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is empathy, at its core, selfish?

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i had an argument about this with a friend and wanted to prove her wrong so i asked her to give me time to collect my thoughts...
and then when i failed to come up with an adequate response, i searched for studies...and found one that supported her argument...the study showed that subjects who were led to perceive that their moods could not be altered through helping were not helpful

what are your thoughts on this?
 

nanook

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feeling/mood is of course practically the same as empathy. moods have nothing to do with self. self is a mental construct that is not necessary for feeling. the very fact that helping out makes us feel good proves that feeling does not require a self. in this case its enough to be successful. helping out is skilful, skills are a joyful expression of life. the core ingredient of compassion is aliveness, vitality, not egocentric thought constructs. a depressed or sick individual will not be extremely compassionate, because their vitality and joy are often reduced. a heavy meal is depressing enough to prevent a millionaire from giving a fuck. the ego construct reduces compassion, because it brings fantasies into the mix of experience, that can easily ruin the joy. the thought of not receiving enough praise for my skillfull help might be enough to delete the joy out of practicing my skill. that is because i associate lack of appreciation with abandonment and that comes with anxiety, which deletes joy. its not because praise is required to make the action worthwhile. praise is only required to make the ego self construct bearable, thanks to a never ending nagging super ego.


much of what we do for entertainment puts our ego to sleep. games and movies and such. this shows that much energy is available, much action is possible, without self (construct) concern. therefore there is enough energy for compassionate action. but most of us cant have any social interaction without ego coming online. so we avoid interaction, meaning compassionate action, until its guaranteed, that our ego will be taken care of. a beggar might scare our self image (like most people), so any interaction with him would be unbearable, so we don't give him money. if we had less self concern, thoughts about identity would not bother us and we could give freely.
 

Minuend

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the study showed that subjects who were led to perceive that their moods could not be altered through helping were not helpful
Wait, I don't understand this sentence. Do you mean people who were told their efffort didn't matter stopped efforting? Because that seems logical and not indicate of lack of selfishness in my eyes. I mean, are you being empathetic/ helpful if the other party doesn't feel better or notice any difference? Depends, I guess, but I don't understand how that study indicate lack of selfishness. If I was trying to help someone and they didn't feel helped, then I'd take that as me doing something wrong and stop.

Anyways, at some point "selfishness" becomes just a matter of semantics more than anything else. "Oh, you feel good because you did something empathetic, that means you're selfish". From that perspective everything is selfish, but from that perspective, does it matter?

Idk, I guess in my eyes it depends on what you are trying to accomplish by labeling everything as selfish or not. Labeling doesn't necessarily give a good representation of reality, even if it could be said to be true in theory. Some words have negative connotation, but it doesn't mean reality is negative, per se
 

Animekitty

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Helping others feels good and feelings are part of the self. It feels wrong to hurt someone. It hurts more not to help. But then the reverse is also true. To some, it feels good to hurt people and feels bad to help them. An empathetic person would never use another person. They would never hurt anyone for any amount of money. Some would sell their grandmother for a dollar to the glue factory. people that see others as part of themselves will treat them just as themselves. I'd rather die than hurt someone. Because they are part of myself.
 

Jennywocky

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Anyways, at some point "selfishness" becomes just a matter of semantics more than anything else. "Oh, you feel good because you did something empathetic, that means you're selfish". From that perspective everything is selfish, but from that perspective, does it matter?
That is how I tend to view it too.

People use different definitions of the word "selfish" and obviously there is a large negative judgment assigned to it by most people.

Is doing something that makes you feel good when you do it "selfish" in any practical, useful way, though?

If I eat broccoli because it is healthy but it also tastes good, reinforcing the pleasure of eating it (yeah, big hypothetical there for some folks who hate the stuff), does that mean eating it is a selfish act, or that it is useful in any way to label it as "selfish"?

If I exercise to improve my body function but happen to enjoy the exercising, am I being "selfish" in a way where calling it "selfish" is useful to understanding why I do it?

Like you said, this seems to be a matter of semantics and motivation in terms of labeling something selfish.

I only really ever hear this in the "altruism" argument where someone is trying to explain why altruism doesn't really exist and all people are selfish by nature. In a way, the terminology itself seems to beg the question. The question of whether you can derive pleasure in or from an action doesn't necessarily seem useful as a way to determine whether it is "selfish" or not. I would also look at the benefit gained by others, the cost involved to yourself, and so forth. obviously we wouldn't do things where there is not a net gain of some kind for oneself or others, especially if it involves personal suffering. That's less selfish than simply reasonable.
 
