Altriusm, a nice way to express your selfishness?

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  • #26
DaveC426913
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Please Considered my examples. I already acknowledged that altruism exists in animals . Human beings and animals don't possess the same level of consciousness, and so the level of intent of certain actions in animal would not be very influential in behaviors of certain animals because they cannot grasps concepts like intent and selfishness.
OK, so humans are more sophisticated; that means they have a wider range of options. Does that mean they can't operate at an instinctual level like an animal?

It also means the intent behind a human act does not have to be relevant. Like with animals, it is the act itself.

A human can commit an altrustic act even if it benefits him personally (the benefit does not negate the altruism).
 
  • #27
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Yes, thats true. But when organizations that were designed for the purpose of creating a profit such as car companies like General motors , , whether it be creating jobs for their employees who might have been previously unemployed or providing a good or service that would raise our standard of living, we considered their the motives of their acts selfish, even though they contribute something to humanity.
This is actually why its important to distinguish between 'intent' and 'action'.

How does one determine the 'intent' of an organization? In fact, the individuals in an organization may have different, even contradicting, and self-contradicting intentions.

A car company sells cars for profit. That is pretty simple. It is selfish, because the act of 'profiting' benefits the company more, more so than it does the person buying the car. Profit = getting more value than the car is actually 'worth'.

That doesn't make car companies 'bad'. A certain amount of selfishness can benefit an individual, a company, and a community. Profit can be used to expand the company, pay shareholders, or give current employees raises and/or benefits. But this is not altruism, because it involves a very clear exchange of benefit.

I could also have no intention of helping others, but despite my best efforts, because of those damn unions and government regulators, my company might actually end up benefiting the community. Obviously that's not altruism either, even if others still benefit.

Altruism-selfish is really more of a spectrum.

I could give to charity. That is an altruistic act by most definition... althought it is less 'altruistic' if I then use my charitable reciept to get a tax break... and its less so, if I only did it so that I could impress people. This is where intent comes into it. You could try and reduce this to a binary, where its either/or, but life is more complex than that. Intent can modify our assessment of a particular act, but that doesn't change the nature of the act in general.

Similarly, there are occasions where doing things for others makes us feel good, or where we don't even think, we just act out of pure instinct. The first is probably less altruistic than the second, but feeling good is not an inkind exchange. When you feel good about giving to charity, the charity is not giving you anything. You are rewarding yourself with a good feeling. That is different.

Intent can alter how we view actions, but we can also talk about the actions distinctly and separately.
 
  • #28
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The act of altruism is not an involuntary act like sneezing would be an involuntary act or using the bathroom would be an involuntary act.
Yes it can be. Just check out the news. When someone dives into a river to save a child from drowning, the first thing people will ask is why they did it. Invariably, they will say, they didn't think, they just did what anyone would do. It was instinct, just like the amoeba.
If thats the case, lets excuse the behaviors of those individuals that engaged in the acts of rape and murder if all human behavior is instinctual and therefore beyond our control.
Wolves don't make good pets because they are instinctively less docile than dogs. Even certain breeds of dog are more dangerous in this fashion. The fact I recognize the problem is instinctive doesn't mean I'm going to let my child play with a wolf. Your logic is not sound.

Most human behavior is habit and instinct. Even if one believes in some sort of freewill, most of the daily 'decisions' we make are only vaguely voluntary. Do you voluntarily choose where your foot lands every step of the way when you are walking down the street? Of course not.
If a person or populations of persons decides to mate with redheds rather than blondes based on their personal preference, lnatural selection will favor redheads over blondes and blondes will eventuallt die out.
You're conflating individuals with populations. Populations matter to evolution, 'persons' do not. Certain individuals can influence the culture... and therefore the mating habits of a population, but its what the population does that is important.

Individuals rarely have much impact of evolution since it usually takes several generations for a mutation to get distributed widely enough to survive and individual preference usually has its basis in genetics.... although enviroment does play a role.
 
  • #29


JoeDawg said:
Altruism-selfish is really more of a spectrum.
This.

