The Instigator
Maya9
Pro (for)
Losing
16 Points
The Contender
Casiopia
Con (against)
Winning
27 Points

No action can be truly selfless

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 7/14/2008 Category: Society
Updated: 8 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 3,137 times Debate No: 4679
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (29)
Votes (9)

 

Maya9

Pro

Since I can't seem to find any worthy opponents on the topic of gay marriage, I've decided to take a break from that one. This is a philosophical topic. I decided to put it in the society section instead of the religion section because as I see it, it has more to do with society than religion. Anyway, on with the debate.

It is my intention to argue and prove that no action by a living being can be truly selfless. By truly selfless, I mean that the action can never be devoid of a self-serving purpose. Even in actions that cause self-harm, desires are satisfied or purposes are achieved that outweight the harm inflicted and thus gratify the person acting.
Casiopia

Con

Hi Maya

I've thought about this often and have wrestled with it for years. I disagree with Maya's assesment that no action by a living being can be truly selfless for the following reasons...

I agree that people, by and large, are hedonists. But I don't just mean the prostitutes and drug dealers. I also mean the lady who helps out every week at the homeless shelter, and the boy scout who helps that lady cross the street. Ask somebody who does these "good" deeds why they do them, and you will, nine times out of ten, get a response similar to "I like helping people." People who do good deeds inevitably feel good about doing them; people who do bad deeds inevitably feel guilty about doing them. This does not, of course, prove that these consequences are why people choose to do good deeds and not bad ones, but once we accumulate a certain amount of purely circumstantial evidence, it would be foolish to ignore it.
Now I'm not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing. Certainly the homeless person doesn't care why that lady helps them every week, and that lady doesn't care why the boy scout helps her across the street. Our motives do not affect the consequences of our actions upon society. I think it does, however, affect the inherent goodness of those actions. A good deed done out of fear of guilt or out of desire to feel good about doing it is no more a good deed than a criminal sentenced to community service. It has good effects; it is not a good deed. It is, in essence, hedonism. And a hedonistic act that helps society is no less hedonistic because of that.
Through mechanisms such as guilt, we are programmed to do these "good" acts not out of selflessness, but out of our own selfish desires. I'm not arguing that guilt is a bad thing - our society depends upon said mechanisms to remain stable. It has been stated, "People without guilt are called 'criminals'." However, it seems to me that only in a world without guilt can any truly selfless act occur.

The main flaw that I see with this idea is that of the martyr; or more specifically, an atheistic one. People like the ancient Christians or the modern suicide bombers do not count, as they believed they would receive their reward in Heaven. After all, what's a crucifixion or two compared to eternal bliss? But a true atheist who sacrifices themselves for another without any hope of a reward, now there's a problem. You might claim the only reason an atheist would give their own life is that they are so afraid of the guilt they'd feel otherwise that they would rather die. Which, of course, is possible, but not provable.
Debate Round No. 1
Maya9

Pro

Umm... so you are agreeing with me? I can't seem to find anything in your "argument" that disagees with mine. You said that a truly selfless action could only occur in a world without guilt. Since guilt is deeply rooted in human beings, that's pretty much impossible. So how is this even a debate?

"You might claim the only reason an atheist would give their own life is that they are so afraid of the guilt they'd feel otherwise that they would rather die. Which, of course, is possible, but not provable."

There are other reasons. Self-satisfaction, for one. Some people's self-esteem is just so low that they'd rather die feeling like heroes than live feeling worthless.
Casiopia

Con

Definition of an atheist: The belief that there is no God of any kind.
If there is no God of any kind...then there are no moral values of any kind. (Explained Below)

1.If an atheist lays his life down for another human being, he obviously wouldn't expect to go to Heaven, or anywhere for that matter, he would just cease to exist.
(Ulterior motive denied) Self explanatory.
2.If an atheist lays his life down for another human being, it wouldn't be b/c he is so afraid of the guilt he would feel otherwise that he would rather die.
(Ulterior motive denied) Explained below.
3.If an atheist lays his life down for another human being, it wouldn't be for Self-satisfaction, i.e. Some people's self-esteem is just so low that they'd rather die feeling like heroes than live feeling worthless.
(Ulterior motive denied) Explained below.

2.In reply to "You said that a truly selfless action could only occur in a world without guilt. Since guilt is deeply rooted in human beings, that's pretty much impossible."

You misinterpreted my argument. What I mean by the statement "It seems to me that only in a world without guilt can any truly selfless act occur" is that an atheist has created this possibility for himself by believing there is no God, thus having no absolute right or wrong which imposes itself on his conscience & offers him the possibility of living in a world without guilt.

