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Is there such thing as a truly selfless act?

  1. Feb 27, 2007 #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.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 27, 2007 #2


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    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:
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2007
  4. Feb 27, 2007 #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
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2007
  5. Feb 27, 2007 #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?
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2007
  6. Feb 27, 2007 #5
    Question inspired by the Friends episode? :P
  7. Feb 27, 2007 #6
    You answered your own question.
  8. Feb 28, 2007 #7


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    Being in an accident.
  9. Feb 28, 2007 #8
    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.
  10. Feb 28, 2007 #9
    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.
  11. Feb 28, 2007 #10
    panda just to get ur last comment straight. Do you think that giving money to the poor is selfish or not?
  12. Feb 28, 2007 #11
    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.
  13. Feb 28, 2007 #12
    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?

    Not inspired by Friends, inspired by another thread AAMOF :tongue::smile:

    Last edited: Feb 28, 2007
  14. Feb 28, 2007 #13
    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.
  15. Feb 28, 2007 #14


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    That's exactly what I wanted to say, too.

    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.
  16. Feb 28, 2007 #15
    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
  17. Feb 28, 2007 #16


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    The point is that the term 'selfish' is very elastic in this thread.
  18. Feb 28, 2007 #17
    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.
  19. Feb 28, 2007 #18


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    Being born.
  20. Feb 28, 2007 #19
    I think by act we mean something you have a choice about, I'm pretty sure all babies have no choice about this.
  21. Feb 28, 2007 #20


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    OK. But do you have a choice about doing what makes you feel good? Is there any other choice?
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