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Discussion 9 on Reflections on Ethics 1
Can there be a totally selfless act?

by Kaye Madison

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I've been reading all the interesting points put forth in discussion of Reflection 1, and just about everyone came up with a good point (except perhaps the guy who wrote, "I don't know and I don't care" which wasn't helpful).

The most interesting thing about it is that I've actually had an internal debate similar to this a year or so ago. It occured to me that I didn't do much active community work or donate money or whatnot, so I began to feel bad about my lack of morality. I like to think of myself as a good person, and thinking realistically, I didn't do that much to suggest I was the generous, selfless type. so I went out the next day, feeling kinda down about my image, and gave some money to the Salvos. After that the internal struggle began.

The reasoning goes something like this: 'I feel bad for not being a more selfless person. Therefore I shall give some donation money away. This in itself is a good act, but its sole motivator was the desire to alleviate my feelings of guilt.'

What I've been really puzzled about since then, is if there's such thing as a selfless act WITHOUT any motivation. That's an illogical question to ponder, as it doesn't seem to make much sense at first. But think about it- every good act has motivation, whether it be divine retribution, a feeling of fulfilment, the alleviation of guilt- there's always a catalyst for the good act.

So, like the question being adressed in the discussion of Reflection 1, is it really all that selfless and good of a man to do good deeds if it serves to make him feel good about himself? The betterment of the world and others makes the giver feel good inside, which is itself a reward. Therefore the giver stand to profit by it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to infer that all good people are in fact selfish on some level, I'm simply outlining an interesting point which is: Is there really such a thing a completely selfess man in the definitional sense of the term?

That's why I came to the conclusion that a truly selfless good man is the man who is inspired to do good acts without a positive motiviation of any kind.

To that effect, the whole line of reasoning goes a bit swimmy. My mind has been chewing on this conundrum for a long time, and I've found myself eventually going back to a more instinctive, more basic view of the human mind. For any act to take place, there must a reason or stimulous for it. It cannot take place otherwise.

Under that premise it seems acts of goodwill must be motivated by something.

From that perspective, a sense of fulfilment and general positivity is probably more righteous than seeking rewards of a religious nature. But as to a totally selfless act that has no possible profit for the giver... I don't think such a thing can logically exist.

I find other people's views on this topic rather interesting, so if you are reading this and have an opinion or comment to add please do so.