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On making the world a “better place”
Posted: 30 June 2008 08:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]  
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Antisocialdarwinist - 30 June 2008 02:01 AM

God Damn, Salt!  Now you’re talking.  “Do gooding is like treating hemophilia…”

Somehow I have managed to let my opponents drive me “off-message”. Dearie me, I’m going to be backpedaling for the next week if this keeps up. No rest for the wicked!

I actually do not make the hypothesis that “do-gooding is like treating hemophilia” but that it is more like blood-sucking. I have said to frankr that if the only people who can be aided by do-gooding are already on death’s doorstep, the implication is that the do-gooder does not really want to match wits with anything stronger than that. I have presented the cynical point of view that do-gooding is therapy for the do-gooder. This may not invalidate your point, but your point is only of peripheral interest to me.

I can come up with an apologetic in favor of “making the world a better place”, but we do need to establish a point-of-view. From the POV of bacteria, the world has always been hot shit, so to speak.

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Posted: 30 June 2008 08:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]  
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Carstonio - 29 June 2008 10:56 PM
Salt Creek - 29 June 2008 07:08 PM

I don’t think it destroys the gift to admit that one is merely trying to justify one’s existence.

I’m suggesting something quite different - the person’s attitude affects how he delivers the gift.

This is a “bad beef” you are delivering to me, Cars. I don’t really want to rain on your parade.

Of course the person’s attitude affects how he delivers the gift. It might actually be something besides blood-sucking. We do need a point of view which articulates what it is all aimed at! The greatest good for the greatest number? This is an optimization problem and does not mean that the number can be as large as you want it to be.

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Posted: 30 June 2008 09:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]  
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Just gonna throw some random thoughts since there is little else happening today.

If the message of this thread is that all good acts are ultimately driven by self interest then I obviously agree.

Any good action is likely to fall in one of two categories, either a good deed with the purpose of gaining something, support, control, favor etc.
Or a good deed that is purely the product of that sneaky urge to feel good about yourself.

Its also true ofcourse that while do gooding to people you don’t know in order for you to feel good is probably a very useful misfiring. Given not all aid and help is needed, wanted or well applied. But sometimes it is, regardless of the reasons, and people who don’t want or need help are free to decline it.

I might help my dumbass neighbour carry in a tv just cause I feel good about helping, or because I like the psychological victory over having him need my help.
He will ofcourse still get his tv inside so if he is fine with it all is good.

Its our gift by evolution perhaps to be the most egocentrical altruists on this planet.

The question is if there exists any selfless deeds at all, I would be tempted to say yes on certain acts that fall on people within ones close social group. Such as a parent sacrificing itself for its child. On the other hand one might argue that its just biology at work but at some point the lines between instinct and free will gets very blurry.

But beyond the close social order, I really don’t think there are any purely selfless deeds. We’re just not wired for that.

Even people who give their lives for complete strangers may very well still be doing it under a twisted sense of self worship, perhaps combined with biological predestination.

It surely is a well demonstrated trait throughout history that especially men will gladly unmake themselves for the glory of their own self image. Hence we got concepts like honor. The question of just whats the basis for such things is to me quite interesting.

In the end, we all probably got bad reasons for being good. Although that is probably a beneficial twist of our social behaviour.

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Posted: 30 June 2008 09:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]  
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Salt Creek - 30 June 2008 12:23 PM

Of course the person’s attitude affects how he delivers the gift. It might actually be something besides blood-sucking.

“Delivers” may be the wrong word - I was talking about the nature of the gift itself, the end-product. Using the analogy of painting a room, motives may include wanting one’s room to look good for one’s self, trying to impress visitors, helping a friend with his room, earning money through painting, an obligation, or an order (if the painter is a teenager or a convict). I’m suggesting that some of those motives will produce a better painting job than others. The person who seeks to help others on his terms, not theirs, will likely offer services that are not truly helpful. Or these may be helpful but may come with strings attached.

