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Psychological Egoism

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posted on Dec, 18 2014 @ 03:25 AM

Psychological egoism is the view that humans are always motivated by self-interest, even in what seem to be acts of altruism. It claims that, when people choose to help others, they do so ultimately because of the personal benefits that they themselves expect to obtain, directly or indirectly, from doing so. This is a descriptive rather than normative view, since it only makes claims about how things are, not how they ought to be.


Some significant questions to ponder:

[1] How does one define a selfish or selfless act?
[2] What exactly separates a selfish act from a selfless one?
[3] Is it possible to perform a truly selfless act?
[4] What compels an act of altruism if there is no benefit for the person performing the deed?
[5] Why does society encourage us to be altruistic instead of selfish?

My personal views:

1. A selfish act is one that mostly benefits the person performing the action, without consideration for how the action will affect other individuals. A Selfless act is one that mostly benefits another individual or group of people, and presents no personal gain for the person performing the action.

2. I am not certain, but intent would likely play a big part in this. If benefit for one's own gain without regard for those of others is the primary aim, then it is more likely a selfish act. If benefit for others with little concern for self-benefit is the primary aim, then it is more likely selfless.

3. I believe it is possible to perform a truly selfless act, but it is extremely rare. Many people who think they are performing a truly selfish act are in fact motivated in some way by their own gain.

4. This is difficult to answer. After all, the two major motivators for our existence appear to be survival and pleasure; we usually take part in actions that will ensure we continue to live and those which make us happy or feel good. It's hard to argue against those two motivations because they are prevalent in almost any capacity imaginable.

5. Now, I am not asking what society rewards us by being, I'm asking why as an ideal altruism is highly valued. I have conflicting views on this question. On the one hand, I believe that society encourages us to altruistic because their is a symbiotic benefit to helping others; the person performing the deed wins by feeling good and the person receiving the deed feels less burdened.

The other, more cynical view, is that society encourages us to focus on bettering other people to our own detriment. Putting all the energy into helping others diminishes our ability to truly help ourselves. This means there is less of a threat to those in power because nobody is focused on truly living up to their own potential.

What are your thoughts on the information presented above?

posted on Dec, 18 2014 @ 06:38 AM
a reply to: Dark Ghost

A monk burning himself in Saigon to bring awareness is a completely selfless act, a man being run over by a tank in Tiananmen Square is another, saving a life of another with complete disregard for your own is as well. In fact many acts performed every day by parents all over the world for their children are selfless acts. Donating in a non-traceable and anonymous way is selfless.

Unless feeling good about oneself, pride essentially, would make that selfish.

This is something I've struggled with for a while in my self analysis. I found myself throughout my life doing things I persuaded myself were good and selfless acts but only later did I realize that perhaps deep inside I was hoping to impress a girl or build a foundation for a business relationship down the road, which made my acts ultimately selfish.

Interesting topic, glad you brought it up.


edit on 18-12-2014 by Kharron because: typo

posted on Dec, 18 2014 @ 07:21 AM
I always get a bit tired of the old ''altruism doesn't exist, you do it because it makes you feel good''. Even when the respective person genuinely thinks he acts in this manner out of perceivably genuine compassion that 'desire to help' could be turned around by saying 'you're acting out your desire'. I sometimes find myself in that circle of thinking as I sometimes read or hear something that makes me at first genuinely want to congratulate, offer my condolences or wish a person all the best after which I suddenly think:

Is it about me or about the other? I want to offer some kind of 'support' to the other person, but am I actually burdening them with my intent? I FEEL out of compassion or empathy or whatever it is a need to say this... ==> enter the loophole.

It's one of those circles or loopholes to which there's no answer for me but it makes me sometimes refrain from saying something like 'all the best' etc. Even though the other person probably appreciates it and likes being seen, heard and acknowledged.

I think this is one of those things that can be pondered about into oblivion without any definitive answers. It probably leads to more cynicism without actually offering an answer about the motives of a person. It's a bit like the question ''are there people who are genuinely themselves or are they also creating a reputation?'' The invisible and ungraspable nature of subconsciousness makes that you can theorise forever... without finding an answer, because even if you honestly feel or think a way, who says you aren't tricking yourself? Who says that it isn't part of your desire to appear a certain way? (as in genuine, honest, empathetic, etc etc)

I have a certain issue with the moral implications behind intentions. They aren't really there, but they're implicitly assumed because people have assumptions and associations connected to certain words and motives such as 'selfishness' and on the other hand, 'altruism' or 'selfless deeds'. Let's say a person does a seemingly selfless deed but it's proven that deeply within the psyche, it's about a certain kind of self-gratification; now that would give it (to most) a kind of cynical twist, as in: see? Altruism doesn't exist. It's all about the ego.

