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Author Topic: Meaning of "selfish"?  (Read 1050 times)

Nylo

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Meaning of "selfish"?
« on: August 26, 2004, 09:02:45 PM »
The 1980s have been characterized as a period of selfish individualism that threatens the cohension of society. But this characterization is true of any time. Throughout history all human actions have been motivated by selfishness. When the deeper implications are considered, even the simplest "unselfish" acts prove to be instances of selfish concern for the human species.

Which one of the following is a flaw in the argument?

Credited Response: (E) The argument relies on two different uses of the term "selfish".

* * *

Obviously my English degree is worthless. How exactly does the stimulus use two different meanings of "selfish"?

londongirl

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Re: Meaning of "selfish"?
« Reply #1 on: August 26, 2004, 09:05:18 PM »
selish concern for the human species vs. selfish individualism, I think.

kingoftorts

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Re: Meaning of "selfish"?
« Reply #2 on: August 26, 2004, 09:07:11 PM »
Please post all the answer choices

kingoftorts

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Re: Meaning of "selfish"?
« Reply #3 on: August 26, 2004, 09:08:12 PM »
londongirl's right though

londongirl

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Re: Meaning of "selfish"?
« Reply #4 on: August 26, 2004, 09:19:21 PM »
It's always easier to explain why something's right when you know (ie: are told) it is, unfortunately! I don't know if I'd have got this right on a test - it would depend on the other answer choices.
Basically, selfish means caring about yourself, putting your own interests first. i don't know whether you can be selfish on behalf of society. But that isn't the point. There's a shift in meaning here.

kingoftorts

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Re: Meaning of "selfish"?
« Reply #5 on: August 26, 2004, 09:22:37 PM »
It's always easier to explain why something's right when you know (ie: are told) it is, unfortunately! I don't know if I'd have got this right on a test - it would depend on the other answer choices.
Basically, selfish means caring about yourself, putting your own interests first. i don't know whether you can be selfish on behalf of society. But that isn't the point. There's a shift in meaning here.

definitely agree.  The word/phrase which selfish modifies is shifting [in "scope" dare I say] from an individual to a group. 

desmo

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Re: Meaning of "selfish"?
« Reply #6 on: August 26, 2004, 09:34:32 PM »
I agree, your English degree is useless.

Nylo

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Re: Meaning of "selfish"?
« Reply #7 on: August 26, 2004, 09:53:07 PM »
The other answer choices are:

(A) The claim that selfishness has been present throughout history is not actually relevant to the argument.
(B) No statistical evidence is provided to show that humans act selfishly more often than they act unselfishly.
(C) The argument assumes that selfishness is unique to the present age.
(D) The argument mentions only humans and does not consider the behavior of other species.

I see how the phrase that "selfish" modifies is shifting in scope (i.e. selfish individualism or selfish human action v.s. selfish concern for the human species), but I'm still having trouble understanding how this changes the actual meaning of the word "selfish" itself. If I say "John Doe is a bad person" and "Americans are bad people", I'm using the word "bad" to modify an individual in one instance and a group in the other, but am I using two different meanings of "bad"?  ???

Desmo: Thanks for pointing out the obvious.

Matthew_24_24

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Re: Meaning of "selfish"?
« Reply #8 on: August 27, 2004, 03:30:31 PM »
Personally, I find this question to be really retarded (and easy, but for other reasons).

However, in philosophy there is a marked difference between the use of the word selfish.

1.  Caring for one's pleasure with noted disregard for other people.
2.  Thoughts or actions that come from an individual. (personal, ethical definition)

In the latter case, selfish becomes nearly synonymous (practically speaking) with the word personal.    The last sentence then becomes in effect:

"When the deeper implications are considered, even the simplest "unselfish" acts prove to be instances of (personal) concern for the human species."

Said that way, the difference is obvious.  I've had the difference drilled into my head from phil of ethics courses though...I would imagine it would be tougher for others to recognize.  However, I still think this question is very easy...the other answer choices are really dumb:

d) We are talking about human society, so who cares if other species arent mentioned? Irrelevant.
c) No it doesnt.  Easily dismissed choice.
b) you dont need stats to put forward an argument, silly answer choice.
a) Of course it is...the claim of selfishness as always motivating human action is a core premise of defending that all unselfish acts are still selfish ones, with the assumption that human motivation hasn't changed (however fallacious that is).

There is no good second answer choice. That would make e) very obvious by the end.

Matt