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genghiscant

Altruism?

Altruism. Does it exist? I define altruism as pure selflessness.
cyberman

There was an episode of Friends all about this. The problem is that it is impossible to tell.

Person A could say "I am performing this kind act and there is no gain for me".

It is very easy for Person B to say "Ah, but you will enjoy the feeling of self satisfaction" or "Ah but you think it will improve your chances of going to heaven" or "Ah but you might then get favours in return if you spread a feeling of goodwill and co-operation, so you could end up benefitting", etc etc.

But none of Person B's remarks prove at all that the act was not selfless, do they?

I do think that people perform acts of altruism, but as I say it is impossible to know for sure.
genghiscant

I don't believe that pure altruism exists because before every action a calculation is performed, no matter how brief.
Shaker

I'm in agreement with genghis - I doubt if there can ever be such a thing as pure selflessness, if the definition of pure is construed as "without absolutely any personal consideration whatsoever." I just don't think it's humanly possible.
JMC

Shaker wrote:
I'm in agreement with genghis - I doubt if there can ever be such a thing as pure selflessness, if the definition of pure is construed as "without absolutely any personal consideration whatsoever." I just don't think it's humanly possible.


I think it can happen "in the moment", as an unconscious act. Any attempt to calculate a situation will automatically bring in concepts of "self" and "me".

So, an almost unthinking kindness can be called pure selflessness, but to be able to unconsciously think of others and not yourself requires a lot of per-programming so that it is habit. I do believe this happens to people occasionally and to some people almost always and is intricately connected with humility - because pride will always bring in thoughts of self and "I" which - as you rightly say - make any act of altruism impure to a certain degree.
cyberman

genghiscant wrote:
I don't believe that pure altruism exists because before every action a calculation is performed, no matter how brief.


Is it possible for the outcome of that calculation to be "This will have more adverse effects than benefits for me, but I'll do it anyway, because these people need help"?
Ketty

I can only speak as a woman from my own experience and I'm sure many women who are mothers can say that 'pure' altruism exists.  I also know from self-sacrificing things done for me, that it exists.
Shaker

Ketty wrote:
I can only speak as a woman from my own experience and I'm sure many women who are mothers can say that 'pure' altruism exists.  I also know from self-sacrificing things done for me, that it exists.

Neuroscience would disagree with you there, and frankly, with all due respect, between you and neuroscience, my money's on neuroscience
cyberman

Shaker wrote:
Ketty wrote:
I can only speak as a woman from my own experience and I'm sure many women who are mothers can say that 'pure' altruism exists.  I also know from self-sacrificing things done for me, that it exists.

Neuroscience would disagree with you there, and frankly, with all due respect, between you and neuroscience, my money's on neuroscience


Sorry, how does neuroscience show that the self-sacrificing things done for Ketty were not altruistic?
The Boyg

cyberman wrote:
Shaker wrote:
Ketty wrote:
I can only speak as a woman from my own experience and I'm sure many women who are mothers can say that 'pure' altruism exists.  I also know from self-sacrificing things done for me, that it exists.

Neuroscience would disagree with you there, and frankly, with all due respect, between you and neuroscience, my money's on neuroscience


Sorry, how does neuroscience show that the self-sacrificing things done for Ketty were not altruistic?


I don't know about neuroscience but Dawkins would suggest, backed by a reasonable amount of observational evidence, that seeming altruism between related organisms is inspired by the preservation of shared genes.
Ketty

Shaker wrote:
Ketty wrote:
I can only speak as a woman from my own experience and I'm sure many women who are mothers can say that 'pure' altruism exists.  I also know from self-sacrificing things done for me, that it exists.

Neuroscience would disagree with you there, and frankly, with all due respect, between you and neuroscience, my money's on neuroscience


Knowing you as I do, I'm pretty certain that at some point in your life you've acted altruistically.  So yahboosucks to neuroscience when it comes to some acts of altruism.  
Shaker

cyberman wrote:
Sorry, how does neuroscience show that the self-sacrificing things done for Ketty were not altruistic?


I was thinking along the lines of the already significant and always growing body of evidence that what we think of as freely-made, conscious decisions are in fact nothing of the kind - the latest research I've read about (I've got some links somewhere, if anybody's that interested) is telling us that we're already acting unconsciously significantly ahead (relatively speaking - we're talking in terms of milliseconds here) of our conscious mind.

