Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

Is altruism ever without self-interest?

Some 5 years ago, my then-girlfriend broke up with me. In her view, her decision was rooted in altruism. She gave me back my freedom following my ideas about a future relocation. I was furious. I asked her how her decision could ever be altruistic because I disagreed with her decision and her arguments.

A week later, she admitted that I was right. Still, I think, feel and believe that she genuinely believed in what she had said to me. Nevertheless, the damage had been done, mutual trust had evaporated, and we broke up a few weeks later. Ever since, I’ve been wondering if altruism even exists. Hence this blog.

In my view, altruism must be a 2-way street: (i) you give something that someone needs, wants and/or believes in, and (ii) you do not expect – or takeanything in return. In my example, she gave me something that I did not need, want or believe in. It was a 1-way street. Also see Needs, Wants & Beliefs.

Our self-interest is leading in (nearly) every decision that we take in our (daily) life. Altruism would be the exception to that rule. Hence my skepticism. Is altruism ever without self-interest?

People often consider good deeds to be altruistic, without even bothering to investigate the intentions for that alleged altruism (eg, quid pro quo, pay it forward). Our intentions for doing good will define whether – or not – our deeds are altruistic. Also see my blogs on Deeds, Words & Intentions.

Even if there are no obvious intentions for a good deed, there can still be less obvious intentions. By doing good, we may expect or hope that our deity (eg, Allah, God, Yahweh) will be more forgiving towards us (eg, in the afterlife).

Recently, I was helping someone. I met her on a dating site (sic!). I advised her that she doesn’t belong there given her intentions and her situation. She agreed with me. Then, my advice to her might be considered altruistic. I’m not sure it that consideration would, however, stand the test of time.

To some extent, the philosophical argument, known as Pascal’s wager, by French philosopher, theologian, and mathematician Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) could be viewed as another example that self-interest precedes altruism. In this example, agape or divine love is viewed as an act of altruism:

Wiki: “Pascal argues that a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.), whereas if God does exist, he stands to receive infinite gains (as represented by eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (an eternity in Hell).”

In my view, any altruistic deed is ultimately rooted in self-interest. My view and the opposite view are both difficult to prove as human intentions are carefully hidden from (public) scrutiny and for “good” reasons (eg, plausible deniability). Hence, we may never know whether good deeds are (not) rooted in altruism.

Probably, altruism is a hypothetical and/or imaginary belief, similar to utopia and dystopia. On the other hand, self-interest is anything but hypothetical and/or imaginary.

Believer (2017) by Imagine Dragons
artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Note: all markings (bold, italic, underlining) by LO unless stated otherwise.

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