The Selfish Nature Of All Actions

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boagie
 
Reply Tue 13 Feb, 2007 08:10 am
Good morning Vietnam![time warp]

This is a premise a great many people have difficulty accepting.The premise is that no matter what you chose to do or chose not to do it is still selfish.You reach for a glass of water,there is a rational then for doing so,and that rational is selfish.Someone does something kind and supposedly selfless for another,the rational goes back to what this person believes they themselves are.If the idea they have of themselves is one of a kind and compassionate human being,then they must do this action to maintain the idea they have of themselves,thus it is first selfish.The religious might find this difficult to incorporated or embrace but it is necessarily universal. I don't believe you can find an acception to this premise,you are invited to do so of course.Perhaps you can expand on this theme that would be most welcome as well.Are there any particular examples you would like to explore?

It is a dreamy moving not quite thing only the illusion is the grasp of the ring!
 
Dexter78
 
Reply Tue 13 Feb, 2007 04:04 pm
@boagie,
I tend to agree that there is a selfish component in all human action, but I wonder if it is always to root cause. With charity, people may give $5 or $10, which is likely very little expense to themselves, and in return they get to feel good, and I would say that this is a fairly shallow, selfish act. Similarly I would classify acts by religous people done soley out of fear of eternal punishment or a reward after death. It would be curious to see if, everytime a person gave to charity, they felt awful, but still did it with the intention of helping others. I do not know if there is a way to determine if any action cab be purely altruistic, but I think evidence suggests that certain actions can be a blend of selflessness and selfishness, possibly even primarily motivated by selflessness. There are few instricts stronger than that for self-preservation, yet that are stories of people assisting others they've never met and in some instances dying themselves in an attempt to help someone. I am not saying that there is still not a selfish component, such as the thought of being considered a hero, idolized, etc., but it seems unlikely that these desires would override the desire to live. A way to quantify the influence of such instincts would of course be helpful. We've evolved as a feeling, empathetic species and as such are actions are dictated by both our own desires along with the impact on others. I don't think much more can be said without further defining terms like selfish, selfless, etc.
 
chad3006
 
Reply Tue 13 Feb, 2007 05:06 pm
@boagie,
A great book on this topic is from one of my favorites--Mark Twain. It's called What is Man? You can get a free ebook version here. An example of a seeminly selfless act from the book is: If a man jumps into the water to save another, he's really acting selfishly because he couldn't live with himself if he didn't. So, he's essentially acting to please his own nature. Twain's version is more eloquent, of course, so I encourage anyone interested in this subject to give it a read.
 
boagie
 
Reply Tue 13 Feb, 2007 05:20 pm
@Dexter78,
Dexter78 wrote:
I tend to agree that there is a selfish component in all human action, but I wonder if it is always to root cause.


Dexter,

There is another possible root cause which in its metaphysics comes back to the same thing,just a broader concept.You were useing someone who risks their life to save another as an example.The late Joseph Campbell use to tell a story about some canyon where he was living being used both for a lovers lane and as a place where people went to committed sucided.Apparently some young man was about ready to jump when a police officer grabed a hold of him and just about went over with him but for a second cop who hauled them both back.Afterward,the policemen was asked why didn't you let go,you were going over with him? His reply was,if I had let that young man go I would not have been able to live another day of my life-----big stuff!


Schopenhaur's explaination is,this is a realization,not a concept,suddenly this realization just grabs you,you and the other are one.The vail of maya has fallen away---or in other words the illusion of time and space which creates separateness,for that brief time is broken and you are the young man about to jump.Actually there is new evidence which would support Schopenhaurs view on this,it comes from neurology,they have discovered what they call mirror neurons,if you are poked at,these neurons fire[are activated] but if you witness another being poked at, they also fire--this is showing us the source of our own morality is humanity itself,bringing self and other together.So,my point in the brief period of which we spoke self and other are one,so in a strange kind of way,it is still selfish,the self now incompasses both.

Outside of the above I cannot think of one acception to this universal rule,all action is at first selfish.Even if you are decieved,you cannot be decieved if you did not think the action was going to serve you in some way,only then would you act.

Perhaps you would like to try your hand at defineing self,self-interest and other ect.. I have a pretty clear idea of what they mean to me,but I am easy! I think it was Voltaire who said,if you wish to debate with me,define your terms------------time for my meds!


Chad,I read that years ago,that is what inspired this thread,thanks for the link.
 
Mr Fight the Power
 
Reply Tue 13 Feb, 2007 09:29 pm
@boagie,
Desire is the cause of action.

Desire cannot be anything but self-involved.