[ Edited: 30 June 2008 09:27 AM by Carstonio]
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Posted: 30 June 2008 10:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]  
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Carstonio - 30 June 2008 01:24 PM

The person who seeks to help others on his terms, not theirs, will likely offer services that are not truly helpful. Or these may be helpful but may come with strings attached.

Wouldn’t aid on the countrary be more efficient the stronger the self interest is?
If I am helping someone on my terms I probably have a much higher personal gain from whatever it is I am doing, hence I will do a better job than if there is no gains for me in it.

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Posted: 30 June 2008 10:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]  
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Unbeliever - 30 June 2008 02:11 PM

If I am helping someone on my terms I probably have a much higher personal gain from whatever it is I am doing, hence I will do a better job than if there is no gains for me in it.

Only if you and the other person agree on what constitutes a “better job.” Going back to the paint bucket, the person who assumes he knows what’s best for others would likely paint the room a different color against the wishes of the room’s owner, or without asking first. The different color may indeed be more pleasing, but that is not this particular painter’s decision to make. A more reasonable position would be for the painter to suggest a different color and talk it over with the room’s owner.

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Posted: 30 June 2008 10:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]  
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My report cards in elementary school always used to have a few entries on them that read:

“(Salt Creek) would be a superior student if only he would try harder.”

I always thought that kinda missed the point.

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Posted: 30 June 2008 11:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]  
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Salt Creek - 30 June 2008 02:39 PM

My report cards in elementary school always used to have a few entries on them that read:

“(Salt Creek) would be a superior student if only he would try harder.”

I always thought that kinda missed the point.

I’ll take a guess at a detail within your response: “You would be a superior teacher if only you could manage to present information coherently, offering at least a hint of motivation for me to accept it as being important enough to bother with.”

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 30 June 2008 11:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]  
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Carstonio - 30 June 2008 02:26 PM
Unbeliever - 30 June 2008 02:11 PM

If I am helping someone on my terms I probably have a much higher personal gain from whatever it is I am doing, hence I will do a better job than if there is no gains for me in it.

Only if you and the other person agree on what constitutes a “better job.” Going back to the paint bucket, the person who assumes he knows what’s best for others would likely paint the room a different color against the wishes of the room’s owner, or without asking first. The different color may indeed be more pleasing, but that is not this particular painter’s decision to make. A more reasonable position would be for the painter to suggest a different color and talk it over with the room’s owner.

Well yes ofcourse. Although that is a different aspect than what I referred to. I was just talking about commitment. Which relates to what Salt Creek said about education. Hard work comes from motivation and not determination. Unless there is a gain in something in any way. There is no reason to devote energy into doing it.
Everything we do has some sort of gain for us, albeit often very subjective and very subtle.

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Posted: 30 June 2008 11:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]  
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homunculus - 30 June 2008 03:02 PM
Salt Creek - 30 June 2008 02:39 PM

My report cards in elementary school always used to have a few entries on them that read:

“(Salt Creek) would be a superior student if only he would try harder.”

I always thought that kinda missed the point.

I’ll take a guess at a detail within your response: “You would be a superior teacher if only you could manage to present information coherently, offering at least a hint of motivation for me to accept it as being important enough to bother with.”

I know it’s not fair, but there it is.

Unbeliever - 30 June 2008 03:11 PM

Hard work comes from motivation and not determination.

Hard work comes from hard work. Conservation of energy. First Law.

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Posted: 30 June 2008 05:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]  
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Unbeliever - 30 June 2008 01:06 PM

Any good action is likely to fall in one of two categories, either a good deed with the purpose of gaining something, support, control, favor etc.
Or a good deed that is purely the product of that sneaky urge to feel good about yourself.

.............................

The question is if there exists any selfless deeds at all, I would be tempted to say yes on certain acts that fall on people within ones close social group. Such as a parent sacrificing itself for its child.

