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mur'phon
06-19-2008, 10:49 AM
Alright, at school a few days ago we talked about why we do things, what motivates us. The discusion went well enough until I sugested that our motivation, in all circumstances is what benefits ourselves the most. This can be anything from a guy who is nice to someone because it makes him feel good to the guy sacrificing himself for others because he can't stand the guilt of being a survivor. People can be wrong though, I might lie to cover my brother hoping he'll do the same, but he can still "betray" me. We also dosen't need to be aware of what we get in return. An aid worker might well think he does something "because it's right", while the real reason is that he enjoys being someone important/seeing the face of victims he helps.

Now, another thing that thing is that if we always do what we think is best for ourselves, free will goes out of the window, since we can't act any other way. Togehter this means that we are all equally good/bad, in the sence that we act for the same reason, and dosen't have a choice.

I don't really like this outlook, so if you guys/gals could shred this thought to pieces it would be apreciated.

EnderWiggin
06-19-2008, 11:06 AM
Kind of reminds me of this book. (http://www.amazon.com/Freakonomics-Economist-Explores-Hidden-Everything/dp/006073132X) Talks a lot about motivations for things.

But as to your actual ideas:

I agree with the first one. We, in most cases, do what's best for us.

But I don't think that removes free will, as it's not what happens every time.

What about the marine who throws himself on the grenade for his brothers-in-arms?

No rewards for him. (I know, I think he gets into heaven too. But willing suspension of disbelief, ok? Maybe he's an atheist.)

_EW_

EDIT:: What motivates us? Genes + Environment (including learning and history) + Ambition; perhaps?
I just think that makes us who we are.

jonathan7
06-19-2008, 11:07 AM
What motivates us? Genes + Environment (including learning and history) + Ambition; perhaps?

Free-will is an interesting one, and I think quite a few would say we don't have free will in the classical sense.

Personally I take a Matrix like view to the world;

"Because you didn't come here to make a choice, you've already made it. You're here to try to understand why you made it".

In discussing the moral side to motivation I thought the following was very interesting;

In Harry Potter the two key characters apart from Harry himself are Professor Dumbledore and Lord Voldermort. One lives for others and the other lives for himself. Lord Voldermort, ever since he was merely Tom Riddle and a student of Hogwarts, put his own selfish interests first. Dumbledore does not think of his own interests. The same applies in the Lord of the Rings where Gandalf is pitted against Sauron and Sarauman. Again the contrast is between a life lived for others and a life lived for self. Evil is a choice – but it then becomes a way of life that affects the whole personality. It is possible to turn one’s back on past choices but it is exceptionally difficult – to a large extent we are made by the choices we have made, but hope always remains as forgiveness and a new start are always possible, even at the last moment. – Peter Vardy, Thinkers Guide to Evil 190-191

Achilles
06-19-2008, 11:11 AM
Point of clarification: Is the argument that we always act in our own best interest or is it that there is no such thing as a truly selfless act?

If it's the former, how would you explain phenomena such as self-destructive behavior, suicide, etc?

jonathan7
06-19-2008, 11:16 AM
Point of clarification: Is the argument that we always act in our own best interest or is it that there is no such thing as a truly selfless act?

If it's the former, how would you explain phenomena such as self-destructive behavior, suicide, etc?

And also for the latter how do you explain the example in thread of a soldier throwing himself on a grenade to save his comrades? That's not self preserving behaviour, nor is it in your best interests.

Achilles
06-19-2008, 11:37 AM
The latter would address selflessness, rather then self-interest (the former).

Darth InSidious
06-19-2008, 11:42 AM
I question that there is no such thing as a truly selfless act. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximillian_Kolbe)

jonathan7
06-19-2008, 11:45 AM
I question that there is no such thing as a truly selfless act. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximillian_Kolbe)

Are you saying that there is or is not a truly selfless act?

See the consensus among psychologists is there is no such things as a truly selfless act. I totally disagree, call me a romantic but I think altruism exists.

