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Is genuine altruism possible?

 
 
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Oct, 2003 11:43 am
truth
C.I., I agree that what really matters is the consequences of actions. But I would not call a deed a "good deed" if the intentions were negative but the result was an unintended benefit. We must still be grateful for the beneficent consequence but not grateful to its instigator. They say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and I say in response that so is the road to Heaven. But can we say that the road to Heaven is paved with both good and BAD intentions?
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joefromchicago
 
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Reply Thu 23 Oct, 2003 11:44 am
cicerone imposter wrote:
KVS, You make a good and valid point about "good actions are still good." It doesn't matter what the motivations are; it's that another human or living thing benefited from the act.

I thoroughly disagree with this. If I hit you on the head, intending to injure or even kill you, but instead the blow cures you of amnesia, would you say that my action was laudable simply because it had beneficial consequences?
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JLNobody
 
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Reply Thu 23 Oct, 2003 11:51 am
truth
Well, Joe, your response to C.I. indicates that we are in agreement. One point of clarification: I do not think that notions like purity, or absolute or infinity are "invalid" in the sense that they can have no useful value. They are metaphors (well all terms are) that are good to think with but not signs that point to referents in the physical world.
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joefromchicago
 
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Reply Thu 23 Oct, 2003 11:59 am
fresco wrote:
It sems to me that the usual questions about altruism are aimed at analysing the degree of conscious awareness of the "self" with respect to its interactions with "others". The discussion of "purity" is really about whether there was consciousness of a "pay off" for a particular choice of action.

I think that's correct, and I don't really want to get hung up on the notion of "purity" either -- even though I introduced the term in my initial post.* Craven raised the issue, though, and I wanted to make sure it was addressed in some fashion.

fresco wrote:
But the argument becomes circular or vacuous when for example (a) the "self" is seen as "part of the other" by genetic or other linkage or (b) when "conscious choice" is absent in the case of automatic behaviour mode.

I'll agree with (b). I'm not so sure I understand (a).

fresco wrote:
In short I think the debate should alter its focus away from the "existence" of altruism towards the "pragmatic utility" of the term. i.e. Are there particular modes of social interaction that can only be described as altruistic (pure or otherwise) and what relevance if any, does such a term have with respect to concepts of "humanity", "civilization" and "progress"?

I'm happy to take a pragmatic approach to "altruism" without getting entangled in a debate about whether someone's act is 100% pure or only 98.44% pure. Before pursuing the relevance of altruism to "humanity," etc., however, I think we still need to determine if any such thing exists -- in other words, we need to decide if the concept of "altruism" has any "cash value" (as William James might say) or if it is a thoroughly bankrupt notion.

*EDIT: I looked back at my previous posts and I found that I didn't introduce the term "purity" in this discussion: it was Craven who first mentioned it.
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joefromchicago
 
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Reply Thu 23 Oct, 2003 12:01 pm
Re: truth
JLNobody wrote:
Well, Joe, your response to C.I. indicates that we are in agreement. One point of clarification: I do not think that notions like purity, or absolute or infinity are "invalid" in the sense that they can have no useful value. They are metaphors (well all terms are) that are good to think with but not signs that point to referents in the physical world.

I concur. Perhaps the best way around this issue is simply to substitute the word "genuine" for the word "pure." In other words, is there such a thing as "genuine altruism"?
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Oct, 2003 12:04 pm
joe, You missed "good actions." If somebody bonks you on the head, that's not "good action." Wink
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Oct, 2003 12:16 pm
cicerone imposter wrote:
joe, You missed "good actions." If somebody bonks you on the head, that's not "good action." Wink

I'm not sure that everyone would agree with that statement (at least with regards to bonking me on the head) Laughing

But certainly there are "good bonkings" and "bad bonkings" (and "neutral bonkings" as well). We can't look at an action, in vacuo, and say that it was "good" or "bad." If I hit you on the head with a mallet as part of the initiation ritual for the "Royal Order of Head-Bonkers," then I'm not convinced that we can say, without reservation, that such a bonking was "bad."* On the other hand, if I hit you on the head with a mallet as a means to drive out evil spirits, I'm not convinced that we can say, without reservation, that such a bonking was "good."

In the same way, I don't think we can look at an "altruistic action" and say that it is "good" or "bad" without looking at the actor's motives. And that's where the "genuineness" (or "purity" if you will) of the action will be found.

*EDIT: another example might be getting hit on the head as part of getting hit on the head lessons.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Oct, 2003 12:27 pm
fresco wrote:
It sems to me that the usual questions about altruism are aimed at analysing the degree of conscious awareness of the "self" with respect to its interactions with "others". The discussion of "purity" is really about whether there was consciousness of a "pay off" for a particular choice of action. But the argument becomes circular or vacuous when for example (a) the "self" is seen as "part of the other" by genetic or other linkage or (b) when "conscious choice" is absent in the case of automatic behaviour mode.

In short I think the debate should alter its focus away from the "existence" of altruism towards the "pragmatic utility" of the term. i.e. Are there particular modes of social interaction that can only be described as altruistic (pure or otherwise) and what relevance if any, does such a term have with respect to concepts of "humanity", "civilization" and "progress"?


