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Hedonism, Altruism, and Empathy

KamarKamar Registered User regular
edited November 2010 in Debate and/or Discourse
We were kind of dragging the Pope condom thread off kilter, so let's continue this here:


MrMister wrote: »
Kamar wrote: »
However, when volunteers generously placed the interests of others before their own by making charitable donations, another brain circuit was selectively activated: the subgenual cortex/septal region. These structures are intimately related to social attachment and bonding in other species. Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable.

There are also other experiments covered in the entry that suggest that it (Altruism) is at least in part a difference in perception of the world.

I'm looking and I'm just not finding anything 'debunking' the idea. Link, or at least give me a general idea of where to look. I'm always glad to correct my positions.

The interpretation of experiments in this area is always fraught, especially the interpretation of brain-data.

In any case, there is a distinction between doing something which is pleasurable and doing something in order to pleasure oneself. Altruistic acts can engender pleasure, but that does not entail that they are done for the sake of securing pleasure. Rather, they can be done for the sake of altruistic concern.

For contrasting experimental data, see:
SEP wrote:
First, Daniel Batson and colleagues found that increased empathy leads to increased helping behaviour. One hypothesis is altrustic: empathy causes a non-instrumental desire to help. There are many competing egoistic hypotheses. Empathy might cause an unpleasant experience that subjects believe they can stop by helping; or subjects might think failing to help in cases of high empathy is more likely to lead to punishment by others, or that helping here is more likely to be rewarded by others; or subjects might think this about self-administered punishment or reward. In an ingenious series of experiments, Batson compared the egoistic hypotheses, one by one, against the altruistic hypothesis. He found that the altruistic hypothesis always made superior predictions. Against the unpleasant experience hypothesis, Batson found that giving high-empathy subjects easy ways of stopping the experience other than by helping did not reduce helping. Against the punishment by others hypothesis, Batson found that letting high-empathy subjects believe that their behaviour would be secret did not reduce helping. Against the self-administered reward hypothesis, Batson found that the mood of high-empathy subjects depended on whether they believed that help was needed, whether or not they could do the helping, rather than on whether they helped (and so could self-reward). Against the self-administered punishment hypothesis, Batson found that making high-empathy subjects believe they would feel less guilt from not helping (by letting them believe that few others had volunteered to help) did not reduce helping.

I must be missing something, because I have no clue how this is a counter to what I've been saying.

Kamar on
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Posts

  • MrMisterMrMister Jesus dying on the cross in pain? Morally better than us. One has to go "all in".Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    You claimed that the only possible human motivation could be the securing of pleasure or the avoidance of pain. But this isn't true--other motivation includes e.g. the motive of duty. You may respond that doing one's duty is pleasurable, perhaps as indicated by an fMRI study. However, there are two problems here.

    The first is that one can do something pleasurable without doing it because it is pleasurable. For instance, I may have sex with a woman in order to procreate, and the act itself may be pleasurable, but I may nonetheless be doing it because I want a son rather than because I want to feel sexual pleasure. So, even if altruism is pleasurable, that may not be what motivates a person toward altruistic behavior. They may be acting, say, out of the motive of duty instead. That is what the above experimental data was attempting to indicate: altruistic behavior is not best explained with the motive of securing pleasure or avoiding pain, even though those may often be collateral effects.

    The second problem is that even if a study has shown one instance of altruism as pleasurable, there is no prima facie reason to take that to generalize to all instances. Maybe one thing that an experiment has chosen to exemplify altruism is, in fact, pleasurable, but another type of altruistic behavior is not. The problem of external validity looms large here. We will never test in the laboratory, for instance, whether throwing oneself on a grenade is pleasurable.

    MrMister on
  • KamarKamar Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    To my way of thinking, it's a matter of the bottom line - why do you act on your want of a son? Why do you act to complete your duty?

    'Want' itself implies pleasure to me.

    Kamar on
  • FartacusFartacus __BANNED USERS regular
    edited November 2010
    Well aren't we relying on a rather Western, liberal-influenced conception of human behavior to even suggest that there is a thing called motivation which precedes action in a way that can be talked about as if it were conscious?

    I think, for all intents and purposes, acts are altruistic regardless of whether or not your nuccleus accumbens gets a shot of dopamine when you help and old lady across the street. The point is that you are doing something to help someone else with no expectation of getting anything explicitly in exchange for your helpful action.

    Why did this arise in human behavior? Probably because being altruistic was a way to boost one's reputation, and it meant more people would consider you deserving of help and resources should the time come that you need some help yourself. Reciprocal altruism is a concept that ethologists, evolutionary biologists, and sociobiologists have articulated for some time, predating modern brain-scanning technology.

    But, when it comes to morality, valuation, and how we treat humans (in policy or as individuals), I don't see anything particularly damning or problematic that altruism has a relation to dopamine circuits in the brain. At the end of the day, everything you do has a physical correlate that initiates your actions. Is malicious behavior less bad because someone gets a hit of norepinephrine before they do it?

    At the end of the day, I think we sort of have to do away with this old rational-actor model that invades, conceptually, even more contemporary analyses of behavior. I don't think anyone helps an old lady because they consciously think to themselves "If I help this old lady, my substantia nigra will release dopamine that will stimulate my septal region, giving me a feeling of pleasure" -- or any variation on such a thought, even as simple as "If I help that old lady I'll feel good."