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oh sorry i should have been more clear
they were led to perceive that their moods could not be altered because of the temporary action of a "mood-fixing" placebo drug
 

nanook

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even if the word self is used in third person manner, referring not to the psychological self construct, but the whole physiological entity: not all actions serve only the whole physiological entity. more abstractions are required to explain actions. abstractions such as evolution or life. the individual body serves life and life or vitality appears to be a state of least resistance, in physical language, so it appears that life serves the "universe", what some call laws of physics. if our nature became exclusively selfish, referring to the biological individual, we would obviously all die out.
 

Jennywocky

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oh sorry i should have been more clear
they were led to perceive that their moods could not be altered because of the temporary action of a "mood-fixing" placebo drug
Oh -- so basically

1. They were helpful originally.
2. They were given a drug that prevented them from feeling good when helping someone else.
3. They stopped helping.

???

Do you have a link to the study? It sounds like the parameters of the test would play in a lot to how to interpret it.
 

Hadoblado

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Empathy or altruism?

Yes it's selfish. But that's kind of a technicality that people get hung up on. Really what matters is that doing things for others makes you feel good.

Any action you take relies on it making you feel better than you did before. The motor system is fueled (somewhat extreme oversimplification) by dopamine. Parkinsons disease, where people are unable to initiate voluntary movements, is a dopaminergic issue. This is just how we are built.

If you think of yourself as a computer, the 'feel good' response is part of your code that tells you to do things.

Dopamine present = 1
Give Mum's grizzled corn ridden feet a massage = 1

If you feel bad doing something, you might do it anyway out of subscription to an ideal, but that's only because that ideal would make you feel worse if you hadn't done it. This is why people sometimes struggle with vegetarianism. They want to conform to their ideal, but also want bacon. Over time, they will resolve this dissonance (that makes them feel bad) either by reducing the representation of that ideal in their head, or reducing the value of bacon.

Just because actions are ultimately selfish doesn't stop them being right, and it doesn't stop you being a 'good' person just because you like feeling good.

If for example, this notion took a hold in your mind, the reason you did things before (because you felt like an altruistic person for doing it) might be reduced. You might feel like your altruistic actions are less meaningful because they're ultimately selfish. You might stop being as good of a person because you have less selfish reason to be. That would be fucking tragic. Don't do that. Be an ultimately selfish but good person because all the alternatives are worse from either perspective (as if you get to choose :/).
 

Artsu Tharaz

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The idea that things like empathy and altruism are selfish is pseudo-scientific as fuck. May as well say that every single thing is selfish, because it comes from a self, and that view gets us absolutely no where lol.
 

Hadoblado

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It's kinda weird that you're calling an idea pseudo-science without talking about why it's pseudoscience? If the study Zerkalo is talking about holds up, then it's scientific (I haven't read it). It might not be true, or useful, but that has nothing to do with whether it's science.

May as well say that every single thing is selfish, because it comes from a self, and that view gets us absolutely no where lol.
Kind of. If this idea is to be believed, then yeah, altruism as it is used now is meaningless. But you could just use the term to depict the intended results of your actions on a utility scale.
 

ummidk

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Basically, yes, but your issue with it arises in connotating selfishness as always negative, while in this case it is quite positive.
 

redbaron

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yer ok

so is everything else

#tautologyismsz
 

higs

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Is every act done for someone else in the end done for your own benefit ? What about self sacrifice of life to save someone, rare but it's definitely happened somewhere. I fail to see the selfish benefit in losing your life. Supererogatory acts : https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/supererogation/#ParExa

So I'm kind of deviating the question I guess, it would perhaps help to define or refine your terms, what do you mean by empathy ? Is it feeling bad when someone feels bad and feeling good when someone feels good ? empathy is not selfish or unselfish in this case, it's simply feeling good or bad for someone, it's not an action or an intention it's passive so it can't be selfish or unselfish. Let's call an action selfish if it is done primarily for personal benefit, in this case she supposes that for example, when I gave 50 euros to a guy the other day it was purely because it made me feel bad or good not to do so or to do so, but I was simultaneously annoyed while I gave it to him, I knew that I could easily walk away and forget it and buy fucking raclette and wine and have a delicious time without ever thinking or feeling bad about him again, however, i still made myself do it because I knew that I didn't need the money and he did. I could easily have a nice time without raclette. I'm still pissed off i gave it sometimes now when I'm out of money, I think bitterly "if only I had that fucking 50", but according to my ethical system, giving it was right, I think wealth should be redistributed, and luxury is unethical if other people don't have anything. I fail to see the personal benefit or selfishness of my action seeing as I could just carry on my life more happy and more satisfied having not done my action. I'm very materialistic and the pleasure of the money would have definitely outweighed the relief from the unpleasant empathetic experience, which I could simply have erased from my mind, I consider my action to be unselfish empathetic.

