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What is Man?


Santa_Rosa
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Is there such a thing as a selfless act?  

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  1. 1. Is there such a thing as a selfless act?

    • No, we're machines, only in it for ourselves
      4
    • Of course, it's what seperates us from the animals
      16


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Reading through the recent threads about charity got me thinking about people's reasons for donating to causes, doing voluntary work etc. According to the Old Man in Mark Twain's essay What is Man? , particularly the second part – ‘Man's Sole Impulse--the Securing of His Own Approval’ - there is no such thing as a selfless act. That basically, the only reason humans ever help anyone else is first and foremost to make themselves feel better. To salve their conscience.

I used to think that humans performed kind acts purely to benefit others, until I read this. It's compelling stuff and hard to disagree with. What do you think?

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If it makes you feel good then the act itself isn't selfless. But that doesnt matter one bit, it's the feact that you developed or were instilled with a positive reaction to helping others that is important.

I've never really understood why this seems to degrade the act in some peoples eyes, as if it no longer as good as it was. Rather than think 'oh they only gave to charity because it made them feel good' people should welcome the fact it did make them feel good and the reasons why.

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We had a thread on this a while back, seems like it's been lost as it was too long ago now. I suggested there was no such thing as a completely selfless act as you ALWAYS get something out of it, no matter what.

A selfless act is where the other person/people gets more out of it than you do, and these do exist, but a completely selfless act is where you get nothing out of it at all, no satisfaction, no praise, nothing, and I don't believe this exists.

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We had a thread on this a while back, seems like it's been lost as it was too long ago now. I suggested there was no such thing as a completely selfless act as you ALWAYS get something out of it, no matter what.

A selfless act is where the other person/people gets more out of it than you do, and these do exist, but a completely selfless act is where you get nothing out of it at all, no satisfaction, no praise, nothing, and I don't believe this exists.

Yeah, I probably agree. I mean, I do good deeds because I like to do good deeds, and I wouldn't do good deeds if I didn't like it.

But this is awfully philosophical and abstract, though, and it doesn't really say anything interesting at all. So what if I take personal pleasure in helping others? What matters is that I help others, surely?

So I guess I can't really answer the question given in the poll, because I don't think any of the alternatives are true.

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  • Moderator
act is where the other person/people gets more out of it than you do, and these do exist, but a completely selfless act is where you get nothing out of it at all, no satisfaction, no praise, nothing, and I don't believe this exists.

It does exist, I often give the staff in our place a lift home if they are on the same shift as me, do I get thanks? Not very often, Do I get satisfaction? not at all! In fact,I spend my time and fuel doing and get feck all for it. Doesn't make me feel good, I just do it because I do

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I believe totally selfless acts happen pretty often. People will lay down their lives for friends and family, even their country. For some it is trained into them for others it is instinct, however it has to be selfless as posthumus praise no matter how glowing is useless to the deceased machine that is in it for itself.

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Doesn't make me feel good, I just do it because I do

Maybe it doesn't make you feel good - but would you feel bad if you didn't do it? Probably - so on some level you do it for your own reasons. But the outcome is positive, so everyone is happy.

Grant says it doesn't matter - the important thing is that something good is done, so what if you get something out of it. And he's right of course. Nobody is saying you should stop doing good deeds just because your motives aren't entirely selfless. I just think it is always worth examining the reasons behind every action you preform good or bad.

So when you buy a Big Issue, ask yourself, do I really give a monkeys about where that bloke is going to sleep tonight, or did I just buy it so that my conscience is eased and I don't have to think about the issue of homelessness on any deeper level? Should I be doing more to help? Or are my efforts better concentrated elsewhere - do I need to focus on my family before I worry about the plight of others, etc. I find that the closer you get to understanding your 'self', the more at peace you are with it. Sounds a bit Zen and mystic I know, but the older I get, the more I think this way.

And I disagree Michelsen - for me I find it very interesting that the human mind has developed in such a way that your conscience can push you towards acts that have a positive effect on not only the beneficiaries of your actions, but your self esteem too.

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however it has to be selfless as posthumus praise no matter how glowing is useless to the deceased machine that is in it for itself.

