The Instigator
Ralyx
Pro (for)
Tied
0 Points
The Contender
BoggyB
Con (against)
Tied
0 Points

Selflessness does not Exist

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/24/2015 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 841 times Debate No: 72236
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (3)
Votes (0)

 

Ralyx

Pro

The proponent (myself) should attempt to maintain that all examples of human behavior are inherently selfish.

The opponent should attempt to establish the existence of any case of human behavior that is devoid of selfishness.

Round 1: Acceptance only
Round 2: Opening arguments
Round 3: Responses/rebuttals/additional arguments
Round 4: Responses/rebuttals/additional arguments
Round 5: Closing statements
BoggyB

Con

Hello,

Let's define a few words:

"Selfless" - having little or no concern for oneself, especially with regard to fame, position, money, etc.; unselfish. [1].

"Selfish" - devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.[2].

I must present merely one example of an act that showed little to no concern for oneself, and showed great concern for another.

Citations:

[1]. http://dictionary.reference.com...
[2]. http://dictionary.reference.com...
Debate Round No. 1
Ralyx

Pro

To start off, I ask that you consider for a moment the nature of emotion and its relation to action. In all cases (barring, of course, completely unconscious reactions), emotions act as the governing factors behind all of our actions. Whether or not you believe in a god or free will or something else dictating our actions, emotions are the physical and mental mechanism through which choice is expressed and action decided.

I submit, to your reason and common sense, that every action we take is an optimize our own emotional state, either by increasing positive emotion or reducing negative emotion. To do this, we usually apply our logic, in order to better predict which actions will produce the best outcomes. Even mundane, everyday tasks are undertaken because they will indirectly but inevitably contribute to our emotional state. In other words, this is our ultimate goal, inescapable by our very nature. With respect to this all-encompassing goal, every single action we take is therefore inherently selfish.

Now, this may seem natural enough in most everyday cases. However, It may also seem very easy to name quite a few situations in which an actor does not directly benefit from the actions he or she takes. Indeed, some people have been known to take actions to their own detriment, sometimes even leading to their own death. A rather clich" but valid example would be that of a parent protecting his or her child. One might claim then that these cases must surely represent an entirely selfless act, for how could one benefit selfishly if they are dead? I, however, maintain that any such consideration and any such motivation for sacrificing oneself is still fundamentally selfish.

In such cases, it is not as though the person's fundamental nature and goal of maximizing their own emotion is suddenly and temporarily suspended; if that were the case, one would cease to take action altogether. Instead, these cases are better characterized by a shift in one's judgment, the logical process one applies to determine which action is likely to optimize one's future emotional state. Often, one emotion becomes much more immediately significant and powerful than the rest. We are all familiar with moments where our judgment has been "clouded", drowned out by a single emotion. In the case of the parent, it is often inconceivable to them that they could be happy in the event that their child died. In this sense, it could be determined that they are willing to take a significantly dangerous gamble or outright hopeless scenario in order to avoid a lifetime of negative emotion, as well as in search of a momentary positive emotion from knowing their child is now safer due to their action.
BoggyB

Con

Intro:

Pro made some considerable points, but according to the format, I will only be providing arguments and will try not to touch on any of Pros as of now.

Constructive Arguments:

1.)

As we learned before, selfless is defined as: "having little or no concern for oneself, especially with regard to fame, position, money, etc.; unselfish." [1].

And selfish as: "devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others." [2].

To be selfless is to show little concern, or no concern to your own interests. These interests can be anything positive, but the most prolific interests can be, but not limited to, money, time, position, and safety. Being selfish would be to show more concern for yourself than anyone else, with regard to those same interests. Is there no possibility to be selfless? Is everything we do selfish? Does selflessness ever exist at all?