Darth InSidious
06-19-2008, 11:47 AM
I'm saying that there is... Sorry, I thought the link would clarify my meaning. :)

jonathan7
06-19-2008, 11:57 AM
I'm saying that there is... Sorry, I thought the link would clarify my meaning. :)

No worries, to be honest I hadn't noticed the link until after I had posted; Kolbe was a legend.

Slightly off-topic; but I thought this was interesting...

Kolbe decided to build the monastery on a mountain side that, according to Shinto beliefs, was not the side best suited to be in tune with nature. When the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Kolbe's monastery was saved because the blast of the bomb hit the other side of the mountain, which took the main force of the blast. Had Kolbe built the monastery on the preferred side of mountain as he was advised, his work and all of his fellow monks would have been destroyed.

Providence or chance?

EnderWiggin
06-19-2008, 12:02 PM
And also for the latter how do you explain the example in thread of a soldier throwing himself on a grenade to save his comrades? That's not self preserving behaviour, nor is it in your best interests.

Hmm.... where have I heard this example before? Oh yeah, that's right.


But I don't think that removes free will, as it's not what happens every time.

What about the marine who throws himself on the grenade for his brothers-in-arms?

_EW_

How very original ;)

_EW_

jonathan7
06-19-2008, 12:07 PM
Hmm.... where have I heard this example before? Oh yeah, that's right.

And also for the latter how do you explain the example in thread of a soldier throwing himself on a grenade to save his comrades? That's not self preserving behaviour, nor is it in your best interests.

To be fair I was just using your example, and I thought I had conveyed that :p

It's an interesting question, and I have often heard people try to argue altruism doesn't exist; I myself think they live in a rather depressing world!

How very original ;)

_EW_

I try :D :xp:

Arcesious
06-19-2008, 12:12 PM
Ah, as I can see so far, we're rediscussing a old debate we once had about morality in another thread... I think it was one of those 'God debate' threads...

As it was summed up, was was pretty much concluded was:

If you do soemthing 'good' even if it has no material benefit to you, it makes you feel good, and doing it to make you feel good is, in fact, a selfish act in a sense, even if it was a 'good' thing to do. Good and evil are not necessarily inherently good or evil, because those two 'sides' of morality are subject to the interpretation of the person's view on 'good' and 'evil'. IE, do the 'wrong' thing to do the 'right' thing, 'good' thing to do the 'wrong' thing... What you consider 'good' may be 'bad', or what you consider 'evil' might actually be 'good'...


Same way the other way around for all three of those analogies... Yay for reverse phycology/philosophy...

Achilles
06-19-2008, 12:13 PM
See the consensus among psychologists is there is no such things as a truly selfless act. I totally disagree, call me a romantic but I think altruism exists.I would tend to agree with the psychologists. I challenge you to find a "selfless act" that does not have some measure of intrinsic reward.

I submit that "selfless actions" are the pursuit of an ideal, not a category unto themselves.

EDIT: I think Arcesious sums it up nicely above.
EDIT (again): I said that before he edited his post.
If you do soemthing 'good' even if it has no material benefit to you, it makes you feel good, and doing it to make you feel good is, in fact, a selfish act in a sense, even if it was a 'good' thing to do. I agree.

It's an interesting question, and I have often heard people try to argue altruism doesn't exist; I myself think they live in a rather depressing world! Why?

jonathan7
06-19-2008, 12:24 PM
I would tend to agree with the psychologists. I challenge you to find a "selfless act" that does not have some measure of intrinsic reward.

I submit that "selfless actions" are the pursuit of an ideal, not a category unto themselves.

Lets take the example of the Marine above; I don't think he has the time to weigh up if something is of benefit to him or not; he does it because he wants to save his friends and that costs him his life; indeed I think the longer he has to think about it the less likely it is for him to jump on the grenade.

Why?

Because I think some people will do things because its the right thing regardless of what it costs them; they don't do it for their benefit; and if they sacrifice their life and are say an atheist I do not possibly see what they can of possibly gained...

