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Archpaladin Zousha
2010-02-12, 09:25 PM
I'm in the middle of an argument with a friend and I'm quickly running out of ammunition.

We're debating the philosophy of psychological egoism, which is basically "People only do things for others because of the self-satisfaction they get from it." I think this way of thinking is seriously flawed, since I'm an optimist and I like to believe that there are things like altruism and love are real.

I showed him a study where a number of people who rescued Jews during the Holocaust were interviewed, and the study showed that these people risked their lives and families for people they didn't know, and they did it without any thought of being halied as heroes or self-satisfaction. They did it because it was the right thing to do.

My counterpart's response?


Fail argument is fail. I never said that the motivation was necessarily conscious - these Jew rescuers were acting selfishly, they just didn't know it. The self interest is in the morals at stake, not something material: they acted to make themselves feel better, unhappy with the genocide they saw. Just because it was dangerous, and they didn't get payment of any kind from anyone, they still got something out of the process - affirmation of self, a sense of justice, essentially a load of endorphins from their morally-charged brain telling them they'd done a good job.

I don't know how to respond to this. I don't want to concede to him because of other things he's said, namely that the concept of familial love is actually self-inflicted abuse, spouses making sacrifices for each other because it makes them feel better about themselves. I refuse to believe that my parents, who have been married for more than 20 years, and have never spoken of divorce and say "I love you," to each other every day are doing it solely to make themselves feel good.

And for the record, no, this debate has nothing to do with religious or political disagreements, and I'll have none of it here. I'm merely trying to find some way to vindicate my feelings that the human race has some good in it.

Any advice?

Croverus
2010-02-12, 09:34 PM
Ask him how his abusive parents are doing.

Seriously someone that can say that a person would risk their family, their very life, for a complete stranger so they can feel good is a loathesome biggot who kicks puppies for fun. His viewpoints are his own, and he can stick with his opinions all he wants but just because he's never done anything selflessly doesn't mean everyone is a selfish prick.

Not to mention he uses phrases reminiscent of a 15-year old who doesn't get everything he wants so he thinks everyone is selfish.

But who he is isn't important. He's presuming to know what a person's motivations are. Pulling the subconcious card especially is crap. People do not 'subconciously' decide to risk everything in their lives for something that will give them no reward. They did not KNOW that they would even be able to save those people, they couldn't know what was going to happen. So the risks they took are not selfish, but are perfect examples of selflessness.

Your opponent is a biggot and a pessimist and needs to shut the hell up. His lack in faith in the human emotion of self sacrifice is unfourtanate.

Tirian
2010-02-12, 09:48 PM
Your rival is engaged in the rhetorical fallacy of begging the question.

Him: Everyone is selfish.
You: What about people who are selfless?
Him: Because everyone is selfish, selfless people are subconsciously selfish. Therefore, everyone is selfish.

As long as he holds such a view, there is no reasoning with him. Just roll your eyes and move on, I think.

Personally, I think that the truth lies somewhere between your positions. I think that we make decisions for reasons, and one of those reasons is that we strongly desire for our lives to be placed in the broader context of a rational framework, whether that is political or social or religious or moral. Once we construct that framework, it may be advantageous to make decisions that preserve that framework even at the cost of our self-interest. So if we do good, it's because we need to security of knowing that we live in a part of the world where good exists, whether it is rewarded or not. I think that your rival is portraying that in an overly critical light, but there is also a danger of being too romantic about it as well.

Cyrano
2010-02-12, 09:53 PM
*snip.*

This is true. His argument is fairly wonky.


*snip*

This only barely avoids ad hominem attack and fairly redonkulous. Except, of course, for one good point.


He's presuming to know what a person's motivations are.

Unfortunately, this point works equally well for either side. Now, of course, if you can find someone who consistently does things for the benefit of others and feels horrible whilst doing it, then OP's philosophy is vindicated. I, on the other hand, have always heard that wealthy philanthropists describe their donations as the most selfish things they've ever done, including large anonymous donations. And who doesn't feel fuzzy doing something nice?

Fawkes
2010-02-12, 09:57 PM
Your friend sounds like a jerk.

Next time he asks you for a favor, tell him that you can't, because helping him would be selfish.