All action is selfish.
 
boagie
 
Reply Thu 15 Feb, 2007 09:01 am
@Mr Fight the Power,
Mr fight the power,

I am pleased you agree with the premise but I am afraid in order to make it interesting we need someone who has a problem with it.Perhaps not,if we expand on the theme,for I believe the majority of people would still reject this premise.What about all the hero worship,the suffering and selfless acts of all these historical figures,the public at large have just stop short of making Gods out of some of these characters.Indeed I think we all prefer to believe humanity is capable of selflessness.

Nietzsche inferred,rather than truth being our deliverance,perhaps it is the lie,the falsehood,whether we call these things lies or functional illusions they are part of a complex structure.Christian morality would have difficulty with this-----to Nietzsche's delight.The believers modivation to worship is,you guessed it,selfish! What would it mean to not tolerate the myth of pure altruism,most people find the term supspect in practise anyway,just another means to make the average guy feel inadequate.Any thoughts? I going back to my room now!
 
Dexter78
 
Reply Thu 15 Feb, 2007 11:41 am
@boagie,
Perhaps what needs to change is the perception that selfishness is an inherently negative trait, which is of course why no one wants to think they are selfish. In the story of the man who saves the other man from falling into a canyon because he would be unable to live with himself, both parties benefited and little if any harm was done to anyone as a result of this action. Based on what was said about mirror neurons, which appear to be the source of empathy, then from this understanding it seems a selfless act is impossible since it would require a lack of wanting any dersire to do anything, such an entity would be a programmed robot, unless someone can think of another example of how a selfless act it possible. A dog protecting it's master is selfless in that it's doesn't desire, but it is instinct-driven, so would it still qualify as selfless. For the religious, this would mean that their God is either a purely apathetic being or the most selfish entity that can possibly exist. Personally, I am not bothered if my actions have a selfish thread to them since it would need to be shown to me why ignoring myself is good.
 
boagie
 
Reply Thu 15 Feb, 2007 12:40 pm
@Dexter78,
Dexter78 wrote:
Perhaps what needs to change is the perception that selfishness is an inherently negative trait, which is of course why no one wants to think they are selfish.


Dexter,

Some very interesting points you make here,if self-interest was not thought of as a negative,would there be as much guilt in the world.The Flip side though is perhaps the psychopath,who has no problem with self-interest,and sees compassion for others as simple weakness,his lack of human emotions tells him of his superiority.

I believe you are right,the model of humanity is just fine the way it is.Perhaps in the interest of a greater humanity and social cohesion in the future,people will choose to tweak what is there.This looks like it is going to become entirely possiable in the not to distant future with the advancement of neurology.There will be a new dawn for humanity when we have the keys to a greater compassion and who knows what else!Which reminds me, pychopaths represent around 2% of the population-----of course not all psychopaths are violent---psychopaths can be detected in our midst but I don't think they can be legally tracked,at anyrate neurology just may provide the means of cureing the psychopath.

You brought up another point which stirs the interest,instinct,is there any reason to believe that on some level instinctive behaviour is not in a creatures best interest,surely its origins are just that,behaviours which best serve ones survival would perhaps be the purest form of self-interest,ingrained tried and true.

The dog you said did not desire,well here we are going to argue over the thoughts of a dog.He is a pack animal and his best interest is in serveing the pack.A human family fills the ticket when the animal does not have his own kind as a pack.This principle of self-interest is quite likely true across the board,for all living forms.Though denied for eons compassion seems to be a common property in animals as well.Glad they decided not to use us for lab experiments to make better cosmetics.
 
Bii
 
Reply Sun 15 Apr, 2007 02:44 am
@boagie,
Perhaps the use of the term 'selfishness' is what causes people to have a problem with the premise as selfishness is something people are generally taught is a negative trait. However, I entirely agree that all action is motivated by self interest, whether it is because the action makes you feel good, or because the choice you make is a 'lesser of two evils' choice. I think the only addition I would make to this premise is that people will generally put survival first, and 'happiness' next.

I guess this then leaves the question, 'what is altruism' and 'does altruism exist'? I think it still does but perhaps the goalposts should be moved and altruism relates to the individual's ability to gain pleasure (and therefore generate self interest) in doing good deeds for other people. Accepting that the motive is still self interest, there are people who enjoy doing good deeds for others, and those that don't (and a whole range in between!). Those who can gain pleasure from helping others are altrustic.
 
boagie
 
Reply Sun 15 Apr, 2007 07:51 am
@Bii,
Bii,

Perhaps survival is always the greater happyness. life may be of one essence,with a great multitude of experiences,but we are however at the same time,the centre of our own the universe.We all have a personal myth which we try to inact and establish as reality,a personal story,perhaps what we would most like to believe about ourselves,and this determines how seeminly altruistic our actions may appear to be.

