We always think of ourselves first

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Dudeyhed, Mar 18, 2004.

  1. Dudeyhed Conformer Registered Senior Member

    I believe that our own interests are always first in our decisions.

    While we may really want to help a homeless man, when we finally do, it will not be primarily for the sake of the man, but for the sake of our own desire.

    Agree? Disagree?
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  3. glaucon tending tangentially Registered Senior Member

    Not to be trite but, how could it possibly be otherwise?
    There is no escaping the self, ergo, all starts there.
    The challenge of living a moral life is in trying to behave in a way that attempts to overcome this natural state.
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  5. bitterchick Why must you taunt me so? Registered Senior Member

    There is no such thing as an unselfish act. Even the most charitable person (e.g., Mother Teresa) acts as she does to make herself emotionally satisfied.

    In the remake of Bedazzled (with Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley), the guy gets out of his contract with the devil by performing a truly selfless act. The devil bemoans, "No one ever reads the contract." If he had read the contract, though, and knew that a "selfless act" would void the contract, he would not longer be capable of performing one. Any benevolent act on his part would have been tinged with the knowledge that it would benefit him.

    When we do something for someone we love, particularly when we do something for someone we love, it is because we want them to love us back. Going to a movie you don't want to see because your boyfriend does, sitting through your boyfriend's band performance, which is slightly dull and not a little painful, because it's important to him, all done in an effort to show him how much we care so he will care likewise. If you get the righteous feeling of self-sacrifice, a "I love you more" superiority, so much the better for you.

    I don't think this is cynical or, forgive my use of the word, bitter. It's just fact. We always act per our motivation. Even when we do the opposite of what we really want to do, we can congratulate ourselves for our strength of character.
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  7. Dudeyhed Conformer Registered Senior Member

    I don't think we can do the opposite of what we really want to do. We never do anything other than what it is we want to do most.

    Lol, according to this, unconditional love is a figment of our imagination!

    Glaucon, I agree, that as long as we identify ourselves as an entity, we will always act for ourselves first.
  8. glaucon tending tangentially Registered Senior Member


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    I concur.

    Damn!.. There's that 'I' again starting things off.... lol
  9. John Connellan Valued Senior Member

    And what is our own desire in this case? To help the homeless man? If so then the argumant is circular and there is no point in discussing it.
  10. bitterchick Why must you taunt me so? Registered Senior Member

    "I want to help the homeless man because helping those who need help makes me feel like a generous and caring person." "Because Jesus said to, and I will feel closer to Him if I do." "I'm supposed to pay my roommate back this twenty bucks, but screw her."

    It makes me happy to believe I am generous and caring to the needy. It gives me comfort to be closer to God. I get a sense of smug satisfaction out of jacking my bitch roommate out of the twenty bucks she's been bitching about for two weeks.

    Human beings are motivated by the desire to achieve pleasure and avoid pain, physical, mental and emotional. Those who actively seek out pain do so to derive some satisfaction from it - sexual gratification, self-mutilation done for the purpose of "feeling something."
  11. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    bitterchick.........What goes around, comes around. Remember this when your in the same fix when you want something back you lent to others. Paybacks are a bitch!
  12. Neildo Gone Registered Senior Member

    I don't always think for myself. I tend to sacrifice myself for others. Many times I've loaned money to someone where I needed it and I ended up screwing myself by missing some bill but I don't mind. So I lose my cable, electricity or something else for a couple days, OH NO, HOW CAN I SURVIVE!?!?! AHHHH! lol. I'll just do something better and go spend the night at a friend's house, go to the beach, go to the library, or something else.

    I'm low maintenance and really have no desire to accumulate wealth. There's no real purpose other than to have a new toy. I'm not gonna waste 50k on some cool car as that's a waste of money to me, heh. Oh wow, I have a nice sportscar, I'm sooo cool, whoopdeedoo.