Archpaladin Zousha
2010-02-12, 10:21 PM
It kind of got started while I was talking with him an upcoming 4e game I'm running and he's playing in. We were discussing his character's relationship with an NPC, and he basically stated that the only way a relationship can last if there's physical intimacy. I conceded that most successful relationships do, but that it has to be balanced with emotional love. He replied that he didn't believe anyone really loves anymore. I countered with the example of my parents, who've been happily married for 22 years, while my uncles have all experienced at least one divorce in their lives. He replied that love is a system that works but is ultimately built on a lie, and when I asked him to clarify he defined psychological egoism and I offered the afformentioned Holocaust argument, which led me to post this thread in frustration.

Cyrano
2010-02-12, 10:22 PM
It kind of got started while I was talking with him an upcoming 4e game I'm running and he's playing in. We were discussing his character's relationship with an NPC, and he basically stated that the only way a relationship can last if there's physical intimacy. I conceded that most successful relationships do, but that it has to be balanced with emotional love. He replied that he didn't believe anyone really loves anymore. I countered with the example of my parents, who've been happily married for 22 years, while my uncles have all experienced at least one divorce in their lives. He replied that love is a system that works but is ultimately built on a lie, and when I asked him to clarify he defined psychological egoism and I offered the afformentioned Holocaust argument, which led me to post this thread in frustration.

Yeah, okay, the idea of every reaction being selfish doesn't preclude love. It allows one to define love by saying "When I make this person happy, I am made much happier than otherwise." And maybe adding "If this person is unhappy, so am I."

SurlySeraph
2010-02-12, 10:53 PM
I know a fair number of people who hold the "Everything is selfish, even selfless things" perspective. The only successful argument I've found is pointing out that it assumes everyone always acts in rational self-interest, and there is a significant amount of scientific evidence that people don't act in a rational manner most of the time.

Archpaladin Zousha
2010-02-12, 11:07 PM
It does when you use that to claim that the common definition of love is actually some sort of abuse, and you dare to suggest that my parents, whom I've always held up as two of the most loving people in the world, not just to each other, but to me, my siblings, and everyone they know, only do it for ultimately holllow reasons. That hurt really bad to someone like me, who ususally only sees the good in people. :smallfrown:

Zocelot
2010-02-12, 11:39 PM
I can't count the amount of times that I've gotten into this argument, but I believe that the argument almost always stems from a lack of understanding. I'll try to explain my viewpoint as well I can, but the internet will probably hamper me a bit, along with the fact that a forum makes conversation much more difficult.

People will act to make themselves happy, but this doesn't mean they are selfish. Rather, situations will manifest in everyone's lives where their happiness encompasses the happiness of other people.

People who sheltered Jews from the nazis were not being selfish. They were such good people that they were unable to be happy while the Jews were being mistreated and killed.

Similarly, in the case of people who have been happily married for decades, they are not only in the relationship because it makes them happy. These people are so in love with their partners that the partners' happiness makes up their own.

Both you and your friend are correct. People act in their own best interests, but that isn't selfishness. Selfishness is the exact opposite of the above examples; where people are only concerned about their own happiness and do not care about the happiness of others. People who act altruistically in your world view are still altruistic under the world view of your friend.

Partof1
2010-02-12, 11:46 PM
The fact that the powers that be have decided beings should be rewarded for conscious good deeds does not mean said deeds are done solely for the reward. Humans must have done good before this evolution in order to bring it about,

Why can a person not legitimately act for another's good, and still be happy from it?

His argument falls right to tatters when he starts dealing in subconsciousness. The most practiced psychiatrists, let alone him, are not qualified to comprehend the conscious mind, much less what one does not know they are thinking themselves.

This is meant not against your friend in particular, but rather in general:
I find it beyond arrogant for one to tell another their opinions and motivations for them, especially to decide unmovingly why everyone, ever does something.

Raiki
2010-02-13, 12:08 AM
We actually spent almost an entire week on this topic in a Morality and Ethics class I took a few years back.

After throwing it around the class, debating, and eventually devolving into arguing, everyone in the class ultimately agreed that it was an Ethical Dead End. Any true ethical system will be able to reliably predict a persons actions given a specific set of circumstances.

