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Are all human actions motivated by self interest?

  1. Feb 25, 2004 #1
    Is every human action motivated by self-interest? Even when we help a complete stranger do we do it becuase it makes us feel good (and hence we are doing it out of self interest)? What do you think?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 25, 2004 #2
    It depends on the human. Why does it make anyone "feel good" though? It makes me "feel good" because it makes the other person feel good. That is why. This motive transcends "self" and "nonself" motive. It simply exists. I sponsor 6 children in 4 countries. To most people the little bit of "feeling good" is vastly outweighed by spending $100-$200 a month on cherity. Common sense tell you that I do not do it for my self interest, but obviously I do it to bring some warmth into the children's hearts.
  4. Feb 26, 2004 #3
    unless feeling good is your only motive, then i think it is no different then having sex to feel good.

    but if you do it because the person is in need of your help, then this is simply human compassion: this is the way of living where one agrees that everyone has as much a right to be as happy as ones self.

    a compassionate persons thoughts could be something like this:
    "what if i was in need of help (this thought puts you in his position, feeling how he feels, then how he would feel if you helped him)? i would feel good if someone were to help me if i were ever in need of it! i will be the one to help this person."


    "this person need help. he deserves to be helped just as much as i would if i were in his position, i will be the one to help him."

    if you argue that "what if i was in need of help?" type of thinking is self interest then i guess this passive form of self interest is required for everyone to be happy. if you dont care about yourself, you are in no position to care about others anyway.
  5. Feb 26, 2004 #4
    I believ that no matter how self-less or alturaistic and action is, the action is done for one's own self interest.
  6. Feb 26, 2004 #5
    Yes. We are ruled by self interest, constantly striving to think of new ways to achieve our ambitions and protect our interests. The only conceivable way to get someone to not spend their lives as a machiavellian deceitful power zealot would be to persuade them that by not constantly striving for more power and pleasure they will enjoy an eternity in heaven.
  7. Feb 26, 2004 #6
    The concept of "self-interest" can be expanded to include, either directly or indirectly, just about any reason behind one's actions. Consequently, everybody can be said to be motivated by self-interest if so desired.

  8. Feb 26, 2004 #7
    i am not a machiavellian deceitful power zealot. also i am not a believer in heaven or hell. so it seems an eternity in heaven isnt the only conceivable way to persuade someone to be a good person.

    my way of living include my statement of human compassion and living a happy fulfilling life with anyone i am able to share it with.

    i dont care for power and money and being deceitful, but quite the unfortunate for me this worlds requisites include money. not to worry =] i have my solution to this problem without being deceitful.

    i do have ambition but in no way do i care to protect my interests, every person is their own. your free will entitles you to thinkwhat you will.
  9. Feb 26, 2004 #8
    Which is exactly why the statement makes no sense.
  10. Feb 26, 2004 #9
    Which statement?

  11. Feb 26, 2004 #10


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    Well there are cases where people have given up their lives for others. Soldiers falling on hand grenades to save their buddies, passers-by rushing in front of cars or trains to push a child to safety. This kind of thing does happen. And it's very difficult to see what self interest is gratified by a painful death.
  12. Feb 27, 2004 #11
    very good point.

    but both the examples you give are very much the type of death that is instant.

    it might also be possible the quick reaction to the circumstances are the reason why one didnt have enought time to evaluate their own self-interests.

    but also it might be that their own self-interests evaluated in the limited time given due to the circumstance be inaccurate to them if they were given the time to evaluate. this is impossible since they die, but not in the case if one happens to survives their act of heroism.

    if this type of act could be classified as heroism it could still be in ones self-interest to become a 'hero'. even when it means they could never live to appreciate this.

    there is always the fact that someone did something in risk of their lives simply because they valued their life less than whoever they are placing their lives on the line for.

    it is complicated...
  13. Feb 27, 2004 #12
    The statement that all actions are motivated by greed/self-interest/what-you-want-to-call-it.

    People often perform actions without thinking of how it will benefit them or detriment them. This is often referred to as "instinct".

    Also, doesn't the burden of proof lie on those claiming that all actions are greed-motivated?
  14. Feb 27, 2004 #13
    Well as I sit here pondering this question in my spiked leather S&M suit I wonder what is the bit of truth people seek to find in trying to be selfish or selfless, which is the better way, what is the difference? Maybe selfishness is better since it's mostly what people do even when they put on the front of kindness they often expect something in return for giving something you probably didn't want anyway. On the other hand if everyone acted according to what they could get out of things wouldn't it make it harder for them to see the things the might stand to benefit everyone and not just themselves?

