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Is genuine altruism possible?

 
 
Reply Mon 20 Oct, 2003 10:05 pm
Can someone ever perform a truly altruistic act?

Say, for instance, Rescuer sees a stranger, Victim, in the middle of a lake, flailing helplessly and clearly in distress. Without assistance, it is clear that Victim will drown. Rescuer dives into the lake and drags Victim to safety. Can we say that Rescuer acted completely selflessly? Or is there always some element of self-interest involved in even the noblest altruistic act?
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Type: Discussion • Score: 1 • Views: 29,169 • Replies: 370
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cicerone imposter
 
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Reply Mon 20 Oct, 2003 10:23 pm
joe, In this instance, and the one in Washington DC when that jetliner fell into the Patomec River in freezing water, a stranger jumped into that ice water to save a stranger. I would not question his genuine altruism, and will not cheapen his rescue of that woman by saying otherwise.
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rufio
 
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Reply Mon 20 Oct, 2003 11:46 pm
Genuine selflessness? Yes. Commit suicide. That is the most (and probably only) literally "selfless" thing you can do.
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Craven de Kere
 
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Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2003 12:12 am
Does purity exist in nature?
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Ceili
 
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Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2003 12:17 am
Suicide is selfless??? I would say it's cowardly. All the people left behind would probably say otherwise but I doubt it could ever be considered altruistic.

Yes, I believe there are true acts of altruism and self sacrifice but kindness does not have to be heroic.
Ceili
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skotup1
 
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Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2003 02:45 am
humans are social creatures, survival in a group is parramount to the individuals survival. The reward Rescuer gets is possibility of Victim helping his own survivability later on. Altho over-population and modern society does not allow for that phenomenom to thrive as much as it once would have when we evolved those instincs.
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cicerone imposter
 
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Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2003 07:36 am
skotup, WELCOME to A2K. Wink
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Setanta
 
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Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2003 07:47 am
It seems that you are defining altruism as selflessness, and then positing that such selflessness likely does not exist. I know, of course, that you have not stated as much, but: "Or is there always some element of self-interest involved in even the noblest altruistic act?"--is a tendentious question. Perhaps you ought to state that this is what you believe and work from there. Your hypothetical and c.i.'s reference to the 14th Street bridge crash are to my mind examples of selflessness. In the example to which c.i. refers, the rescuer in question hadn't really time to be calculating, but rather, simply reacted, in what i would certainly consider a selfless way. I've heard of cases, some recently here in Ohio, in which a would be rescuer drowned in the act of saving the potential victim--i'd consider that the ultimate altruism, if one defines it as selflessness.
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K VEE SHANKER
 
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Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2003 07:53 am
GENUINE ALTRUISM
What do you mean by "Genuine Altruism".To me it looks that you take all good actions without expecting return of any benefit are genuine altruism.The example you've appears that the rescuer does not look forward to any reward! Then I'll ask a question.Supposing the rescuer gets into some sort of trouble and the rescued had all fecilities to help the rescuer to get out of trouble and let the help does'nt cost significantly.Then if receipient did not help wantonly will the former rescuer feel angry? It's only natural to do so. To act otherwise is not human.So.we should understand that absolute behaviours are beyond our realm.

Hence I feel that one should be satisfied with reasonable acts of generosity and not look for grandoise heights.
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joefromchicago
 
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Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2003 08:15 am
cicerone imposter, ceili:
Keeping in mind my original hypothetical, let's suppose further that Rescuer, after saving Victim, feels really great about himself for the rest of the week. Can we say that his act was "selfless" if he gained some benefit from it?

Or let's suppose that, after Rescuer drags Victim to the shore, Victim sputters, coughs, gets up, and says: "hey, you hurt my arm, you jackass!" and walks off. Rescuer now feels resentful that Victim did not display a sufficient degree of gratitude. Given Rescuer's resentment at Victim's ingratitude, can we say that his act was ever "selfless"?

skotup1
Suppose that Rescuer knew that Victim would have been in no condition to help him in the event that their roles were reversed -- e.g. if Victim was a quadraplegic. Saving Victim, then, would have no benefits to Rescuer: it would not, in any way, "help his own survivability later on." Would Rescuer's actions, in that case, be self-interested?

K.VEE.SHANKER
I did not provide a definition of "altruism." If one is needed in order to support your position, then you should provide one.

Setanta
You know nothing of my position. I merely offered a hypothetical situation. Far from being "tendentious," I tried to make it as neutral as possible while giving as much information as was necessary to form conclusions about Rescuer's action.

And if "altruism" does not equal "selflessness," you are free to offer a better definition.
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boomerang
 
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Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2003 08:27 am
I think deep down that it all comes down to the question of whether one can live with themselves if they fail to take action. A sort of survivors guilt, if you will, of knowing you could have helped but didn't.

Does the reward of a clear concious render the act itself less worthy? If so, then there isn't any such thing as a genuine altruistic act, in my opinion.
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Setanta
 
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Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2003 08:33 am
Marvelous hostility Joe, something which i have noted to be a strong suit of yours. I added a caveat that you had not stated altruism to be equated with selflessness and that you don't believe selflessness to exist. Your question was indeed tendentious. Make more nasty remarks, it seems to entertain you. I continue to assert that one risking one's life to save another constitutes a selfless act. Your last post convinces me even further that you view this with a cynicism which will not believe that there are any selfless acts.
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perception
 
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Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2003 09:19 am
joefromchicago wrote:
cicerone imposter, ceili:
Keeping in mind my original hypothetical, let's suppose further that Rescuer, after saving Victim, feels really great about himself for the rest of the week. Can we say that his act was "selfless" if he gained some benefit from it?