    I think people want to do something and then simply do it. We get an impulse, and sometimes that impulse is inhibited by further thinking (and then conscious reasoning starts to enter the picture), but for the most part we do things because, well, we want to do them. The calculation is occurring almost entirely at a sub-cortical, sub-conscious level.

    Economists and rationalists and all the rest want to pose some model of human action where we weigh outcomes and make choices -- that doesn't reflect reality. Most of the time, we just do stuff without especially thinking about it any which way. I want to do something, so I do it. Maybe it's analytically useful (for their own theories) for some philosophers to impose a weighing mechanism on top of my actions, but for the most part we act how we do simply because we want to, especially when money (i.e., conscious, explicit incentives external to our own brains) isn't involved.

    My whole point here is that the idea of a "motive" to do things is not an objective fact so much as a cultural artifact. It's how Westerners in the legacy of Liberalism conceptualize human behavior, but it's not necessarily particularly accurate. Most of the time, people just do. Do you type up your posts on this forum because you calculate that it will bring you pleasure? Is every word you speak a hedonistic act? Or do you simply act, without much thought, the vast majority of the time? And even when you act on desire, do you ever think to yourself "I want to do this, and satisfying my wants will bring me pleasure, so I'll go ahead and do it"?

    When I give someone change on the street, I don't think about how it'll make me feel good. He asks, and I either stop and give him a dollar or I don't. And yes, that's mediated by my physical brain and dopamine circuits which are built to attenuate my behavior to the likelihood that generous behavior in my tribe will be repaid to me in the form of future resources, social alliances, and mating -- but who gives a shit?

    Fartacus on
  • emnmnmeemnmnme Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    Throwing oneself on a grenade doesn't seem like the sort of thing a person makes a plan for. A person can make mentally prepare themselves just in case but ... eh. Is there another example of sacrifice that doesn't involve a split second decision?

    emnmnme on
  • KamarKamar Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    I don't see why you have to consciously plan to receive pleasure in order for it to be your motivation.

    I mean, let's trade in some synonyms : happiness and unhappiness

    That's suddenly a lot more palatable and believable for most people: People act to be happy, and avoid being unhappy.

    Kamar on
  • override367override367 ALL minions Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    What about suicide bombing, is there an impulse that covers that one

    Or is that pretty much just natural selection de-selecting people

    override367 on
  • emnmnmeemnmnme Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    Kamar wrote: »
    I don't see why you have to consciously plan to receive pleasure in order for it to be your motivation.

    You do plan if you want to maximize your comfort/pleasure/happiness. It's why people go to work instead of sneaking out and catching a movie. Steady paychecks = more happiness than what a movie can bring.

    emnmnme on
  • KamarKamar Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    What about suicide bombing, is there an impulse that covers that one

    Or is that pretty much just natural selection de-selecting people

    This is so much funnier having seen the unedited version before going to respond and the edited version when I clicked quote.

    And I seem to recall that it's just basic stupidity : Young, easily swayed fanatics and the promise of both peer recognition and post-death reward.

    Kamar on
  • FartacusFartacus __BANNED USERS regular
    edited November 2010
    Kamar wrote: »
    I don't see why you have to consciously plan to receive pleasure in order for it to be your motivation.

    I mean, let's trade in some synonyms : happiness and unhappiness

    That's suddenly a lot more palatable and believable for most people: People act to be happy, and avoid being unhappy.

    OK, so, you can twist away meaning to invent a rhetorical/logical framework under which desire is congruent with pleasure-seeking, and there all action is ultimately hedonic in nature.

    What have you proved? Why do I care? Universal statements don't illuminate anything -- they're just linguistic tricks. The whole point of creating different categories, of differentiation is that provides a useful way to interact with the world in ways that have effects.

    I don't know why laypeople are so drawn to make grand universal statements when talking about philosophy, but it's very common. It just doesn't actually illuminate anything.

    Fartacus on
  • StreltsyStreltsy Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    Altruism does exist, but in those cases where it serves neither the person doing it, nor his kin I can't see it as anything but a bug from our evolutionary past. We don't consciously weight the pros and cons of participating in Altruism, it's instinctive. But since humans are animals, and we are thus not exempt from selection, jumping on grenades/swords/spears (along with other acts of Altruism) wouldn't occur unless there was some evolutionary advantage to it.
    Altruism exists in the biological definition, not in the common definition. And for everyday life, it doesn't really make any difference.

    Basically, what Fartacus said.

    Streltsy on
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  • AtomikaAtomika Live fast and get fucked or whatever Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    Objectivism preaches pretty ardently against the existence of altruism, saying altruism is basically the coercion of one's will through such implements like guilt and superficial appeals to empathy.


    And for the most part and in most contexts, that's fairly true. If someone has to ask for your help to attain it, or even purposefully make themselves appear in need of help, and you give that help . . . then that's not altruism. That's coercion.

    Atomika on
  • KamarKamar Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    Fartacus wrote: »
    Kamar wrote: »
    I don't see why you have to consciously plan to receive pleasure in order for it to be your motivation.

    I mean, let's trade in some synonyms : happiness and unhappiness

    That's suddenly a lot more palatable and believable for most people: People act to be happy, and avoid being unhappy.

    OK, so, you can twist away meaning to invent a rhetorical/logical framework under which desire is congruent with pleasure-seeking, and there all action is ultimately hedonistic in nature.

