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Altruism?


GeorgeW
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There is question in my mind if we ever act completely altruistically if altruism is defined as an unselfish act for the benefit of others.

 

I think sometimes there is a social benefit for an 'altruistic' act. In other cases there may be the benefit of self satisfaction. In fact, I cannot think of a deliberate, considered, voluntary act of personal sacrifice in which there is no personal benefit.

 

The sacrifice of a parent for their child is, I think, biologically driven and not completely voluntary. Further, a parent who fails to sacrifice is socially condemned.

 

Soldiers sometimes do heroic acts of personal sacrifice. But, aren't these carefully conditioned by their training. Part of military training is to act instinctively. Further, these acts get great social rewards.

 

Luke (ch. 21), as an example, seems to evaluate the act of the widow in terms of the relative sacrifice in material terms, not social or psychological. Is this the measure?

 

So, is there truly an altruistic act? Does it make any difference? Does the motivation count? What sayeth PCs?

 

George

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I feel there is a Selfless Layer of the mind, in fact a spiritual state that is usually reached by those aspirants who have traveled many worldly roads; I guess one can say that they have had many experiences. They have sacrificed their own self-centered claim and by doing so have performed the supreme self-sacrifice. I feel it is the soul that causes and coerces these individuals to make this self-sacrifice and in this human sacrifice they find themselves because a person only has what he gives away. Now, on second thought, I don't think this is a sacrifice, but an attraction to a higher, freer existence. I don't think these individuals see it as a sacrifice, maybe just their Dharma.

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Guest billmc

My initial thought on this, George, is that there is nothing wrong with selfishness within the proper context. For example, Jesus said that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves, implying self-love. To me, the proper kind of selfishness leads towards the blossoming and maturing of the self, to holding in balance that while we perceive ourselves as separate "selves", we are also part of a greater whole.

 

The opposite of this kind of selfishness, IMO, is what I might call egoness. What many people call selfishness or selfish behavior is not, in the long run, really the best for their self's welfare. It is, rather, attempts to build the ego, the sense of self that wants to be separate from all others and to give the ego whatever it might desire. And this form of egoness can destroy the true, unique and valuable self.

 

So, to me, much of what might appear to be charity is really ego-building. IMO, an unselfish act done for the benefit of others also enhances and matures the true self.

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I think if we define selfishness as any act which has some personal benefit, then altruism is ruled out merely by definition. But if altruism means doing something intentionally for the benefit of another person without any thought of reward, then altruism is indeed possible. I know one can always point out that the experience of goodness and compassion was the "reward", which is true, but the reward is in seeing the other person benefit. If the other person did not benefit, no reward would have been experienced. Now if such an act is still selfish because of this, I think that both altruism and selfishness have lost any interesting meaning.

Edited by Mike
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My initial thought on this, George, is that there is nothing wrong with selfishness within the proper context. For example, Jesus said that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves, implying self-love.

Bill,

 

Hmm. Interesting observations. I need to think about this a bit. Is the "proper context" any act of helping another? Is the motivation irrelevant?

 

As to Jesus's statement, I suspect he was recognizing that self-love is a given, part of our nature.

 

George

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I think if we define selfishness as any act which has some personal benefit, then altruism is ruled out merely by definition. But if altruism means doing something intentionally for the benefit of another person without any thought of reward, then altruism is indeed possible.

Mike,

 

I am not clear on what you are suggesting here. Is social recognition and/or personal satisfaction not a reward? Must the reward be material? Does it make any difference?

 

George

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Mike,

 

I am not clear on what you are suggesting here. Is social recognition and/or personal satisfaction not a reward? Must the reward be material? Does it make any difference?

 

George

 

Social recognition would count as a reward, yes. I think "personal satisfaction" seems rather ambiguous, though. In this case we're talking about taking satisfaction in the welfare of another. I think that does make a lot of difference.

 

Peace,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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I think selfish is a misleading term as some are using it here. I agree with Mike, there are benefits to altruism, but this does not imply selfish motives, nor does it negate altruism. Altruism by definition is an unselfish act, meaning others are considered besides one's self.

 

Selfish

 

–adjective

1.

devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.

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I get the impression that personal satisfaction as a benefit is an acceptable motivation for a charitable act where a material reward would not be. It seems counter intuitive that we would insist that altruism entail neutral, or even negative, personal benefits.

 

What about social rewards? Is a charitable act altruistic if done for social recognition?