But let's let go of the association with 'self = sin'. We then have:
A person doing a good/great deed. He or she is self-motivated eventually but does it from a genuinely perceived intention of empathy, compassion and good will.

Then I ask: what does it matter? Isn't what you want that eventually defines you as a person and give definition to your amount of ethics and kindness? The desire to help may eventually be self-motivated, but the fact on itself that it gives you a good feeling, and that you genuinely feel you want to help a person shows what you are.

You aren't the one who desires to rule over others, to kill others for their money, you don't want to take advantage of them for your own gain.

I think that makes the whole point of 'is it selfish or not' rather vain. It's simply not about that. It's not IF it gives you a good feeling, it's about WHAT gives you a good feeling and your perceived honesty and sincerity in acting a certain way.

I think we're focusing so much on the 'selfish versus selflessness' that we forget to look a bit further or take a new angle.

Society probably encourages altruism because it puts people off that you can be selfish, yet not harmful. People seem a bit uneasy at the mere thought that for instance, a person has no empathy yet is harmless. (a specific, theoretical person) It puts them off, which is exactly the reason we lose ourselves in words such as 'eventually we're selfish'. We fear selfishness or that the other doesn't give a sh** about us and our feelings so this whole discussion seems to make many people feel either uneasy or cynical, which is, as explained above, a shame in my opinion.

The mere fact that seeing selfless deeds happen, seeing someone care for another etc makes us feel good and fuzzy says something. Even if we look at these things to feel good and fuzzy (which is self-motivated, eventually). That that makes you feel good says something, just like it says something if you feel good and fuzzy reading about the massacre at Babi Yar (which would be self-motivated as well, but it's completely different). That most people probably feel horror reading about it (I felt for days as if I was a bit damaged by reading into it) is perhaps somehow vaguely and theoretically deductible to a sense of self-preservation or however you want to twist it but that's imo a too far stretch to get cynical over.

And I don't think society is actively encouraging good deeds, that's my bit of cynicism on the matter

posted on Dec, 18 2014 @ 07:36 AM
Also, it got me thinking on my own perceived 'nice deeds' or 'altruistic deeds'. It's also a bit about the first things that I just wrote; again the desire to help or offer some support. I thought about it a bit and perhaps it's not about wanting to feel better about yourself, but because you can't bear watching the other person suffer. Just that.

So when you help that person, you're indeed self-motivated because it's YOU who cannot bear watching the person suffer. Yet helping the other ''selflessly'' still is as far from self-motivated as it probably can get, up to a point where I think the whole ''it's all about you eventually, deep deep within'' is merely semantics.

If it's not about you wanting to feel better about yourself (''I'm such a philanthrope! Watch me being a saint!'') as in ego, the desire to help or support someone is aimed at the other person to maximum possible and logically conceivable extent. Meaning that 'eventually you can't bear watching the person suffer like that so it's about you' is a twist that's basically uncalled for. Can you get LESS self-motivated than that? I think that the next step would be emotion-free selflessness which isn't that much better imo.

And we need to drop the moral aspect to 'eventual selfishness' imo.
edit on 18-12-2014 by Pitou because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 18 2014 @ 09:12 AM
Is self survival selfish ... No it is necessary

In the larger picture all is connected and inter dependent to some degree

I believe the Universal Intelligence intention is to survive in natural and harmonious way with the beings/souls it created and also with other Universal Intelligences.

In a way Intelligence is common sense ... It is common sense that Humanity works towards the benefit of the whole for our own survival and evolution ... Evolution in the sense of soul and Eternity

We turn our back on our own Intelligence when we seek to only benefit self at the expense of others

I believe we should be about intelligent dialogue and co operation rather than mindlessness and competition.
What we can achieve together for the benefit of the whole ... though this can mean being alone in order to connect and become the creative beings we truly are ... in my opinion

posted on Dec, 18 2014 @ 03:15 PM
Altruism is highly valued because it benefits the group the most. If everyone only cares for themselves, then the group would fall apart.

posted on Dec, 19 2014 @ 05:04 AM
Altruism is when you do something with no benefit or even detriment to yourself, to help someone else. Selfishness is doing anything for personal benefit,

Altruism doesnt really exist, or rarely so, because most people do altruistic things for the praise, the respect, the veneration... its more like a side effect that someone gets helped.

