I wasn't really sure how to word this question so I'll try to explain what I mean.
I often do kind things for other people because it makes me happy to see them happy or because it makes me feel appreciated. Even though I'm not asking of anything in return, is this really selflessness if I'm benefiting from their happiness? Is it really possible for people to do things purely for the sake of benefiting another person?
I don't know why, but recently I've been beating myself up a lot because I feel like whenever I do something I'm never doing it without some element of selfish gain and it just frustrates me to think that maybe I don't even have to capability to be 100% selfless. Maybe I'm just thinking too far into it but it still gets to me sometimes.
What do you guys think?
Can our intentions ever be purely selfless? Watch
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- 01-01-1970 02:00
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- 04-07-2014 09:37
I've thought about and discussed this question before. My opinion is that it depends a little on what we mean when we call an act selfless, but generally no. If a selfless act is one in which we only give, and get nothing in return, I'm at a loss to think of any kind of selfless act. Even if we get nothing material, nor even happiness, we still get integrity and conformity to our values, which presumably is important to a selfless person.
The OED however defines being selfless as being "Concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one’s own." Going by this definition, so long as a person avoids considering their own needs and wishes, they can be selfless. But if a person is going out of their way to perform a selfless act, presumably doing so is important to them. In this way we can say that they are in fact concerned with their own wishes (since they wish others well). Whether the person is concerned more with their own wishes than the action's proposed recipient's is difficult to uncover because both are necessary to want to perform the selfless behaviour. It seems they should at least be on par.
I've not yet come across a way to resolve this issue. All 'selfless' acts I've considered in some way benefit the actor, who is also concerned with his or her own needs and wishes as an actor.