The implication for both free will (a concept which is looking ever more shaky) and altruism is that we act automatically out of pre-programmed, unconscious motives and that the conscious mind, the bit which we think of as being aware of the capacity to make free choices, is constantly playing catch-up: the conclusion being that although we may well sincerely believe that we're acting consciously and deliberately and can make genuinely altruistic choices, we're almost certainly grievously mistaken. There's a permanent lag between what we "decide" to do and our being consciously aware of that "decision" (which isn't) - a lag so small that only modern scientific technology can record it, but a lag nonetheless.
Shaker

Ketty wrote:
Knowing you as I do, I'm pretty certain that at some point in your life you've acted altruistically.

I've acted in a way which may look and even subjectively feel like pure altruism, no question of it; but that doesn't mean to say that it actually is so, and the evidence coming out of neuroscientific research these days makes it look like a diminishing and dwindling prospect.

I don't have any prior ideological committment to pure altruism, though: it's not something that I have to defend at all costs.
Leonard James

Shaker wrote:
cyberman wrote:
Sorry, how does neuroscience show that the self-sacrificing things done for Ketty were not altruistic?


I was thinking along the lines of the already significant and always growing body of evidence that what we think of as freely-made, conscious decisions are in fact nothing of the kind - the latest research I've read about (I've got some links somewhere, if anybody's that interested) is telling us that we're already acting unconsciously significantly ahead (relatively speaking - we're talking in terms of milliseconds here) of our conscious mind.

The implication for both free will (a concept which is looking ever more shaky) and altruism is that we act automatically out of pre-programmed, unconscious motives and that the conscious mind, the bit which we think of as being aware of the capacity to make free choices, is constantly playing catch-up: the conclusion being that although we may well sincerely believe that we're acting consciously and deliberately and can make genuinely altruistic choices, we're almost certainly grievously mistaken. There's a permanent lag between what we "decide" to do and our being consciously aware of that "decision" (which isn't) - a lag so small that only modern scientific technology can record it, but a lag nonetheless.


But how do you know that the subconscious mind that arrives at a decision first hasn't itself utilised an ability to choose similar to that of the conscious mind?
JMC

I think you can still "own" your unconscious decisions - in "Christian anthropology" the difference between conscious and unconscious decisions would be the difference between acting at the direction of the mind compared to from the heart.

But the reason I say unconscious decisions can be owned is because our unconscious behaviour is primarily a product of our life experiences and upbringing, which we do have a choice in. If we live our lives in a certain way (and religion is certainly a way of life), then our unconscious acts will be born from that. And, as I said, if an act of altruism is done unconsciously, then it can be selfless because you are literally not thinking about yourself - you're not consciously thinking at all!
Leonard James

JMC wrote:
And, as I said, if an act of altruism is done unconsciously, then it can be selfless because you are literally not thinking about yourself - you're not consciously thinking at all!


But you still don't know how the "subconscious" thinking arrived at its decision. It could well have used "subconscious" choice in doing so, after weighing up the evidence.
JMC

Leonard James wrote:
JMC wrote:
And, as I said, if an act of altruism is done unconsciously, then it can be selfless because you are literally not thinking about yourself - you're not consciously thinking at all!


But you still don't know how the "subconscious" thinking arrived at its decision. It could well have used "subconscious" choice in doing so, after weighing up the evidence.


If we are saying selflessness means giving no thought to oneself, then we can only realistically deal with conscious thought.
Leonard James

JMC wrote:
Leonard James wrote:
JMC wrote:
And, as I said, if an act of altruism is done unconsciously, then it can be selfless because you are literally not thinking about yourself - you're not consciously thinking at all!


But you still don't know how the "subconscious" thinking arrived at its decision. It could well have used "subconscious" choice in doing so, after weighing up the evidence.


If we are saying selflessness means giving no thought to oneself, then we can only realistically deal with conscious thought.


I really can't see how you can discount that our subconscious mind might do the same thing.
JMC

Leonard James wrote:
JMC wrote:
Leonard James wrote:
JMC wrote:
And, as I said, if an act of altruism is done unconsciously, then it can be selfless because you are literally not thinking about yourself - you're not consciously thinking at all!


But you still don't know how the "subconscious" thinking arrived at its decision. It could well have used "subconscious" choice in doing so, after weighing up the evidence.


If we are saying selflessness means giving no thought to oneself, then we can only realistically deal with conscious thought.


I really can't see how you can discount that our subconscious mind might do the same thing.


But we can't deal with it, because it is subconscious. It's just up to speculation. However we can know that when we act subconsciously we are not consciously thinking of ourselves, and so we can say as close to certainty as possible that selfless acts are possible.