The first example of a selfless act will be from 2007. Article [3]. Cameron Hollopeter, 20, was waiting for a subway train when he collapsed and began to convulse. He was able to erect himself, but unfortunately collapsed again, this time stumbling off the platform and landing on the train tracks. Wesley Autrey, a 50-year-old construction worker and Navy veteran, was trying to help Hollopeter up when he fell onto the tracks. The headlights of the approaching train appeared around the corner as Hollopeter lay on the tracks. Autrey, who had been taking his two young daughters on the subway, was faced with a touch situation. He made a split second decision and jumped down onto the tracks with Hollopeter, still having convulsions. Autrey pushed Hollopeter in between the two rails, and then lay on top of him, pressing both their bodies down in between the two rails. Fortunately, Autrey was able to get both their bodies within one foot of the ground, and they were able to clear the bottom of the subway and survive. Let's examine what really happened. Autrey's interests in this situation were his and his daughters safety, comfort and convenience. This would ideally be an uneventful, and quick trip to their destination, with no danger, inconvenience, or frightening occurrences. Autrey was faced with this poor man lying on the tracks. If Autrey had kept his and his daughters interests in consideration, he could have distanced themselves from the situation, or turned away to not be involved. This would be selfish, and considering his own interest more than anyone else's. What he did though was become involved (not considering how own interest) and attempt to help this man. This involved throwing himself in front a train, in front of his own daughters, risking his life, for the well being of someone other than him. He didn't consider how safety, well being, or comfort in his decision, and put Hollopeter's interests and needs first above anything else. This is a selfless act, showing that acts can be selfless, in leaving little or no consideration for yourself, and putting other people first.

2.)

That example was a real situation, but I can present an argument from a hypothetical point of view as well. Is it possible for one to show no consideration for yourself and put everyone else's interests before your own? Yes! There are endless opportunities and situations that are hypothetically possible. One could give a donation of money to a person or organization. It is possible that this individual may not want to give money, and may not be enthusiastic or willing their donation. It is possible that the individual donates because they know its the right thing to do. It is entirely possible that they don't find any satisfaction from this whatsoever. This is a selfless act, they don't gain anything nor feel fulfilled in any way, but they were still selfless in their sacrifice, despite a possible unwilling spirit. There are countless hypothetical situations in where people act selflessly, as well as the countless examples we find in the news and observe in day to day life.

Citations:

[1]. http://dictionary.reference.com...
[2]. http://dictionary.reference.com...
[3]. http://www.nytimes.com...
Debate Round No. 2
Ralyx

Pro

My opponent has offered several good points and examples, all of which add nuance to the discussion and require a somewhat deeper analysis than my earlier points. They lead excellently into my next points by introducing another essential factor of decision making, specifically the concept of ethics and morals, which I will now address.

As always, it is helpful to define and clarify these terms, which I tend to use interchangeably. The concepts of morality and ethics only have meaning with respect to a specific goal. For most of humanity, this goal is, unsurprisingly, the benefit and prosperity of humanity. Moral and ethical guidelines, therefore, are general rules of thumb designed to optimize benefit for as many people as possible (sometimes specifically within that society, but they often benefit the rest of humanity as well). If instead one's goal was the protection of all species equally, it might be considered moral to kill or suppress humanity. They are, however, only guidelines, and may fail in many situations in the face of nuance or when they conflict with each other.

The benefit of following such guidelines (and thereby doing the "right" thing) is twofold. As stated previously, these guidelines are constructed to benefit society as a whole, which obviously benefits each individual in turn. There are, however, plenty of cases where performing an action to help the larger society will likely detriment an individual, such as the incident with Wesley Autrey. This, however, is where the other factor comes into play.

Thanks in part to our social upbringing, the mere act of performing a socially acceptable action, especially to one's personal detriment, is viewed as virtuous and worthy of praise and respect, and thus brings about positive emotions. Conversely, failing to perform a moral action often results in strong feelings of guilt and shame. In these cases, virtuousness itself is the benefit that outweighs the other detriments to the self. The situation is compounded further if punishment and social retribution is on the table - which is why laws are effective.