 

George

Edited by GeorgeW
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Without litigating the question of afterlife, can we say that an act of charity is altruistic if the motivation is the reward of Heaven or avoiding the punishment of Hell? Would this be an unselfish act?

 

George

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Without litigating the question of afterlife, can we say that an act of charity is altruistic if the motivation is the reward of Heaven or avoiding the punishment of Hell? Would this be an unselfish act?

 

George

 

Its not always obvious where a persons heart is with their actions but personally i think in answer to your question here, by definition if the motivation is a reward such as you have stated then how can the act be selfless or unselfish? My answer would be by definition, no. it seems to me there is no conscious motivation for a pure altruistic act. It just comes naturally out of a union with our source with no conscious regard for motive or reward.

Joseph

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Its not always obvious where a persons heart is with their actions but personally i think in answer to your question here, by definition if the motivation is a reward such as you have stated then how can the act be selfless or unselfish? My answer would be by definition, no. it seems to me there is no conscious motivation for a pure altruistic act. It just comes naturally out of a union with our source with no conscious regard for motive or reward.

Joseph

Joseph,

 

I agree with you. I don't think an act of charity in order to achieve a heavenly reward of avoid eternal hellfire is an altruistic act. However, I think some religious groups use this promise/threat, at least implicitly, in their fund raising or in enforcing tithing.

 

George

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I get the impression that personal satisfaction as a benefit is an acceptable motivation for a charitable act where a material reward would not be. It seems counter intuitive that we would insist that altruism entail neutral, or even negative, personal benefits.

 

What about social rewards? Is a charitable act altruistic if done for social recognition?

 

George

 

Hi George,

 

I would say that an act is only altruistic if it is motivated by a genuine concern for the welfare of another being. If doing this makes us feel good as a consequence, we're feeling good about being good to another person. And, if you discovered that you had unintentionally harmed that person in an effort to help her, that good feeling would vanish quite quickly; this demonstrates that the satisfaction you feel is intimately linked to your belief that the other person is being helped, you have an intention toward that person for their good.

 

To me that quite sums up altruism and compassion. If we simply define all deeds as selfish based upon their universally procuring some sense of personal satisfaction in the most general and abstract sense, then the very word "selfish" becomes superfluous and might as well not even be used as a descriptor. I think that it is one's motivations that makes an act either altruistic or selfish. Selfish means an act done with oneself in view, and altruism implies genuine concern for another being.

 

Peace,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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BTW I'm not saying that egoism cannot get mixed up in altruistic impulses so that altruism and selfishness occupy our motivations for doing an action. That's why we can act under the pretense of selflessness all the while bolstering ourselves up. I think this tendency to confuse the two is a great motivation for spiritual practice and cultivation. But again, I do think genuine concern for others does exist, and that this is the definition of altruism.

 

Thanks,

Mike

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I'll be honest. Selfishness/selflessness is a really emotionally and psychologically loaded area for me. I carry a lot of baggage there, that while I've finally recognized that, I am still far from having adequately dealt with it. This baggage is very much about boundries for me.

 

I've had to confront my own perception of myself as altruistic, caring for and about others, being a "giving" person...for most of my life, what it all ready boiled down to was co-dependency and (cringe) cowardess, fear of others' anger and/or withdrawal of their love, fear of rejection and abandonment. And fact is, whenever I've actually stood up for myself, that rejection and abandonment usually became a reality. I had to face and accept that the relationships involved were not what I had wanted them to be, and deluded myself into believing they were.

 

So where am I in this effort to understand altuism, selfishness and selflessness? Not near where I'd hope to be. Now for futher honesty...I don't think many is any other people are, either.

 

It seems to me this is an area of personal growth and development that presents us an extremely difficult paradox...how to both at once expand consciouusness to perceive ourselves at-one-ment with the ALL, with God, creation, and others, so that we indeed love others as ourself, and at the same time develop the boundaries neccessary to our individual self-hood....

 

A synchronicity at work this morning is a posting someone made on my FB page, that speaks so much to this very thing. It's about how if we find ourselves being devalued and disrepsected by others, we need to check our price tag...that we may just find we have marked our own value down to the Clearance Rack level.

