Share good ideas and conversation.   Login, Join Us, or Take a Tour!
comment by jadedog

    I am certainly not someone well versed in the area of psychology, as I have only a lay understanding of many if not most aspects of it. But when you say there is no proof of empathy being the source of altruism and the lack thereof being psychopathy, is that your interpretation, or more of a fact?

I am also not an expert in the field of psychology. In this reply, I was speaking more as a skeptic. When I posited that there's no proof that altruists feel empathy, I was looking for some hard concrete proof that was objective, like a brain scan or something like that.

Without that, it's just the person's word for why they're doing something. For instance, there are numerous articles or posts that question whether Mother Theresa was a sociopath or a psychopath. On a quick search with the keywords Mother Theresa and psychopath, here's one, and another one and the article mentioned in that post. Penn and Teller did a TV show where they say that

    Mother Teresa a religious zealot who was happy to see the poor suffer.

However, she has been acclaimed as one of the biggest altruists. She has become the exemplar for altruists.

Yet, there's no real proof that she had real empathy for people, and some people claim she had none.

Conversely, while the definition of psychopaths is that they don't feel empathy, there's no proof of that either. When someone does something against society, they're often called psychopaths. In order to give a reason for how they could do something that most people wouldn't do, the reasoning is that they didn't feel empathy as others do. They themselves might say they didn't care about what happened. But often people can do cruel things to others because they've either justified it to themselves or because they've blocked out the part that cares about it. That's doesn't mean they don't have empathy at all.

couchpillow  ·  887 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I see. Yes, I didn't like when I saw that Mother Theresa was the example they threw out as an extreme altruist. I don't hold her in very high regard for precisely what you mention.

I completely get what you're saying though for sure. I feel that I am a fairly altruistic person, but there is really no objective proof of that, which you could see, to prove that. Even in the case of, as stated in the article, a firefighter risking his life - in the face of true mortal danger - to save someone he doesn't even know, one could debate and say that is it true altruism, or is the person more interested in hero status?

Does true and absolute altruism need to be completely devoid of any benefit, or be a detriment, to the individual performing the act? When I have little money and I use it to take some family or friends out to dinner - is that altruistic of me? Or am I attempting to get something (love? returned favors?) in return? I would tell you that when I do something like that, I do not (at least consciously) want or expect anything in return. But, subconsciously, is it a desire and want to be a good person? Does wanting to be a good person negate any altruistic action as being altruistic? Could there really be true altruism then?

Alright, now that it seems that I've gone completely off the track of the original discussion on psychopathy vs altruism regarding empathy (which I don't think I've really addressed at all here), I'll just shush and see myself out. Haha.

But wait, maybe I do have more. Haha. Reading back through your statements, in the realm of psychology, is there ever definitive proof? I get that we often seem to have brain scans nowadays that seem to confirm, or maybe just correlate, different areas of the brain with different activities and emotions and what not. But isn't psychology at it's base the study of human behaviour? But then, you are arguing that the reason for the behaviour may not be empathy, because you don't have definitive proof. Hmm. Maybe I am trying to hard to make an argument for something that I really don't know enough about. And it's also not like I completely disagree with you either, which makes it more difficult. I guess the empathy aspect being put forth seems to make sense to me, but I would have to agree that without something more concrete as proof - it's hard to say and argue whether or not that's the true basis for these personality traits or not. Rather, it probably is far more complex than simple the ability to feel empathy or not.

Oh well. Nice chatting anyhow. :)