Is there such thing as a truly selfless act?

  • #1
All actions have motivational considerations, but can you describe a truly selfless act that transcends motivation or gain? It's a simple question, but a difficult one to answer I think.
 

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  • #2
baywax
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All actions have motivational considerations, but can you describe a truly selfless act that transcends motivation or gain? It's a simple question, but a difficult one to answer I think.
Devoting one's life to the study of physics(?):wink:

Becoming a nun.:surprised

Consciously joining a suicide mission.:eek:

Going to work.

Saving a life through the loss of one's own.

Being a lab rat.

Being a lab assistant.

Coming up with things to write on PF.:confused:
 
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  • #3
There is another thread about this I believe which I discussed the topic with others heavily. Basically most people agree, it just comes down to the definition of Sefless (or Selfish), people have to realise when you're talking about this topic you don't mean "Selfish" in a negative fashion, and even "Concerning Self" usually invokes negative thoughts in people's minds, and with people's tendancy to want to believe human nature is good they dismiss this.

I'll see if I can find the thread.



Edit: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=129699
 
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  • #4
Saving the life of someone you just don't like. Theoretically, it is possible. No personal gain (in fact, significant personal risk is almost always involved), no real motivation, other than doing what duty tells you to do.

Sounds kind of robotic, ya know?
 
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  • #5
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Question inspired by the Friends episode? :P
 
  • #7
baywax
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Being in an accident.
 
  • #8
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well saving someone's life? There are 2 kinds of ppl in this situation
1. Ppl who won't move so not to put their own life at risk.
2. Ppl who would actually do something

But in both cases, who could live with himself if he knows that he could have done something but didn't? so even that has a slight selfish act, cause not doing anything for saving someone also has its consequences and no1 ever wishes to live them.

As for sacrificing one's life for a cause, i think that is probably the only unselfish act, but also if u think about it from a suiciders view pt, especially the palestinian side: Well someone takes ur land, ur dignity, ur freedom, ur family, and forces u to live in disgrace, and when u have nothing to fight back with, ur only choice is to die in honor. so ultimately i think this also has a selfish side, even though dying for a cause in my opinions is the most unselfish thing to do.
But ultimately everything we do we do for ourselves.
 
  • #9
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In extreme situations, accidents, natural disasters there are those who almost instinctively come to the aid of a stranger, only later do they think that it was possibly a stupid thing they did but as it all turned out well they get the reward of feeling they have done a good job. But I would argue that at the point of action there was no consious decision to act and therefore no opportunity to think of self.
I seem to be a freezer, but am quite good when I have an oppertunity to assess the situation, therefore I am no good at preventing an accident but calm in clearing up the devastation. Other people I know shout out/dive in as the event occurs so are great in preventing injuries but then fall apart when they see the bigger picture.
Therefore I can't commit a selfless act but I know people who could and infact have, although a totally insignificant selfless act.
 
  • #10
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panda just to get ur last comment straight. Do you think that giving money to the poor is selfish or not?
 
  • #11
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panda just to get ur last comment straight. Do you think that giving money to the poor is selfish or not?
Yes because you feel good about yourself for performing the act of charity.

Remember that the definition of selfish I am using here is that you get something in return for the act, not that you get more in return than you give.
Giving to charity is also usually good for the recipient as they are given the opportunity to move forwards. It is a win win situation and therefore fgood to be selfish.
 
  • #12
panda just to get ur last comment straight. Do you think that giving money to the poor is selfish or not?
It makes you feel good, you might argue that you do this in order to make yourself feel better, thus it's not purely selfless. The only really selfless act is one where no one knows you even did it, say you saved a thousand people and in doing so died in such a way that no one ever found your body and you were pronounced missing, your final whereabouts a complete mystery. And you would have to know that is what would happen. That way no one associated with you knows, and there are no knock on effects. There is obviously no possible gain to you personally, unless you consider dying a gain.

Other than this obviously unprovable situation? Is there something that could be construed as truly and absolutely selfless? I'm genuinely curious to see if anyone can think of something?

Question inspired by the Friends episode? :P
Not inspired by Friends, inspired by another thread AAMOF :tongue::smile:

https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=158130
 
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  • #13
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There is obviously no possible gain to you personally, unless you consider dying a gain.
Ahhh, if you are theist then dying to save a thousand souls would be a gain as you would be rewarded in heaven and therfore again there is a selfish factor to the act. I think you can only do something selflessly if you do it instinctively.