It is unfortunate when people across the board are able to distort a meaning,for that tends to negate its value.This however may be an acception,for in fact there is no altrustic behaviour,if there were it would necessarily be highly irrational.When we act it is to satisfy a personal need,to maintain a cherished concept of ourselves,example,the thought of ourselves as compassionate human beings.It is not that these actions are not in serves to our fellow human beings,just that they are first self-serveing.
 
mike9989
 
Reply Mon 16 Apr, 2007 10:28 am
@boagie,
boagie wrote:
Good morning Vietnam![time warp]

This is a premise a great many people have difficulty accepting.The premise is that no matter what you chose to do or chose not to do it is still selfish.You reach for a glass of water,there is a rational then for doing so,and that rational is selfish.Someone does something kind and supposedly selfless for another,the rational goes back to what this person believes they themselves are.If the idea they have of themselves is one of a kind and compassionate human being,then they must do this action to maintain the idea they have of themselves,thus it is first selfish.The religious might find this difficult to incorporated or embrace but it is necessarily universal. I don't believe you can find an acception to this premise,you are invited to do so of course.Perhaps you can expand on this theme that would be most welcome as well.Are there any particular examples you would like to explore?

It is a dreamy moving not quite thing only the illusion is the grasp of the ring!


I find the logic here flawless in that the argument is supported by the logic used. And it is true that under this premise, all actions may be considered selfish.

If this be the case, I might just say this:
If our actions are always selfish, then getting a glass of water to relieve thirst is selfish (as mentioned originally), however, if we must be selfish to survive we must ask firstly, is selfish then, always bad necessarily? if so, what is selfish?
 
boagie
 
Reply Mon 16 Apr, 2007 02:07 pm
@mike9989,
"If this be the case, I might just say this:
If our actions are always selfish, then getting a glass of water to relieve thirst is selfish (as mentioned originally), however, if we must be selfish to survive we must ask firstly, is selfish then, always bad necessarily? if so, what is selfish?[/quote]

Mike,Glad to hear from you!!

Selfishness is a relational concept as is altruism,though I think altruism is an attempt to show us a some kind of disinterested relationship with other,which in fact does not exist.True selfishness would I think serve our own interest first, once again, but it would be serveing a concept we have of ourselves which really has no relation to other.The function would be of serveing a concept which is indifferent to the welfare of others,if we think of ourselves as indifferent and that pleases us,we would act towards others to maintain that concept of indifference and that would be selfishness in the negative sense----an inability to identify with,no compassion and indifference towards others.The world perhaps of the psychopath or sociopath.Our saveing grace is our ability to identify with others,thus, compassion arises.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 6 Jun, 2007 07:28 am
@boagie,
boagie wrote:
Good morning Vietnam![time warp]

This is a premise a great many people have difficulty accepting.The premise is that no matter what you chose to do or chose not to do it is still selfish.You reach for a glass of water,there is a rational then for doing so,and that rational is selfish.


Don't you think that we should distinguish between what is selfish, and what is self-interested? Reaching for a glass of water is not selfish since it affects no one else adversely. I am not depriving anyone else of something that he is entitled to, as I would if there was only one glass of water available and it was meant for us both. If I took his share, then I would be selfish: but if I took my half of the glass of water, and left his for him, that would not be selfish. That would be self-interested. When I go to bed at night because I am tired, I am doing something I want to do, but how could anyone who saw me go to be say to me, "You are being selfish because you are going to bed when you are tired"? That would be silly.
 
boagie
 
Reply Wed 6 Jun, 2007 07:49 am
@kennethamy,
Kennethany,

Excellent point,but I guess in point of fact that in both situtations self-interest takes priority.You are quite right though, one can serve ones self-interest without effecting the self-interest of another.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 6 Jun, 2007 09:04 am
@boagie,
boagie wrote:
Kennethany,

Excellent point,but I guess in point of fact that in both situtations self-interest takes priority.You are quite right though, one can serve ones self-interest without effecting the self-interest of another.


When we call some action "selfish" or call a person, "selfish", we are making a negative moral judgment about the person. We are certainly saying that he is doing something he ought not to do. But do we want to say of someone who goes to bed simply because he is tired that he is being selfish? He certainly desires to go to bed, and he is doing as he desires, but does that deserve a negative moral judgment? Of course not. Doing something you desire to do is morally neutral, Its morality depends on what it is you desire to do, not on the mere fact that you desire to do it. A person who gives charity cannot be called "selfish: merely because he desires to give charity.

