virus: (un)selfishness

Robin Faichney (
Mon, 21 Apr 1997 15:51:00 +0100

Isn't there anyone else on the list who, like me, questions
the meaningfulness of "ultimate motivation"? Where
people say things like "every human action is ultimately
selfish" do they think that is or ever will be testable?

Now, for *practical* purposes, I think it makes sense
to say that some acts are relatively selfish, and
some relatively unselfish. For instance, there's a
difference between giving someone a present that
you know they'll really like, and stealing something
just because *you* want it. Sure, I know, you can
say that in the first case you're really doing it
because you think that later you'll get something
back from them, or even because you seek the
selfish pleasure of seeing their face light up.
But that level of analysis is neither practical in
terms of helping us with our relationships, not
solid theory.

Now, sometimes we kid others and ourselves
about our motives, and I'm not saying that we
should ignore such concealment. But there's a big
difference between this and the "selfishness" of
wanting to see someone's face light up. The latter
is selfish only on a particular view of human nature,
and I think that view is unhelpful because it conceals
such differences.

Ultimately, for me, nothing is *either* selfish *or*
unselfish, because the self is a fiction. But let's
face the fact that for practical purposes the selfish/
unselfish distinction is useful, and to say that
selfishness is all there is, is of no benefit to anyone.

Robin Faichney