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Balancing self interests with the interests of others

  1. Feb 23, 2008 #1
    I was reading through a chapter on Justice and Morality according to Rawls and Nozick and have come stumped at one of the questions which states: "Is it always possible to balance the interests of self with the interests of others?"

    What are your thoughts? I have surcome to a total mind blank.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 23, 2008 #2
    Are there any significant difference between the two?
  4. Sep 28, 2010 #3
    I would say no, it does not seem possible hardly ever. That's why you should choose one and I think the smart choice is to choose your interests. However I think there should be a distinction made between your self-interests and your interests in general.
  5. Sep 29, 2010 #4


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    The idea of a balance only really makes sense if its a balance between two kinds of things. How can you ever have a balance between a little of something over here and a lot of it over there? One outweighs the other by definition.

    A better way to look at this is as a balance beween two kinds of natural and complementary action - competition vs cooperation. Both are clearly good in themselves, and even better when mixed appropriately in balanced fashion within a sociological (or even biological) system.

    Competition could be defined as local self-interest. It is in the interest of any part of a system to compete, to strive creatively. And it is also healthy for a system as a whole to be a collective of active players (rather than a collection of dopes waiting around for instructions).

    But equally, at the group or global level, it is naturally good that there is cohesion, co-operation, shared goals - a set of constraints in common. Constraints act top down, from the larger to the smaller scale. And even for individuals, "enforced" cooperation is something for the good. At least, in general, in the long run.

    So it is easy to see that self-interest and group-interest can be in balance if they are viewed as two opposed, but also complementary, kinds of action. You don't want too much of either - either competition, or cooperation - but some balance that is "just right".

    Now what counts as just right? Most people would probably think a system that is stable and adaptive - a society organised so that it lasts even despite perturbations (like weather events, outbreaks of aggression, and other disruptions).

    And there are even models of these kinds of systems - like "edge of chaos" models that maintain an optimal balance of stability and plasticity (cooperative cohesion and competitive changeability).

    These models in turn would allow you to measure actual societies I would suggest. You could take something like a measure of social inequality such as the Gini coefficient and say something about where the actual balance lies.

    Are the statistics gaussian (indicating perhaps a society that is too static, too homogenous - wealth in a hunter/gather society, for instance, would probably be rather bunched around the mean)? Or are the statistics powerlaw (indicating a society that is open, with wealth and poverty over all scales - and perhaps less than ideal for the opposite reason)?

    So in summary, it seems easy enough to model a system which can find a balance. But then the next question becomes, what optimal setpoint should that balance be striking?
  6. Sep 29, 2010 #5
    Always no:
    Example, a man wanted for murdering 20 people is on the run. His self interest and the victim’s family have no possible way to reconcile.

    Sometimes sure:
    A plague kills everyone on earth but 10 people. These 10 people are geographically distant to a degree they can potentially have no effect on each other’s lives. Their interest have no coincidence to they are trivially balanced.

    The question asks always, so the answer is no.
  7. Sep 29, 2010 #6


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    As I said, if it is the same thing that you are trying to balance on both sides of the equation, then an actual balance is going to be rare. So your murderer's self interests vs your families self interests.

    On the other hand, if you look at balances as the products of systems - hierarchical organisation where local and global interests are in dynamic balance - then you can balance these things.

    That is what a justice system would attempt to do here. And where a man has gone too far in expressing some local freedom of action, then you would expect a balancing reaction from the wider society to preserve its own interest in cohesion and order.
  8. Oct 2, 2010 #7
    My thought:
    Even if it is not possible, we see around us examples of people who are mainly interested in service to selves, and other people who are mainly preoccupied with serving others. It is up to us to chose which one of the two ways we want to follow. Serving others we can well serve ourselves. The tricky point is that serving others should not abridge the free will of other people.
  9. Oct 2, 2010 #8
    Different people have different interests depending on their position/situation in the world. Free men arent equal and equal men arent free. The only way for a truely universal interest to exist would be if truely universal conditions exist.
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