Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Altruism Dialogue

A: "No-one is altruistic. Even when someone does something for someone else, they only do it because they enjoy doing so. Perhaps they enjoy the feeling that accompanies doing good deeds."

B: "How can you tell that people in fact (1) feel good when helping others, and (2) do good deeds for that reason?"

A: "I would say, 'If they didn't, they wouldn't perform the good deeds,' but that is circular logic, of course. So I base myself on personal experience (and let's assume that my personal experience is representative of others, as well, for argument's sake): I feel good when helping others, and if I didn't, I wouldn't help them."

B: "I might say, 'Well, I believe I am doing the right thing when helping others, and if I didn't, I wouldn't help them.' And in fact I do claim that."

A: "But I know that the good feeling is the reason I do altruistic acts."

B: "I can only respond that I know that my belief that my actions are 'right' is the reason for my helping others."

A: "But if you did not feel good when helping others, you would not believe that altruistic acts are 'right'."

B: "Well, if you did not believe that altruistic acts are 'right', then you wouldn't feel good when performing them."

A: "In fact I do not believe that altruistic acts are 'right'."

B: "Well, in fact I do not feel an enjoyable sensation when doing altruistic acts. Not in every case, at least, which is enough to counter your argument."

A: "But surely you feel a good sensation, even if it is far in the back of your mind, when performing an altruistic act?"

B: "Not necessarily; why would I?"

A: "Well, because you know that the act is the right thing to do -"

C: Can we not conclude that "the enjoyable sensation felt when helping others" and "the belief that helping others is the right thing to do" refer to essentially the same 'thing', in some sense?

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