NobleGas: You are favouring selfishness in the function your definition. Why is it that even a small bit of selfishness makes an action selfish while no amount of altruism makes an action altruistic? We would not say that a dark room is no longer dark because I have lit a match nor would we say that a sunny day is dark because there is a patch of shade beneath my feet. Definitions that function in this way do not make sense.
 
  • #30
Dembadon
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how is the intent behind the act irrelevant? ...
The intentions are irrelevant in this way:

Motivations/intent do(es) not change the definition of a word.

The intent(s) upon which one acts when being altruistic do(es) not change how altruism is defined in the English language. You keep implying that altruism has an ever-changing definition based on the intentions of those who behave altruistically. Are you suggesting there be multiple definitions in the dictionary which cover all the ways that intent can shape one's perspective of such definitions?
 
  • #31
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Motivations/intent do(es) not change the definition of a word.
True, but,

altruism: the quality of unselfish concern for the welfare of others

If you manifest concern for the welfare of others only to satisfy your own devilish purposes, it contradicts the definition. It is not selfless.
 
  • #32
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Yes it can be. Just check out the news. When someone dives into a river to save a child from drowning, the first thing people will ask is why they did it. Invariably, they will say, they didn't think, they just did what anyone would do. It was instinct, just like the amoeba.
Okay, I guess it can be. But that does not mean that altruism did not evolved from selfish desires. We our a species who's ancestor came from local groups/tribes that comprised of probably of about forty members, most of whom were are kin. Of course , when one of the members of our ancestor's small tribe was hurt and injured in any sort of what, or their life was threatened, the members of the local tribe would probably be greatly concerned not only because losing one member would decrease the chances of the tribe survivals, but losing a member of the tribe would also decrease ones chance of shared genes being flourished to the next generation. For subsequent generations, as our tribes became less localized and more globalized and therefore encounters with kinfolk became more dispersed and spread all over near and far populations, and this trait was passed onto our gene pool but this trait was expressed when we encountered local people who our in danger but do not share the same genetic makeup. Going back to the man jumping into save the drowning child, guilt would perhaps enter and stay in his mind if he decides not to saved the child and he would feel partly responsible for not taking the opportunity to saved the drowning child. In order to save himself the experience of 'if I had used that opportunity to saved the child when it was open, the child would still be alive'. One could interpret that as a selfish act because you don't want have the burden

Similarly, there are occasions where doing things for others makes us feel good, or where we don't even think, we just act out of pure instinct. The first is probably less altruistic than the second, but feeling good is not an inkind exchange. When you feel good about giving to charity, the charity is not giving you anything. You are rewarding yourself with a good feeling. That is different.
. I think often we feel good when we do a charitable act, especially if their our minimal losses at our end when one carries out a charitable act. I disagree with you about feeling good not being any of exhange value. Just because the exchange value is not a monetary value does not mean that it is not an exchange. For example, even though this act that many humans engage in is not based on monetary value, humans engaged in sex for pleasurable reasons other than procreation or we eat a certain kind of food because fires up our tastebuds.

Most human behavior is habit and instinct. Even if one believes in some sort of freewill, most of the daily 'decisions' we make are only vaguely voluntary. Do you voluntarily choose where your foot lands every step of the way when you are walking down the street? Of course not.
Actually , I do. I make a conscious effort to avoid the cracks of a square block sidewalk.Yes, some of the actions we carry out daily, waking up , sneezing, yawning, having a sense of smell, our all involuntary. However, I would not go as far as the actions carried by many humans rarely voluntary. There are plenty of actions that our voluntary, such as :elevating your thinking, forming friendships and breaking up courtships, driving , blinking(even though we can't understand how we carry it out on an elementary level , its still voluntary, deciding where you want to live, making the choice of whether or not to go on a school shooting spree) , All of those actions and most actions carried out by human beings are voluntary and so free will cannot be an illusion. Because if it were an illusion , why would we have choices ?
 