I think some things cannot be measured (like motivation) and to say no-one has ever performed a selfless act I think cannot be substantiated.

Ah, as I can see so far, we're rediscussing a old debate we once had about morality in another thread... I think it was one of those 'God debate' threads...

I would try and keep that kind of debate more in the relevant threads, I don't wish to see this thread to go 'religious' but think certain aspects may well be touched on.

KinchyB
06-19-2008, 12:32 PM
It's an interesting question, and I have often heard people try to argue altruism doesn't exist; I myself think they live in a rather depressing world!

I'm rather curious to see how you prove that altruism does exist...

I honestly cannot think of 1 single example where someone displays a true act of altruism.

Definition:

the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others

So, what would qualify as altruism?

Achilles
06-19-2008, 12:37 PM
Lets take the example of the Marine above; I don't think he has the time to weigh up if something is of benefit to him or not; he does it because he wants to save his friends and that costs him his life; indeed I think the longer he has to think about it the less likely it is for him to jump on the grenade. Quite right. The intrinsic reward of knowing that he has saved (will hopefully save) his friends means that it is not a "selfless act". We might be able to argue that it's a "mostly selfless act", but we cannot negate any reward he may have taken from his actions.

Because I think some people will do things because its the right thing regardless of what it costs them; I agree but that's not the same thing.

they don't do it for their benefit; Of course they do it for the benefit. Whether they (or you) realize that or not does not change the reality of it.

and if they sacrifice their life and are say an atheist I do not possibly see what they can of possibly gained... Because intrinsic rewards have nothing to do with theism/atheism. :rolleyes:

I think some things cannot be measured (like motivation) and to say no-one has ever performed a selfless act I think cannot be substantiated. I think I would accept your example of a selfless act that has no intrinsic reward as a sufficent counterargument. Nothing you've said here addresses my point.

I would try and keep that kind of debate more in the relevant threads, I don't wish to see this thread to go 'religious' but think certain aspects may well be touched on.Says the man that just brought up atheism.

jonathan7
06-19-2008, 12:39 PM
For a simple overview there are examples in the animal kingdom; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altruism_in_animals

For humans, what was wrong with DI's example?

Quite right. The intrinsic reward of knowing that he has saved (will hopefully save) his friends means that it is not a "selfless act". We might be able to argue that it's a "mostly selfless act", but we cannot negate any reward he may have taken from his actions.

He's not alive to reap any benefits from his action...

Says the man that just brought up atheism.

I brought that up purely as the objection for a religious person doing an altruistic act is its for there God and therefore it was in there interest to do so, therefore it was my opinion the atheist example was useful.

Arcesious
06-19-2008, 01:03 PM
Alright...

Marine sees grenade. Allies don't have enough time to run. Marine either thinks of the fact that he'll be happy to have saved his friends, or how famous he'll be when he saves everyone's lives. He ignores the fact that he won't be around to benefit himself at all from this action, and jumps on the grenade...

Pretty much, he did do a selfless act, to a far degree, but there still would be that little bit of personnal reward he would seek from doing it, either having saved his friend's lives, or winning some sort of military metal after he dies... It is, mostly, a selfless act, but even then, ignoring the fact that he won't be around afterwards to benefit from it, he still did it, to a miniscule degree, for personnal benefit at the very moment he did it.

Achilles
06-19-2008, 01:05 PM
For a simple overview there are examples in the animal kingdom; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altruism_in_animals Wouldn't "sacrifice" require some measure of self-awareness?

For the animals that do demonstrate consciousness, how do you intend to rule out intrinsic rewards? For animals that do not, how do you intend to rule out it being a "dog eat dog" world?

For humans, what was wrong with DI's example?It doesn't negate the counterargument.

He's not alive to reap any benefits from his action... He was alive to enjoy them right up until the moment he died. I have an relevant example with a longer timeline if you think it will help.

