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Philosophy Topics: Psychological Egoism

Updated on July 11, 2012

Another debatable topic in philosophy and ethics is psychological egoism, which is the idea that the underlying motive behind every action we take is in some way a means to fulfill our own self-interest. The validity of the suggestion is a highly debatable topic. It in some ways may be true. Still in some instances, it may be disregarded as a fundamentally fallacious theory. Based on my own interpretation of what, in general, a human beings actual self-interest are, I find I cannot side with the psychological egoist.

The Egoist

When a person tells another that everything he or she does is for his or her own self-interest, I would bet that the recipient would not hesitate to feel a bit of resentment. The fact that we feel that resentment ought to suggest something to us. What I believe it suggest is that although we may be seeking our own self-interest in all that we do, whether it be something dramatically important or mundane, there will always exists in us a desire to fulfill the self-interest of others. Now, the psychological egoist will probably respond to that notion by saying “No, you do not seek to fulfill someone else’s interest. You are at best doing this to hide self-interest of your own that you will enjoy from the results of your action, be it glory, pride, or possible compensation.” In other words, it is a lose-lose situation in dealing with the physiological egoist. His argument cannot be disproven at the surface because our only defense is our own thoughts. One may say cigarettes and beer are damaging to one’s own health, so one who indulges in them is hurting himself, thus not seeking self-interests. They respond with no, his self-interest lies in the feelings obtained from indulging in them. Proving your own motives is not a battle easily won.

True Motives

The idea of psychological egoism contains no hint of positivity towards humanity as a whole. How could it? It leaves no room for charity toward others without saying it is a means to some self-interest. And when you factor that in, charity loses its meaning. I however believe this may be where the egoist can be disproven. Good deeds, charity, heroic rescues, and all other so called “selfless acts” become less attractive to us when we realize they were done for the doers own self-interest. If a man fights a war for the sake of receiving a bonus to his military paycheck, we may disregard him as a mercenary and not view his actions as heroically as the man who fights for the sake of freedom for his countrymen. A man, who rescues a dog from a fire because he did not want the dog to suffer, is a more admirable man than the one who rescues a dog because it is a show dog worth millions. When looking at the situation from this perspective, we see in humanity a desire for genuine, selfless acts of goodness. Yes, many people may do things to fulfill their own interest. Many more people may hide their true motives for doing such things. Still, the fact that people overall wish for a world where good deeds are done selflessly disproves the notion that all we do is for ourselves only. Now, I did not say that humanity does this. The road is narrow and few take it, even those who do get lost once or twice. But the fact is we live in a natural world where self-interests are a necessity to some degree. Yet, we also live in a world that desires selfless acts of which will ultimately make the world better.

Our Nature

To say that all we do is a motivation to fulfill our own desires is a notion that carries with it a weight of negativity too heavy for me to bear. If the theory were accepted by all and put into practice, what room would be left for any self-restraint in obtaining any and all things that we desire? No, because of the fact that we as a society are somewhat let down when we see that a selfless act wasn’t really selfless; I find I cannot yet agree with the theory of physiological egoism. We truly do desire the satisfaction of other people. The theory seems to be a fallacious claim that need be in constant defense of its own propositions. The very existence of our own conscience ought to disprove the theory in its entirety, but I dare not venture there and use a dull sword in my refutation. We are people who want to see selflessness in action. Part of our true self-interest lies in fulfilling the self-interest of others. Any objection beyond that I regard as nonsense and overthinking.


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