    ...I don't know if the path of pure selfishness is better because I haven't done it, but I do know it works for some people and they seem to be able to rationalize away all guilt to make sometimes great gains, in a sense they bore in mind the philosophy of screw or be screwed, in the buisness world they probably call this perfect sense.
    I'm inclined to take a very biased approach to this but instead I would say that the art of selfishness can lead a person to become very rich and even famous if they can manipulate and lie and maintain a pretty appearance well, but am inclined to think that this is another sign of the decline in morals of the country or maybe it's the start of even better morals, which is better cooperation or domination?
    Where do these basic concepts stem from?
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 27, 2004
  15. Feb 27, 2004 #14
    Why would anybody that's concerned only with what they can gain from a situation care about the good of society?

    Soldiers in war are clinging to remnants of humanity, and their only grip is their fellow soldier. Jumping on a grenade isn't so surprising. But then, I've never been in a war, so I have no right to make such statements.

    I doubt people who save babies are very concerned with being recognized as a hero.

    It can be argued that acting selflessly is simply acting to maintain one's set of ethics, which can be viewed as a selfish act.

    So what's the default case? I think arguing burden of proof in a discussion like this is kind of silly.

    I'd say that this is not the right question to ask. Are the actions that humans choose to take generally beneficial to society?

  16. Feb 28, 2004 #15
    All that stands between the establishment of the claim that all human actions are motivated by self-interest is the example of a human giving up life in favour of another human. And there are various explanations for this which support the self-interest line.. : one may desire to become a hero, one may not have the time to think it through, one may believe in an afterlife and therefore seek eternal happiness by such an act, and one may be satisfying his own self by doing such a thing (which, in turn, is seeking self-interests).
  17. Feb 29, 2004 #16
    Prove you are selfless, jog a mile in a public area in complete nudity, immediately.

    There are reasons why people do selfless things such as they wish to be part of society, because they are worried that their sudden rise to power is being observed and tested by those who wish to maintain discipline in the government, because of their emotion, because of their religious beliefs or because they want to prov they are selfless. All of these reasons are due to the fact that they think it will give them pleasure or alleviate pain. By pain and pleasure I do not just mean physical pleasure and pain such as sex or torture, but emotional pleasure and the increased chance of you gaining pleasure or evading pain in the future.

    I believe no other factors affect judgement otherwise we would be purposeless or feel pleasure once and strive to feel it again, or of course feel pain once and strive never to feel it again.
  18. Feb 29, 2004 #17
    Ok, First off self-interested acts does not always require us to live in order to achieve our goals. One can just as much die to hurt people as easy they can die to save people. Look at terrorism for an example, they are willing to die to kill. Of course they saw good in thier actions and we all have good intentions. Of course the thing with morality is knowing the consequences of what we intend to do. People may lie to themselves to justify thier actions though. When it comes to selfish and self-less acts you have to remind yourself that both have the word "self" in them.

    Whether you value your life or value your morals or both, you will value one more than the other when it comes down to the last few seconds of your life when you are forced with a choice. Run and possibly die, or play hero and save the lives of your fellow comrades. You also have to remember what will happen when you survive? Will you be known as the survivour of a horrible situation and be repected, or will you feel guilty for not saving the live of your friends or comrades when you knew you could have if you choose to take your life instead. Truth is people do all of them, but no matter what choice you feel was the right choice at that moment when you made that choice of running, or taking your life, that choice is the very choice which you thought was the right and the best choice you could have possibly done giving the situation and condtions.

    Life versus Value. Which is worth more to you? If it's life it is also value. Value is above life. Therefore your values can also mean that losing your life is acceptable if you value hate, love, right, wrong, good, evil or anything else more then you value your own life. But value is in our own self-interest.
  19. Feb 29, 2004 #18
    the_truth, no offense, but you post reminds me of dubya bush and his "you're with us and against us". An important concept in logic is the difference between merely contradicting and what is known formally as "contrary" opposition (being on the complete opposite end of a spectrum). To prove something false, you do not need to show the "contrary" fact to be true, only a contradicting fact.


    Let's say that someone claims, "I am super-humanly intelligent."
    To disprove this person, you do not need to show him/her to be a moron. You only need to show that the person's intelligence is not above the level of genius.

    Another example:

    Someone claims, "All desks are brown."
    To counter (contradict) this claim, you do not need to show that all desks are not brown. Rather, you only need to show that at least one desk is not brown. The statement, "Some desks are brown, and some are blue" contradicts both the claim, "All desks are brown" and its contrary. (For simplicity in this example, assume that all desks are only of one color.)

    So, how does this relate to your post?
    You stated, "Prove you are selfless, jog a mile in a public area in complete nudity, immediately." This, I assume, would be to show that a person could be absolutely selfless. This is the contrary to "All actions are motivated by self-interest." However, you do not need to show the contrary, only a contadiction. If it is not true that all acts are selfless, it does not mean that all acts are self-motivated, and vice-versa.
  20. Feb 29, 2004 #19


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    not necessarily...think of the sacrifices parents (human or animal) will make for their young...
  21. Mar 1, 2004 #20
    this can also be of self interest thru the belief of the parents living on as their children.

    complicated matters these are =]
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