An old friend used to say: "True generosity is helping when you can't afford to"

posted on Dec, 19 2014 @ 09:41 AM
a reply to: Dark Ghost
In this video Osho will teach you to be selfish - to be selfish simply means to be yourself - you should always consider yourself first because when you consider yourself you would have considered the whole world - by being selfish you will find all the altruism that you have been seeking and not finding.
You are told to love the neighbour but you have never loved yourself. If you have not loved yourself then you have no love to give, before you can give love you must have love. (insights of Osho from the video)

Osho has a great way of looking at concepts like selfishness.

edit on 19-12-2014 by Itisnowagain because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 19 2014 @ 10:57 AM
I think we all do this everyday. I do many things all the time with the only feeling that it is the right thing to do. Not looking for praise of any kind other than just knowing I helped someone in need.

posted on Dec, 25 2014 @ 10:58 PM
a reply to: Dark Ghost

From what I understand:

1) A selfish act means that there is one object, and either one person or another can have it, both cannot have it because it is the only object like it, so the selfish one would be the one whom wants to take that object and knowingly deny the other, the other person would suffer if they also wanted the object, however, if they are selfless, then they would be content to allow the other person to have it, or even give that object to the other person if they had acquired the object first.

2) The level of "want" that is present, and the level of disregard for others whom also "want".

3) You would have to give your life to save another.

4) Some feel that they have more than what they need, and to give something away for nothing has no consequence at all so they are technically giving without expecting anything in return.

5) This is due to our perceptions of inequality, and an ideal that posits we all have the same level of "benefit" globally.

posted on Dec, 26 2014 @ 12:08 AM

originally posted by: Dark Ghost
[5] Why does society encourage us to be altruistic instead of selfish?

Just where (outsde of fiction) do you find this 'society' that encourages altruism? Religions used preach 'the appearance' of altruistic 'acts' but disregard the motivation.

All of western society's science is based on the assumption of purely selfish motivation for actions. That is the Materialsic worldview.

Science is beginning to recognize the value to life of cooperation but it will take a long time to supplant the individualisic - self-centered worldview.
edit on 26-12-2014 by FyreByrd because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 26 2014 @ 12:55 AM

originally posted by: Dark Ghost

[1] How does one define a selfish or selfless act?

I think that those terms refer to the most extreme ends of the spectrum.
I consider a selfish act one which does not take into account the interdependency of others with their self.
Intent which seeks self fulfilment, but that risks undermining the community or other support system which surrounds them and is a factor in their own survival.
Ex.: Blowing up your city, so you can be all alone, free from them. Not taking into account that you will have no more sources of food, water, electricity, or protection from invaders.

[2] What exactly separates a selfish act from a selfless one?

That becomes clear when we describe a selfless act in contrast.

[3] Is it possible to perform a truly selfless act?

I think it is. Self destructive behavior, which aims to benefit others, but destroy self happens with individuals who have not enough ego, and project their self outwards, living through others. Martyism of the suicidal type ( Ex.-blowing up yourself so that your community or group can benefit)

I personally feel that is no more balanced, healthy or desirable than the selfish acts.

[4] What compels an act of altruism if there is no benefit for the person performing the deed?

Altruism, in my mind, refers to acts which take into consideration and value the interdependence of self and other, reaching for mutual benefit and well being.

[5] Why does society encourage us to be altruistic instead of selfish?

I am not sure that is necessarily true. I think the cultural values can be more complex than that. The point of view is relative to the observer too.

But in general, the most visible and obvious values and morals are the most superficial ones, that usually tend towards extremes. The more balanced ideas and morals are often encouraged in a slightly smaller, and less visible part of the population. Balance is less "loud", and tends to get repressed by the extremes in the most visible public arenas.

Look at any discussion which is polemic here and find someone who is "in the middle" position on the topic.
They get attacked by each extreme, and accused of being "on the other side".
So you don't end up hearing a lot of balanced minds out there amidst that clamor. But they are there.

edit on 26-12-2014 by Bluesma because: (no reason given)

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