To better explain I'll describe an atheist's view of life in regards to other human beings
"There is no God, so what's so special about human beings? They're just accidental by-products of nature which have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust lost somewhere in a hostile & mindless universe which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short period of time."

Since an atheist doesn't believe there is a God, & nothing comes after death he therefore would not lay his life down for another human being in hopes of any afterlife or reward in Heaven.

Since an atheist doesn't believe there is a God, & has no absolute right and wrong which imposes itself on his conscience the idea of living in a world without guilt becomes possible.

Maya's last statement was "There are other reasons. Self-satisfaction, for one. Some people's self-esteem is just so low that they'd rather die feeling like heroes than live feeling worthless."

2.Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't all atheist going to live feeling worthless if they believe there is no purpose in life and everything is pointless.
Hero: A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose. (The American Heritage Dictionary)
The definition of a hero contradicts an atheist's core idea that there is no God, therefore life has no purpose.

The above argument shows that an atheist that lays his life down for another human being is a truly selfless action.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Above the line is my secular argument against the idea that no living being can commit a truly selfless act. Now I will present the Christian viewpoint and use John Piper's philosophy of "Christian Hedonism" taken from his book "Desiring God: Meditations of A Christian Hedonist".

Christian Hedonism: The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.

http://www.desiringgod.org...

We all make a god out of what we take the most pleasure in. Christian Hedonists want to make God their God by seeking after the greatest pleasure—pleasure in him.

By Christian Hedonism, we do not mean that our happiness is the highest good. We mean that pursuing the highest good will always result in our greatest happiness in the end. We should pursue this happiness, & pursue it with all our might. The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed, and if you abandon the pursuit of your own joy you cannot love man or please God.

The Difference Between Worldly and Christian Hedonism
Some people are inclined to believe that Christians are supposed to seek God's will as opposed to pursuing their own pleasure. But what makes Biblical morality different than worldly hedonism is not that Biblical morality is disinterested & duty-driven, but that it is interested in vastly greater and purer things. Christian Hedonism is Biblical morality because it recognizes that obeying God is the only route to final and lasting happiness. Here are some examples of this from the Bible:

Luke 6:35 says, "Love your enemies, & do good, & lend, expecting nothing in return; & your reward will be great." It is clear when Jesus says "expect nothing in return" that we should not be motivated by worldly aggrandizement, but we are given strength to suffer loss by the promise of a future reward.

Again, in Luke 14:12-14: "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, & you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor . . . & you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just." That is, don't do good deeds for worldly advantage; rather, do them for spiritual, heavenly benefits.

Should Duty Be Our Main Motivation?
But some will say, "No, no. These texts only describe what reward will result if you act disinterestedly. They do not teach us to actually seek the reward."

Two answers to this objection:

1) It would be foolish to say, "If you take this pill, I'll give you a nickel," if you expect the desire for the nickel to ruin the pill. But Jesus was not foolish. He would not offer blessing to those who obey him & then hold it against us if these blessings motivated our obedience.

2) Even more importantly, there are texts that not only commend that we do good in the hope of future blessing, but command it.

Luke 12:33 says, "Sell your possessions, & give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail." The connection here between alms & having eternal treasure in heaven is not a chance result—it is the explicit purpose: "Make it your aim to have treasure in heaven, & the way to do this is to sell your possessions and give alms."

And again, Luke 16:9 says, "Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into eternal habitations." Luke does not say that the result of using possessions properly is to receive eternal habitations. He says, "Make it your aim to secure an eternal habitation by the way you use your possessions."

Therefore, a resounding NO to the belief that morality should be inspired more by duty than delight.

Don't Be Too Easily Satisfied
Hebrews 11:6 teaches, "Without faith it is impossible to please [God]. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." You cannot please God if you do not come to him looking for reward. Therefore, faith that pleases God is the hedonistic pursuit of God.

As Christian Hedonists we know that everyone longs for happiness. And we will never tell them to deny or repress that desire. It is never a problem to want to be satisfied. The problem is being satisfied too easily.

They can be happier in giving than receiving (Acts 20:35)
They should count everything as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus their Lord (Phil 3:8)
The aim of all of Jesus' commandments is that their joy be full (John 15:11)
If they delight themselves in the Lord he will give them the desire of their heart (Ps 37:4)
There is great gain in godliness with contentment (1 Tim 6:6)
The joy of the Lord is their strength (Neh 8:10)

We will not try to motivate anyone with appeals to mere duty. We will tell them that in God's presence is full & lasting joy (Ps 16:11)
Our only duty is to come to Him seeking this pleasure.
Debate Round No. 2
Maya9

Pro

"Definition of an atheist: The belief that there is no God of any kind.
If there is no God of any kind...then there are no moral values of any kind. (Explained Below)"

Your entire argument regarding atheists rests on this faulty premise. You have assumed wrongly that all moral values must come from God, or a belief in God. I have meant plenty of atheists that not only possess moral values, but believe them to be objective values. There are also several philosophers (Immanuel Kant is a good example) who devoted quite a bit of time to the discussion of the validity of their moral systems without bringing God into the picture.