The one example I recall is this:
A train yard switch operator is at work. He sees his son playing on the tracks in front of an oncoming train. He has time to switch the tracks, thereby saving his sons life; but the train will then derail, likely killing everyone on board. What does he do?

Now, the humanist would say that he would save his son, because love is the most powerful human emotion, and over rules any thoughts of logic or rationality. Not that this is a bad thing, the man simply does what he must to save those he loves.

The emotional pluralist would say that the man would not switch the tracks, but try to save his son some other (less likely to succeed) way. He would reason that the man could not bear to sacrifice so many lives just to save one, and would try to do what he deems "right".

Now enters the Egoist. What will the egoist say? The egoist would say that it doesn't matter what he does, he is motivated by selfishness. If the man saves his son, he is selfishly preserving his own family at the expense of the families of others. If the man does NOT save his son, he is only preserving his own sense of self-righteousness at the expense of his son's life. Either way, the outcome is justified, but not predicted, by Egoism. Ethical Dead End.

Sorry for the wall of text, but Philosophy and Psychology kind of get me worked up. Hope this helps you convince your friend that all humans aren't worthless and selfish. Good luck.

~R~

~R~

chiasaur11
2010-02-13, 12:40 AM
I find this whole theory most irritating when it comes to martyrs.

Of course you'd rather have a fuzzy feeling than survive. Right.

Anybody who believes that I got nothing to say to.

Archpaladin Zousha
2010-02-13, 01:02 AM
This is meant not against your friend in particular, but rather in general:
I find it beyond arrogant for one to tell another their opinions and motivations for them, especially to decide unmovingly why everyone, ever does something.
Yeah, he had something to say about that too:

I can, and do. The subconscious governs us far more than you think. There is, for example, an 8 second delay between lower brain and higher brain activity: our instincts always kick in before our reasoning. Within 30 seconds of meeting someone, you appraise them and draw conclusions about their mating possibilities, with no conversation required. We're nothing but animals sucking on a gratification syringe, constantly looking for ways to justify our existence and distract ourselves from the lack of meaning to life full stop.

Fawkes
2010-02-13, 01:06 AM
In other words, your friend is unbelievably pretentious, emotionally stunted, and incapable of forming meaningful relationships.

Archpaladin Zousha
2010-02-13, 01:07 AM
In other words, your friend is unbelievably pretentious, emotionally stunted, and incapable of forming meaningful relationships.
Yeah, but I don't think he'd take an ad hominem argument like that seriously.

I have no idea how he's able to write plays with an outlook that bleak.

chiasaur11
2010-02-13, 01:07 AM
Yeah, he had something to say about that too:

Ah, that old canard.

Most self defeating play in the book. Our brains don't reason? Well, then any argument from it is entirely irrational, and thus, worthless. Done easy.

Fawkes
2010-02-13, 01:08 AM
Yeah, but I don't think he'd take an ad hominem argument like that seriously.

Fine with me. I don't take his begging the question argument seriously.

Recaiden
2010-02-13, 01:21 AM
Yeah, he had something to say about that too:

None of which means that the conscious mind can't have an actual say in things, or feel love and altruism.

Besides, selfish and self-interested aren't the same. Even if he were correct, there is more to the appearance of love or altruism than selfishness. Otherwise everyone would be altruistic.

About love, if you're making a sacrifice for your own happiness, you're not really abusing yourself. You're just making a choice as to what you like more.

Belobog
2010-02-13, 01:23 AM
I can, and do. The subconscious governs us far more than you think. There is, for example, an 8 second delay between lower brain and higher brain activity: our instincts always kick in before our reasoning. Within 30 seconds of meeting someone, you appraise them and draw conclusions about their mating possibilities, with no conversation required. We're nothing but animals sucking on a gratification syringe, constantly looking for ways to justify our existence and distract ourselves from the lack of meaning to life full stop.

Yeah, this guy strikes me as kind of egotistical. Might want to stop arguing with him, or at least stop taking him so seriously.

Partof1
2010-02-13, 01:24 AM
Yeah, he had something to say about that too:


THe fact that human instinct may take such things into consideration does not make it incapable of considering anything else. Humanity is a matter of being 3 dimensional. The very fact that this can be argued makes us much more than a series of procreative/self-gratifying impulses.