Now, to be clear, I am not saying that the emotional weight of Autrey saving or abandoning the man did objectively outweigh the possibility of death and subsequent loss of any future net positive emotion. In fact, it was almost certainly a poor objective choice in terms of his own benefit. At the time, however, his emotional state was enough to skew his judgment and make it seem worth the risk. As I said previously, a single strong emotion is often enough to block out other emotions, as well as one's reasoning capabilities. Thus, Autrey was still acting selfishly with regard to his emotion, just not intelligently.

This and the example of the reluctant charity donation both bring up another interesting point - namely, reluctance. There are plenty of cases where one has conflicting emotions regarding an action. Either the probability of each potential outcome is unclear, or it is difficult to quantify the total benefit of each option. However, it is psychologically impossible for one to actually perform any action contrary to one's own emotions. Take an armed robbery, for example. One certainly does not want to lose one's possessions, but one fears death more, and so chooses to "unwillingly" comply with the robber. The robber can still be arrested and prosecuted, but the victim did not act against his or her own will in the sense of contradicting his or her own emotions. In every case, it is a net product of one's own emotions that determines one's motion (action).

With regard to charity specifically, it is usually a question of whether the emotional benefit from doing a socially helpful, moral action will outweigh the detriment incurred by financial loss, which could be invested in one's emotional benefit via other niceties or necessities. This is often largely dependent on one's own financial situation, and varies from person to person according to their judgment. Ultimately, however, it is still an attempt to optimize one's own emotional state, and thus selfish.

There is also one other major point related to morality and ethics that is needs to be addressed: religion. Regardless of whether they are correct, a vast majority of people on this planet have been convinced or taught that there exists some sort of objective, cosmic standard of morality that is always right and perfect and that we should all abide by regardless of the circumstances. This is often handed down by a deity and also accompanied by a promise/threat of an afterlife. I obviously cannot tell the extent to which this actually plays an explicit role in people's decisions, but it is implicitly a foundation for and factor in most of their moral actions.
BoggyB

Con

Intro:

For my rebuttals I will just take out snippets from Pro's most recent entry as there is a lack of structure to address point by point.

Rebuttals:

"The concepts of morality and ethics only have meaning with respect to a specific goal. For most of humanity, this goal is, unsurprisingly, the benefit and prosperity of humanity."

This is a fair statement, although morality is defined as "principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior." [1]. Just so we can be clear to a definitive, objective definition.

"Thanks in part to our social upbringing, the mere act of performing a socially acceptable action, especially to one's personal detriment, is viewed as virtuous and worthy of praise and respect, and thus brings about positive emotions. "

This certainly can happen, and positive emotions can definitely be a product of moral actions, or moral behavior.

"Conversely, failing to perform a moral action often results in strong feelings of guilt and shame. In these cases, virtuousness itself is the benefit that outweighs the other detriments to the self. The situation is compounded further if punishment and social retribution is on the table - which is why laws are effective."

Up to this point, Pro was fairly on point, but here is where I begin to disagree to a certain extent. It is a possibility to undergo guilt or shame, or social ridicule by failing to abide by moral actions, although, quite often selfless acts can be going the extra mile, if you will. Punishment and laws are not quite relevant to selfless acts, as laws are moral baselines, and selflessness is usually extended and going beyond the baseline, and acting beyond what is required, and expected. That is why guilt and shame aren't common occurrences due to failure of selflessness. Since guilt isn't usually a repercussion from lack of being selfless, then when we are selfless, we aren't elimating negative emotions.

"In fact, it was almost certainly a poor objective choice in terms of his own benefit. At the time, however, his emotional state was enough to skew his judgment and make it seem worth the risk. As I said previously, a single strong emotion is often enough to block out other emotions, as well as one's reasoning capabilities. Thus, Autrey was still acting selfishly with regard to his emotion, just not intelligently."

Since Pro basically concedes that it was a poor objective choice by Autrey concerning himself, this meets the requirements of what being selfless is. He was reducing the possibility of future positive emotion, increasing chance of negative emotion, and reducing the chance of negative emotion for Hollopeter and increasing the chance of positive emotion for Hollopeter. This was selfless in all aspects. As for the last sentence, I don't quite understand what Pro means by this.

