Psychological Egoism Essay
Psychological Egoism: Fact or Fiction??
The descriptive claim made by Psychological Egoists is that humans, by nature, are motivated only by self-interest. Any act, no matter how altruistic it may seem on the outside is actually only a disguise for a selfish desire such as recognition, avoiding guilt, reward or sense of personal goodness or morality. For example, Mother Teresa is just using the poor for her own long-term spiritual gain. Being a universal claim, it could falter with a single counterexample. And being that I believe this claim to be bunk I will tell you why!
If I help a friend out of trouble, there is a chance that I would feel happy afterwards. But was that happiness the motive for my actions or just the result? I didnt save my friend in order to feel good; rather, I feel good because I helped my friend. Psychological egoism doesnt have an empirical or scientific leg to stand on. Furthermore, how can one know with any certainty that they are acting in their ultimate self-interest? What they do could me in their immediate self-interest, but could work against them in the future, knowingly or unknowingly.
Also, when a situation arises in which one must make a split decision, does the psychological egoist expect a human to deliberate whether the action is in their self-interest or not? For example, if I see my child run out onto a busy street and I can see that if I run out and grab her I can save her life and if I do not, my child will be squished by a speeding car. Do I, as the egoist would expect, take the time to deliberate that saving my child will result in all kinds of good for both her and I? No, I rush out and grab her in an instant and the good comes later. Now of course it is true that we sometimes get satisfaction and/or good feelings from acting unselfishly, but it would be a post hoc fallacy to say that we perform unselfish acts solely for the sake of that satisfaction. Also, self-interest and an interest for the welfare of others can certainly be bedfellows, and not strange ones. Using the shopkeeper example, he could opt never cheat his customers simply because he knows that honesty is good for business. He could cheat his customers and make a boatload of money, but he knows that it is wrong to cheat and lie to people it hurts them, is unfair and may make him feel guilty. So, self-interest or selfishness is not the ONLY motivation for his morally sound decision.
Much we do is motivated by self-interest, but not solely and independently. I believe that altruism does exist and that psychological egoism fails without the method of reinterpreting motives. We take pleasure in or derive satisfaction from things, actions or experiences because we desire them, we dont desire them because of the result.
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