Of course what drives your instincts if not your mind and personality? it could be an unconcious selfish act, but as that is untestable it is beyond the scope of the post.
 
  • #14
radou
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But in both cases, who could live with himself if he knows that he could have done something but didn't? so even that has a slight selfish act, cause not doing anything for saving someone also has its consequences and no1 ever wishes to live them.
That's exactly what I wanted to say, too.

panda just to get ur last comment straight. Do you think that giving money to the poor is selfish or not?
Giving money to the poor is in general selfish, since today every piece of c**p which can afford to do so gives away money to the poor (as if it was a fashion craze) and feels better about itself. If some of them really had to help someone in trouble, they'd be too disgusted to even approach. Giving money away is an 'easy, remote-control-styled way' to help someone.
 
  • #15
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finally some ppl who feel the same way as i do..human beings are naturally forced to be selfish, but some in a good way, some in better ways then others, some selfish to the extreme
 
  • #16
radou
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finally some ppl who feel the same way as i do..human beings are naturally forced to be selfish, but some in a good way, some in better ways then others, some selfish to the extreme
The point is that the term 'selfish' is very elastic in this thread.
 
  • #17
Ahhh, if you are theist then dying to save a thousand souls would be a gain as you would be rewarded in heaven and therfore again there is a selfish factor to the act. I think you can only do something selflessly if you do it instinctively.

Of course what drives your instincts if not your mind and personality? it could be an unconcious selfish act, but as that is untestable it is beyond the scope of the post.
Frankly theists are a rarity around here, but you read the subtext very proficiently :smile:

Instinctive actions are usually self preservational, to commit suicide for others for example is not likely to be based on instinct, more likely morality.
 
  • #18
baywax
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Being born.
 
  • #19
Being born.
I think by act we mean something you have a choice about, I'm pretty sure all babies have no choice about this.
 
  • #20
baywax
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I think by act we mean something you have a choice about, I'm pretty sure all babies have no choice about this.
OK. But do you have a choice about doing what makes you feel good? Is there any other choice?
 
  • #21
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OK. But do you have a choice about doing what makes you feel good? Is there any other choice?
Naturally we do. Could glue thumb tacks to each of the keys of my keyboard, but that would make me feel bad whilst typing so I'll choose not to, equally I could design a keyboard made out of chocolate that would make be feel good whilst typing, but I'd then get fat(ter) and feel bad so again I'll choose not to.

Unless you are trying to swing this to an argument about the existence of free will, given the apparent prescence of free will we can choose to make ourselves happy or sad. I think that we will always make choices towards happiness in the long term.
 
  • #22
baywax
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Naturally we do. Could glue thumb tacks to each of the keys of my keyboard, but that would make me feel bad whilst typing so I'll choose not to, equally I could design a keyboard made out of chocolate that would make be feel good whilst typing, but I'd then get fat(ter) and feel bad so again I'll choose not to.
If pain makes you happy then you are going to put yourself in pain. If pain is all you know then that is what you will seek. It is not as cut and dried as you make it out to be.

What act is there that a person performs that doesn't gratify their conscious and/or subconscious desires?
 
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  • #23
baywax
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All actions have motivational considerations, but can you describe a truly selfless act that transcends motivation or gain?
Probably not.:wink:
 
  • #24
Naturally we do. Could glue thumb tacks to each of the keys of my keyboard, but that would make me feel bad whilst typing so I'll choose not to, equally I could design a keyboard made out of chocolate that would make be feel good whilst typing, but I'd then get fat(ter) and feel bad so again I'll choose not to.

Unless you are trying to swing this to an argument about the existence of free will, given the apparent prescence of free will we can choose to make ourselves happy or sad. I think that we will always make choices towards happiness in the long term.
I tihnk that brings us to the point, is there ever any action that will bring us nothing whatsoever happiness or whatever and has it ever been done? Is not morality tied up to some extent to utilatarianism? What's good for the person or the majority in other cases?
 
  • #25
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I have a theory that we have not really evolved since we lived in trees and we are fundamentally Anarchists.
We may live in complex societies with Democratic Principles but we only do so because it suits our own ends.

Deep down we want to eat, sleep and breed without being eaten.

Modern society does that better than ever before with the one down side that we have to be socially responsible and go off every day and earn money for the stronger ape at the top of the heap who provides us with financial protection in return for creaming off a profit for himself.

If you could walk outside of your free house and pick an apple off the apple tree and a dvd player off the sony tree and then walk back inside and reproduce asexually, would you say "I must go to work today and get that budget report in"?
 

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