Or let's suppose that, after Rescuer drags Victim to the shore, Victim sputters, coughs, gets up, and says: "hey, you hurt my arm, you jackass!" and walks off. Rescuer now feels resentful that Victim did not display a sufficient degree of gratitude. Given Rescuer's resentment at Victim's ingratitude, can we say that his act was ever "selfless"?

skotup1
Suppose that Rescuer knew that Victim would have been in no condition to help him in the event that their roles were reversed -- e.g. if Victim was a quadraplegic. Saving Victim, then, would have no benefits to Rescuer: it would not, in any way, "help his own survivability later on." Would Rescuer's actions, in that case, be self-interested?

K.VEE.SHANKER
I did not provide a definition of "altruism." If one is needed in order to support your position, then you should provide one.

Setanta
You know nothing of my position. I merely offered a hypothetical situation. Far from being "tendentious," I tried to make it as neutral as possible while giving as much information as was necessary to form conclusions about Rescuer's action.

And if "altruism" does not equal "selflessness," you are free to offer a better definition.


This all has the ring of something a cynical, ambulance chasing attorney would say.
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skotup1
 
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Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2003 12:44 pm
joefromchicargo - rewards from quadraplegic's family as Victimn's family wants him to live cos he/she has the same genes as them. The more of ya own genes in this world the better chance of the next generation having your genes. We have these instincts cos thats how our ancestors were, thats whats made us as we are today. Rescuer would be good for Victims genes.
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Montana
 
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Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2003 02:17 pm
I've gone in the ocean after someone who was drowning and the only thing that went through my mind was "I have to help them" and off I went.
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skotup1
 
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Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2003 02:26 pm
duh, thats the whole idea of an instinct, u know what to do but u dont consciously think the words in ya head. Or you know what u like and what u dont like, u dont consciously think the words.

A females 'sexy' dancing is sexy y? Cos she's pronouncing her hips which signals to the male she's of good child bearing qualitys. But u dont accually think that do ya.
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rufio
 
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Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2003 02:56 pm
It's both, Ceili. If you define altruism as involving other people than altruism is not selfless. Selflessness, by definition, benefits no one.
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joefromchicago
 
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Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2003 03:02 pm
skotup1 wrote:
joefromchicargo - rewards from quadraplegic's family as Victimn's family wants him to live cos he/she has the same genes as them. The more of ya own genes in this world the better chance of the next generation having your genes. We have these instincts cos thats how our ancestors were, thats whats made us as we are today. Rescuer would be good for Victims genes.

But if Rescuer is saving Victim's genes, isn't that -- from a sociobiological standpoint -- the very essence of altruism? After all, Rescuer should be much more concerned about his own genes than anyone else's: from his perspective, he should be, at least, indifferent to Victim's fate, if not actively encouraging Victim to drown so that his own genes have less competition. Moreover, by putting himself at risk, Rescuer is endangering his genes to save someone else's. Sounds like you're describing a selfless act, skotup1.
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Ceili
 
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Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2003 04:32 pm
Selfish by definition is - Caring only or chiefly for self/ Regarding one's own interest/ influenced solely by private advatage/devotion to one's own interests with carelessness of others.

That seems to me to fit the average suicide.

Altruism by definition is - Unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness

There is no caveat stating altrusim cannot benifit 'no-one'. Alturism at it's heart is about benifiting the other, not thy self.
How you equate suicide without consquences to the other is beyond me. However if one of the psychotic child killers/rapists/parents does themselves in before hurting his victims, I'll give you your definition. But they rarely do, do they?

skotup... before you say things like 'duh' perhaps you should write in english.
Obviously instinct is not well thought out, but the reaction is the same, regardless.
Ceili
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JLNobody
 
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Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2003 05:24 pm
truth
"Pure," "complete" or "unadulterated" anything makes sense to me only in a laboratory setting. A friend told me once that his upstairs neighbor--a woman living alone--starting screaming hysterically one evening. He grabbed a hammer, broke in the glass part of her front door and plowed upstairs hammer in hand to rescue her. He said that as he charged upstairs he thought of the possibility of being shot as he broke into her apartment. She WAS being raped and my friend's yelling and hammering drove the rapist out the back door from which he entered earlier. He told me that nothing could have stopped his rescue efforts because her screaming voice was like a chain pulling him to her. He did think of himself and his safety at the same time, but he could not--he said--live with himself (with his deflated ego)--if he did not "do the right thing". Note, however, that his altruism was both empathy-driven (her screams pulled him) and selfishly motivated (he was also protecting his self-esteem). This illustrates, I think, that an act of heroism can be both altrustic and selfish simultaneously.
Now, perhaps we can argue that all/most altrustic acts are ultimately self-serving acts. Even when we give gifts anonymously, WE enjoy the knowledge that we have earned some kind of merit. SO, it seems that we can serve ourselves by helping others and we can serve ourselves by hurting others (e.g., our enemies and then easily rationalize our acts). I prefer selfish acts that benefit others rather than selfish acts that injure others. Don't you?
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