    What have you proved? Why do I care? Universal statements don't illuminate anything -- they're just linguistic tricks. The whole point of creating different categories, of differentiation is that provides a useful way to interact with the world in ways that have effects.

    I don't know why laypeople are so drawn to make grand universal statements when talking about philosophy, but it's very common. It just doesn't actually illuminate anything.

    How the hell is it a 'linguistic trick'? I was pointing out that pleasure has a strange negative connotation, which is odd given the fact that it is synonymous with happiness.

    The argument changed not in the least. I don't have to twist anything to make my case, and I don't have any reason to; I care about being right (or closer to it) at the end, not about proving my initial stance right. I'll change my mind in a heartbeat on this, if given reason.

    And the idea that all action is hedonistic is like the idea that free will doesn't exist: basically, it's pointless wankery for day to day living, but has some implications in systems where we define 'right' and 'wrong', such as legal systems.

    Kamar on
  • FartacusFartacus __BANNED USERS regular
    edited November 2010
    For the record though, I don't think desire/want is congruent with pleasure-seeking in any meaningful way. You basically have to use really specialized definitions of pleasure and desire and it's like...why?

    If I want to go exercise (something I do not particularly enjoy, personally), am I pleasure seeking because I'm caving-in to my want? What about when people do things that are unpleasant? I don't really enjoy getting bled dry by my cleaners, but I do need clean clothes. Am I pleasure-seeking when I do my dry-cleaning?

    Pleasure should mean pleasure or else you're just eroding the meaning of words to prove some arcane logical point that doesn't matter. When I jerk off, I'm seeking pleasure. When I eat 23 karat gold leaf on my $30 souffle, I'm seeking pleasure. When I iron my shirt or take a shower? I'm not. Not by any reasonable, meaningful, or interesting definition.

    You could reasonably say that all human action is caused by physical processes in the brain which are optimized by natural selection to attenuate to our environment, perform computation on stimuli, and generate output actions which are statistically likely to increase fitness and the generation of reproductively successful offspring in the environment that selected for those cognitive processes.

    But, again, who cares? Great -- you've just defined human action, and then said that all human action fits that definition. Riveting.

    Fartacus on
  • CasedOutCasedOut Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    Fartacus wrote: »
    For the record though, I don't think desire/want is congruent with pleasure-seeking in any meaningful way. You basically have to use really specialized definitions of pleasure and desire and it's like...why?

    If I want to go exercise (something I do not particularly enjoy, personally), am I pleasure seeking because I'm caving-in to my want? What about when people do things that are unpleasant? I don't really enjoy getting bled dry by my cleaners, but I do need clean clothes. Am I pleasure-seeking when I do my dry-cleaning?

    Pleasure should mean pleasure or else you're just eroding the meaning of words to prove some arcane logical point that doesn't matter. When I jerk off, I'm seeking pleasure. When I eat 23 karat gold leaf on my $30 souffle, I'm seeking pleasure. When I iron my shirt or take a shower? I'm not. Not by any reasonable, meaningful, or interesting definition.

    You could reasonably say that all human action is caused by physical processes in the brain which are optimized by natural selection to attenuate to our environment, perform computation on stimuli, and generate output actions which are statistically likely to increase fitness and the generation of reproductively successful offspring in the environment that selected for those cognitive processes.
    But, again, who cares? Great -- you've just defined human action, and then said that all human action fits that definition. Riveting.

    If you don't care about why people do the things they do, thats on you and nobody else.

    Also, I think everything in yellow more accurately describes the cause of human action, not neccesarily the actions themselves.

    edit: yes I realize you said "cause" but then in your next sentence, you just say that all you did was define human action. So forgive me if I am confused as to what you are getting at.

    CasedOut on
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  • FartacusFartacus __BANNED USERS regular
    edited November 2010
    Objectivism preaches pretty ardently against the existence of altruism, saying altruism is basically the coercion of one's will through such implements like guilt and superficial appeals to empathy.


    And for the most part and in most contexts, that's fairly true. If someone has to ask for your help to attain it, or even purposefully make themselves appear in need of help, and you give that help . . . then that's not altruism. That's coercion.

    Oh please. All action is coercion then. We're just back to where we started. Money is coercion, too. I mean, what's the difference? People external to you are providing incentives and disincentives that "alter" your actions from what you would do if no one incentivized anything for you. Does your stomach coerce you to eat when it hurts? Do your bowels coerce you to defecate? Does the rain coerce you to find shelter, does a lion coerce to run away?

    I mean, really objectivism doesn't have enough intellectual weight to actually draw any meaningful distinction between "stimulus" and "coercion" which again, means that it fails to actual do anything analytically useful.

    Fartacus on
  • FartacusFartacus __BANNED USERS regular
    edited November 2010
    CasedOut wrote: »
    If you don't care about why people do the things they do, thats on you and nobody else.

    I care about why people do what they do, at many different levels of analysis, but I don't care about universal tautologies because they don't actually mean anything.

    Fartacus on
  • StreltsyStreltsy Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    Actually you are totally seeking pleasure when you iron your shirt and take a shower, you're receiving it when you jerk off or someone compliments how you look or w/e.

    It would actually be eroding words if you meant it any other way. Why else would we do shitty things if not seeking something pleasurable?

    edit: Generalized truths are pretty awesome actually, find out how shit works, apply it later. See space exploration, how useless is that shit right?