 

A hard lesson for me has been than in giving way to others' selfishness, we are not leading by example, not teaching selflessness, but quite the opposite, we are teaching, or at least reinforcing selfishness, in others. And that is NOT a loving thing toward them at all. By my weakness, co-dendency, cowardice, I'm actively hindering those others' growth. For me or any other to stop playing co-depency games with selfish people doesn't guarantee those selfish people are going to see their own selfishness because I did that. In fact, in most, if not all the cases of relationship with selfish people in my life, where I have stopped playing the game, most if not all of them continued in their selfishness, just found new partners for their games. But that is not my responsiblity. Mine is to recognize in myself, and move on.

 

As the truism goes, the only person we can change is ourself.

 

Jenell

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So, is there truly an altruistic act? Does it make any difference? Does the motivation count? What sayeth PCs?

 

George

 

I think that we "believe" that we act altruistically. I'm not sure that it is not rooted in some deep seated impulse back when we were trying to survive as a species in a hostile environment.

 

Nevertheless, I've been both the recipient of and the giver of what can be seen as an altruistic act.

 

Someone once selflessly risked his life to pull my drowning ass out of a raging river. I was given the opportunity to "pay it forward," as the expression goes, some years later by risking my life rescuing someone who was caught in a crossfire between police and some drug dealers they were attempting to bust.

 

When I had opportunity to question my rescuer, he told me that he had no time to think about the rewards or benefits (not his words, but it's how I interpreted them), he just reacted to the situation.

 

I would say the same thing about my situation later. I had only a second to think through the consequences of my actions, and did not consider myself particularly heroic. I just reacted. It was probably just stupid, really, as I learned later the little girl I rescued died of a drug overdose just a few short years later.

 

I think that we are just wired this way because of our evolutionary history. It's how we've survived as a species.

 

NORM

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Very interesting stories, Norm.

 

I've no doubt that altruism has aided our survival, from an evolutionary perspective. Though, I'm wary of crediting all mentality and behavior to evolution, since evolutionary function is by no means identical to the existential reality thereof. Altruism may be instrumental in evolution, but not necessarily a mere construct of it.

 

Peace,

Mike

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Very interesting stories, Norm.

 

I've no doubt that altruism has aided our survival, from an evolutionary perspective. Though, I'm wary of crediting all mentality and behavior to evolution, since evolutionary function is by no means identical to the existential reality thereof. Altruism may be instrumental in evolution, but not necessarily a mere construct of it.

 

Peace,

Mike

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Norm & Mike,

 

I think you are right about the instinctive reactions. This may be related to what has been called 'indirect altruism.' in this, one acts with the anticipation that the favor will be returned in the future, but not necessarily by the beneficiary.. I don't think this impulse need be conscious and deliberate.

 

And, of course, it would have developed as part of our evolutionary machinery.

 

George

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The split-second reaction to repond to an immediate crisis is interesting to consider, for the very reasons mentioned, the 'decision' can seem not even a 'decision' at all, but an immediate impulsive, instinctive? condtioned? response...without thought or pre-mediation on either the personal risk to one's self or whether or not the recipient of the action is one we would choose to assist under other circumstances.

I'm inclined to think this kind of spontaneous response might be a better 'indicator' for lack of a better term, of our actual underlying nature toward altruism, or not? Certainly in such split-second emergencies, there are those that DO, and those that DON'T react to help the other, but I'm not entirely sure what the underlying difference is.

 

That difference could be a more or less trully altruistic nature, but it could also be somelike like a difference in self-confidence levels, the quick responder may simple be generally more confident of success in taking risks than another..

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Jenell, I am inclined to think the reaction is instinctive (nature) rather than conditioned (nuture). Only a few of us, like soldiers, police and the like, are conditioned for this kind of response.

 

As you suggest, there are some counter intuitions, like personal survival, that are also an influence.

 

George

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Well, Myron, that might depend on just what the problem was....if I was pinned underneath a car, well, 10 good strong fellows might be good, whereas if I were drowning, one good strong swimmer might get er done....

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In what I said about self confidence levels. as example, in the case of someone drowning, someone confident in themselves as being a good swimmer, with physical strength and stamina, might by that be influenced to react more quickly that another that knows themselves to be a weak swimmer, of small stature and not being in very good phsycial condition.

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Well, Myron, that might depend on just what the problem was....if I was pinned underneath a car, well, 10 good strong fellows might be good, whereas if I were drowning, one good strong swimmer might get er done....

 

The answer is ... you would want fewer people present. There are examples of one person lifting a car in an emergency. The problem is diffusion of responsibility. The more people present, the less likely it is that someone will act. The subject has been fairly well researched by social psychologists.

 

Myron

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