The question whether someone is acting selfishly must be whether what he is doing affects adversely the interests of others, and whether whether he is being unfair. It has nothing to do with whether he is doing as he desires. And that seems to be the assumption of the view that all action is selfish action: namely that all action is done because the person wants to do that action. But that seems to me to be irrelevant.
 
Dexter78
 
Reply Wed 6 Jun, 2007 09:27 am
@kennethamy,
It seems people are in agreement, the main issue here is linguistic. While all actions are self-motivated, to most, selfish actions are perceived as having a negative impact on others. If someone believes selfish means to act on one's own dersires over the desires of others, then they could view all actions as selfish without making a moral judgment. Smilies, roar! Smile :p Wink Surprised Very Happy :rolleyes: :eek: .
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 6 Jun, 2007 11:31 am
@Dexter78,
Dexter78 wrote:
It seems people are in agreement, the main issue here is linguistic. While all actions are self-motivated, to most, selfish actions are perceived as having a negative impact on others. If someone believes selfish means to act on one's own dersires over the desires of others, then they could view all actions as selfish without making a moral judgment. Smilies, roar! Smile :p Wink Surprised Very Happy :rolleyes: :eek: .


Whether or not others view an action as selfish, if it is not selfish, then they are wrong to view it as such.

But how could anyone rationally view my action of going to bed when tired, when it does not affect anyone as selfish? It would be irrational. Can you imagine your saying, "Well, I've had a long day, and I think I'll turn it" (in ordinary circumstances) and someone commenting, "Don't be so selfish!" (when that wasn't a joke, or just a request for your further company)? "Selfish" does not mean to act on one's desires, any more than it means to eat a poached egg. And your saying it does doesn't change matters. Words don't mean what you want them to mean. They have meanings, and you can find those meaning in the dictionary.
 
boagie
 
Reply Wed 6 Jun, 2007 01:24 pm
@kennethamy,
"A person who gives charity cannot be called "selfish: merely because he desires to give charity."

If one considers the rational of giveing charity it is first selfish,for prior to the inclination to action there is self-interest to served,my idea of myself as a compassionate individual.If I did not act in a compassionate way I would not be able to maintain that belief about my self.I think we all understand that not all actions like going to bed when one is tired is selfish,it is in ones self-interest however.One must be moved from within before one moves without.

"What is man" Mark Twain-----great stuff!!

http://ww3.telerama.com/~joseph/wman.html
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 6 Jun, 2007 01:41 pm
@boagie,
boagie wrote:
"A person who gives charity cannot be called "selfish: merely because he desires to give charity."

If one considers the rational of giveing charity it is first selfish,for prior to the inclination to action there is self-interest to serve,my idea of myself as a compassionate individual.If I did not act in a compassionate way I would not be able to maintain that belief about my self.I think we all understand that not all actions like going to bed when one is tired is selfish,it is in ones self-interest however.

"What is man" Mark Twain

http://ww3.telerama.com/~joseph/wman.html


But as I explained, self-interestedness is not the same as selfishness. To do something selfish you have to affect others adversely and unfairly. You have to take what you are not entitled to take. As you point out some self-interested actions are not selfish. So, even if giving charity is motivated by self-interest, it need not be selfish if it affects no one adversely.

Another question, of course, is whether it is, in fact, motivated by self-interest. After all. even if it is in your self-interest to give charity (say it makes people who see you do it think better of you) that does not mean that you are doing it in order for those people to think better of you. It is one thing to do something which happens to be in your self-interest, but it is a different thing to do it because it is in your self-interest. Only in the latter case could it be called selfish, and not even then, since it may not affect any one adversely.

And neither is it true that even if giving charity makes you feel good about yourself ("to serve,my idea of myself as a compassionate individual") does that mean the action is selfish, even if it is motivated by that, and it needn't be. Again, the term here should be "self-interested", since if your action affects no one else, how can if be selfish? You are not taking anything away from someone to which you are not entitled. Also, consider this: it seems to be that a person who feels good about himself because he is helping other is a morally admirable person, not a person to be condemned by being called, "selfish".
 
boagie
 
Reply Wed 6 Jun, 2007 03:02 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy,

I am afraid you have misquoted Surprised
"A person who gives charity cannot be called "selfish: merely because he desires to give charity."

Please observe in my post this is already in quotation marks,it is not my statement,and I do not agree with it.

Kennethamy,I don't think your getting it,that no one is disagreeing with you.

The main point I have tried to make is that no matter what the nature of the action is,it is first serving the self-interest of the subject,that is,no matter what the action is.

"What is man" Mark Twain



http://ww3.telerama.com/~joseph/wman.html
 
 

 
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