    Streltsy on
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  • MrMisterMrMister Jesus dying on the cross in pain? Morally better than us. One has to go "all in".Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    Kamar wrote: »
    To my way of thinking, it's a matter of the bottom line - why do you act on your want of a son? Why do you act to complete your duty?

    'Want' itself implies pleasure to me.

    There are various trivial formulations of psychological egoism lurking in this neighborhood. Consider the following line of argument:

    Acting intentionally involves acting on both a belief and a desire, e.g. I jog because I believe it will make my body fit and I desire my body to be fit. Intentional actions are, as such, attempts to bring the world into line with a desire. Therefore, intentional action always attempts to satisfy the desires of an agent, and, as such, is always intrinsically egoistic.

    The problem with this formulation is that if it is true at all, it is only trivially true. What we have done here is define what you do and what you desire in terms of one another, and in such a way that it simply follows absent any sort of observation or evidence that one must always be 'doing what one wants.' But presumably, psychological egoism is supposed to be a theory of human psychology--something to which empirical evidence could at least be theoretically salient. But on this argument it is not. It is instead true by definition.

    Furthermore, even if something along these lines were the case, and hence that "we always do what we want," your ultimate conclusion still does not follow. Namely, it does not follow that what we desire is ultimately our own pleasure. That only follows if you define pleasure as "the satisfaction of desire." But again, then all you have done is define wanting, pleasure, and intentional action interdependently, such that the conclusion trivially follows from the definition. Again, the result is a theory that is entirely devoid of empirical consequence. Given that it's entirely divorced from any actual facts of behavior or experience, it is unclear how it could even count as a theory of human psychology rather than merely being a theory of how we describe human psychology.

    Is there any condition at all under which psychological egoism could be demonstrated to be false? If the answer is no, it's a good, if not always decisive, hint that we aren't actually dealing with a theory of human behavior.

    MrMister on
  • emnmnmeemnmnme Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    Streltsy wrote: »
    Why else would we do shitty things if not seeking something pleasurable?

    For the pleasure of someone else, like busting your hump for ten years to save up for your kids' college tuition.

    emnmnme on
  • FartacusFartacus __BANNED USERS regular
    edited November 2010
    Streltsy wrote: »
    Actually you are totally seeking pleasure when you iron your shirt and take a shower, you're receiving it when you jerk off or someone compliments how you look or w/e.

    It would actually be eroding words if you meant it any other way. Why else would we do shitty things if not seeking something pleasurable?

    But then you're just blending all individual actions someone takes into one big giant pursuit of pleasure.

    Which again...doesn't tell us anything. What are the implications? OK, so there's this one fundamental motivation (which is single and fundamental because you've decided to define your terms in such a way as to fit all of human action) at the core of everything we do, from rape and pillage to help old ladies across the street, do our laundry, and play WoW.

    Why is this useful? What are the implications? What analytical work have you actually done? What does this mean philosophically? Why does anyone care?

    Fartacus on
  • CasedOutCasedOut Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    Fartacus wrote: »
    CasedOut wrote: »
    If you don't care about why people do the things they do, thats on you and nobody else.

    I care about why people do what they do, at many different levels of analysis, but I don't care about universal tautologies because they don't actually mean anything.

    I don't understand how what I put in yellow in your previous post is a "universal tautology." Could you explain?

    (don't take offense, I just dont understand and genuinely would like you to help me understand where you are coming from)

    CasedOut on
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  • FartacusFartacus __BANNED USERS regular
    edited November 2010
    MrMister wrote: »
    Kamar wrote: »
    To my way of thinking, it's a matter of the bottom line - why do you act on your want of a son? Why do you act to complete your duty?

    'Want' itself implies pleasure to me.

    There are various trivial formulations of psychological egoism lurking in this neighborhood. Consider the following line of argument:

    Acting intentionally involves acting on both a belief and a desire, e.g. I jog because I believe it will make my body fit and I desire my body to be fit. Intentional actions are, as such, attempts to bring the world into line with a desire. Therefore, intentional action always attempts to satisfy the desires of an agent, and, as such, is always intrinsically egoistic.

    The problem with this formulation is that if it is true at all, it is only trivially true. What we have done here is define what you do and what you desire in terms of one another, and in such a way that it simply follows absent any sort of observation or evidence that one must always be 'doing what one wants.' But presumably, psychological egoism is supposed to be a theory of human psychology--something to which empirical evidence could at least be theoretically salient. But on this argument it is not. It instead true by definition.

    Furthermore, even if something along these lines were the case, and hence that "we always do what we want," your ultimate conclusion still does not follow. Namely, it does not follow that what we desire is ultimately our own pleasure. That only follows if you define pleasure as "the satisfaction of desire." But again, then all you have done is define wanting, pleasure, and intentional action interdependently, such that the conclusion trivially follows from the definition. Again, the result is a theory that is entirely devoid of empirical consequence. Given that it's entirely divorced from any actual facts of behavior or experience, it is unclear how it could even count as a theory of human psychology rather than merely being a theory of how we describe human psychology.

    Is there any condition at all under which psychological egoism could be demonstrated to be false? If the answer is no, it's a good, if not always decisive, hint that we aren't actually dealing with a theory of human behavior.

    Thank you for saying what I've been trying to say more clearly.

