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Does a selfless act exist?

Often times we do things to help/assist others. At first glance, it may appear to be a selfless act. Is it really selfless if mentally and emotionally you have fulfilled your own needs as a being? People use different means to satisfy their own physical, mental, and emotional needs all the time. If our thought process is delayed and we just "act", does that make it selfless?

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    Aug 2 2011: Yes.
    Gandhi getting beat to stand up for Indian rights.

    Organ donations. When I die my organs will likely be donated, this isn't something I do to make me feel better... I just won't have a use for them anymore.
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    Aug 2 2011: I do believe selfless acts exist. 'Random acts of kindness' happen all the time and are never trumpeted. I believe all people have done them - and yes, it does help fulfill our own needs as a being. I can't imagine NOT doing something for someone else whether or not they know about it. It is definitely a part of my being and I wouldn't want to change that.
  • Ewa M.

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    Aug 7 2011: If you do something for the benefit of OTHERS - that is selfless. As Kate and Helen said: the INTENTION behind the act is what counts.

    Turning off the thought process will not necessarily make your acts selfless. It can make them just unconscious and automatic. However, the mind is usually the enemy of the heart. Example:

    All the doubts and accusing oneself of selfishness destroy the goodness in ones heart created by the selfless act. It is an attempt of the ego-mind to sabotage life.

    Selfless life is full of joy. Who said that you need to suffer to be selfless? We would live in a terrible world if being good was making you suffer.

    Selfless people are happy. They don't indulge in the pleasures that being a good person brings. They just know that they are good, and that's it!
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    Aug 7 2011: yes it does exist... I believe its our innate nature and often we act selflessly by helping others and do not even realize it... The beauty lies in not wanting to analyse whether it was selfless or not !!!
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    E G

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    Aug 6 2011: No, selfless acts doesn't exist but they don't have to exist .
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    Aug 3 2011: I definitely believe that selfless acts exist. An example is my Mother. 32 years ago she could of had a surgery to fix the scoliosis in her back by inserting a metal rod into her back to straighten the spine. She did not reject this because of being scared, but because she did not want to be laid up in bed for months not able to take care of my brother and sister. She was a single mother. And she couldn't imagine the thought of her children not being taken care of to the best of her ability. I believe this to be a selfless act. And I know there is selfless acts. Because if you take the children out of that scenario. I know she would of got the surgery. But this is just my opinion. You raise great points. Thanks for the topic.

    - Jamie
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    Aug 2 2011: If you feel good about this act or this act helps you fulfil a personal need to be good to others, does it really cease to be a selfless act? I think selflessness does not need to be at odds with some amount of personal satisfaction.
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    Aug 9 2011: Part 2: Further, I believe in one's own right to live; what I mean by that is that I believe that every individual has certain rights that are not to be encroached upon, be it by peers or the government. Each person has the right to their own life, their own free will, and their own happiness, but that is not to say that everyone uses these rights in a manner that is beneficial.

    There are those that believe that selflessness is the key to moral or spiritual growth, but I argue that it is not. The collectivization of modern society has forced people to believe in this altruistic ideal, that each man is his brother's keeper, that each man must exist for the sake of his society, yet there has not been a single backing for this "moral imperative" that does not encroach upon one's inalienable rights. No one has the authority to force selflessness on anyone, and yet that is exactly what is happening today. In the words of Ayn Rand, "morality ends where a gun begins"; one cannot and should not force another man to live for another man's sake.

    I am not saying that selfless acts are immoral, I am merely arguing that altruism today has been forced upon the world without questioning the morality of said force. If for instance I have the means to donate 500 million dollars to a charity, and I choose to do so, then that is a purely selfless act which is morally acceptable; however, if I earn the same money, and am forced to give said money to the government to pay for the living expenses of the homeless or the unemployed, that is immoral and unacceptable.

    Selflessness should and MUST be the conscious choice of the individual, not a product of force. Selflessness brought about by force is not selflessness at all.

    One has the right to live his life for the sake of his own happiness. It is not one's moral, societal, or spiritual duty to be his brother's keeper. Altruism is not a duty, but a choice.
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    Aug 9 2011: Part 1: I love that you posted this question. I have tried to answer this question all year, since I had one of my teachers attribute selfishness as the basis for human suffering. Being an objectivist, I, of course, disagreed wholeheartedly.