  • #33
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Wolves don't make good pets because they are instinctively less docile than dogs. Even certain breeds of dog are more dangerous in this fashion. The fact I recognize the problem is instinctive doesn't mean I'm going to let my child play with a wolf. Your logic is not sound.
Rapists and murderers don't have those titles assigned to them because it is in their nature. It is assigned to them because they made the choice to carried out those acts. The analogy is terrible because one has to assumed that just like the wolves were born to be more wild than the domestic dog, the rapist and murderer are the way that they are because they are wired that way and therefore cannot make a conscious attempt to avoid such their violent acts which is a ludicrous assumption.
 
  • #34
CRGreathouse
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You're defining altruism as an act of absolute unselfishness, i.e. you are not willing to consider an action to be altruistic unless the actor derives no personal benefit from it.

Redefine altruism as an act that benefits someone more than it benefits you (often involving a sacrifice on your part). You consider their needs first, and your own second (does not require ignoring your needs).

Consider the definition of selfish as the opposite. Selfish does not mean the other person derives zero benefit; it simply means you consider yourself first and them second.


If you go back through all your examples listed above, you will realize that every one of them is now within the bounds of altruism.
I'm not sure that I like these definitions. The criterion for perfect selfishness would seem to be paying no heed whatever to the needs of others, not merely putting them second to yourself. Similarly, the criterion for perfect selflessness would seem to be doing that which will maximize benefits to all, even if it happens to benefit you more than others.
 
  • #35
DaveC426913
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I'm not sure that I like these definitions. The criterion for perfect selfishness would seem to be paying no heed whatever to the needs of others, not merely putting them second to yourself. Similarly, the criterion for perfect selflessness would seem to be doing that which will maximize benefits to all, even if it happens to benefit you more than others.
The point is, they are not absolutes. It is a continuum from one end of the scale other.

What you are describing is absolute altruism and absolute selfishness. The fact that I have to qualify them with "absolute" means that it is not a given.
 
  • #36


The intentions are irrelevant in this way:

Motivations/intent do(es) not change the definition of a word.

The intent(s) upon which one acts when being altruistic do(es) not change how altruism is defined in the English language. You keep implying that altruism has an ever-changing definition based on the intentions of those who behave altruistically. Are you suggesting there be multiple definitions in the dictionary which cover all the ways that intent can shape one's perspective of such definitions?
Intent is often part of the definition of a word. I believe that the general use definition of altruism includes intent. If a man stops to help a woman stranded on the side of the road to change her tire you would call this altruistic? No matter his intentions? So if we find that he then has proceeded to rape her, the road side assistance being a means to get close to her and gain her trust, does his help in changing the tire still stand as altruistic? An altruistic rapist?
 
  • #37
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But that does not mean that altruism did not evolved from selfish desires.
Altruism evolved as a survival strategy long before creatures like us existed. And it wasn't a 'choice'. Organisms that used the strategy produced offspring that survived. It was in our genes long before we crawled out of the swamp. Both selfishness and altruism are irrational instincts that happened to benefit our ancestors.
Going back to the man jumping into save the drowning child, guilt would perhaps enter and stay in his mind if he decides not to saved the child and he would feel partly responsible for...
Again, there is no exchange, feeling good or bad about something is not the same as an exchange of benefit. And there are lots of studies that show animals and children act this way without such itellectualizing of guilt. They show concern for others and help others instinctively. YOU may only help someone out of guilt, but thats merely a side effect of your thinking process.
Just because the exchange value is not a monetary value does not mean that it is not an exchange.
Its not about money, there is no exchange. If I save a child, the child is not giving me anything. My evolved instincts give me something. You've diluted the definition of 'selfish' to the point that it has no meaning at all.
Actually , I do. I make a conscious effort to avoid the cracks of a square block sidewalk.
That's highly obsessive/compulsive behavior. I'd say that is not common among humans above a certain age.
Because if it were an illusion , why would we have choices ?
If choice is an illusion, we don't.
 
  • #38
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the rapist and murderer are the way that they are because they are wired that way
As opposed to having some magical soul making decisions for them? That's just silly.