Perhaps it is cliched, but cliches are repeated through the ages for a reason:
I think, therefore I am (more than a meat puppet controlled by a subconscious lump of gray matter, that is.)

TSGames
2010-02-13, 01:40 AM
Fail argument is fail. I never said that the motivation was necessarily conscious - these Jew rescuers were acting selfishly, they just didn't know it. The self interest is in the morals at stake, not something material: they acted to make themselves feel better, unhappy with the genocide they saw. Just because it was dangerous, and they didn't get payment of any kind from anyone, they still got something out of the process - affirmation of self, a sense of justice, essentially a load of endorphins from their morally-charged brain telling them they'd done a good job.

Breaking down the argument....If they acted without thought then their motivation was obviously subconscious, this practically goes without saying. However, it seems more than an unreasonable leap to assume that their subconscious is nothing more than a pleasure seeking device.

I think it would be more accurate to say that they acted in order to preserve cognitive consistency. Basically, humans generally act in accordance with existing cognitions, and attempt to minimize the amount of dissonant cognitions. To put it into English: subconsciously, the Good Samaritans in your example view themselves as good people; to stand by and not help the Jews is not something a good person would do. Therefore, since they are good people, they acted to help the Jews.

It's not happiness that motivated, rather it was merely a desire to be consistent, a desire which is inherent in every human being. Case and point, if instead these people thought of themselves as con-men or lowlives, they may just as thoughtlessly tried to help the Jews so that they could then surrender them back to the Nazi's for a reward. While few people consciously hold such concepts of themselves, the subconscious maintains a constant image of what is 'me' and what is not 'me', and attempts with remarkable effort to maintain that image.

In conclusion, to assume that their subconscious acted merely as a happiness-seeking device, is an unsupported, illogical, and frankly insulting theory. Tell your friend to finish puberty, read up on cognitive dissonance theory, and then reconsider his argument.

LurkerInPlayground
2010-02-13, 01:43 AM
Your friend is oversimplifying a bit. And he's trying too hard to play the cynic.

Your friend's rebuttal doesn't work because a rational individual would prefer survival to an emotional high. As a trade-off, it's stupid. Why give up a greater reward for a much smaller one?

You can't liken altruism to a "quick-fix" kind of addiction. It's not that simple. The neurochemistry is way more complicated than that. We have this thing called "cognition."

Feeling good can emerge from our own recognition of a job well done. We've achieved something worthwhile and lasting. It's hardly as cheap as injecting my scrotum full of heroin. That's a transient reward and our recognition of this fact is enough to trigger later feelings of guilt, tamping down any later long-term "high."

Your friend is right insofar as saying that we feel good because of purely psychological reasons. But that doesn't mean that our psychology is limited to lizard-brain instincts. It's quite a bit more sophisticated than he's giving credit for.

You can spray a glass rod with pheromones and cockroaches will come over to try and mate. The reason it doesn't work that way for humans is that we have to come up with elaborate and convoluted algorithms that recognize whether or not something qualifies as a mate or not. Nevermind all the convoluted stuff that goes into deciding which ones are desirable.

Some evidence seems to suggest that all pheromones can act as a single "input" in the algorithm that determines desirability (specifically whether their immune system is genetically different enough to make hardier kids). This is expressed as whether somebody's natural musk smells "sexy" or not. Basically pheromones won't send humans into a mating frenzy.

You can stick a wire into a rat's head which will stimulate his pleasure center (or whatever). And if it's triggered by a switch, he'll press that switch as often and frequently as he can, even if it means collapsing in the process.

Humans don't find the shock therapy anywhere near as euphoric. But it has some definite psychiatric uses.

FoE
2010-02-13, 01:57 AM
After throwing it around the class, debating, and eventually devolving into arguing, everyone in the class ultimately agreed that it was an Ethical Dead End. Any true ethical system will be able to reliably predict a persons actions given a specific set of circumstances.

Probably the best post in this thread so far.

There's no real arguments you can present against this friend's philosophy, Zousha, because as Raiki said, it's an ethical dead end.

"We're all governed subconsciously by self-interest." And? And what else? It's a pointless argument.

About the only way you can take the wind out of your friend's sails is that he's arguing the same philosophy as Joey Tribbiani from Friends.

