All behaviour is egoistic, ...or not ?

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hue-man
 
Reply Wed 31 Dec, 2008 05:07 pm
@read,
|read| wrote:
Do you personally believe no thought is completely selfless? If so, how do you know?

I can come up with a plausible explanation for any action in terms of selfish motivations, but this does not imply the action is in fact selfishly motivated. Is it not possible for any conscious being to be motivated by regard for the welfare of another, as an end in itself?


I do personally believe that no thought is completely selfless, unless I'm convinced otherwise. I'm looking at the problem from a psychological point of view. When we love someone, it is not that we simply love the person; we love the way that the person makes us feel, and we develop a psychological attachment to that person. We develop attachments to family members more than non-family members, because we are consciously aware of the fact that we have close genetic relations to them, and this once again deals with consciousness of the self. We love our children more than almost any other person and will protect them by any means, because we feel like they are a part of us, almost like a limb. When we sacrifice ourselves to save another we are relating that someone or something with ourselves. Due to these psychological examples and others I am moved to believe that no thought is completely selfless, and since our actions are caused by our thoughts I believe that while the benefits of an action can be completely selfless the cause of them is never completely selfless. I do not believe that this is a negative thing. I think that this type of psychology is necessary for the survival of social animals.
 
read
 
Reply Sat 10 Jan, 2009 06:16 pm
@hue-man,
hue-man wrote:
When we love someone, it is not that we simply love the person; we love the way that the person makes us feel, and we develop a psychological attachment to that person.
In many cases, we do not love the way the person makes us feel. For example, when a child engages in self-destructive behavior, this makes a loving parent feel very bad. Sometimes, this can go on indefinitely, and the parent may never again have another positive feeling as a result of their love for their child. Nonetheless, many parents will continue to love their children, and continue to feel bad as a result.

This is a psychological attachment, but it has no reward. You might say that it's not the reward, but the desire for a reward that motivates the parent. Perhaps someday the child will change their behavior, and the parent desires the positive feelings they will have on that day. I would reply that this sounds plausible. However, it proves nothing. It also sounds plausible that the parent has an instinctive motivation to act in the interests of their offspring.

Here's a concrete example. If the parent is motivated only by the desire for reward, and the possibility of reward is removed, the parent should no longer be motivated, correct? Imagine the child is a long-time heroine addict, and the parent has been trying to help the child change their life the whole time, without any success. Now, the parent becomes aware the child has contracted a disease which will kill them within some short period of time. The parent does not believe the child will change their life before they die. So the parent does not believe they will ever have another positive feeling as a result of their love for their child.

In this situation, if the parent is motivated only by desire for reward, they would stop trying to help their child, correct? Do you believe this is what the parent would do in every case? I don't. I think many parents would continue to try to help, even though they believed it was a hopeless, lost cause. They would continue even knowing that all they would ever received for their efforts is suffering.

Now, I believe you can come up with a way to explain the parent's behavior that comes back around to self interest. So can I. But does this mean the behavior actually is motivated by self interest, or simply that this is one possible explanation? Why should self interest be the only possible motivation in the head of a human being? It is certainly true that every action the human takes is the result of some motivation in their head, but this is not by any means synonymous with, "Every action the human takes is motivated by self interest." That is, unless we define by fiat every single action a human being takes as motivated by self interest, simply by virtue of the fact they are human, in which case the argument becomes trivial.

Imagine some kind of robot programmed with a simple motivation: to push people out of the path of moving cars, and let itself be destroyed in the process. The robot is not motivated by self interest, correct? True enough, the robot is not human, and such a simple robot could not reasonably be considered conscious or alive, or even possessing "motivations" at all, in the human sense of the word.

But the robot and the human have at least this much in common: they are both physical mechanisms operating by physical laws in the physical world. It is possible for such a mechanism to take some action that helps out someone else and is not motivated by self interest. Now, my question to you is, is there some good reason a human being is incapable of taking such an action, that is, an action not motivated by self interest?

Certainly, human beings are often motivated by self interest. But why? I do not believe there is some a priori logical proof that self interest must be the one and only ultimate motivation for all the actions of a conscious being. As complex as human beings are, we were created by evolutionary processes subject to the vicissitudes of a changing environment. We developed self interest because the organisms with genes that contributed to self interest helped those genes get propagated. Is it not possible we also developed selflessness toward our offspring because the organisms with genes that contributed to such selflessness helped those genes get propagated?

hue-man wrote:

We love our children more than almost any other person and will protect them by any means, because we feel like they are a part of us, almost like a limb. When we sacrifice ourselves to save another we are relating that someone or something with ourselves.
(emphasis mine)

I agree with the first clause, but the rest does not logically follow. To me, it sounds like an attempt to crowbar apparently-selfless behavior into a framework that begins with the assumption no behavior is selfless.

This

"If we take any action for the benefit of another, we must be thinking about it as if it was benefiting ourselves."

does NOT logically follow from this

"Every action we take is the result of some motivation in our heads."

Is it not possible we have a motivation in our heads for selflessness, simply because that motivation is what allowed the genes that cause it to be propagated?
 
read
 
Reply Sat 10 Jan, 2009 06:35 pm
@read,
What I'm trying to do is give examples that will make my thought-process plausible to you, and my thought-process runs as follows. I assume we have some motivations. If I don't assume I know anything about those motivations, the default position is those motivations could be anything. If I want to narrow down the set off possible motivations (if I want to rule out pure selflessness or claim all motivations stem from self interest), that would be a positive assertion, and it would need to be supported with further evidence. I've never seen any sufficient proof that no other motivations are possible aside from self interest.

Again, the fact that I can come up with a plausible explanation for all actions in terms of self interest does not constitute such a proof. I can easily come up with a wide variety of possible motivations for any action, some self-interested and some selfless. Without knowing what others are thinking, how can we know they're always self-interested? If our own behavior does not feel like it's motivated by any reward or desire for a reward, why should we think it somehow must be so anyway?

Basically, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, you need a pretty good reason if you're going to believe it's not a duck. "It could be a peasant in a duck suit" is not a good reason. People do appear to engage in selfless behavior. We can come up with alternate, selfish motivations, but what does that prove?
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Sun 11 Jan, 2009 05:31 pm
@read,
|read| wrote:
We can come up with alternate, selfish motivations, but what does that prove?


Exactly - the ability to come up with possible selfish reasons for acting does not in any way prove that the action was selfish.

Psychological egoism is nonfalsifiable.
 
MuseEvolution
 
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 01:04 pm
@Wybo,
Not that the thread really needs any kind of validation from myself... Smile

But I agree. If non-egoistic motivations may be attributed to an act as easily as egoistic motivations, neither can be stated as the reason the act was performed.
 
 

 
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