    Fartacus on
  • SpeakerSpeaker Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    Kamar wrote: »
    To my way of thinking, it's a matter of the bottom line - why do you act on your want of a son? Why do you act to complete your duty?

    'Want' itself implies pleasure to me.

    That doesn't really say very much then. Your definition of pleasure is so large and covers so many different feelings and thoughts that were you to attempt to employ it to make any statements they would be fairly information free.

    Speaker on
  • FartacusFartacus __BANNED USERS regular
    edited November 2010
    CasedOut wrote: »
    Fartacus wrote: »
    CasedOut wrote: »
    If you don't care about why people do the things they do, thats on you and nobody else.

    I care about why people do what they do, at many different levels of analysis, but I don't care about universal tautologies because they don't actually mean anything.

    I don't understand how what I put in yellow in your previous post is a "universal tautology." Could you explain?

    (don't take offense, I just dont understand and genuinely would like you to help me understand where you are coming from)

    Because I'm defining human action to fit the process I just described. The idea that terms like "human action" "desire" "pleasure" "want" "motivation" etc have constant, objective definitions is common but also incorrect. It's as MrMr said -- when you simply define something in terms of something else, and then say "look! The thing I defined as this other thing is the same as this other thing!" you haven't actually done anything. You're just defining terms.

    Fartacus on
  • CasedOutCasedOut Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    Fartacus wrote: »
    Streltsy wrote: »
    Actually you are totally seeking pleasure when you iron your shirt and take a shower, you're receiving it when you jerk off or someone compliments how you look or w/e.

    It would actually be eroding words if you meant it any other way. Why else would we do shitty things if not seeking something pleasurable?

    But then you're just blending all individual actions someone takes into one big giant pursuit of pleasure.

    Which again...doesn't tell us anything. What are the implications? OK, so there's this one fundamental motivation (which is single and fundamental because you've decided to define your terms in such a way as to fit all of human action) at the core of everything we do, from rape and pillage to help old ladies across the street, do our laundry, and play WoW.

    Why is this useful? What are the implications? What analytical work have you actually done? What does this mean philosophically? Why does anyone care?

    I think the point is that its a pursuit to better understand ourselves and our actions. The more we understand of ourselves the better off we will be. Plus people like explanations, its in our nature to search for answers to our questions. (not that I think pure hedonism/pleasure seeking is actually a valid answer to anything, because I personally don't think it is at all)

    CasedOut on
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  • CasedOutCasedOut Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    Fartacus wrote: »
    CasedOut wrote: »
    Fartacus wrote: »
    CasedOut wrote: »
    If you don't care about why people do the things they do, thats on you and nobody else.

    I care about why people do what they do, at many different levels of analysis, but I don't care about universal tautologies because they don't actually mean anything.

    I don't understand how what I put in yellow in your previous post is a "universal tautology." Could you explain?

    (don't take offense, I just dont understand and genuinely would like you to help me understand where you are coming from)

    Because I'm defining human action to fit the process I just described. The idea that terms like "human action" "desire" "pleasure" "want" "motivation" etc have constant, objective definitions is common but also incorrect. It's as MrMr said -- when you simply define something in terms of something else, and then say "look! The thing I defined as this other thing is the same as this other thing!" you haven't actually done anything. You're just defining terms.

    So you are saying all of those terms are objectively undefinable?

    edit: because in that case I will have to pretty much agree

    edit2: I say pretty much, because I think the term human action is pretty objectively definable.

    CasedOut on
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  • MrMisterMrMister Jesus dying on the cross in pain? Morally better than us. One has to go "all in".Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    Objectivism preaches pretty ardently against the existence of altruism, saying altruism is basically the coercion of one's will through such implements like guilt and superficial appeals to empathy.

    And for the most part and in most contexts, that's fairly true. If someone has to ask for your help to attain it, or even purposefully make themselves appear in need of help, and you give that help . . . then that's not altruism. That's coercion.

    What.

    MrMister on
  • MrMisterMrMister Jesus dying on the cross in pain? Morally better than us. One has to go "all in".Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    Fartacus wrote: »
    Economists and rationalists and all the rest want to pose some model of human action where we weigh outcomes and make choices -- that doesn't reflect reality. Most of the time, we just do stuff without especially thinking about it any which way. I want to do something, so I do it. Maybe it's analytically useful (for their own theories) for some philosophers to impose a weighing mechanism on top of my actions, but for the most part we act how we do simply because we want to, especially when money (i.e., conscious, explicit incentives external to our own brains) isn't involved.

    My whole point here is that the idea of a "motive" to do things is not an objective fact so much as a cultural artifact. It's how Westerners in the legacy of Liberalism conceptualize human behavior, but it's not necessarily particularly accurate. Most of the time, people just do.

    Two things:

    1) Even when we don't consciously deliberate, it often makes sense to attribute motive to our behavior. For instance, when I squirm in my chair to get more comfortable I may not be going through deductive syllogisms in my head which demonstrate that to be the best course of action, but I still am sensibly operating with a motive. I want to get more comfortable. This is part of what distinguishes my squirming from an involuntary action, e.g. a back spasm.

    2) Even though we often don't consciously deliberate, we sometimes do. And this involves motives, actions, choices, outcomes, and all that.

