Re: virus: (un)selfishness

Martz (
Tue, 22 Apr 1997 01:04:54 +0100

On Mon, 21 Apr 1997, Robin Faichney <> wrote:
>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?

Not now. Maybe with some breakthroughs in neuroscience.

>Now, for *practical* purposes, I think it makes sense
>to say that some acts are relatively selfish, and
>some relatively unselfish.

No problem. As long as those "Relatively"s are at least implicit.

>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.

It's not a theory of any form because it's untestable. It makes no
predicitons that can distinguish its accuracy from its fallacy. It is
merely an opinion based on the best available evidence.

>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.

Not so big a difference really. If anything the latter is at least being
honest with yourself (another of my fondly held opinions is that being
dishonest with yourself is ultimately detrimental).

>The latter
>is selfish only on a particular view of human nature,
>and I think that view is unhelpful because it conceals
>such differences.

Only if you let it. All we're doing is putting all these acts on the
same scale, we can still distinguish gradients. Perhaps we can see more
by freeing ourselves from the monochromed "This side altruism, that side
selfishness" point of view and open our eyes to the whole spectrum.

>Ultimately, for me, nothing is *either* selfish *or*
>unselfish, because the self is a fiction.

That's a whole 'nother debate.

>But let's
>face the fact that for practical purposes the selfish/
>unselfish distinction is useful,

Agreed. But don't forget those implicit "relatively"s.

>and to say that
>selfishness is all there is, is of no benefit to anyone.

Disagreed. It too has its contextual benefits.


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