Is Selfishness Compatible with Kindness?

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Post by ontologic_conceptualist » May 27th, 2009, 11:55 am

Take it easy Possibilities, yes Ape and one or two others are heavy on the theological, but take it easy, there are 30x more who are strait up phil's do judge, a theological point of veiw is thier way of expresing their philosophy! stick around and enjoy !!!
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Re: Altruism, for the very last time

Post by ape » May 27th, 2009, 1:37 pm

Possibilities wrote:I've just joined this web site but am going to leave as judging by the replies to my post this site appears to be a spiritual (verging on the theological) site.
Please stay, change your mindset, then leave or stay!smile
There is the Philosophy of Religion and the Religion of Philosophy, the Philosophy of Theology and the Theology of Philosophy, the Science of religion and the Religion of Science no matter where you are or where you go.
So unless you enlarge your understanding, you will be here no matter where you go since you are taking you with you.
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Here he is to encourage you:
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Possibilities wrote: There are no self-less acts, as so called self-less acts make one feel good about themselves, ergo , they are not selfless. To quote Durkheim again; "altruism is merely a concealed egoism".
ape: To say there are no selfless acts when no one can do anything without themselves is like saying there is no takeless acts in giving so there is no genuine giving. But of course. Thus, that cd NOT have been the NAME of the problem to begin with. Many US soldiers have died and felt real bad in their dying for you. That's the pen-ultimate altruism. So please question yourself, then q Durk.
'This superb new translation [of The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (Paperback)by Emile Durkheim] finally allows non-French speaking American readers fully to appreciate Durkheim's genius. It is a labor of love for which all scholars must be grateful.'Lewis A. Coser. Can we be altruistically thankful to ED for his Labor of Love?smile Of course! In the meantime, please hang in here and share.

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Re: Altruism, for the very last time

Post by bittercrank » May 27th, 2009, 6:03 pm

Possibilities wrote:I've just joined this web site but am going to leave as judging by the replies to my post this site appears to be a spiritual (verging on the theological) site.

There are no self-less acts, as so called self-less acts make one feel good about themselves, ergo , they are not selfless.

To quote Durkheim again; "altruism is merely a concealed egoism".
You are leaving in too much haste. I don't have extensive experience with Philosophy Forums, but I think "spiritual" or "theological" is a mischaracterization. The topic at hand is likely to attract spiritual/theological language. I try to avoid the category of "the spiritual" but sometimes it creeps in.

However, I wish you would expand a bit on Durkheim's statement that "altruism is merely a concealed egoism." The idea (altruism conceals egoism) may simplify and deepen our understanding of behavior in the same way that the notion "all behavior is learned" may improve our understanding.

Or then again, it may not. Tell us more about the egoism that camouflages itself in the finery (if it is finery) of altruism.

If I am very tired from walking a long ways and you give me, a stranger, a free ride in your car to where I am going at some inconvenience to yourself, should I mistrust your act that seemed to benefit me (without obviously doing you any good), or should I merely mistrust your statement that, "I did it "because I like helping other people, out of the splendidness of my nature, filled as I am with the milk of human kindness." and so forth?

Is it relevant to talk about acts? Your Durkheim quote talked about ...isms rather than acts. Presumably, though, altruism or egoism considered without reference to behavior would be a rather sterile discussion.

Can there be such a thing as altruism? Or is altruism always to be considered fake?


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Post by Belinda » May 28th, 2009, 2:49 am

To quote Durkheim again; "altruism is merely a concealed egoism".
That's what I said, 'enlightened self interest'

And, P.S. note 'egoism' not 'egotism'.

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Re: Altruism, for the very last time

Post by Mike A. » May 30th, 2009, 9:57 am

Possibilities wrote:I've just joined this web site but am going to leave ...
There are no self-less acts, as so called self-less acts make one feel good about themselves, ergo , they are not selfless.
Woke up this morn'n, Lucille was not in sight...

Hmmm... Trying to get my arms around the idea that a self-less act makes one feel good about him/her self. I guess so, ex post facto. Human nature to get a glow on for a self-less act, afterwards, I suppose.

But isn't a priori an act of self-less-ness just an act of self-less-ness, and a posteriori a thing to be considered for what it might have been? A clear light of day appraisal of one's self-less-ness?

It occurs to me that a self-less act would not be a self-less act if it was planned out to benefit the self in some way... I mean, the act is less-self, is it not?

In so far as it is in the nature of man to revisit and 'analyze' actions, it is more likely that the post mortem will ascribe goods and bads and happy and sads and selfishness and generosity to an act, as well as ponder the diabolical underside of why would a person act so self-less-ly,

In the aftermath of a self-less act, the cynical comes forth to question and label and demean and herald... But the act was what it was, in the moment. It was an act less self [interest]. I know. I know. But it is in my nature to not think all things have hidden agendas, or are undertaken for personal gain.