"However, it is psychologically impossible for one to actually perform any action contrary to one's own emotions."

This is a very interesting thing. We are in fact unable to act considerably contrary to our emotion, but this could be to a certain degree. If we ultimately decide that a donation outweighs our loss, then we have acted selflessly. We may be reluctant to give, but ultimately to donate would be to decide it is the right thing to do. What if one regrets the donation afterwards or doesn't receive conscious emotional benefit from the donation? This would essentially be selfless, as there wouldn't be any emotional gain. Could one be void of emotional benefit? I believe they can be under certain circumstances, such as acting selflessly because they know it's the right thing to do, not because they will feel "good" about their own actions.

"Regardless of whether they are correct, a vast majority of people on this planet have been convinced or taught that there exists some sort of objective, cosmic standard of morality that is always right and perfect and that we should all abide by regardless of the circumstances. This is often handed down by a deity and also accompanied by a promise/threat of an afterlife."

Most morals presented by a religion shouldn't have different circumstances than morals that aren't accompanied by the possibility of a eternal or punishment of any kind. Because morals, are what are good and right, and shouldn't be effected by the threat or existence of a punishment. Because if they are, then they aren't truly morals. Obviously human error exists, and humans have the ability to be effected, but that doesn't eliminate objective morals and possibility of acting void of consideration of punishment.
Debate Round No. 3
Ralyx

Pro

Clarifications/rebuttals:

"This is a fair statement, although morality is defined as "principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior." [1]. Just so we can be clear to a definitive, objective definition."

This is a perfectly valid definition, though I feel the need to emphasize how this demonstrates that morality itself is not objective, because it inherently relies upon subjective terms like "right and wrong" or good and bad".

"Punishment and laws are not quite relevant to selfless acts, as laws are moral baselines, and selflessness is usually extended and going beyond the baseline, and acting beyond what is required, and expected."

Even if no-one would have faulted Autrey for not helping the man, he would have faulted himself. Such is the way morality works on an individual. It's possible he might have even regretted it for the rest of his life.

"Since Pro basically concedes that it was a poor objective choice by Autrey concerning himself, this meets the requirements of what being selfless is. He was reducing the possibility of future positive emotion, increasing chance of negative emotion, and reducing the chance of negative emotion for Hollopeter and increasing the chance of positive emotion for Hollopeter. This was selfless in all aspects. As for the last sentence, I don't quite understand what Pro means by this."

Not really, though I see the confusion, since I wasn't nearly clear enough. Sorry about that. Even though it was a poor objective choice when analyzed from the outside as we are doing now, it was still the best subjective choice by Autrey in regard to his emotions and logic at the time. Few are the people who objectively optimize their emotions well, but that doesn't mean we aren't all trying to do so.

Whatever factors led into it, his overwhelming compulsion to save the man was still the only reason he took action - or could take action - to save the man. I was trying to avoid phrasing it like that, since it just becomes a rather silly tautology at that point. However, that is precisely the point I am trying to convey. The only reason we take action is because we are compelled by that which governs and motivates our actions (emotions). Some of these emotions are triggered in order to help people other than ourselves, but this does not change the fact that we act in order to optimize our emotion to the best of our ability. Our emotions are the lens through which we view the world. Take it away, and we become but shells, motivated to do nothing at all. This can be seen in people with severe depression, who feel hopeless to change their own emotions regardless of any action they may take.

"What if one regrets the donation afterwards or doesn't receive conscious emotional benefit from the donation?"

This again seems to be your biggest issue, and was one of the major points I wanted to see if I could convey throughout this debate. The actual eventual outcome of the action is entirely irrelevant to the selfishness of the decision. What matters is instead the predicted outcome, which again can be skewed by fluctuations in emotion and logical capability. Nobody has 20-20 foresight, which is why moral guidelines are useful as general rules used to simplify the evaluation.

"I believe they can be under certain circumstances, such as acting selflessly because they know it's the right thing to do, not because they will feel "good" about their own actions."