I'd say its more a matter of genetics combined with enviroment.
 
  • #39
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As opposed to having some magical soul making decisions for them? That's just silly.

I'd say its more a matter of genetics combined with enviroment.
No no no no, Genetics does not programmed you to rape any more than it makes you destined to only listened to barbra streisand's music. Of course, I am not denying that we are all potential rapists(minus females) but genetics only leaves us with the choice to engage in the act of rape or not , or to decide whether or not to listen to barbara's streisand's music.
 
  • #40
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Altruism evolved as a survival strategy long before creatures like us existed. And it wasn't a 'choice'. Organisms that used the strategy produced offspring that survived. It was in our genes long before we crawled out of the swamp. Both selfishness and altruism are irrational instincts that happened to benefit our ancestors.
Not just are ancestors. Selfishness and altruism continues to benefit us today, and it benefits some groups of people or an individual more so than other groups of people or individuals. It is definitely not a trait that only benefited our ancestors. A musical artist benefits greatly from altruism , whether he intended their to be a personal benefit or not because of course he would be looked more favorable by his audience and he would probably bring n new audiences

Again, there is no exchange, feeling good or bad about something is not the same as an exchange of benefit. And there are lots of studies that show animals and children act this way without such itellectualizing of guilt. They show concern for others and help others instinctively. YOU may only help someone out of guilt, but thats merely a side effect of your thinking process.
Yes exhibiting positive and pleasurable feelings can be an exchange or benefit. take mating for example. Males compete with other males to be the females pick(I don't know why human males have evolved to fight with other males because they're are so many more females than males. Anyway, thats a different topic for another thread . The male wants to be the females pick because he wants to have sex with her because it gives him great pleasure. The exchange would be fighting/competiting with other males, the benefit would be sex . No montary commodity involved in this exchange whatsoever. In the example I used, There could be a possible benefit to a man who saved a drowning child because he might want to extinguish of guilt by saving the drowning child rather than living with the guild of not saving the drowning child. The benefit would be the extinguish of guild and the exchange would be the man saving the child.

If choice is an illusion, we don't.
I think that denying choice and calling it an illusion is being delusional
 
  • #41
Dembadon
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Intent is often part of the definition of a word. I believe that the general use definition of altruism includes intent. If a man stops to help a woman stranded on the side of the road to change her tire you would call this altruistic? No matter his intentions? So if we find that he then has proceeded to rape her, the road side assistance being a means to get close to her and gain her trust, does his help in changing the tire still stand as altruistic? An altruistic rapist?
Point taken.
 
  • #42
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No no no no, Genetics does not programmed you to rape any more than it makes you destined to only listened to barbra streisand's music.
I never said either of those things. Strawman arguments don't impress.

Of course, I am not denying that we are all potential rapists(minus females) but genetics only leaves us with the choice
That is debatable, but so what?

The point is, altruism exists without any need for 'choice'.
It is instinctive. And this can be observed in nature.
So whether freewill exists, is simply not relevant.
 
  • #43
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It is definitely not a trait that only benefited our ancestors.
Once again, I never said this. Your reading comprehension is poor.
The reason its important to understand that it has benefited our ancestors is because most of our ancestors who it has benefited have not have our cognitive abilities.

So 'choice' and rational decision making are not relevant to the instincts of selfishness and altruism. We may make selfish or altruistic choices, but choice is not central to either.
The benefit would be the extinguish of guild and the exchange would be the man saving the child.
It may be a benefit, but there is no 'exchange of benefit', and that may be the only reason YOU would save a child, but most people have an instinct that has nothing to do with rational decision making. Its not even a cost/benefit decision. Many people would instinctively sacrifice themselves even if the chances were slim the child would survive. Its not about your guilt, its about altruistic impulses that we have had since before we could even formulate guilt.
I think that denying choice and calling it an illusion is being delusional
So is affirming you know it exists and claiming you know what it is.
 
  • #44


I don't think anyone suggests that buying things for one's mate is altruistic; the relationship is too tightly bonded to meaningfully separate one's happiness from the other's.
A partial definition of identity:
2. essential self: the set of characteristics that somebody recognizes as belonging uniquely to himself or herself and constituting his or her individual personality for life.