But beyond the close social order, I really don’t think there are any purely selfless deeds. We’re just not wired for that.

One possible example of a truly selfless act is one that is performed before any thought occurs and is not a result of specific training - a child is about to fall and one reaches out instinctively and grabs him, without time to contemplate anything. If there is enough time for thought, the motivation usually becomes “impure” in the sense that we start thinking about ourselves in some way. A soldier jumping on a live hand grenade does not fall into this category if he has been trained to do so, but if he has not been so trained, it would qualify.

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Posted: 30 June 2008 05:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]  
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Bruce Burleson - 30 June 2008 09:24 PM

One possible example of a truly selfless act is one that is performed before any thought occurs and is not a result of specific training - a child is about to fall and one reaches out instinctively and grabs him, without time to contemplate anything. If there is enough time for thought, the motivation usually becomes “impure” in the sense that we start thinking about ourselves in some way. A soldier jumping on a live hand grenade does not fall into this category if he has been trained to do so, but if he has not been so trained, it would qualify.

The closer you look, the less there is to see, Bruce.

Hume talks about it, which I’ll quote in the Myths behind morality thread when I get a chance. See you there? Waltercat seems to have lost interest in that thread, though I’m counting on him joining in the fun if I get confused.

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Posted: 30 June 2008 10:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]  
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Bruce Burleson - 30 June 2008 09:24 PM
Unbeliever - 30 June 2008 01:06 PM

Any good action is likely to fall in one of two categories, either a good deed with the purpose of gaining something, support, control, favor etc.
Or a good deed that is purely the product of that sneaky urge to feel good about yourself.

.............................

The question is if there exists any selfless deeds at all, I would be tempted to say yes on certain acts that fall on people within ones close social group. Such as a parent sacrificing itself for its child.

But beyond the close social order, I really don’t think there are any purely selfless deeds. We’re just not wired for that.

One possible example of a truly selfless act is one that is performed before any thought occurs and is not a result of specific training - a child is about to fall and one reaches out instinctively and grabs him, without time to contemplate anything. If there is enough time for thought, the motivation usually becomes “impure” in the sense that we start thinking about ourselves in some way. A soldier jumping on a live hand grenade does not fall into this category if he has been trained to do so, but if he has not been so trained, it would qualify.

Thats not really a selfless act though in the sense we are talking about. A selfless act to me implies a conscious decision where one performs an action for the pure benefit of someone else. Without any self gain.

The kind of action you seem to describe is an instinctive response. That does not really qualify into this category does it. Since for a selfless act, you would have to actually determine the variables beforehand. The above scenario seems to fall outside the category of concsious behaviour alltogether.

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Posted: 01 July 2008 06:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]  
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Unbeliever - 01 July 2008 02:14 AM

A selfless act to me implies a conscious decision where one performs an action for the pure benefit of someone else. Without any self gain.

Then I don’t think there are any truly selfless acts, even in the social situations you suggest such as in the parent-child relationship. Once we begin to contemplate an action, it is inevitable that some secondary gain factors begin to introduce themselves into our thought process. Even a parent giving her/his life for a child is motivated to some degree by this, such as not wanting to endure seeing the death or severe injury of the child because it would be too painful - one’s own death would be preferable.  If there is no time to think, then it falls back into the category I mentioned - an instinctive action, not motivated by conscious deliberation.

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Posted: 01 July 2008 07:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]  
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Legendary movie essayist Pauline Kael once described a true artist as someone who feels that only his best work is fit to present to others. One could describe this as satisfying his artistic conscience. But once a moviemaker or some other type of creative craftsperson starts thinking in terms of pleasing or satisfying an audience, he is no longer an artist, he is a businessman.

This has some parallels with the selflessness discussion. The people who truly perform selfless acts seek to satisfy their own conscience, and this very well may be instinctive in some cases. But a person consciously thinks of himself as selfless cannot truly be so - his ego drowns out his conscience.

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