Gotta find Lucille... You picked a fine time to leave me...
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Re: Altruism, for the very last time

Post by whitetrshsoldier » May 30th, 2009, 4:38 pm


I think the argument is that the subconscious already anticipates the good feeling that will come as a result of the act. This makes it self-ish, as it precludes whatever self-lessness existed in the act.
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Post by Mike A. » May 30th, 2009, 6:02 pm


The issue for me has to do with premeditation. Not all self-less acts are done with time to consider alternatives.

For example, a friend is in danger, and the self-less person acts without concern for personal peril. For me self-less-ness comes with self-sacrifice - I know, a stretch.

I suppose a person could go through life looking for opportunities to be self-less but...

I can think of circumstances where a person acts self-less-ly and instantly out of fear for the welfare of another.

Is a truly self-less act considered in the subconscious? It seems more of a spontaneous act to me. A reaction to a circumstance in the absence of time to perform any analysis of the possible beneficial glow one might bask in following.

Or if there is time to consider, the act becomes the all - with no future or past to consider.

I would agree an act of 'self-less-ness' that was premeditated and all but designed to spot light self is in deed a selfish act.

In my jaundiced view of the world, a self-less act is one undertaken without consideration of outcomes. It is more reactive than proactive.

Ah but... A Tale of Two Cities, by Dickens... "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known" - so said Sydney Carton as he went to the guillotine in the place of Charles Darnay.

I don't know, call me crazy but taking the chop for another is hardly a selfish act... Or maybe it is, when all is said and done.

I'm so confused.

If only Lucille hadn't left so early this morning.

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Post by bittercrank » May 31st, 2009, 12:15 am

Mike A and Whitetrshsoldier:

Perhaps "self-less" should not be taken too literally. Only the dead can really be self-less. The awake-living individual can't really escape the self and its constant demands to be reckoned with.

It may be that someone who responds instantly to another's need, at some or much peril to self, is acting because of training and practice. Maybe if they stopped to consider the potential outcomes they wouldn't do it.

On the other hand, acting on the basis of others' needs, even to the point of disadvantaging one's own self interests, may require a good deal of forethought and subconscious drive. If a life is saved at considerable material cost to another, do we really want to forbid them any satisfaction (pleasure) in their private reflection on their generous act?

Aren't we supposed to feel good about doing good?
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Re: Is Selfishness Compatible with Kindness?

Post by nameless » May 31st, 2009, 3:17 am

Scott wrote:Is Selfishness Compatible with Kindness?
That there are people who exhibit 'kindness' seems to be sufficient evidence to the affirmative.

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Post by boagie » March 24th, 2010, 12:43 am


Yes self-interest/selfishness is compatible with selflessness. Schopenhauer described it as an extended concept of the self, which occurs when one identifies ones self in the self of another. Just an aside, the recent discovering of mirror neurons which effects our sense of identification with others is though mimicry, mirroring the behaviours and bodily motions of others helps us identify with others. Excellent post by the way.
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Post by Alcalientre » March 24th, 2010, 6:10 am

Scott, you are correct in saying that we do what we want to do. The motivation, be it the expectation of a reward or a fear a punishment is irrelevant. We, no matter what, take the action that our conscious and subconscious together decide is best for us to take. Everyone is self-interested, and so all human behaviors are compatible with self-interestedness.

This does not eliminate selfishness and selflessness in the traditional sense of the words. It can be in an individuals self interest to be altruistic, or it can be in an individuals self interest to be selfish.

Furthermore, I would like to say that the spectrum between selfishness and selflessness is not linear, due to the complexities of human motivations. As an example: three men come across a thirsty man in a desert. One gives him water because of the joy that helping the man will bring him. The second gives him water because he fears the guilt that he will feel if he hoards it for himself. And the third gives water to the thirsty man not because he feels any strong emotion, but simply because he has no need for all that he has.

Each motivation has the same result - the man is saved - so how can we say that one man is more or less selfless than another? How self-interest is defined for each individual is determined by their upbringing, their culture, and possibly their genes (although I don't want to get into the nature vs. nurture debate at all), and how that self-interest is acted out can vary greatly depending on the situation.