    Selfishness is the basis for all human progress throughout history. Selflessness (or as I call it altruism) exists, but it is extremely detrimental to society in every way. The first person to utter a word and begin to create language likely did so because of a need to communicate, a need to interact within groups, a selfish need that ultimately benefitted the others in his society. Take for example the scenario posed by biologist Mark Pagel in his discussion of language on this very website: there is one primitive human that is skilled at creating arrowheads, but terribly unskilled at creating the shafts. This human finds another primitive human that is skilled at creating the shafts; he brings the arrowheads he just finished and holds them in front of the other human. Since neither has the tool of language, the other human simply takes the arrowheads as a gift and a conflict ensues that likely ends in violence. Take however the opposite situation. The arrowhead maker takes his arrowheads to another human who knows language. The arrowhead maker communicates and tells the other that if he gives him some shafts that they can trade and take the finished arrows and split them 50/50. The growth of language benefits in a manner that is selfish.

    Take for example the man who created the wheel. He did so to ease the burden of moving things over distances. A selfish desire that benefitted society.

    All innovation stems from selfishness, not the grandiose desire to "ease society's burdens."
  • Aug 7 2011: Well it depends on what you call "selfless". If by selfless you mean doing something for others that will compromise your well being and/or stop you for doing something you really need/want to do for yourself and/or risking your own good (life health), etc. then yes, there are lots of examples.

    But I don't think a "pure" selfless act exists, why? because normally every selfless act is followed by a feeling of satisfaction, that good feeling of helping other people, of course I'm not saying you'll get an orgasm every time you help somebody but either you'll help him/her waiting for something in return, as a "may need him/her" in the future or simply because you want to help and you get the "good feeling" sensation.

    That good feeling sensation is the one that will drive you to do another selfless act, if you really hated it the first time, chances are you will not do it again, and that is because you did not find it as a satisfying experience, opposed to what you think you would feel, falling in doing something for expectation.

    My point is selfless acts do exist, but we can't think of a selfless act as a pure expression of selflessness, because behind every selfless act there's this wonderful and beautiful feeling of helping another human being.. or cat.. or dog or you know whatever :P
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    Aug 5 2011: I do believe that there are such things as a selfless act. Helping and assisting others mostly fulfills us. All because we feel happy, and satisfied with ourselves because we fulfill a selfless action, doesn't mean it's wrong or selfish. The fact that we are helping another person is entirely selfless.
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    Aug 4 2011: I am not sure. I am not doing good things on purpose just get back good carma or my faults to be forgived. But still some way it feels good to be thanked. So it is not selfless I guess. Maybe sacrifices are more selfless in those ways.
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    Aug 3 2011: no problem
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    Aug 2 2011: define selfless act
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      Aug 2 2011: Selfless Act...Something that is done not for the glory but because one really cares.Neither is it done because of some moral or ethical belief. Have you ever been in a war zone ? Where "my brother" really means just that !!!
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        Aug 3 2011: actually i was trying to call melissa's attention to the fact that you can define "selfless" in a way that nothing falls into it, so the question is circular. does the thing i defined nonexisting, exist? well, no.

        but what good a definition is if nothing fits to it? much better to define selfless as an action that achieves fulfillment through benefiting others.
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          Aug 3 2011: so
          Sorry, I butted in. The post was not addressed to Melissa so I thought it was fair game
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          Aug 3 2011: I think that's the point of the question isn't it? Selfless isn't a hard word to define and, in most circumstances there is nothing selfless.

          You are wrong to suggest it's circular. You can't 'prove' that nothing falls into the category of selfless. There are plenty of arselfless actions that are beneficial to others that would be open to debate. It's a common philosophical question and perfectly valid to start a discussion about.

          You seem to have a tendency to try to close down discussions by suggesting they are wrong or meaningless. Why not try just joining in a discussion? They can be fun!
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        Aug 3 2011: ah, never mind, your reply is welcome. just i realized that my intent might not be as clear as i hoped.