps off our moral radar, the same act could well be providing the force that causes the very things we are eager to avoid, in spite of our rational selfishness or other moral code.

what do you think?
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