Altruismus – Selbstlosigkeit

Aus einer Diskussion in Ethik, ob Selbstlosigkeit möglich ist, oder ob jede Handlung eines Menschen aus egozentrischen Gründen passiert, habe ich einen Text verfasst. Wie immer in der Philosophie, dient er als Boden für neue Diskussionen. Finden Sie, lieber Leser, logische Lücken? Haben eine andere Meinung?
Manege frei!


Tobias Deml, Ethics 2                                                                                                                                      June 2009

Is being selfless possible or is it only an ideal which we are trying to achieve; an overly perfect act only used in fiction?

To dive deeper into the concept of altruism, it is important to agree on a definition.


An action solely based on the interest of others rather than on a person’s own one.

I proposed this definition during our lesson but soon found that it makes altruism basically impossible: As long as we are human beings, all our motivation to do something, may it be eating a sandwhich or risking our life for others, is always coming from within. Even if we base our decision on what someone else wants, we first analyze the idea in our own minds and weigh it with our ability to critical judgement. If we act upon someone else’s interest, then only because we decide to do so. Without our own agreement, nothing will happen.

We have to find another definition in order to analyze the possibility of selflessness.

I propose the definition lies within the word “selfless” – “self”-“less”. Rather than interpreting it as the missing self interest, we shall see it as an action less based on ourselves but more on others.


An act in which the benefits for others subjectively outweigh our own losses.

This definition allows much more room for selflessness. Meaning, giving money to a homeless person is a selfless act, even if done for personal joy of “being a better person”. Saving the life of a child by sacrificing one’s own existence is also a selfless act.

The ethical question in this construct is not “Selfless – yes or no?” but rather
“How selfless?”

Meaning, the way to judge and grade selflessness is based on the reason and circumstances of the altruistic action.

About the Author

Tobias Deml is an Austrian Filmmaker and Visual Artist. 2012 Cinematography Reel: Tobias Deml ist ein österreichischer Filmstudent und Möchtegernregisseur in Los Angeles. Er arbeitet derzeit als Kameramann in Los Angeles und popelt in seiner Nase.