"2.Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't all atheist going to live feeling worthless if they believe there is no purpose in life and everything is pointless.
Hero: A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose. (The American Heritage Dictionary)
The definition of a hero contradicts an atheist's core idea that there is no God, therefore life has no purpose."

You're wrong, very wrong. Again, you make a another faulty assumption: that all value must come from God. No supreme being is needed to create value for anything, living or otherwise. Value is there because conscious minds put it there. Also, an atheist must not necessarily believe that everything is pointless. As I stated, value can have other sources aside from God. If you ask a devout Buddhist, most of whom can be considered atheist, it is very unlikely that he or she will tell you that life is worthless or pointless.

Your entire argument regarding Christian Hedonism only backs my point. They are seeking their own pleasure, period.
Casiopia

Con

Maya, Maya, Maya

Must we go round and round.
1."You have assumed wrongly that all moral values must come from God, or a belief in God. I have meant plenty of atheists that not only possess moral values, but believe them to be objective values.
2.There are also several philosophers (Immanuel Kant is a good example) who devoted quite a bit of time to the discussion of the validity of their moral systems without bringing God into the picture."

1.You stating you've met plenty of atheists w/ objective moral values holds no weight in this argument because you can't prove it.
2.Actually Maya you're completely wrong in regards to Immanuel Kant. "In a famous pronouncement the German Philosopher Kant named the existence of the starry heavens and that of the the moral law within us as a powerful witness to the greatness of God."(The Question of God, Dr. Armand Nicholi)
According to Kant, theoretical reason cannot answer questions such as "Does God exist?" or "What is the thing-in-itself like?" Practical reason, however, says, "All right, the moral law is the most important thing in the world, and life is meaningless without it. Now what is necessary if the moral law is to hold?" And here practical reason (rather than theoretical reason) must answer: "God and immortality are necessary. Hence, I must believe in God and immortality." These references to Kant completely cancel your statement "There are also several philosophers (Immanuel Kant is a good example) who devoted quite a bit of time to the discussion of the validity of their moral systems without bringing God into the picture."

Maya said...
1."Again, you make a another faulty assumption: that all value must come from God. No supreme being is needed to create value for anything, living or otherwise. Value is there because conscious minds put it there. Also, an atheist must not necessarily believe that everything is pointless. As I stated, value can have other sources aside from God. If you ask a devout Buddhist, most of whom can be considered atheist, it is very unlikely that he or she will tell you that life is worthless or pointless."

1.I have given several arguments explaining why God is needed for an absolute moral value. You on the other hand just state "value is there bc the conscious mind creates it" Maya, you give absolutely no proof for this statement. Explain to me and the voters "how" and "why" the conscious mind puts value into a human being. You have not explained this and cannot explain this, so it is not a valid argument. On the other hand I have explained several times and will again that the only explanation for moral value is God. Here we go...
What does it mean to say, for example, the moral value justice just exists? Maya says that the mind creates moral value. I understand what it means for a person to be just; but I draw a complete blank when it is said that, in the absence of any persons, Justice itself exists. Moral values seem to exist as properties of a persons, not as abstractions-or at any rate, I don't know what it is for a moral value to exist as an abstraction.
Suppose the values like mercy, justice, love, forbearance and the like just exist. How does that result in any moral obligation for me? Why would I have a moral duty, say, to be merciful? Who or what lays such an obligation on me?
As the ethicist Richard Taylor points out, "A duty is something that is owed..But something can be owed only to some person. There can be no such thing as duty in isolation"(Ethics,Faith,&Reason).
God makes sense of moral obligation b/c His commands constitute for us moral duties. According to Taylor, w/out God we literally have no moral obligations; there is no right or wrong. The atheistic moral realist rightly finds this abhorrent, but as Taylor clearly sees, on an atheistic view there simply is no ground for duty, even if moral values somehow exist.