    When I get paid, I just keep enough money to pay my neccessities and keep a bit of fun money, and the rest I give to my family -- my dad to help with his bills and debt, my sister for her new car payments, my mom for her bills too -- or to any other friend in need. And as for others, I give homeless people money when I have some on me, otherwise I chat with them and shoot the shit for awhile. I tip very well too.

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    I'm no Mother Teresa, but I rarely do things for myself because that's just how I am.. I'm humble. I don't do it to get closer to God or any of that BS. I just do it because those things are more beneficial to others than myself. I'm just not sucked into this whole materialistic society. Call me weird, heh.

    - N
  13. sargentlard Save the whales motherfucker Valued Senior Member


    Now imagine good sir if you didn't do what you do with your money. What kind of a shithead would you feel like? You do it because it comforts you and strokes your ego as a chartable person.

    When someone mentions that everyone does something for their benefit it doesn't neccessarily mean garnishing their lives with wealth and luxary while others suffer...they mean one does what he/she can to keep their mind at ease. Yours is put at ease knowing you are using that money for something worthwhile.

    This whole act of being prudent and giving with your money is for your benefit...not fiscal but mental.
  14. Hevene Registered Senior Member

    Hi everyone:
    I agree, we always put our own interest first. That's because there is only one of us. We are all one. Therefore, there is only one interest. However, some people's interests in mainly directed to their individual self, and we call that selfish, and some people has a larger interest, towards a larger self. It is all because the definition of the self is different to those two types of people. Why not enlarge your definition of the self to include everyone, and if you can, eveything?
  15. wesmorris Nerd Overlord - we(s):1 of N Valued Senior Member

    I think that all beings have no choice but to act to their subjective good. If they percieve that to be helping someone else, then they do it if other factors don't stop them.
  16. Descendia Registered Member

    What would say about a person who "selflessly" jumps in front of a car/stranger in order to save their life? Or just in general, someone who, with full knowledge of the consequences, undertakes an action that saves/benefits in some way the life of another? Is any sacrifice truly selfless?
  17. wesmorris Nerd Overlord - we(s):1 of N Valued Senior Member

    That they were brave and caring? It's kind of messed up really. Sure, it's totally selfish of them to want to save the other person's life, but that's still a good thing.. especially to that other person you know? Hell especially to the person to took the risk too. They did it because they are principles and willing to incur penalities (like death) to stick to their values. That is nobility IMO.


    No, selflessness is a myth. It's a good way to describe all that shit above though in a short way is all. The implications of underlying selfishness aren't necessarily pertinent, depending on the depth of the conversaton about the topic.

    In other words in normal conversation I might say "that selfless bastard", which really implies "he was so selfish about sticking to his values that we was willing to risk his life to save someone else, that is some noble shit". It's a matter of being succinct I think.
  18. John Connellan Valued Senior Member

    I don't think it is. If I see a hungry cat on the street I would love to give it some of my food if I had any. That is selflessness right?
  19. Votorx Still egotistic... Valued Senior Member

    Exactly. I believe me and Quantum Quack got into a discussion similar to this. It was the idea that everyone's actions are always selfish. Unless it benefits us in some way then we would never do what we do.
  20. Undecided Banned Banned

    Doesn't Bentham call this the egoistic hook? We all do things because it makes us happy, and it is in our interests. Otherwise we as rational human beings wouldn't do it? I think that's why communism simply cannot work, but that's another thread. So yes we do things because we selfishly think about ourselves first, but if used in the right context it's not a bad thing.
  21. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    It's a Maslow's Hierarchy issue. So few people ever make it to the top level of Self-actualization that most of us never have the chance to talk to one. So we have no idea what it's like and what the motivations and rewards are.

    Self-actualization means to unlock one's fullest potential and fulfill one's destiny. To count the entire human race -- or indeed all life or the entire universe -- as one's responsibility and to gain a sense of fulfillment by fulfilling that responsibility. How do we psychoanalyze that state?

    Of course, semantically, a person who has reorganized his priorities so that bringing about world peace, ending hunger, saving the whales, or weaning humanity off of petroleum makes him happy is indeed doing those things for the selfish reason that it makes him happy.