If the action is selfish then it was primarily motivated by personal gain, find an action that you did to help someone where empathy accompanied the action but did not motivate it primarily and you have proven her wrong. She might be right though I don't know.
 

Hadoblado

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I would argue that someone who sacrifices their life for some other cause, has a preference for death over the universe in which they would have to deal with the consequences of not sacrificing themselves.

For example, my child is in the middle of the road and is about to die. I jump in and save them, knowing I would die in the process. I would prefer to be dead than suffer a life where my child is dead, where my child died while I watched, where I would have to consider myself the sort of person so selfish they would prioritise their own life over that of a child. I made a choice according to my preferences, not for someone else.

At no point is this inherent selfishness alienable from apparent acts of altruism. It can always be said, and will always cause doubt. Of course, this also makes it unfalsifiable.
 

higs

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i think altruism exists because it's necessary and useful in an evolutionary sense for it to exist. Simply parents taking care of their children over a long period of time and feeding them instead of feeding themselves is necessary, so evolution has put in place mechanisms that make us feel good for doing this, it's the emotional short cuts that are more efficient than our cognition at arrivng at the conclusion that our lives are collectively significantly better if we all help each other out I guess yeah, so it's possible the mechanism itself can be called selfish, if you call the push for the survival of the species selfish :p evolution is selfish indeed. However, it's possible that now that we have evolved somewhat beyond other species in a cognitive sense, it's possible for us to direct our actions for different motivations than purely instinctive feel good feel bad stuff, so my action motivated for giving the 50 euro had not much direct benefit to me, I'm never gonna see that dude again, it still doesn't give me pleasure to think of it (incidentally I have no fucking money right now) but I still think my action was right, and that when I have money I don't need, I should give it to people who do.
 

Rixus

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I remember studying this is Psychology back in college (many moons ago, so the subject is a little vague now). The behavioural approach suggested that there should always be a positive reinforce to our behaviour, even if one is not immediately apparent. Even it is not a concrete reward, one would receive adoration from both the helpee and possibly societally as well. But I can't see the logic behind Zerkalo's study, as for most people the action should have become rooted in operand conditioning so by associative learning each individual who is conditioned to offer help should readily do so if they are inclined to outside of the study.

While this idea explains why we give token amounts to charity or stop to help an old lady put her bags onto the bus (they always seem to have 3 tonnes of bags and how they got it there is anyone's guess). It does fail to explain self sacrifice where the benefit to oneself is far outweighed by the sacrifice. Since totally selflessness has little logic as it would countermand out own survival. Evolutionary psychologists argue that the survival of our species sometimes outweighs our own survival which is why these absolute sacrifices are usually aimed at our children or possibly our partners who we have selected (possibly on some level) as breeding partners. Or perhaps we think the person is important enough to the betterment of the species that their survival outweighs ours.

Either way, I don't think it matters why people do it, it only matters that they do help when they can. The only time it matters is if you're tasked with motivating people to help. Which is why charity campaigns are always so emotive - trying to instil guilt and hope people alleviate this guilt by signing the direct debit and sponsor a tiger or a 3rd world child.
 

Artsu Tharaz

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It's kinda weird that you're calling an idea pseudo-science without talking about why it's pseudoscience? If the study Zerkalo is talking about holds up, then it's scientific (I haven't read it). It might not be true, or useful, but that has nothing to do with whether it's science.



Kind of. If this idea is to be believed, then yeah, altruism as it is used now is meaningless. But you could just use the term to depict the intended results of your actions on a utility scale.
Yeah sometimes I just state my view without explaining it. The pseudo-science term was specifically because, I think it was Karl Popper, that said that such a view is pseudo-scientific, but here's what I think the argument could consist of:

- everything an organism does is done to increase pleasure and decrease pain (for the organism)
- acting in a way to maximise your own pleasure and minimise your own pain is selfish
- therefore everything an organism does is selfish
- people are organisms and altruism/empathy is a thing they do
- therefore altruism/empathy is selfish

I mean, is there anything that a person does that isn't at its core selfish, if we're gonna suppose altruism/empathy is?

And, if it's all selfish, is there really much point in calling it selfish? It seems meaningless to me.

- so it wouldn't even be necessary to explain why those things specifically are selfish or look at studies for it, because it's selfish by default
 
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