Not Everyone is Self-Interested — Why Psychological Egoism is Wrong

Many people today believe that everyone is self-interested at all times. They say that people have no choice but to be selfish, in some way. This is a doctrine of human nature that’s been around for centuries, and it’s called “psychological egoism.” In this video, I’ll explain why this idea is wrong, and how it rests on a confused idea of what self-interest means.

So let’s get right to it. What does self-interest really mean? Does it mean doing whatever you want? No, it doesn’t.

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QuickPoint 6: Psychological Egoism is False — Not Everyone is Selfish

The Virtue of SelfishnessAyn Rand properly recognized that people do not necessarily act in their own self-interest. There is a difference between having a psychological motive to act in a certain way and a self-interested reason to act in a certain way.

Having a psychological motive can simply mean having a subjective whim, and an action taken on this basis can be very damaging to oneself (and so, not self-interested.) There is also self-sacrifice out of a desire to “be good,” i.e. to follow the duties of an irrational morality.

(Imagine a young woman who has the passion and ability to become a great artist. She wants to become an artist, has ideas for great paintings, and being an artist would be her means to a happy, flourishing life. But she accepts the morality of altruism, and she is convinced that, rather than going to a top art school, it is her duty as a “privileged American” to devote her life to saving Third-World children. This is not self-interested, just because she wants to save Third-World children out of a sense of moral duty. Nor is it self-interested just because she may get some pleasure out of “being moral”–at first.)

Given one’s basic nature, situation, experiences, abilities and psychological makeup, one’s own self-interest is objective, not a matter of one’s momentary whims. Any pleasures one pursues must be consistent with one’s overall, long-term well-being–both physical and mental–to be moral.

Those who refuse to think and continually subvert their own minds are not selfish. They need their minds–their ability to reason–to achieve any positive thing they value. What can they achieve without reason? In principle, only their own destruction, and, to the extent they use force, that of others.

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Related Posts:

Atlas Shrugged, Altruism and Egoism

Why a Proper Ethics is Not a Set of Social Rules, But a Complete Way of Life

Values Are Relational But Not Subjective

QuickPoint 1: Thinking is Individual

Human Emotions are the Products of Beliefs and Subconscious Value Judgments

Why Morality is Not “Evolved,” But Defined and Chosen

Star-Wars-Evolution-Evolution-Funny-485x728Note: I recommend reading the entire article, but if you really need just a summary, scroll down to the bottom of the post and see the “Summary” section.

I often hear people say that morality is evolved, especially those who are in the naturalist-humanist camp. But what would it mean for morality to be “evolved,” and is it true? Physical evolution by natural selection is a well established fact, but is the view of human moral theories and practices as products of evolution, in the same category?

To start to answer this, we need to clarify what we mean when we say that “morality is evolved.”

The first part of this statement is “morality.” What is morality? Ayn Rand defined morality as “a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life.” (1) So morality is a code or set of fundamental values accepted by choice, in order to guide particular choices toward some ultimate goal. Along with the basic, primary values in morality, come the basic types or modes of action by which the basic values are to be achieved. These basic modes of action are called “virtues.” Continue reading