I brought that up purely as the objection for a religious person doing an altruistic act is its for there God and therefore it was in there interest to do so, therefore it was my opinion the atheist example was useful.I wasn't saying that it wasn't useful. I was only pointing out that your call to leave religious themes out of the discussion was rather hypocritical.

KinchyB
06-19-2008, 01:08 PM
For humans, what was wrong with DI's example?

I think a good question is, how would he have felt had he not helped the individual? By taking his place he actually avoids a feeling of guilt and regret, which is technically motivation and selfish. So the reward...not feeling guilty and having no regret. This is pretty much the same as the jumping on a grenade example.

Also, the only thing we know about this entire situation is what has been written by other people. There is no account of why Maximilian Kolbe did what he did from his own mouth. We are making an assumption that it was an altruistic act without knowing all the details.

He's not alive to reap any benefits from his action...

Well, why do you have to be alive to reap the benefits? Altruism is doing something unselfishly, so if you jump on a grenade to save your friend (albeit nice) there are several circumstances that could completely negate it being an altruistic act.

Basically, unless a complete detailed account of their two lives (or anyone who is up for an altruism award) is given you can't really say 100% if it's an altruistic act or not. It's nice to think this can happen, however, we also have a tendency to romanticize these types of situations so odds are what we know is not really what happened.

Rev7
06-19-2008, 01:39 PM
Marine sees grenade. Allies don't have enough time to run. Marine either thinks of the fact that he'll be happy to have saved his friends, or how famous he'll be when he saves everyone's lives. He ignores the fact that he won't be around to benefit himself at all from this action, and jumps on the grenade...

Pretty much, he did do a selfless act, to a far degree, but there still would be that little bit of personnal reward he would seek from doing it, either having saved his friend's lives, or winning some sort of military metal after he dies... It is, mostly, a selfless act, but even then, ignoring the fact that he won't be around afterwards to benefit from it, he still did it, to a miniscule degree, for personnal benefit at the very moment he did it.
Yes. I personally see a selfless act as not thinking of yourself. Sometimes it is just a reaction.

However, how would this soldier get a personal reward when he is already dead? I don't think that many people would jump on a grenade just to get a medal of honor. :giveup:

Achilles
06-19-2008, 01:52 PM
However, how would this soldier get a personal reward when he is already dead? I don't think that many people would jump on a grenade just to get a medal of honor. :giveup:Intrinsic rewards are only for the person performing the act (intrinsic as in "internal"). Extrinsic rewards (i.e. "external" rewards such as a medal) are completely different.

If a soldier feels a momentary sense of duty or..."altruism", which inspires him or her to perform the act, then the sense of satisfaction in performing the act itself is the intrinsic reward. The argument is that since they did recieve some reward for the act, then it is not truly selfless (i.e. to some extent they were doing it for themselves as well).

I'm perfectly ok accepting that actions that are only 99% selfless are still noble or that actions performed in the pursuit of the ideal of altruism are similarly noble, however it would seem that others are not. :(

EnderWiggin
06-19-2008, 01:56 PM
Alright...

Marine sees grenade. Allies don't have enough time to run. Marine either thinks of the fact that he'll be happy to have saved his friends, or how famous he'll be when he saves everyone's lives. He ignores the fact that he won't be around to benefit himself at all from this action, and jumps on the grenade...

He won't be happy to have saved his friends. You can't use emotion as an argument, since he's dead.

Name one man who did the example. You don't become famous after doing that. People think highly of you, but I don't think you can use that as one of the reasons the soldier used to justify committing suicide in order to save the lives of his friends. Selfless, IMHO, and he doesn't even take a long time to decide. He chooses after what, 3 seconds?

_EW_

Achilles
06-19-2008, 02:04 PM
He won't be happy to have saved his friends. You can't use emotion as an argument, since he's dead. Technically, he's alive until he's dead. After that point, you're correct.