10 out of 10 people die. I believe atheists can't have a true meaning or purpose in their life because to fully live, one must resolve the problem of death. An example of this is Sigmund Freud became obsessed with death, he was extraordinarily fearful and superstitious about death. Freud dreamed about death continually and even closed his essay on war and death with the curious suggestion: "If you want to endure life, prepare yourself for death". Obviously Freud was never truly able to prepare himself for death and so he spent excessive energy obsessing over it and had little joy. For Freud, birthdays were not a time of joy and celebration, but of despair. "if I had known how little joy I would have on my 16th bday, my first would probably not have given me pleasure either. It would be in the best of times only a melancholic celebration" (The Question of God, Nicholi)

Maya said "If you ask a devout Buddhist, most of whom can be considered atheist, it is very unlikely that he or she will tell you that life is worthless or pointless."

Maya, I asked a Buddhist and this is his reply...
http://cacrash.blogspot.com...
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
The Meaning of Life - A Buddhist's Thoughts
I think life is meaningless, not meaningless in the terms one usually thinks of it as, not that that it's not worth living, just that it has no meaning. I think it's meant to be crazy, chaotic, happy, sad, disastrous, hilarious, sour, sweet and just plain insanity. I think it's every one of those things and more but I don't think it has a meaning. I think everyone goes out of their way and spends their time looking for its meaning when there's none there to find, but I think that if everyone knew it all had no meaning everyone would just go crazy.

Wow! Maya...ask and you will receive, straight from the Buddhists mouth, to the blog, to debate.org.

Maya said "Your entire argument regarding Christian Hedonism only backs my point. They are seeking their own pleasure, period."
Maya, Maya, Maya (I just like the way that sounds)
Lastly the Christian Hedonism philosophy you obviously don't understand and I wasn't sure if you would b/c the title throws people, but if you study scripture you will realize that "God is most pleased in us, when we are most pleased in Him." This being the case it is ok to seek pleasure as a Christian b/c when we are earnestly seeking the ultimate true pleasure of God in Heaven and Jesus Christ it will bring God glory so we are actually not looking to fulfill ourselves first and foremost we are looking to glorify God and our pleasure of dong so Is just part of the process. See how Good God is. I hope people can understand this philosophy b/c it's easy to misinterpret, which is what Maya has unfortunately done.
http://www.desiringgod.org...

All of these points make my case and I have given extensive credible evidence and proof to back up my arguments where Maya has not given any credible evidence or proof for her thoughts or her arguments.
Debate Round No. 3
29 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by TheSkeptic 8 years ago
TheSkeptic
oooh, how tasty. psychological egoism.
Posted by Casiopia 8 years ago
Casiopia
Maya,
You should find a time and a place, to meet a time and a place, to set up a time and a place, to debate with a time and a place about "no act being truly selfless".
Posted by A_time_and_a_place 8 years ago
A_time_and_a_place
Was a good debate topic though, don't hear many people discussing it.

If you want to try again with me I'm up for it, to be honest in this case I'm more interested in a discussion than winning a debate, think it's a fascinating and important subject.
Posted by Maya9 8 years ago
Maya9
I'll admit that I did a mediocre job on this debate. I got so wrapped up in rebutting my opponent's ridiculous arguments that I forgot to make my own.
Posted by A_time_and_a_place 8 years ago
A_time_and_a_place
Excellent debate question. Just briefly I'll address this if I may (but if someone wants to challenge me I'll be glad to elaborate if I can).

One thing you would have to take into account is that people have subtle (and not so subtle) differences in self awareness for example, or even just general sanity (although this is subjective).

So for example, assuming that self interest is harbored somewhere in peoples brains (I believe it is for the vast majority of people. I think it is part of a survival instinct built into a humans mind) and regulated by electrical impulses, it is entirely feasible (Indeed very probable) that some people will have "faulty wiring", resulting in them not sharing this personality trait.

I'll leave it at that for now in case no one even reads it. lol
Posted by Rezzealaux 8 years ago
Rezzealaux
And I was referring to the experience we've had on this site compared to yours.
Posted by Puck 8 years ago
Puck
"I'm older than both of you and therefore wiser than the two of you"

argumentum ad antiquitatem. Fallacy of appeal to age.
Posted by Casiopia 8 years ago
Casiopia
"I'm a big procrastinator...I'll have to tell you about that sometime"
Didn't mean to offend, so sensitive sometimes.
I respect you both as people, I respect your debating skills and I even respect some of your opinions and ideas. I don't respect you as my elders because I'm older than both of you and therefore wiser than the two of you.
Posted by Rezzealaux 8 years ago
Rezzealaux
Edit to the comment I made before the previous one:

I meant "psychology", not "biology".
Posted by Rezzealaux 8 years ago
Rezzealaux
Puck and I have been here quite a lot longer than you have.

Respect your elders.
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