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Post by Windy34 » July 15th, 2011, 6:23 pm

People are naturally selfish. I am not sure people naturally love each other. People's needs and wants seem to confict often. You have to give up your needs and wants to put others first, and it can feel frustrating when you are naturally narcissist, and everyone around you is naturally narcissist to put others first. You end up feeling conflicted because if you put others first you feel like you are being fake by pretending to like them and be interested in their boring narcissist lives when they brag about themselves. So you feel bad for feeling that way when you wish you could feel like you could naturally be interested and care more. You want others to feel that way toward you, but you naturally don't want to feel that way toward them. It is a narcissist want that you wish didn't have conditions, and both of you are thinking that way. How to resolve that I am so confused? So do you act generous to people when you don't feel like it? If you did that you feel evil for lying. Or do you kept to yourself to be honest and don't act interested, and be genuine. (evil, but then again not evil?)

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Post by Ed » July 15th, 2011, 7:45 pm

I like this post very much. Much of the discussion between Rousseau, Smith and Hume concerned with basis or moral sentiments involved the importance of an individual's 'self-interest' and 'self-love'. These two later terms were often used synonymously with one-another, especially by Smith in his TMS. It was thought though, that this 'self-interest' constituted the basis of a purely egotistic concern for all people. They would only be eager to gratify themselves. But as your post parallels, I just recently wrote a paper discussing how revealing the Smith's use of the terms 'self-interest' and 'self-love' are.

My thought was this; Human consciousness, as we experience it, is only capable of knowing and experiencing itself. One's experience of feeling is strictly a private one, and furthermore the only way that someone can come to know phenomenological states. We are metaphysically bound to experience only ourselves, because sentience is not of the sort that can be publicly experienced; Someone can can only feel what they feel. But this is not to say that we cannot come to reflect or mirror another's experience. That is, through the faculty of 'sympathy' (To be precise, I mean the definition used by these 18th century philosophers- which is something more closely related to today's 'empathy'). Through sympathy, we could enter into or simulate what we would expect another's experience to be if we were in their shoes. But you do not only rationally put yourself in there circumstances, but even more fantastic, actually experience, yourself, those emotions that you have discovered by employing your sympathetic faculty. We are able then, the best we can, experience emotional states or feelings of others. But nonetheless, it is still criticized that human's still are not feeling others, but borrowing emotions to feel themselves. This simple and unavoidable fact was consistently chalked-up to 'self-interest'.

This seems entirely unfair to me. Mostly because it is an unavoidable circumstance for a sentient being to have private states. Indeed, the alternative of feel other's phenomenological states boarders on incoherence, not to mention threatens to undermine the foundation of personal identity as we know it. Who else, without eliminating the self, is supposed to experience pain or pleasure? IS the fact that I am not able to directly experience the phenomenological states of someone else really tantamount to 'self-interest'.

Like you said and as I developed myself, we clearly have to different intuits of what it is to be 'self-interest'. One is the pernicious one that reflects a steadfast commitment to the betterment of themselves. The other though, is the one that must be wretched away from the other, and that is the 'self-interest' describing the metaphysical necessity of sentience for a creature in an ontology like our own.

In as much, I think that an self-interested (the non-pernicious variety) entity like ourselves can experience genuine altruism and beneficence. While its experience is still one of personal pleasure (being consciences), their sympathetic faculty genuinely causes that person to be more moved by someone else than themselves. Similarly, I think that those that are self-interested in the pernicious way, who are not concerned with the emotions of others are people that essentially cannot enter into the act of sympathy (a notion that is corroborated by certain psychological studies).

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Post by MadScience » July 16th, 2011, 3:26 pm

Selflessness and selfishness are not incompatible. They are two of the three evolutionary pillars (along with education) that generate human happiness and form the basis of morality. These pillars all provided crucial advantages to our ancestors in surviving their harsh environment. As a result beings that found these tasks pleasurable, and conversely found failing to perform the tasks unpleasant, came to dominate the gene pool.

Filling the selfish needs of the individual (sex, food, self-preservation) are the most urgent for the success of the species and the emotional stimuli associated with them are the strongest. The need of humans to work collaboratively resulted in emotional responses(altruism, guilt) that encouraged people to help one another. Similarly, the benefits of fully understanding our environment led to the emotional reinforcement associated with problem solving(satisfaction with understanding, anxiety of unknown) became part of our genetic identity.

The problem of balancing these often contradictory emotional responses is the core of morality. What are the right decisions that lead to the most positive feedback and the least negative results? Selfish needs are certainly more urgent, but not necessarily more important to our overall happiness. By establishing moral codes we can negotiate levels of altruism that minimally impact our selfish desires. We can reflect on these morals and through better understanding achieve satisfaction in knowing that we can promote happiness in both ourselves and in society.

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Post by Belinda » July 17th, 2011, 4:56 am

Enlightened self interest. But there is more to morality than this. There are also inherent affections towards e.g. near relatives and friends or pets etc.which may act counter to rational enlightened self interest.

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