ISSUE-129

Claim: No act is done purely for the benefit of others.

Reason: All actions — even those that seem to be done for other people — are based on self-interest.


Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim and the reason on which that claim is based.


Is there real altruistic act? Some people do not believe so and they claim that there is not a single human act that is purely in the interest of others. Instead, it is argued that all those actions are actually motivated by self-interest, even including those actions which appears to be examples of altruism. Although I certainly acknowledge the facts that many behaviors, though seemingly altruistic, are driven by self-interest, it cannot be denied that there are indeed actions done purely for the benefit of the society (or a nation as a whole).


First, on an individual level, I agree with the notion that some seemingly altruistic actions may have been based on self-interest. This is because the recognition of being altruistic is morally rewarding, and hence the pursuit of this very moral reward leads to altruistic behaviors. For example, those who make charity donation may claim that they do so in order to help the poor, an action that is commonly considered to be altruistic. At the same time, we must not forget that such actions are often accompanied by applause and admiration from the public, meaning those who donate to the charity actually benefit from their behaviors, even if the benefit is largely non-material. Hence, from an individual perspective, self-interest may indeed partially drive some of our actions that at first glance seem completely altruistic.


Second, on family level, some even question the concept of altruism that is purportedly existing between parents and children. Conventional thinking always praises the great sacrifice made by parents for their children and regards it as a noble form of altruism. Yet, another school of thinking actually argues that such actions also have self-based motives. The fundamental premises of their lines of reasoning are that the goal of our survival is to pass the genetic information embedded in the DNA of our cells as well as of in our offsprings. As a consequence, the altruistic behaviors of parents can be interpreted as a way of the so-called “selfish genes” to maximize their likelihood of survival in the upcoming generations. This hypothesis explains why in certain animals the mother would kill her offspring when she determines that the chances of survival for the baby are slim. To conclude, even the parents’ seemingly altruistic devotion to the children cannot be seen as without any self-interest.


From my point of view, despite the aforementioned examples showing that many purportedly altruistic actions are done based on self-interest, there are still many cases in which an act is done for the benefit of other people. In such cases, the survival of the group, be it an ethnic group, a nation, or human beings as a species, prevails the self-interest and leads the individual to commit selfless act. In animals such group survival instincts abound. For example, certain old preys will proactively sacrifice their lives to predators in a way to ensure the younger population still survive. Similar logic is no different to human society. In the Civil Rights Movement, Dr Martin Luther King sacrifices his life to fight for the equal rights of black people in the United States. In war times, for example, soldiers are willingly ready to sacrifice their lives to achieve the greater good for their country. In recent blockbuster Avengers, Tony Stark, the Iron Man, knowingly exchanges his life for the survival of the human race as well as other species in the universe. Though the final example is a pure fiction, it, together with other real-life example, still vividly and forcefully illustrates the existence of true altruism in our society.


To sump up, I cannot full agree with the claim that no act is done purely for other people and the reason that all actions are based on self-interest. While there are many seemingly altruistic actions that can be interpreted in a selfish fashion, many other actions are indeed carried out for the benefits of the others and at the sacrifice of those who do it.

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