    But isn't that statement just a little lifeless?

    There is a qualitative difference between the psychology of a person who only derives happiness from satisfying his basic biological needs and one who can derive it from maintaining a healthy marriage and raising well-adjusted children, even if it means forgoing some or much personally-oriented pleasure. And the step is equally profound from that person to the aforementioned one who can derive it from serving all of humanity down into the future generations, even if it means personal sacrifice of great magnitude including perhaps forgoing the spouse and family.

    To say that these three people are motivated by the same drive and to call it "self interest" may be literally correct, but it is not a very useful observation in this context. It takes a rich concept and squashes all the substance out of it. Much like the sterile Abrahamic model of the human spirit squashes out all of the rich dimensions that polytheism reflects and leaves us with a binary good-versus-evil world that any computer programmer could have designed.

    Some philosophers (especially those of an economic bent like Hayek) use the phrase "enlightened self-interest" to suggest that enlightenment can alter a person's motivation without having to alter the hard-wiring of his brain. It's at least a good start. I like Maslow's model better because it focuses on the "enlightened" part rather than the "self interest" part. And also because it doesn't facilitate reducing the universe to dollars and cents, which, if we're not careful, can lead right back to the one-dimensional model that the West has been struggling under for several thousand years.

    Monotheism is a one-dimensional model. Economics is a one-dimensional model. In fact it's often suggested that it's the practically same model, simply replacing God with Money.

    Saying that we're all motivated by a single emotion, whether we call it happiness or self-interest, is also one-dimensional. Perhaps that's the problem with this question. One can be subjected to conflicting but equally strong emotions.

    Feeding the stray cat makes you feel good. That's a no-brainer for the average person who has an instinctive love for small warm-blooded animals and enough money to buy cat food. But what if the situation is a human child lying injured on a railroad track a la Perils of Pauline? Most of us will risk our life to pull that child out from in front of the locomotive, I guarantee it, no matter what we say sitting comfortably in our chairs with no actual child and no actual locomotive nearby. What's the motivation? Happiness? Self-interest? A convoluted syllogism involving having to face friends and family or the child's parents, "proving" that we would end up not being "happy" to be alive the next morning by having left the child to die?

    What's wrong with expanding the model and saying that we can be motivated by other emotions? Everyone from the Egyptians and Romans to Shakespeare to Jung looked inside us and discovered 23 different components. (I think that's the right number but what's important is that they all came up with the same number.) Let's not get infatuated with the simple models of economics and the Western religions and try to reduce that to One.

    We are all motivated by a huge variety of things. That is what makes life both difficult and interesting.
  22. water the sea Registered Senior Member

    Fraggle Rocker, I like your input.

    I too think that there is usually a variety of reasons why one does something.

    Maybe the problem with approaching this issue is also in how we perceive ourselves, society and our relation towards it. After all, if I use my car less, and several million people also do so, even though we may not know about eachother and have different reasons for not using our cars (ecological concerns, saving money,...), we have contributed to a healthier environment for *all.*
    We are members of society and we couldn't exist without society, and society could not exist without us. Sometimes, this doesn't seem so obvious, especially when the numbers go into millions and it seems that one member of the system doesn't make a difference. Of course, he may not, but there are several millions of such who "don't make a difference" -- and these several millions then do make a difference.
    So, often, when we do something apparently selfish, we are more or less directly influencing society, in a positive or in a negative way. And by influencing society, we are influencing ourselves, for we are members of this society. It's just that the connections are hard to see and sometimes seem minor and neglectable.

    Like the saying: A butterfly flips its wings in China and causes a hurricane in the Caribbean.
  23. John Connellan Valued Senior Member

    OK if u are expanding it to include just making ones self feel happy then I can come up with anohter one. What about the mother who is being held hostage with her child. The gunman decides one has to die. The mother has a strong survival instinct and so reluctantly (no happiness) decides to spare the child. That is pure selflessness is it not?

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