That is not to say that the subconscious acts only selflessly -- we may, and do, act selfishly without thinking, but that is why I say our subconscious "from the heart" actions are a reflection on how life and our choices have shaped our instincts.
Leonard James

JMC wrote:


But we can't deal with it, because it is subconscious. It's just up to speculation. However we can know that when we act subconsciously we are not consciously thinking of ourselves, and so we can say as close to certainty as possible that selfless acts are possible.

That is not to say that the subconscious acts only selflessly -- we may, and do, act selfishly without thinking, but that is why I say our subconscious "from the heart" actions are a reflection on how life and our choices have shaped our instincts.


I repeat, we have no knowledge of how the subconscious mind works, so it is perfectly possible that it arrives at its decisions in the same way as our conscious mind.
JMC

Leonard James wrote:

I repeat, we have no knowledge of how the subconscious mind works...


And that is why I said we cannot realistically deal with the subject -- it makes better sense to simply say conscious thought about ourselves is to think of ourselves, and when we're not doing that, we're not doing it.
JMC

Unrelated to the above, though, I think this is a good question:

cyberman wrote:
genghiscant wrote:
I don't believe that pure altruism exists because before every action a calculation is performed, no matter how brief.


Is it possible for the outcome of that calculation to be "This will have more adverse effects than benefits for me, but I'll do it anyway, because these people need help"?


I think humility, properly understood and practiced, would mean it is entirely possible for someone to make this calculation.
Leonard James

I think it is simply better for ourselves and other people to try to be kind and thoughtful, and never to hurt if we can avoid it. It just makes more sense to me.
JMC

Leonard James wrote:
I think it is simply better for ourselves and other people to try to be kind and thoughtful, and never to hurt if we can avoid it. It just makes more sense to me.


Well I certainly don't disagree with that as a stand-alone statement.

Self-sacrifice and putting others before ourselves is perhaps a slightly different thing though?
genghiscant

How about suicide bombers. Are they being selfless?
The Boyg

genghiscant wrote:
How about suicide bombers. Are they being selfless?


Perhaps you could give us a clue of what you mean by "selfless" in this context. If you mean willing to sacrifice themselves in the name of (what they perceive to be) a greater good then they are. If you mean putting the needs of others ahead of their own desires then they aren't.
JMC

genghiscant:

The Boyg wrote:
genghiscant wrote:
How about suicide bombers. Are they being selfless?


Perhaps you could give us a clue of what you mean by "selfless" in this context. If you mean willing to sacrifice themselves in the name of a greater good then they are. If you mean putting the needs of others ahead of their own desires then they aren't.


This ^
genghiscant

The Boyg wrote:
genghiscant wrote:
How about suicide bombers. Are they being selfless?


Perhaps you could give us a clue of what you mean by "selfless" in this context. If you mean willing to sacrifice themselves in the name of (what they perceive to be) a greater good then they are. If you mean putting the needs of others ahead of their own desires then they aren't.


I don't think they're being altruistic in either sense. In the first sense their self sacrifice probably gives them a sense of self worth or martyrdom. In the second, they're not acting in the interests of all people.
The Boyg

genghiscant wrote:
The Boyg wrote:
genghiscant wrote:
How about suicide bombers. Are they being selfless?


Perhaps you could give us a clue of what you mean by "selfless" in this context. If you mean willing to sacrifice themselves in the name of (what they perceive to be) a greater good then they are. If you mean putting the needs of others ahead of their own desires then they aren't.


I don't think they're being altruistic in either sense. In the first sense their self sacrifice probably gives them a sense of self worth or martyrdom. In the second, they're not acting in the interests of all people.


Hang on, you asked whether suicide bombers were being "selfless" not "altruistic". Hence the request for you to clarify what you meant by "selfless" in this instance.
genghiscant

The Boyg wrote:
genghiscant wrote:
The Boyg wrote:
genghiscant wrote:
How about suicide bombers. Are they being selfless?


Perhaps you could give us a clue of what you mean by "selfless" in this context. If you mean willing to sacrifice themselves in the name of (what they perceive to be) a greater good then they are. If you mean putting the needs of others ahead of their own desires then they aren't.


I don't think they're being altruistic in either sense. In the first sense their self sacrifice probably gives them a sense of self worth or martyrdom. In the second, they're not acting in the interests of all people.


Hang on, you asked whether suicide bombers were being "selfless" not "altruistic". Hence the request for you to clarify what you meant by "selfless" in this instance.


In my opening post I gave my definition of altruism.
The Boyg

genghiscant wrote:
In my opening post I gave my definition of altruism.


Yes, but you asked whether suicide bombers were being "selfless" not "altruistic". Hence the request for you to clarify what you meant by "selfless" in this instance.

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