LurkerInPlayground
2010-02-13, 02:00 AM
There's no real arguments you can present against this friend's philosophy, Zousha, because as Raiki said, it's an ethical dead end; a hollow, pointless philosophy.
No. In a word, his friend is just plain wrong. He has no solid reasoning to base his conclusions on.

I explain this above.

Sure, philosophy can get subjective. But it's more of an exercise where you justify why your particular preferences are actually reasonable given the parameters of a problem (ethical or logical or whatever).

Basically:
Can you defend your position?

Candle Jack
2010-02-13, 02:05 AM
If I'm entirely motivated by self-interest, then what is the point of guilt?

thubby
2010-02-13, 02:05 AM
tirian pretty much has it

@OP you can ask him to prove it. he clearly knows we've studied the subconscious, if he honestly wants to say that our subconscious is inherently selfish someone has probably tried to demonstrate it in lab conditions.

EDIT: is his position even falsifiable? is there any condition under which he can be demonstrably wrong, even in theory?

ghost_warlock
2010-02-13, 02:15 AM
In conclusion, to assume that their subconscious acted merely as a happiness-seeking device, is an unsupported, illogical, and frankly insulting theory. Tell your friend to finish puberty, read up on cognitive dissonance theory, and then reconsider his argument.

Of course, if we're acting in the ways we do in order to avoid the discomfort of cognitive dissonance... :smallwink:

Zousha's friend is wrong and oversimplifying, yes. He's relying solely on people doing things in order to feel good and subsequently ignoring that people also do things to avoid feeling bad.

I find it interesting that people are so worked up about this that they resort to ad hominems.

Also, just because you find an idea distateful or uncomfortable for personal reasons, it does not folllow that it is actually wrong. Conversely, wanting something to be true does not make it so.

Fawkes
2010-02-13, 02:56 AM
I find it interesting that people are so worked up about this that they resort to ad hominems.

If it helps, I'm doing it ironically. :smalltongue:

skywalker
2010-02-13, 02:58 AM
Seriously someone that can say that a person would risk their family, their very life, for a complete stranger so they can feel good is a loathesome biggot who kicks puppies for fun.

I really think, at this point, you should seriously reconsider lecturing anyone on their phraseology.


Your opponent is a biggot and a pessimist and needs to shut the hell up. His lack in faith in the human emotion of self sacrifice is unfourtanate.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.


Unfortunately, this point works equally well for either side. Now, of course, if you can find someone who consistently does things for the benefit of others and feels horrible whilst doing it, then OP's philosophy is vindicated. I, on the other hand, have always heard that wealthy philanthropists describe their donations as the most selfish things they've ever done, including large anonymous donations. And who doesn't feel fuzzy doing something nice?

Yeah. Generally, when I do something good, I think "I'm doing something good! Yay me!" This is not selfish, but it is self-serving. Perhaps that's the best argument?

Either way, what seems to follow from every post in this thread is that altho people are not always "selfish" per se, (almost?) every action is predicated on how the actor will feel afterward. Is there any other way for it to be?

I wiki'd (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_egoism) this thing, and saw something about "psychological hedonism," where every voluntary action is ultimately based on experiencing pleasure, or not experiencing pain. That interests me far more, and I think it's far more likely to be provable. The vague "personal benefit" is much more difficult to understand. Humans do lots of things that gain them nothing beyond satisfaction, or, as was said, not letting something they see as wrong go unchecked. I've never heard of somebody doing something consciously without one of those two motivators.

OP, it's really not "self-abuse." Scientifically speaking, we can say that society was "naturally selected" because it was the most "fit" way to be. Compromise works similarly. When your father leaves the toilet seat down (I chose this as a rather mundane and wide-ranging yet basic and non-emotional act of love), he is not abusing himself. He is making your mother happy which, in turn, makes him happy. He is much happier with her than he would be "not with her." His reason for being with her is self-interested, it has to be, assuming he is sane. But society, compromise, harmony have all been borne out as more "fit" than the alternative. We are able to achieve much more when we are in stable, loving relationships, etc.

Sacrificing something for someone because it would make you happier for them to be happy than for them to not be happy is not self-abuse. Now, if you sacrificed something for someone whose happiness did not make you happier, that would be self abuse.

golentan
2010-02-13, 03:07 AM
Sacrificing something for someone because it would make you happier for them to be happy than for them to not be happy is not self-abuse. Now, if you sacrificed something for someone whose happiness did not make you happier, that would be self abuse.