Identity trumps everything.

The very same way in which you say that helping ones mate is not completely altruistic because there is a tight bond; that is how I would describe the bond people have with their own identity. Healthy narcissism.

I am more closely bonded to my own identity than I am to my wife; the result is I would die to save her life.
 
  • #45
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If a man stops to help a woman stranded on the side of the road to change her tire you would call this altruistic?
If that is all that occurred then yes. You're implying an intent here though.

A man stops and helps a woman change a tire.

That would be an altruistic 'act'.
No matter his intentions?
His intentions are a different question.
So if we find that he then has proceeded to rape her, the road side assistance being a means to get close to her and gain her trust, does his help in changing the tire still stand as altruistic? An altruistic rapist?
No, because he demanded something in return for the help.
 
  • #46


No, because he demanded something in return for the help.
Why would you say that he demanded something in return for the help? Rapists don't usually ask. Lets assume that upon seeing this woman on the side of the road the rapist had already decided what it is he planned on doing and then helped her to change her tire as a tactic to gain her trust and place himself in close proximity to her (actually a common scenario). Are his actions changing the tire still altruistic despite the fact that it was only a pretext to get close to her so that he could rape her?
 
  • #47
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Are his actions changing the tire still altruistic despite the fact that it was only a pretext to get close to her so that he could rape her?
The intention is irrelevant. You could frame it in a number of ways.
He changed the tire, so he figured she should pay him back.
He changed the tire to gain her trust.
He changed the tire because he enjoyed playing cat and mouse with her.
He changed the tire, and then gave into an impulse.
He changed the tire, and misread her gratitude.

Or:

He stopped, changed the tire, and then raped her.

As soon as you expand the action, to include the rape, the act itself changes.
So, how you categorize it changes.

Altruism describes action, because when we talk about intent, we're generally talking about high level cognitive function, which is not really required for altruism. It happens all the time in the animal kingdom. Reproduction, where an organism sacrifices for it young, is a basic form. There is no intent there, some did, some didn't and organisms that didn't do it, aren't around anymore.
 
  • #48


What about this scenario?

A man sees a woman by the side of the road with a flat tire. He has no sinister motive towards her whatsoever. He helps her because he decides that she needs the help.

This is selfish behavior.

This man's vision of himself is of one who helps. He knows that if he leaves her stranded he will be haunted by a dissonance from what he percieves as himself. There is punishment and reward in this dilemna. He recieves something from giving. There is bargaining going on in his mind before he helps. It is not a one way street for help; there is bartering in one form or another, everytime.

Even if his blanket decision is to always help in every situation automatically he put that autopilot reasoning there in his mind and when that happened a bargain was struck. A bargain with a system of punishment and reward.

People make these judgement calls all the time. There is no pure sacrifice in any action because people have self image and this is not only important but it is more important than anything else. There is only narcissism and it is inescapable. This is a good thing.

People who save lives in train wrecks and burning buildings may claim that they did not think first; I doubt that very much. The brain works very fast. I may even say to myself I didn't have time to think in any random situation, and I acted first, but there is always cognition. Thinking is fast and memory is fragmented too especially when adrenaline is involved.

There is no 'free' pass without consequences towards ones own self image. Self image can be cultural or any other number of other influences. Not everyone will respond the same way even within the same culture let alone species. I don't agree with a genetic imperative towards altruism because it is subjective. DNA does not determine my self image; my life does.


Perhaps the very instant where the reasoning takes place that forms that self image there might be a hint of altruism; I doubt it. Perhaps this person admires people who are historically viewed as altruists and he wants to emulate them because he sees them as figures of adoration. He admires them ; he wants to admire himself, is this still altruism? He could be using the same reasoning in a religious fashion with bartering about the afterlife. The exact details of the agreements we make with ourselves can be muddied by many factors they are complex.
If narcissism is the most powerful and all consuming human trait that trumps everything else (society, lives, property, evolutionary "imperative") and I say it is, and everyone has a different self image, then deciphering a person's exact motives can be very complicated, and maybe even impossible.
 