My opponent seems to be missing the connection. Something is defined as the right thing to do because it benefits society as a whole. People are willing to help further society as a whole because they know that doing so will indirectly help them as well, as well as the aforementioned emotional response to contributing. These are things most of us are taught pretty early in childhood. This is actually demonstrated pretty well in the case of charity, where each person makes their own determination of exactly how much to give, and at what point the negatives outweigh the benefits. Plenty of people give money to charity, but never does one give away their entire life savings unless they have determined that they no longer need it to be happy.

"Because morals, are what are good and right, and shouldn't be effected by the threat or existence of a punishment. Because if they are, then they aren't truly morals. Obviously human error exists, and humans have the ability to be effected, but that doesn't eliminate objective morals and possibility of acting void of consideration of punishment."

Firstly, my opponent neglected to mention the other half of this equation, the promise of an eternal reward. Secondly, he still does not seem to realize that "good" and "right" are themselves subjective depending on a specific goal, thereby making any determination of morality necessarily subjective as well.

The point I was trying to make about religion was that people often take into consideration this concept of an eternal afterlife when they attempt to optimize their own emotional state. Infinity is often very persuasive, and can even lead people to take their own life. In the worst cases, it has given rise to religious fanaticism, and ruined countless lives in this reality. For such people, their entire focus is still on selfishly optimizing their emotions, but the promise or threat of infinity prompts them to foolishly disregard their interests in the one reality we all know to exist.

Outro:

The definition of selflessness that you presented at the beginning, "having little or no concern for oneself", is fundamentally impossible due to the nature and purpose of emotion. Humans are physically motivated by their emotions, and seek to maximize their experience.

This is not to say that everyone pursues this goal logically or well. Often, it is even the case that people have zero conscious concern for their own well-being, but to say that they are not still subconsciously and indirectly pursuing their own happiness is naive. For example, parents will work themselves to death for their children. "As long as they are happy, I am happy." For them, they perceive any hardship to be worth the happiness they get from their children. This might be true, or it might not be, but the point is that they think it is.

We all grieve over the death of friends and family. We do so because we miss them. Because our own lives are not the same without them and the mundane yet unique happiness they used to bring. That, like everything else, is selfish. To deny that this is a part of our nature seems disrespectful to everyone involved. Holding ourselves to a physically impossible ideal that directly contradicts our own nature cannot be good in the long run. I believe that admitting that we help others selfishly does not make the acts we do for others any less noteworthy, but even more so, because through them we acknowledge the importance of everyone in our lives.
BoggyB

Con

Continued Rebuttals:

"This is a perfectly valid definition, though I feel the need to emphasize how this demonstrates that morality itself is not objective, because it inherently relies upon subjective terms like "right and wrong" or good and bad"."

I wasn't suggesting that morality itself was objective, but that we had an objective definition to work with.

"Even if no-one would have faulted Autrey for not helping the man, he would have faulted himself. Such is the way morality works on an individual. It's possible he might have even regretted it for the rest of his life."

Since there are no repercussions of failing to be selfless, Pro's previous comments on punishment don't apply. He wouldn't face backlash nor punishment because being selfless is usually going beyond what is required of oneself. He may or may not feel regret if he had not acted the way he did, but we can weigh the options. The only negativity he may have felt from not acting would be of regret, and the negativity of injury, death, and lack of positivity. Pro suggests that because he chose to eliminate the negativity of regret by acting, that it was in fact selfish. Really, Autry chose the option with more possibility of negativity, thus it couldn't be selfish.

"Not really, though I see the confusion, since I wasn't nearly clear enough. Sorry about that. Even though it was a poor objective choice when analyzed from the outside as we are doing now, it was still the best subjective choice by Autrey in regard to his emotions and logic at the time. Few are the people who objectively optimize their emotions well, but that doesn't mean we aren't all trying to do so."

It was an objectively poor choice as we both agree, which provides the disregarding of ones interest. The subjective was a good choice to fulfill his personal emotions as you say. What decides whether it as selfless is what we're his emotions and motivations for jumping front of the train? Was it to save the man? Yes. Could it have been because he wanted to fulfill his desire for self esteem and praise? Possibly, but not extremely likely I believe. The true core motive was to save the man.

