Can you be truly altruistic?

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For those who don’t know, altruism is defined as a ‘selfless concern for the welfare of others’. Is that actually possible?

We look up to people who do things for what is apparently no self-gain, but surely feeling good about yourself could count? Surely if there was no gain, there wouldn’t be a reason for doing it?

Take Christianity for example, seeing as that is the religion I know best. The Bible teaches that you should do good things for other people, and this is a teaching that many Christians take to heart. I was once told by a vicar that you are a good person if you do good things selflessly. Yet I was also told that it would get me into heaven. As far as I can tell, being ‘altruistic’ seems to be a good option only if there is a reward, such as Heaven or a good feeling or to save someone you want to save.

I know it seems cynical, and that’s because it is probably is, but I don’t think that anyone can actually want to do anything without there being some kind of reward.

What do you think?

 
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We look up to people who do things for what is apparently no self-gain, but surely feeling good about yourself could count? Surely if there was no gain, there wouldn’t be a reason for doing it?

There was a topic about this I think…

 
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Really? Where? I looked but didn’t see one.

 
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Christianity does not say that helping others will get you to heaven.

bq. I don’t think that anyone can actually want to do anything without there being some kind of reward.

People give donations to good causes but they get no reward, they actually lose something.
There are alot more things that people do that just result in thier own lose. Maybe the thought that your sacrifice is making a difference for good in another persons life is rewarding. I don’t know.

 
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Christianity does not say that heloing others will get you to heaven.

It says that doing good deeds, such as helping others, is a good thing and makes you a good Christian (eg. the story of the Good Samaritan), and good Christians go to heaven.

Anyways, I was only using Christianity as an example, I’m more interested in the whole idea.

 
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Yeah there was a thread on this topic already.

http://www.kongregate.com/forums/9/topics/2938

 
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All Christians go to heaven. Helping makes what I guess you can call a good Christian. But that is not the question. There is another forum on this so I wont post anymore on this thread.

 
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Yeah there was a thread on this topic already.

How did I miss that? Ah well…

 
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Do actions have to be selfless in order to be “good?” I think if all a person needs in order to do good is some level of self satisfaction, or happiness in seeing their work, or even some level of credit for that good deed, it’s still a good deed. I’m not sure if any decent philosopher dead or alive has ever argued in favor of altruism. It doesn’t seem doable.

 
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I would have to say no. No one will do something without a reason to do it. There is always a driving force or a reason to do something and that reason is always that the action they are undertaking will benefit them in some way.

 
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Quite interestingly, game theory has a lot to say about this… Priority to certain choices aren’t given on money or physical pleasure; rather, they are given because of things called utils (in game theory terminology), which essentially denotes how important it is to somebody. To define this, think of the greatest thing that could happen to the subject in question. That is 100 utils. Now, if someone will prefer an outcome if it is that outcome versus a 70% chance of having the best outcome, then it is 70 utils, and so on, considering what you would risk to get it.

Now, this raises an important point. Someone’s ultimate goal is determined by their philosophy. So, if the overall well-being of society is a priority in their philosophy, it will therefore not be a waste (in game theory) to give some of their money to charity (depending on how many utils it gives.) I guess this could be stretched to mean it is always selfish, but then that is making a selfless person a contradiction of terms (which gets us nowhere.) That is because every rational [consistent] person will make a choice based on their priorities, so the very notion of choice is intertwined with selfishness. I think we should rephrase the definition of altruism or the way we interpret rational acts if this debate is to get anywhere.

 
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It is impossible to do a selfless deed.

Even charity is in the end only to make yourself feel better.

 
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That is because every rational [consistent] person will make a choice based on their priorities, so the very notion of choice is intertwined with selfishness.

Precisely my point.

 
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It is impossible to do a selfless deed.

So sacrifice of ones life is motivated by selfishness?
I’m tired of this discussion coming back time and time again.

 
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All Christians go to heaven.

whut? what about baptized, church-attending bat-sh*t insane serial killers? what about the pedophiliac priests? as far as i understand, the point is going to hell for bad deeds and to heaven for good ones! whatever happened to Psalm 28:4? (it says “Give them according to their deeds, and according to the wickedness of their endeavours[…]”, if you have to look it up)

anyway, back to topic:

So sacrifice of ones life is motivated by selfishness?

yes, it could be seen that way. whatever you sacrificed your life for, could you have lived happily knowing you could have changed what happened? imagine hollywood’s all-time favourite, the lover sacrificing himself for his partner’s survival: if you want to be really cynical, you could say he evaded living with the shame of not having saved his partner. altruism is a mechanism of social beings to support their society. it benefits the altruist as much as the recieving one. i don’t really see what’s wrong about that.

 
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Isn’t there one that says no matter what you do, as long as you repent those sins, you will go to heaven?

Repenting mass-rapist and child-molester, no problem.