    MrMister on
  • FartacusFartacus __BANNED USERS regular
    edited November 2010
    CasedOut wrote: »
    So you are saying all of those terms are objectively undefinable?

    edit: because in that case I will have to pretty much agree

    edit2: I say pretty much, because I think the term human action is pretty objectively definable.

    I'm saying define them however you want, but be aware that you're defining them, and don't think you've done anything interesting or new or insightful if you define some things in terms of each other and then are so proud that you've "proved" they're the same thing.

    I think it's mostly because people co-opt connotative meaning from more intuitive/colloquial/common definitions into their weird, abstract, specialized definitions. It's a form of intellectual dishonesty.

    The way Kamar was defining "pleasure" is not the way most people think about pleasure, or the way we talk about pleasure, or the way the word is generally used. He defined it as "satisfying desires" and he defined desire as "seeking pleasure." So he's created a neat little tautology here that doesn't actually prove or illuminate anything.

    However, he thinks it does because he also still can't help but think of the connotative meaning behind words like "pleasure" that belong to their more common definition (the physical sensation of pleasure/ecstasy).

    So, he's trying to take the meaning behind a more common definition of pleasure, that is also much narrower and clearly not something that encompasses all of human action (again, doing my laundry is not at all pleasurable), and he's trying to smuggle that meaning into his tautology, even though to get to his tautology he actually had to redefine what pleasure means.

    It's very common, and something plenty of philosophers have done (try reading any economist who wrote a philosophical/political work in the last 150 years who advocates any kind of rational-actor model of human action. Barf), but it's important to be aware of it.

    When Ludwig von Mises says all human action is "rational" he's altered the definition of rational so much that it's barely identifiable as even slightly related to the way people use the word in common language -- but then he imports the logical consequences of the term as if he had maintained the original meaning. When you define "rational" to mean "making a choice" why not just say "when people make choices they make choices" -- well, the answer is that you say "rational" so that you can then smuggle in the traditional meaning of the word to draw faulty conclusions, like that all human action is inherently good and should not be interfered with because rationality is good and human action is rational.

    It's fallacious reasoning. But it's usually unaware fallacious reasoning and the person doing it usually thinks they've struck intellectual gold.

    That's why people do this, and why they think they've shown something interesting once they have. It's not intentional, it's just a lack of rigor.

    Fartacus on
  • The CatThe Cat Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited November 2010
    What about suicide bombing, is there an impulse that covers that one

    Or is that pretty much just natural selection de-selecting people

    That would maybe be funnier if so many suicide bombers weren't people who'd been shamed into it (rape victims, criminals etc, 'you have only one way to redeem yourself'), or people with intellectual disabilities who'd been taken advantage of.

    The Cat on
    tmsig.jpg
  • FartacusFartacus __BANNED USERS regular
    edited November 2010
    MrMister wrote: »
    Fartacus wrote: »
    Economists and rationalists and all the rest want to pose some model of human action where we weigh outcomes and make choices -- that doesn't reflect reality. Most of the time, we just do stuff without especially thinking about it any which way. I want to do something, so I do it. Maybe it's analytically useful (for their own theories) for some philosophers to impose a weighing mechanism on top of my actions, but for the most part we act how we do simply because we want to, especially when money (i.e., conscious, explicit incentives external to our own brains) isn't involved.

    My whole point here is that the idea of a "motive" to do things is not an objective fact so much as a cultural artifact. It's how Westerners in the legacy of Liberalism conceptualize human behavior, but it's not necessarily particularly accurate. Most of the time, people just do.

    Two things:

    1) Even when we don't consciously deliberate, it often makes sense to attribute motive to our behavior. For instance, when I squirm in my chair to get more comfortable I may not be going through deductive syllogisms in my head which demonstrate that to be the best course of action, but I still am sensibly operating with a motive. I want to get more comfortable. This is part of what distinguishes my squirming from an involuntary action, e.g. a back spasm.

    2) Even though we often don't consciously deliberate, we sometimes do. And this involves motives, actions, choices, outcomes, and all that.

    I think it would be useful to delineate clearly between conscious motive and proximate causes of observed behavior.

    The problem I have with the word "motive" is that I think it's inextricably linked to it's common usage which is one that, at least to my mind, is generally related to conscious, or mostly-conscious decision making. Choice-making.

    I don't think what occurs when I'm having a conversation with someone, and I speak a specific word qualifies as "choice making," and I don't think anything approaching the common conception of motive is what causes me to follow "the cute" with "dog" instead of "ecclesiastical" or theoretically any other of thousands of words that I could potentially consciously choose from. I think there are people who are so obsessively committed to the rationalist framework that they would argue that each individual word I speak is a discrete human action that is preceded by a moment of decision making, and that decision making was rationally motivated and so on. I fundamentally find that absurd and that's why I'm not a fan of that word.

    Fartacus on
  • FartacusFartacus __BANNED USERS regular
    edited November 2010
    The Cat wrote: »
    What about suicide bombing, is there an impulse that covers that one

    Or is that pretty much just natural selection de-selecting people

    That would maybe be funnier if so many suicide bombers weren't people who'd been shamed into it (rape victims, criminals etc, 'you have only one way to redeem yourself'), or people with intellectual disabilities who'd been taken advantage of.

    Also it's not necessarily even true! Plenty of people reproduce viable offspring before becoming suicide bombers.

