I just realized that it was Tuesday, so I should have put up a question. This one might actually deserve a Friday, but I need something about which to write, so here it goes. The question at hand comes from Frank, and asks, paraphrased, if it is possible to be completely altruistic?
I used to think the answer was no, and that everything we did is done for self serving reasons. My reasoning was that even the most self sacrificing saint does what they believe is right, and thus gains personal satisfaction from that. However, when called on to examine the question again, I realized that I might need a more complex understanding of what altruism is.
Previously I had considered it to be doing something for little or no personal benefit, and thus complete altruism was impossible because everything we do benefits us in some manner. Instead, here I shall amend the definition to something along the lines of how altruistic an act is depends on the degree to which the needs of others inform how we form our desires. That is, an act that we derive enjoyment from can still be altruistic if our enjoyment is derived by attempting to meet the needs of others, rather than focusing on our own needs.
In this case, I do believe that highly altruistic actions do exist. Indeed, most good parents will be completely altruistic to their babies. Of course, problems can still arise when the perfect altruist misconceives the needs of others, but I do believe in perfect altruism in principle.
What do other people think, both about my definition, and whether perfect altruism exists? When answering, feel free to use my definition of altruism or another that you specify.