Selfishness is considered bad in society, and my parents tell me to be as selfless as possible, but how can it be possible to be selfless? I think selfless can be traced back to our instincts. We had to work for ourselves in order to survive and reproduce so life can continue. Eating is selfish, because it's benefiting ourselves only. That food could feed other people. If I donate to charity, is that not also selfishness? I donate so I feel like I can contribute to the world, and so I can feel better as a person. That means that the donating was purely in my own interest. If a parent throws themselves in front of a car to save a child, I think the root of their action is actually selfish - they don't think they could live knowing that they could've saved the child but didn't. What's your view on this? Do you think there's such thing as being selfless? If so, how can I live selflessly? Am I just thinking about all of this completely wrong?

You are right in thinking that the urge to be selfless can have selfish aspects to it, but surely not to the extent you suggest. It is possible to carry out an action entirely out of the motives to help others, and not because it makes us feel better. We may hate the action especially if we are helping someone we dislike or who actually disgusts us but we do it nonetheless. We do it because we think we should, perhaps we regard it as our duty. It is possible of course that this gives us pleasure in the sense of overcoming a personal obstacle but you are suggesting that there can be no other possible motive, and that seems dubious to me.

It is the possibility of making morality depend on our feelings that led Kant to insist that it never should. If it does, he argued, then that would make it arbitrary and subjective. Whatever we think of his approach we can grasp the main point here, which is that people are supposed to do the right thing out of a motive to do the right thing and not because it makes us feel good. Some people manage to act in this way, although perhaps not everyone who thinks they do.

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