I order food. A man makes it. He says it costs $6, and I only have $5. He gives me the food for $5.

Is this an act of kindness keeping in mind that the food costs less than $5 originally(to make, chicken etc). And that the food would go to waste if I don't buy it, and that he may lose me as a client.

  • Can you define act of kindness for your question? – virmaior Aug 5 '14 at 22:34

From a Rational Actor perspective, every decision a person makes is to maximize his own utility, meaning that less ambiguous acts of kindness, like giving away the food for free, are still done for personal reasons, namely that the person receives joy out of being kind, and therefore is really serving himself. So if one defines an act of kindness only as something that is not in your own interest, then kindness may not actually exist. A couple solutions to this:

  1. There are no acts of kindness. Humans, as more or less rational actors, only do things that increase our own utility, therefore everything is self-serving and there is no kindness.
  2. Humans can act with no self gain at all. Humans are not rational actors, so acts of kindness can occur when someone truly gains nothing from the act, not even joy or sense of fulfillment or social acceptance.

  3. Kindness is derivative of purpose. In this case, an act of kindness could be defined as when the motivation for an action is to make another happy, even if that makes you happy in the process.

  4. Kindness as non-material. This is probably the most common view. If somebody doesn't benefit materially, then the non-material benefits are not considered selfish. This view does run into problems like the one you put forth, where clearly something besides material gain is needed to truly decide the answer.

Personally, I favor #3.

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