    Fartacus on
  • JuliusJulius Captain of Serenity on my shipRegistered User regular
    edited November 2010
    Damn you Fartacus for typing all that stuff before me.


    2010-10-10-hedonism.gif

    Julius on
  • rndmherorndmhero Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    Fartacus wrote: »
    MrMister wrote: »
    Fartacus wrote: »
    Economists and rationalists and all the rest want to pose some model of human action where we weigh outcomes and make choices -- that doesn't reflect reality. Most of the time, we just do stuff without especially thinking about it any which way. I want to do something, so I do it. Maybe it's analytically useful (for their own theories) for some philosophers to impose a weighing mechanism on top of my actions, but for the most part we act how we do simply because we want to, especially when money (i.e., conscious, explicit incentives external to our own brains) isn't involved.

    My whole point here is that the idea of a "motive" to do things is not an objective fact so much as a cultural artifact. It's how Westerners in the legacy of Liberalism conceptualize human behavior, but it's not necessarily particularly accurate. Most of the time, people just do.

    Two things:

    1) Even when we don't consciously deliberate, it often makes sense to attribute motive to our behavior. For instance, when I squirm in my chair to get more comfortable I may not be going through deductive syllogisms in my head which demonstrate that to be the best course of action, but I still am sensibly operating with a motive. I want to get more comfortable. This is part of what distinguishes my squirming from an involuntary action, e.g. a back spasm.

    2) Even though we often don't consciously deliberate, we sometimes do. And this involves motives, actions, choices, outcomes, and all that.

    I think it would be useful to delineate clearly between conscious motive and proximate causes of observed behavior.

    The problem I have with the word "motive" is that I think it's inextricably linked to it's common usage which is one that, at least to my mind, is generally related to conscious, or mostly-conscious decision making. Choice-making.

    I don't think what occurs when I'm having a conversation with someone, and I speak a specific word qualifies as "choice making," and I don't think anything approaching the common conception of motive is what causes me to follow "the cute" with "dog" instead of "ecclesiastical" or theoretically any other of thousands of words that I could potentially consciously choose from. I think there are people who are so obsessively committed to the rationalist framework that they would argue that each individual word I speak is a discrete human action that is preceded by a moment of decision making, and that decision making was rationally motivated and so on. I fundamentally find that absurd and that's why I'm not a fan of that word.

    I don't know that even the colloquial usage of motive implies a conscious consideration. We frequently dissect seemingly-mundane actions in terms of motivation and are able to arrive at reasonable conclusions without implying that an intentional calculation was performed. To say that unconscious conclusions or reflexive actions can be thought of in terms of motivation does not necessarily imply that every subunit of human action emerges from a discrete motive as well.

    In your example, we could question the motivation for your desire to talk about this cute dog that you see. Maybe you seek social acceptance with a group that also enjoys this dog, or maybe you're trying to gain the dog's attention. The specific utterances, in this case, are simply your brain drawing from its memory of how to accomplish that action. It may be entirely possible that you have some motive for using "dog" instead of "puppy", but you can also allow for mechanistic responses as a means of enacting some previously-conceived desire.

    rndmhero on
  • KamarKamar Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    I don't think my definition of pleasure is as far off as you seem to keep saying. Ironing a shirt isn't directly pleasurable, but it certainly isn't devoid of meaning with regard to pleasure/pain.

    You do it so you'll have an ironed shirt. Maybe you like the way it feels, or you want to have the way you dress thought positively of. Or maybe you do it so you don't have to wear a wrinkled shirt, because you have the way it feels, or your boss will get mad, or you're afraid you'll get talked about by passersbye. Or some combination thereof.

    An action doesn't need to have trigger immediate pleasure or avoid immediate pain to be based on those things.

    That said, I've been doing some extensive reading and I'm a bit less sure of my position on other grounds, now.

    I'll be back later, when I'm confident enough in my positions to continue.

    Kamar on
  • rndmherorndmhero Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    Kamar wrote: »
    An action doesn't need to have trigger immediate pleasure or avoid immediate pain to be based on those things.

    Conversely, just because pleasure can be abstractly derived from an action, it does not follow that the action was performed in order to obtain that pleasure.

    rndmhero on
  • MrMisterMrMister Jesus dying on the cross in pain? Morally better than us. One has to go "all in".Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    Fartacus wrote: »
    I think there are people who are so obsessively committed to the rationalist framework that they would argue that each individual word I speak is a discrete human action that is preceded by a moment of decision making, and that decision making was rationally motivated and so on. I fundamentally find that absurd and that's why I'm not a fan of that word.

    I don't know if I would identify that with rationalism. But in any case, I think you're throwing the baby out with the bathwater here. Just because we reject the notion of humans as perfectly rational and infinitely computationally powerful decision machines, or the notion of deliberation as continuous and perfect, doesn't mean we have to stop thinking about things like motivations, beliefs, desires, decisions, and so on.

    MrMister on
  • Chake99Chake99 Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    It might be infinitely better to use the expression "preference satisfaction" instead of "pleasure" because the colloquial and utilitarian usages for the words pleasure are completely different.

    I think people are mixing up the connotations and denotations of words way too much. If we say that a person's behaviour is done to maximize pleasure (where pleasure is defined simply as an abstract concept maximized by action) it follows analytically that when a person acts altruistically they are doing so for their own pleasure.