Name one man who did the example. You don't become famous after doing that.. Not really relevant to the argument. Fame might be a source of motivation, but it isn't the only thing on the list.

People think highly of you, but I don't think you can use that as one of the reasons the soldier used to justify committing suicide in order to save the lives of his friends. Selfless, IMHO.And that moment of knowing that your actions might save the lives of your friends? I agree that it's mostly selfless, but it's not entirely selfless.

What do we gain by arguing for this "all or nothing" dichotomy?

Totenkopf
06-19-2008, 02:27 PM
What do we gain by arguing for this "all or nothing" dichotomy?

Headaches, frustration and disdain of others. :giveup: :D

I somehow doubt that people throw themselves on a grenade to avoid survivor's guilt (unless they already suffer from it). The decision making process there is really too quick to dwell on such thoughts. The problem with ascribing motivation is that it's some other person's we're analyzing. Is our motivation for assigning cynical interpretation to someone else's act a defense mechanism of our own, in order to minimize them? Is our own outlook so jaded that we can't perceive somebody doing something totally selfless? Some might be right to say that at some innate level the act isn't totally selfless, but it's going to be impossible to glean from a corpse exactly what component of the decision is selfless vs selfish. I'd have to say I pretty much agree with the essence of Achill'es last statement.....what difference does it make in the end if it was totally or just mostly.

Rev7
06-19-2008, 03:30 PM
Intrinsic rewards are only for the person performing the act (intrinsic as in "internal"). Extrinsic rewards (i.e. "external" rewards such as a medal) are completely different.

If a soldier feels a momentary sense of duty or..."altruism", which inspires him or her to perform the act, then the sense of satisfaction in performing the act itself is the intrinsic reward....

I'm perfectly ok accepting that actions that are only 99% selfless are still noble or that actions performed in the pursuit of the ideal of altruism are similarly noble, however it would seem that others are not. :(
That is true, and it makes sense. I guess that you just have to break the situation down a little bit more. Thanks for breaking that down for us. :)
The argument is that since they did recieve some reward for the act, then it is not truly selfless (i.e. to some extent they were doing it for themselves as well).
self·less

–adjective

having little or no concern for oneself, esp. with regard to fame, position, money, etc.; unselfish.
What do you mean by 'not truly selfless' because they 'didn't recieve some reward for the act'?

Achilles
06-19-2008, 03:48 PM
That is true, and it makes sense. I guess that you just have to break the situation down a little bit more. Thanks for breaking that down for us. :) You're welcome.

What do you mean by 'not truly selfless' because they 'didn't recieve some reward for the act'?I find it interesting that your source seems to want to hedge their bets by adding the "little or" qualifier :)

"Self less" is to be "without self". A "selfless" act would therefore be act in which there is no regard for self (interestingly, Merriam-Webster seems to agree with this conclusion). Therefore, by definition, if there is any regard for self (i.e. an intrinsic reward for "doing the right thing" or "fulfilling one's duty") then the act cannot be selfless.

The favored example here seems to be jumping on a grenade, however what if we were to discuss a slightly different example. Suppose that a very wealthy man anonymously contributed a significant portion of money to a very worthy cause. He does not brag or boast of his deed. The administrators of the cause are never able to discover the name of their benefactor. The man goes to his grave without anyone ever knowing what he did or giving him praise for it.

Anyone except himself, of course. He knew what he did. Because he believes it the right thing to do he is charitable. Because he believes that accepting praise for the act would selfish, he keeps it to himself. The more that "doing the right thing" becomes a priority for him, the greater the intrinsic reward for doing it becomes. Even if he believes that self-congratulations goes against the humility of the act, denying himself that praise becomes a basis for intrinisic reward (quite the catch-22, no?).

So again, I argue there is no such thing as a selfless act. We can pursue that ideal, the same way we pursue "beauty" or "happiness" but, as I hope I have sufficiently shown, it is equally elusive in its nature.

mur'phon
06-19-2008, 04:10 PM
Gah, as soon as I posted the thread, my internet crashed.

