Are Altruistic Acts Truly Unselfish?
Would you say there is true altruism? Or is every action performed in order to benefit one's self?
These are two very interesting questions. Some might perceive them as mutually exclusive but in my case, at least, I would have to answer "yes" to BOTH questions.
Altruism is an unselfish concern for the welfare of others. Would I say there is true altruism? Yes, I would. As examples of such concern, I would offer a mother for her children, a soldier falling on a grenade to protect his comrades, Mother Theresa, Mohamad, etc. I’m pretty sure that we are all aware of many examples of people who feel the pain and misery of others and who would like to provide some relief.
Actions, on the other hand, are very different then feelings of concern. Actions are deeds and they can be as simple as those discussed in a Psyc 101 lecture or so complex that we need a Phd to understand them. Regardless of the complexity, the concept of reward is usually present. Therefore, my answer to the second question, "Is every action performed in order to benefit one's self?", would have to be "yes" again.
Studies of behavioral psychology using mice in a maze, suggest that most creatures, certainly the mice used in the studies, are born with an inherent ability to quickly learn to act in ways that are designed to provide rewards and to avoid actions that are designed to deny rewards. When applying these observations to us humans, we can expect that we will almost always act in ways that provide some kind of a benefit, albeit great or small, real or imagined. As most of us already know, for some people even pain and misery can be a form of reward.
So, if we accept that all learned behaviors are intended to lead to some reward for the doer then we need to accept the possibility that none can really be considered totally unselfish. However, let's not over emphasize the need for total unselfishness in acts motivated by altruism. Someone dropping $1000 in cash into the mailbox of a needy family should still earn our admiration and applause unless, of course, the money happens to belong to someone else.