    But to then pretend that we've come to any profound conclusion about the moral value of pleasure or altruism is kind of retarded - to do so would be to pretend that the expression "pleasure-seeking" was aligned with its ordinary language meaning which has connotations of "selfishly seeking physical pleasure with no regard for others" as opposed to simply being (by virtue of the earlier definition of pleasure) tautological.

    Chake99 on
    Hic Rhodus, Hic Salta.
  • FartacusFartacus __BANNED USERS regular
    edited November 2010
    Chake99 wrote: »
    It might be infinitely better to use the expression "preference satisfaction" instead of "pleasure" because the colloquial and utilitarian usages for the words pleasure are completely different.

    I think people are mixing up the connotations and denotations of words way too much. If we say that a person's behaviour is done to maximize pleasure (where pleasure is defined simply as an abstract concept maximized by action) it follows analytically that when a person acts altruistically they are doing so for their own pleasure.

    But to then pretend that we've come to any profound conclusion about the moral value of pleasure or altruism is kind of retarded - to do so would be to pretend that the expression "pleasure-seeking" was aligned with its ordinary language meaning which has connotations of "selfishly seeking physical pleasure with no regard for others" as opposed to simply being (by virtue of the earlier definition of pleasure) tautological.

    Right

    Fartacus on
  • Green DreamGreen Dream Registered User regular
    edited November 2010
    Thesis: The only motivations for human action are tho obtain feelings of pleasure and avoid feelings of pain.

    If you are looking for a refutation of such a thesis, you might find it hard to come by. That does not mean that the thesis is true, but rather that it is unfalsifiable.

    It is rather like the thesis that every object has a mind. Or a will. Or is mechanistic. Or material. Or ideal. Or spiritual. You simply take the broad and diverse world of nature, and give it a gloss. Once you have decided to describe reality in these terms, you will find that you will be able to fit all possible and potential "counter-examples" into your scheme; insofar as they all describe the world, they will find a place in your gloss. This is, in fact, an excellent test to make to discover whether or not you are making a claim of substance or merely offering a definition.

    Perhaps I need to explain the difference between a definition and a factual claim? Well, they can look very close to each other - identical in fact. They are only differentiated by the treatment they receive.

    You say: "All horses are mammals."

    I say: "All horses are four-legged animals."

    You scoff at me, and say that I'm wrong. What about horses that have lost a leg? I must be wrong.

    No, I tell you, cut off a horses leg, and it's no longer a horse. It's something else. Therefore, you assert nothing of such a creature when you say "All horses are mammals" - it's not even a horse, after all. (EDITED - Sorry, I got distracted partway through writing this, thought of a different example, and well, you know. This makes more sense now.)

    Clearly this exchange is absurd - we are not really arguing, just describing the same things in different ways. There is no "test" to determine who is right or wrong - we recognize in this example how futile the conversation is, because we feel that nothing is really at stake. Sure, call a three legged horse not a horse if you want to; you won't mean what I mean by "horse", so maybe I just won't talk to you about horses.

    EDIT: Sorry, I forgot this part. If I were, on the other hand, to say, "All horses are four-legged animals," and then you were to show me a horse that had a leg cut off, and I was to then say, "Oops! I hadn't thought of that. Of course horses can have legs cut off. I guess my claim was false," then it would be clear that I treated my earlier utterance as a statement of fact. If I am willing to revise it in the face of new evidence that may contradict my claim, then it is not a definition, but a statement of fact. After all, perhaps I had been right - let us say that there were only 10 horses in the world, and they all had four legs. In that case I could have been correct - up until one had it's leg removed.

    But what about your thesis, again? That all human action is driven by the avoidance of pain or obtaining pleasure? This is something you feel is important, a key insight into the nature of man's psychology. Yet, if it is not a theory in which you could construct a scenario in which the outcome could at least potentially falsify your claim, then it is mere definition - mere gloss. And we can tell that this is what is going on, because your whole theory hangs on the idea that there is NO coherent scenario in which a man chooses based on motivations that do not reduce to pleasure- or pain-driven choices or preferences. If you could imagine an experiment that could function as proof for your theory (i.e. falsifiable, objective, repeatable), then you would give up your position - clearly more would be possible.

    The way in which you define your terms delimits the possibilities of reality, but propositions used as definitions cease to be claims about reality for as long as they are used as such. So, you may cling to an ontology of motivation which reduces all human being to a calculus of pleasure and pain. Another may reduce your binary system to a single item both can be reduced to: the desire for power over one's experience. Another may reduce pleasure and pain to electrical charge in the brain. Another may have a complicated ontology of will and thought and memory and feeling that are all ideal, with categories and subcategories of experience in each that bear different names and exhaust the English language in its ornate construction. But insofar as they each apply these glosses to reality, they are no more than a lens. A gloss. And to concern yourself with such a thing is to spend all your time looking at the microscope, at the tool for seeing, rather than the world around you. To believe that, by putting on rose-coloured glasses, you had discovered the wonderous truth that all things are rose-tinted. If only those poor benighted brutes without them could see!

    As I said before, this will not likely satisfy you. Few men possessed of the powerful conviction that they have discovered a fundamental and necessary truth of the world would be. But, if you do attempt to make such differentiation between propositions with empirical content (that is, those that have a "truth table", those that are "falsifiable") and definitions (also called "necessary truths" and which cannot be described as truth-functional) you may like it.

    Green Dream on
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