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  • #49
apeiron
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Philosophical questions are best answered in terms of general principles.

A general principle is systems theory. Which is about hierarchies of scale, and top-down constraints in interaction with bottom-up constuction. The dichotomy is then at the heart of a hierarchy as it defines the contrasting local and global scales of action.

Here, with altruism, we have in fact two possible levels of analysis being entangled - the social and the biological.

This is not a dichotomy by the way. Just actually a complex situation as there are two levels of semiosis taking place - one based on genes as the systems memory, the other based on words (sort of what some meant by 'memes').

Anyway, what is the useful dichotomy to capture the mix of bottom-up and top-down sources of action? Competition~co-operation.

Taking the social level of analysis, it seems to explain a lot if individuals (the local scale) are the foci of competitive action - additive, bottom-up, construction. The global scale (that of groups and societies as a whole) would then encode (in language) the balancing co-operative constraints.

This is exactly what anthropologists find (the field of social constructionism) and it explains freewill. Individuals want to do the best for themselves (competition) but also internalise the group constraints (which can be quite formally encoded as in the commandments of a religion).

Where does altruism exist in all this? Well. like freewill, the confusion arises in trying to place it anywhere particular within the system. It is really the result of the balanced mixing of bottom-up and top-down actions. As the outcome, it should be an emergent property that appears evenly across all scales (if the social system is functioning at equilbrium - if it is a healthily adapted system in other words).

So altruism (and freely willed choice) should be visible in the actions of individuals, groups, nations. It is a property of the system that balances two actions fractally across all scales of the system.

see...
http://www.massey.ac.nz/~alock/virtual/inner.htm (a good site generally)

In "primitive" societies, the fact that co-operation and choice are socially constrained is not even hidden, as it is in Western societies which have been based on the fiction of the self-willed, self-regulated, individual since Socrates.

see....
Lutz, C. (1986) 'The domain of emotion words on Ifaluk', in The Social Construction of Emotions, edited by Harré, R. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell).

Lutz, C. (1988) Unnatural Emotions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

That is the social scale of analysis (which is really the important one given the assumption that individuals are faced with an internal psychological struggle between good and bad, rather than being emeshed in a natural balancing act of local constructive acts vs globally developed constraints).

You can repeat the story of competition~co-operation at the level of biology. Genes compete individually and must co-operate globally, for example.

And we can remember the damage done to system approaches by books like the Selfish Gene which attempted to deny the existence of global constraints - the need for functioning co-operation - in biology.

Reductionist analysis of systems complexity - the urge to reduce everything to the actions of the smallest scale is the source of almost every philosophical/metaphysical confusion. Nothing makes sense because half the story is always missing.

Since computers became a dominant technology, reductionism has become a "faith" that admits no questioning. Dawkins was in town just this week to preach the gospel!
 
  • #50
disregardthat
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What about this scenario?

A man sees a woman by the side of the road with a flat tire. He has no sinister motive towards her whatsoever. He helps her because he decides that she needs the help.

This is selfish behavior.

This man's vision of himself is of one who helps. He knows that if he leaves her stranded he will be haunted by a dissonance from what he percieves as himself. There is punishment and reward in this dilemna. He recieves something from giving. There is bargaining going on in his mind before he helps. It is not a one way street for help; there is bartering in one form or another, everytime.
Of course he receives something from helping her, but that doesn't make the act selfish. An act can be altruistic even though there are elements of "selfishness" involved. In fact, I think its necessary. If he helped her against his good will, then the act would not be as altruistic as in the case in which he wanted to help her. Suppose one reluctantly plunges into the water to save a drowning baby not thinking of any consequential benefits whatsoever. It is absurd to consider this a less selfish act than wanting to rescue the baby because you wanted the baby to be rescued.

I think aperion made a very good point. It is remarkable how we seem to be wired to analyze such moral questions by reducing them down to the individual.
 
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