So... My entire moral system is based off of making those around me happier (which I don't really care about) because I feel it is something that would make someone else happier (which I do care about, but mostly only for this specific individual), but which cannot because they (the person I care about) are dead.

So...

???

Pyrian
2010-02-13, 03:39 AM
"People only do things for others because of the self-satisfaction they get from it."This is both 100% correct in a very narrow sense and totally misleading and inappropriate in a broader sense. Another way of putting it is that the "only" portion of it is dramatically misguided - people take self-satisfaction for helping other people because it was evolutionarily advantageous, and not because they directly benefit. You cannot take the motive out of the equation and still have a meaningful model of behavior. His argument conflates concepts that sound similar but are actually dramatically different - a basic logical error.

Put another way, his argument assumes that because people take satisfaction in doing good deeds, no other motives are relevant, when that is precisely backwards: the fact that they are motivated to help others is what is relevant, and taking satisfaction in completing tasks is such a basic component of intelligent behavior as to be fundamentally meaningless in describing any component of it.

It is accurate to say that any intelligence acts to satisfy its own motives. It is inaccurate to draw any broad conclusions about what those motives are from the fact that they are inherent.

All behavior comes from motive. Any behavior which accomplishes a motive is satisfactory. These facts lie beneath any description of a given motive - they are basic to the nature of all motives in themselves. A motive (and its resulting behavior) is thus described as altruistic, selfless, or whatever, completely regardless of self-satisfaction, as that can be safely assumed of any motive.

Thus, I help someone take satisfaction in doing so, precisely because I feel motivated to help people. That is altruism and it is not selfishness, and no amount of personal satisfaction I take in the act changes those facts in any way. Put another way, selfishness and altruism are not defined in terms of whether you take satisfaction in behaving that way at all.

As an analogy, your friend is basically claiming that since all machines run by harnessing the increase of entropy, cars don't run on gas. It's a false dichotomy.

potatocubed
2010-02-13, 03:48 AM
Your rival is engaged in the rhetorical fallacy of begging the question.

Him: Everyone is selfish.
You: What about people who are selfless?
Him: Because everyone is selfish, selfless people are subconsciously selfish. Therefore, everyone is selfish.

As long as he holds such a view, there is no reasoning with him. Just roll your eyes and move on, I think.

This is your answer. You can't reason logically with him because he's using the conclusion of his argument (everyone is selfish) to prove the premise (selfless people are selfish too).

Or... you could try a different tack. You could let him win the point that all motivations are selfish motivations. So what? If selfishness is this poisonous undercurrent that pervades all human thought, influences all actions, is invisible and untouchable and cannot be avoided, then what does it even mean any more? The moral 'charge' of selfishness is attached to the definition of selfishness. Change the definition and you remove the moral charge.

For example, a holocaust rescuer has a choice: he can rescue Jews at his own risk, or he can turn away and save his own skin. Both actions may be motivated by 'selfishness' but the choice still stands. He can be good-selfish or bad-selfish, and his choice is affected by various other sundry psychological factors. Which is exactly the same distinction as selfishness and selflessness, only with different names. Might as well say that all human behaviour is motivated by penguins.

skywalker
2010-02-13, 04:33 AM
So... My entire moral system is based off of making those around me happier (which I don't really care about) because I feel it is something that would make someone else happier (which I do care about, but mostly only for this specific individual), but which cannot because they (the person I care about) are dead.

So...

???

You know it would make them happy, and the idea of doing something that made them happy makes you happy. Therefore, go forth, and be happy. Easy enough?


Put another way, selfishness and altruism are not defined in terms of whether you take satisfaction in behaving that way at all.

There you go. This is an essential thing that a lot of people miss.

I think the general theory behind the idea is to wake people up to the idea that they aren't really "sacrificing" when they sacrifice for others, because they're gaining satisfaction (or avoiding pain?). Generally, the philosopher in question tends to think this should lead to apathy, or general "do what pleases you" type behavior. I tend to view it as more of a "hey, you actually gained satisfaction when you made that sacrifice, so awesome!"