Tot: When we don't have time to think (much), I asume that you do what you think is best based on your limited analysis. I.E A driver is startled by some fireworks and end up driving off the road.

Achilles: Again, it seems we mostly agree, though I'd say we only do things because we get some kind of reward (I might misinterpret what you wrote, but your 99% selfless act seems to indicate you believe that there is some other motivation).

J7: My world is not depressing, I get the same rewards for doing things you do, though it would be nice if "true" altruism exist, it's nothing I loose sleep over. I don't care why people do something.

Anyway this is going much better than at school, where the teacher quite bluntly told me "I don't give 6'es to people who don't know their place".

Arcesious
06-19-2008, 04:18 PM
Achilles seems to have explained it in the way I originally intended, as I did not think of the best words for it. ;)

Achilles
06-19-2008, 04:25 PM
Achilles: Again, it seems we mostly agree, though I'd say we only do things because we get some kind of reward (I might misinterpret what you wrote, but your 99% selfless act seems to indicate you believe that there is some other motivation).I don't know if I'd go that far. I think we might quickly find ourselves quibbling over intent. While on one hand I do think I could agree with something like:

"I do the right thing because doing the right thing helps me feel good about myself"

...I also think I'd be inclined to disagree with something like:

"I am doing the right thing specifically because I know that I will get an intrinsic reward for doing so and for no other reason".

In other words, I am not seeking to diminish the significance of moral behavior so much as I am trying to point out that intrinsic rewards are an unavoidable part of acting morally.

I leave it up to you to determine whether or not we are still on the same page.

Rev7
06-19-2008, 10:35 PM
I find it interesting that your source seems to want to hedge their bets by adding the "little or" qualifier :)

"Self less" is to be "without self". A "selfless" act would therefore be act in which there is no regard for self (interestingly, Merriam-Webster seems to agree with this conclusion). Therefore, by definition, if there is any regard for self (i.e. an intrinsic reward for "doing the right thing" or "fulfilling one's duty") then the act cannot be selfless.

The favored example here seems to be jumping on a grenade, however what if we were to discuss a slightly different example. Suppose that a very wealthy man anonymously contributed a significant portion of money to a very worthy cause. He does not brag or boast of his deed. The administrators of the cause are never able to discover the name of their benefactor. The man goes to his grave without anyone ever knowing what he did or giving him praise for it.

Anyone except himself, of course. He knew what he did. Because he believes it the right thing to do he is charitable. Because he believes that accepting praise for the act would selfish, he keeps it to himself. The more that "doing the right thing" becomes a priority for him, the greater the intrinsic reward for doing it becomes. Even if he believes that self-congratulations goes against the humility of the act, denying himself that praise becomes a basis for intrinisic reward (quite the catch-22, no?).

So again, I argue there is no such thing as a selfless act. We can pursue that ideal, the same way we pursue "beauty" or "happiness" but, as I hope I have sufficiently shown, it is equally elusive in its nature.
Okay then. I guess that technically, once you really break it down, nothing is really selfless. I don't really know how to say it with words, but I still do believe that there is such a thing as a selfless act.

Achilles
06-20-2008, 02:52 AM
Okay then. I guess that technically, once you really break it down, nothing is really selfless. :D

I don't really know how to say it with words, but I still do believe that there is such a thing as a selfless act.If it's a matter personal preference then there's little I can do to change your mind, however if you're presenting this as an argument then I'll simply ask you for an example of truly selfless act.

I think at some point, there are things that we learn and then never really think of again. Should it hold any real significance for me that ice absorbing heat from the water is what makes it cold? Does it really change anything to know that I'm not really sucking fluid up the straw when I drink a beverage thus equipped? Does the realization that no act is truly selfless make someone's kind gesture or noble contribution less meaningful?

mur'phon asked for our assistance with determining the correctness of an idea. I don't think we should get too carried away with the implications of the answer. At the end of the day, it doesn't change a whole lot of anything.