Why it is stupid to think all people are motivated exclusively by self-interest

Discussion in 'Politics & Religion' started by Ghost of Cutten, Dec 18, 2010.

  1. Consider the case of political dissidents in repressive countries - they deliberately take a public course of action, which they know full well will result in them and possibly their friends & family being arrested, jailed for years (usually decades), tortured and so on. And furthermore, they know that the odds of them being successful in their lifetimes are quite low (and that their chance of reaching that point is lowered significantly by being jailed, beaten, malnourished or executed). Yet each generation, there are large numbers of such dissidents around the world.

    Even if there is some kind of personal pyschic satisfaction in 'fighting for good', only someone who has never actually endured any meaningful pain in their life, or thinks dissidents have radically different nervous systems and physiology to the rest of us, could possibly think that the net result of this course of action would be anything other than extremely negative for the individual. The vast majority of people give up their friends and families to certain death, in the face of prolonged torture - that's how painful and unendurable it usually is. No possible balance of pleasure and pain, once torture is introduced, could result in a net positive outcome, when judged purely by self-interest. The only conclusion then, is that other motivations, such as self-sacrifice in pursuit of a higher ideal, or values beyond the individual, are what swing the balance and allow people to resist in such harsh conditions.

    So it's clearly wrong to say that all people are motivated strictly by self-interest. Not only that, it is a most irrational, delusional, self-justifying argument - the type made by people who are more interested in performing logical contortions in order to avoid having to change their mind one iota, than in finding out the truth about human nature and reality. Bear that in mind next time you hear some evo-psych, objectivist, or other reductionist argument.
     
  2. It depends on how you define self-interest.

    If self-interest includes personal satisfaction that results from what appears to be a selfless act, then it is, by definition, not selfless.

    For example, my wife and I anonymously give money to several charities each year. We get no recognition for what we do. Nothing. But to me it's a very selfish act on our part. Why? It makes me feel good knowing that I'm helping other people. I get something valuable in exchange for giving.

    I'm certainly not comparing myself to a political dissident, but my guess is that someone who makes that type of sacrifice gets a great deal of satisfaction from knowing that he/she is doing the right thing. Therefore, what they are doing is self-serving by the strictest definition of the term. That doesn't detract from the fact that what they are doing is admirable and requires great courage.


     
  3. QUOTE]Quote from Ghost of Cutten:[/

    No possible balance of pleasure and pain, once torture is introduced, could result in a net positive outcome, when judged purely by self-interest. The only conclusion then, is that other motivations, such as self-sacrifice in pursuit of a higher ideal, or values beyond the individual, are what swing the balance and allow people to resist in such harsh conditions.
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    In some countrys the people need their family y friends to survive. With the more develop country people do not have this closeness and need. I think in the heart and instinct of the political dissident is fear of watching the people of around him become poorer. We all need each other. It is the fear to have your survival system of people (family, friends) not have any power. And the dissident rebel for him, for family, for friends.
     
  4. sorry can't talk now Reading Porn
     
  5. Just a quick question for you, GoC... What are suicide bombers motivated by?
     
  6. Ricter

    Ricter

    Good question, I was also going to bring up suicide bombers and kamikaze pilots as well. Many, but apparently not all, suicide fighters appear to believe in an afterlife where they will enjoy a reward for their act. For those who do not believe in an afterlife, there is paradox.
     
  7. Pekelo

    Pekelo

    1. The cause.
    2. Monetary reward for their families. (Saddam did pay the deceased's family) In a poor country where the group takes care of the bomber's family, that is a huge incentive.
    3. Hatred against the target.
    4. Safety of their families. Some of them are actually blackmailed into commiting the act.
    5. blah-blah-blah
     
  8. Well, the point I was going to make subsequently is that it doesn't actually matter. While I would agree that altruism exists (I was interested in sociobiology and E.O.Wilson's work at one point), it's really neither here nor there. There's really no connection between motive, whether self-interest or altruism, and ethics/morality. Specifically, the most evil of deeds have been motivated by a misguided desire to make the world a better place for everyone, while people performing feats of heroism and self-sacrifice may have been driven by self-interest. So I am not entirely sure what point GoC is trying to make, but I am sure he's somewhat guilty of cherry-picking.

    And, BTW, my question about the suicide bombers was a rhetorical one.
     
  9. The most basic and powerful instinct is self-preservation. If someone sacrifices it without causing harm to others (usually in the defense of others), that is probably the closest a human being can get to not being motivated by self-interest.
     
  10. I don't believe that all people are motivated exclusively by self interest. I do believe that most people are primarily motivated by self interest, and I see nothing wrong with that. Of course, for most people, empathy and some sense of morals/ethics also affect the decision making process. But yes, primarily the interest of one and one's own, naturally so...
     
    #10     Dec 19, 2010