Rutskarn
2010-02-13, 04:41 AM
I think we've already established a lot of what I'd have to say here, so I'll just throw this out here:

One term I've had to invent is, "hipster cynic." Cynics are people who analyze a situation without romanticizing it, trying to keep a realistic viewpoint while, in some cases, remaining fairly optimistic. I'd classify myself as one of these.

A hipster cynic is someone who comes in with all sorts of biases and assumptions, they're just coming from the other, more "shocking" angle. They're not "cynical" (actually just negative) just because they think it's the more correct perspective, they're like that because they feel smugly superior to those puerile romantics.

It's intellectually just as pointless, with the addition of making them fairly unpleasant to be around. The facts rarely support them, but that doesn't stop them from toting around their pessimism like it's the Word of God itself.

Grey Paladin
2010-02-13, 06:12 AM
I believe that until we explain suicide, self-sacrifice for anyone but your own offsprings, and the fact some human beings actually actively avoid a chance to reproduce (all anathema to the explict purpose of all life: to reproduce and survive) we cannot group human behavior with the simple animalistic module.

Put simply, we don't know so that line of discussion is pointless.

ghost_warlock
2010-02-13, 06:48 AM
I believe that until we explain suicide, self-sacrifice for anyone but your own offsprings, and the fact some human beings actually actively avoid a chance to reproduce (all anathema to the explict purpose of all life: to reproduce and survive) we cannot group human behavior with the simple animalistic module.

Put simply, we don't know so that line of discussion is pointless.

Some possible explanations:

Suicide: A response to extreme pain (emotional or physical); seen as the only way to cease the suffering. When suffering extreme pain other animals will also "give up" and let themselves die/be killed.

Avoiding reproduction: Children are a huge investment of resources, some prefer to invest those resources elsewhere or put off reproducing until they feel they can afford the investment (but then die of unforseen consequences). This might be a hijacking or malfunction of a similar mechanism in other animals that sacrifice their own chances to reproduce in order to assist in the care of their relative's children.

Self-sacrifice: Admittedly probably the hardest to explain; extreme form of hero-worship or believing in something one feels is worth dying for (something one believes will benefit everyone, both offspring and non-offspring alike - including offspring of relatives). Also, can't dogs be trained to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of their masters?

Grey Paladin
2010-02-13, 07:13 AM
Suicide: Animals will only let themselves be killed as a result of Learned Helplessness (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness). Animals never take their own lives, only stop responding when utterly overpowered because it is a waste of resources that could be better used were the source ever removed by chance. Killing yourself is an act unique to humans.

Reproduction: There are many organizations whose sole purpose is to prevent reproduction, and that live by the idealogy that breeding is 'wrong'. In fact, some of these movements preach for the extinction of the specie as a whole. Many of the members of these organizations are very rich and socially successful people, so to say that the only reason people avoid reproduction is due to insufficient resources seems fallacious to me: the fact some people do that for that reason does not makes it a general, universal rule.

Self-sacrifice: Dogs do not realize they will die - while trained to do the deed they will survive and be fed after completing the task, so that when the time comes they believe the same will hold true. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pavlov%27s_dog). Anything akin to hero-worship, morals, or what have you is itself a uniquely human phenomena.

In short, while we may be animals in origin I believe we have become something greater, or at least different: our motivations and ways of thought are in many ways alien to our lesser kin, and to assume that while such holds true the basis of our actions remains the same is false.

GolemsVoice
2010-02-13, 08:24 AM
I think the subconscious argument also falls flat when you think about how long many people that rescued Jews had to think about it. I bet most of them argued a lot with themselves. "On the one hand, rescuing those people would mean putting me and my family at risk, but on the other hand, I cannot tolerate this." Seeing the risk involved in such an action, it's very likely they thought it through thoroughly. Their subconsciousness will surely have influenced them in making this decision, but I do not believe that the subconscious mind determnies everything we do, especially if we have a long time to think about our decision.

So, if their condition for being happy was "I have to help people", they likely know it. They know that there is some sort of moral imperative they believe in that makes them act this way. But in the end, they still Maybe they ARE selfish, but they also believe that other people need help. While selfishness may be hard-wired into everyone, helping people willingly is noit. So they still made the decision to help people out of their own motivation.