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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Fwd: from Lawrence Pub Philosophy Meeting, 6PM, sunday: Selfishness and Altruis

--- In philomadridgroup@yahoogroups.co.uk, "philomadrid"
<philomadrid@...> wrote:

Dear Friends,


I look forward to meeting you next Sunday as usual at 6pm.


These past few meetings have been very interesting and well attended.
It is
most gratifying to see so many people coming to the meetings. Could it be
that altruism is more common than we are given to believe. Let's talk
about
it next Sunday.


Take care,


Lawrence

SUNDAY 6.00pm START at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
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Selfishness and Altruism


It is very common to associate selfishness with not sharing one's hazelnut
chocolate with one's friends. As children such an experience is
infuriating
and mortifying. As adults, we find this sort of selfishness totally
unacceptable and deplorable.


On the other hand, we associate altruism by dedicating one's life as a
missionary helping people in some of the most wretched places on Earth.
Today this sort of altruism is more accessible, usually through organise
charities, a well balanced bank account and time off from the rat race.
Incidentally, these days even chocolate is more accessible.


This way of looking at selfishness and altruism may be described as the
traditional point of view, If we accept that human beings are social
beings
then acts of selfishness go against the spirit of a society. In
theory, an
individual in a society is allowed to look after their needs, but what
matters and makes society function is the idea if sharing.


How and what form this sharing takes place has been the source of
philosophical, political, economic and religious debate. We all agree we
ought to share what belongs to us from wealth, to caring and our time but
not necessarily how. Maybe we use selfishness as a concept to
describe the
actions of someone who misapplies the concept of sharing.


Maybe we might disagree how sharing is to be applied, but we know when
it is
misapplied. Selfishness is a sort of post event concept: it is applied
after
things happen. After the act has taken place. If this is the case, can we
seriously attempt to answer such practical questions as ought I always
share
my chocolate, ought I to share my wealth with others, ought I always
consider the needs of others as well as my own?


The answer to these questions must surely be: it depends on the
circumstances. Perhaps it is not a type of behaviour that is selfish
but the
type of intention that goes with the behaviour. Not only is selfishness a
question of case by case judgment, but what can be said about someone's
intentions from their behaviour. Meanness, on the other hand would be used
to describe the general character of a person. A selfish act, but a mean
person. And therefore, a generous person and an altruistic act.


At the extreme end, greed is quite easy to establish. If anything,
greed has
the advantage that we can see it. If I don't share my bar of chocolate
that
might count as selfishness, but if I buy twenty bars of chocolate and
proceed to eat them all then the conclusion is quite obvious. It seems
that
when making a judgement about selfishness we have to be more cautious and
apply objective standards which we might not need when considering greed.


Some might be tempted to argue that occasionally selfishness might be
justifiable. Of course, if an act that is perceived to be selfish but is
nevertheless justifiable, then surely this is not selfishness.


We also have very little difficulty identifying altruism. What's not so
clear about altruism is what's in it for the altruist? On the one hand
helping people or doing things for others is part of that agreement we
have
with society. All part of the give and take in living in a society.
Moreover, there does not seem to be any form of obligation to be
altruistic,
whereas there seems to be some form of obligation not to

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