Interesting view. I'd say that posthumous praise is one of the major motivations for benevolence. How many times do you hear people say "I want to make a difference - to leave a legacy. So people can say, he was a good person." So when you take your last breath, your consicence can die happy. Or if you take the Buddhist philosophy further, it can travel to it's next body happy :)

Like I say - just because an action isn't selfless, doesn't mean it isn't positive. I just think that every act we perform, good or bad, we do first and foremost for our own reasons - for ourselves. It's just human nature IMO. In the simplest terms, the 'good' people listen to their conscience, the 'bad' don't. It's the people who don't have one at all that you've got to watch :-)

And if you haven't, take the time to read Twain's dialogue - Old Man addresses every argument as far as I can see.

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So I guess I can't really answer the question given in the poll, because I don't think any of the alternatives are true.

Yeah, in hindsight, maybe I could have phrased the options better. I don't think there is anyway to edit them to just a simple yes or no.

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Isn't giving money to Charity anonymously selfless? Especially if nobody know you do?

Yes.

But then it makes you feel good/less guilty....

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there are papers on this , I think it's called rational self-interest theory or something ...

I do good acts becuase it's in my nature to , and a result of the way i was brought up ..I don't think about reward per say , I just sort of do them on impulse .. My good acts are hardly going to get me a sainthood ,I wouldn't drop everything and run off to become an aid worker in Africa for example ... do i feel better about myself after performing a good act an act ? ..I guess the answer would have to be yes , but that's a result of the action and not the cause

I also commit bad acts because it's in my nature to ...my bad acts are nothing too sinister ,just as my good actions are nothing to write home about ... just things like pretending to be asleep when the baby is crying so the wife has to get up , maybe driving through large puddles and splashing school children at times ..the sort of things that you just can't resist ...

I'm not religious so don't have to worry about any sort of Judgement day when I die ..What I do have to do is look at myself in the mirror every day and live with myself ...and that is something I can comfortably do ..probably doesn't answer the question , but it's the best answer I cna give !!

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Isn't giving money to Charity anonymously selfless? Especially if nobody know you do?

Yes.

But then it makes you feel good/less guilty....

If you do it anonymously it shows that you are particularly benevolent (or 'good' to put it another way) as you don't care whether other people praise you for it or not. You don't seek other's approval. But you still do it as a way to keep at peace with your 'self' because your conscience won't let you NOT do it.

And how many people actually do things like this completely anonymously? There are a few of course, and I take my hat off to them, but relatively speaking most don't I reckon. I know a few people who have actually told me that they donate anonymously out of their salary. Er, well how is it anonymous if you have just told me?! Harry Enfield sent this up perfectly "Yah, I do a lot of good work for charidee. Don't like to talk about it though..." :lol:

I think most people do it, myself included, although obviously not so blatently :) If other people praise you (or you think they hold you in greater esteem), as well as praising yourself, you feel even better. Charities realise this too - think about the reasons why they pin a badge or a sticker to you after you drop your quid in the box. How often do you refuse the sticker? Rarely I'd suggest - it shows other people that you are generous. The charities are happy too cos it advertises their plight.

Wear your Poppy with Pride? Of course, but not only because you rightly are proud of our veterans and those that have died, but because, on some level, you are proud of yourself too. And if it encourages more good deeds, then it's a good thing.

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Isn't giving money to Charity anonymously selfless? Especially if nobody know you do?

Yes.

But then it makes you feel good/less guilty....

And how many people actually do things like this completely anonymously? There are a few of course, and I take my hat off to them, but relatively speaking most don't I reckon.

For the purposes of your poll, it doesn't matter how many do it. As long as 1 person does it then the selfless act exists. Case closed :)

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Isn't giving money to Charity anonymously selfless? Especially if nobody know you do?

Yes.

But then it makes you feel good/less guilty....

And how many people actually do things like this completely anonymously? There are a few of course, and I take my hat off to them, but relatively speaking most don't I reckon.

For the purposes of your poll, it doesn't matter how many do it. As long as 1 person does it then the selfless act exists. Case closed :)

No - if you read my post, I said they still do it for their own reasons (their 'self') first - they just don't crave extra praise from others. So that's a good act, but not a selfless one. A No in my poll.

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A selfless act is where the other person/people gets more out of it than you do, and these do exist, but a completely selfless act is where you get nothing out of it at all, no satisfaction, no praise, nothing, and I don't believe this exists.

Surely by very definition those kinds of completley selfless acts would not be heard of since they would not be done in want of any publicity!

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