I particularly appreciate your use of a concept of pragmatic utility. I think that this is a matter in which even a perceived degree of "selfishness" or expectation of reward, in whatever form, has less meaning than the nature of the act under consideration. Were anyone willing to risk their own safety to aid another, i would opine that this is a type of action which society would wish to encourage, without regard to whether or not someone were attempting to preen themselves on their virtue, let alone any obscure contentions about a biological imperative. In simple matters of charity, i think it fair to say that members of society would take a cynical view of someone whose motives might be said to be venal. "Cold as Christian charity" as a long-used phrase is an example i would use of society's perception of someone's otherwise laudable behavior being adjudged to have arisen from selfish motives. It is less than certain, however, in my opinion, that society would ascribe vanity or venality to someone who puts their own life at risk to help some one else. I would on such a basis, posit that from a viewpoint of pragmatic utility, altruism does indeed exist.
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fresco
 
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Reply Thu 23 Oct, 2003 12:39 pm
Joe

From my point of view (a la Wittgenstein) "atruism" like "God" "electrons" "the equator" or any other concept already exists by virtue of its usage in the affairs of humanity. The quality of such existence is another matter and is related to such issues as historical zeigeist, cultural relativity etc.
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Oct, 2003 12:46 pm
Re: truth
joefromchicago wrote:
Craven de Kere wrote:
"Pure" doesn't exist.

How do you know that?


Because I am pure.
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rufio
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Oct, 2003 03:56 pm
Suicide can't be selfish - it is the destruction of the self. I think the noblest motivation you can have is to do things for yourself - help people because you like them, do things because you like doing them, getting a job that you like regardless of the pay, doing what you want to whether or not it's considered socially odd. Selfless people wind up suicided, in jobs they hate, caring for people they don't love while those that they do are dying, doing things for the motions and not because they like them. Who does that kind of a life benefit?
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Ceili
 
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Reply Thu 23 Oct, 2003 03:59 pm
Wake up and smell the roses. If life sucks change it. Killing yourself punishes everyone else.
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rufio
 
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Reply Thu 23 Oct, 2003 04:03 pm
No kidding. It's a selfless act.
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Montana
 
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Reply Thu 23 Oct, 2003 04:18 pm
Ceili wrote:
Wake up and smell the roses. If life sucks change it. Killing yourself punishes everyone else.


I couldn't agree more!
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JLNobody
 
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Reply Thu 23 Oct, 2003 06:37 pm
truth
It is an interesting fact that we cannot easily label an act as obviously good or bad. It depends on a number of possible factors, for example, our intentions; was it to cause harm or benefit? Then there is the act itself. was it effective or ineffective in bringing about the desire effect? Then there are the consequences of the act; were they beneficial or detrimental; and were they what they were intended to be? What about very long term consequences? For example, Hitler was conceived when his father impregnated his mother. Was this an evil sex act? Not then, but given the long term consequences, it was most unfortunate. What about a viciously intended murder of a woman whom, if she had lived, would have given birth to a man who murdered 10 people? etc. etc. Rolling Eyes Rolling Eyes Rolling Eyes Rolling Eyes Rolling Eyes Rolling Eyes Rolling Eyes
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Oct, 2003 08:08 pm
JLN, Humans do not have the foresight to foretell what will happen in the future, so assigning blame for future bad outcomes is kind of silly. We can only be 'responsible' for what our intent is in performing the act only at the present moment. We can only hope that whatever we do in our best intensions turn out well. After all, we are only humans.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Oct, 2003 08:21 pm
Re: truth
JLNobody What if Rescuer dives into the lake and pulls out Victim, who turns out to be a mass murderer? Should he throw Victim back in?
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Oct, 2003 08:31 pm
joe's quote, "But certainly there are "good bonkings" and "bad bonkings" (and "neutral bonkings" as well). We can't look at an action, in vacuo, and say that it was "good" or "bad." If I hit you on the head with a mallet as part of the initiation ritual for the "Royal Order of Head-Bonkers," then I'm not convinced that we can say, without reservation, that such a bonking was "bad."* On the other hand, if I hit you on the head with a mallet as a means to drive out evil spirits, I'm not convinced that we can say, without reservation, that such a bonking was "good."" You may look at bonkings as good or bad, and your example of the "Royal Order" is silly at best. With your kind of rationale, we can describe all kinds of silly situations to make anything bad or good. You can play that game all day long, but not with me. Go play your silly games with somebody else.
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twyvel
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Oct, 2003 09:09 pm
That sounds a little harsh, cicerone.



If purity doesn't exist in the world except as an ideal, then neither does impurity, except as that which is contrasted against the ideal of purity but never measures up.
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Oct, 2003 10:38 pm
truth
C.I., I agree, one should normally be considered responsible for his intentions. Although if one were to injure someone because of carelessness (say if he a doctor and failed to perform an obvious, even a routine, test before performing a dangerous procedure (but he intended no harm to the patient) he can be said to "guilty" of a "bad" deed. But I have not been talking about blame, only the COMPLEXITY of identifying acts as good or bad.
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