"Something is defined as the right thing to do because it benefits society as a whole. People are willing to help further society as a whole because they know that doing so will indirectly help them as well, as well as the aforementioned emotional response to contributing."

Defining something as right because it benefits society as a whole is partially the definition of right. Not all instances benefit society as a whole. Something right is: "in accordance with what is good, proper, or just:
right conduct." [1]. So many times something right will benefit society, but it is not mutual to all instances of something being right. For a person to commit an act that is right in hopes of themselves being benefited is not a likely situation. Since not all instances benefit society "as a whole," not all right acts have the opportunity to benefit a person. Even if an act benefits society as a whole, the net benefit for the person being selfless is astronomically minuscule in terms of themselves gaining something in return. This could be from carrying someone's groceries for them, or to the extreme of placing yourself in front of a train such as Mr. Autrey.

"Firstly, my opponent neglected to mention the other half of this equation, the promise of an eternal reward. Secondly, he still does not seem to realize that "good" and "right" are themselves subjective depending on a specific goal, thereby making any determination of morality necessarily subjective as well.

The point I was trying to make about religion was that people often take into consideration this concept of an eternal afterlife when they attempt to optimize their own emotional state. Infinity is often very persuasive, and can even lead people to take their own life. In the worst cases, it has given rise to religious fanaticism, and ruined countless lives in this reality. For such people, their entire focus is still on selfishly optimizing their emotions, but the promise or threat of infinity prompts them to foolishly disregard their interests in the one reality we all know to exist."

In the first paragraph Pro offers that morals and right is subjective. Then in the second paragraph he explains the concept of people being driven by eternal reward and religion to do selfless acts which would inherently make these selfless acts selfish. Pro said it himself though, morals are subjective person to person, and eternal life is not believed by all. Even different religions have different subjective views of each's eternal life. Christianity for example teaches good works do not save you. It is by faith they are saved. So yes, certain groups could act selfishly in hopes for reward, but it is subjective across the board and not applying to all examples.

"The definition of selflessness that you presented at the beginning, "having little or no concern for oneself", is fundamentally impossible due to the nature and purpose of emotion. Humans are physically motivated by their emotions, and seek to maximize their experience."

Yes, humans are aiming for maximized experience for oneself, but it is fundamentally possible. If you put those emotions aside and act against your "maximization," and act for the benefit of another's, that is fundamentally possible and real.

"This is not to say that everyone pursues this goal logically or well. Often, it is even the case that people have zero conscious concern for their own well-being, but to say that they are not still subconsciously and indirectly pursuing their own happiness is naive."

So despite one's lack of conscious selfishness, Pro's is offering that it is still selfish, whether they realize this or not. So if the person is acting selfless in their own consciousness and will, then it would be a selfless act they are commiting, no? There is a difference between selflessness and a selfless act. But despite them being the same they can't exists without the other. If a consciously selfless act exists, then selflessness must exist as well.

Citations:

[1]. http://dictionary.reference.com...
Debate Round No. 4
Ralyx

Pro

Ralyx forfeited this round.
BoggyB

Con

Pro has forfeited. Since there is nothing new to discuss or address, I will not provide anything new, or extend anything.

Conclusion:

I provided defentitions which Pro accepted, and provided an example of a person who fits the criterion of selfless.

Thank you, vote Con.
Debate Round No. 5
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by Kyuuseishu 2 years ago
Kyuuseishu
Well I mean I always put other's interests before my own, not always necessarily for the better of myself. But, I guess me saying that doesn't mean much - good luck with the debate guys.
Posted by Mathgeekjoe 2 years ago
Mathgeekjoe
never mind, boggyB accepted
Posted by Mathgeekjoe 2 years ago
Mathgeekjoe
I wonder if I should take up this debate. I could possibly prove my point with hypotheticals.
No votes have been placed for this debate.