Everything we do is for our own benefit
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16-03-2014, 05:20 PM (This post was last modified: 16-03-2014 05:25 PM by Baruch.)
RE: Everything we do is for our own benefit
(16-03-2014 04:03 PM)Magoo Wrote:  I found this idea on a random website last year, and I actually found myself agreeing with it. Let me explain.

We all strive to be happy. We play a game, we are happy. We have money, we are happy. We eat chocolate, we are happy. Whatever it is that you enjoy, you will do. But even if you are doing work, for the benefit of someone else, you are still only serving yourself.

Say you are walking down the street, and you give money to a homeless person. You are a good person right? You care for others? Well, not really. After you gave away that money, now you feel happy inside. You feel great because you helped someone. Although it seems like you are caring, the reality is you are serving yourself because you are making yourself happy by doing so.

Another example. A friend asks for a massive favour from you. You really really don't want to do it, but yet you do it anyway because you are their friend. You may not have enjoyed doing it, you may have helped your friend, but in fact the only reason you did it is because it made you feel happy by helping hour friend.

I know this probably sounds confusing, and I am writing this as I think of it. However, this argument really got my thinking about why I care for other people and do things for them. Try to think about how you really feel when you are do something for someone else.

Magoo - I disagree with you on many levels, principally because we are social organisms and not everything we do is for self interest. Many motivations we have may have some self interest but there is a VERY wide spectrum to the degree of altruism.
Eg a purely narcissistic person may have 99% self interest and that is their principle motivation. However a mostly altruistic person may have 1% self interest and the rest is altruistic. I would not lump both groups together as if no distinction exists - this just becomes conceptually ridiculous and bad philosophy & terminology.
Is is possible to remove ALL self interest ? I don't think we can confirm or falsify such a hypothesis - a person can always say they had some subconscious or unconscious self interested motivation for any action and there is no way to prove or disprove this.

In addition the self interested "reward" may be a "side effect" i.e secondary to the principle benevolent action. Eg someone may do charity work by principled duty to help others and sometimes feel afterwards profound satisfaction, other times exhaustion or frustration - but they carry on anyway out of duty to help others.
It isn't like they has a prediction machine for what emotional state they will be in and not do the charity if its going to be a frustrating day and ONLY do it when the outcome is satisfaction. They may do the charity out of rational principles NOT contingent on their pain/pleasure emotional state of benefit/rewards or punishment. It might be the case if the charity was ALWAYS frustrating and NEVER gave any satisfaction that they may stop - so some motivation on some occasions may have self interest. However it doesn't follow i.e a non-sequitur that all actions are from self interest or for that matter "enlightened self interest"

Another hypothesis is the notion of self may expand as people include more people as part of their identity. The narcissist only includes their biological self however highly empathic or social people may broaden the sense of self to include others. This is highly plausible - especially for family and close relationships where there are mutual goals and desires shared. In such cases self interest becomes very blurry - where are the boundaries of the self ?
(the original question falls apart because there is no fixed self)
To say 'only self interest exists' loses this distinction and ruins language because then there is no difference between a greedy narcissist, motivated by all out self preservation and a highly social , empathic person with a larger sense of self which includes others as part of their identity and can give to them with minimal reward

A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence -
David Hume


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16-03-2014, 05:23 PM
RE: Everything we do is for our own benefit
(16-03-2014 04:55 PM)undergroundp Wrote:  
(16-03-2014 04:42 PM)Chas Wrote:  This might be interest to you.

Very interesting. Empathy has been vital for our survival as a species so it makes sense.

(16-03-2014 04:51 PM)Magoo Wrote:  The same argument as above could be made for this scenario as well. If a man sacrificed himself for others, he didn't do it for others, he did it because he wanted to see others benefit from his actions. Others benefitting is simply luck that what he wanted was also benefitting them.

How could he gain any satisfaction if he dies? Our instinct for survival is probably the strongest one. When you die, you give up everything you may want in the world. How can that be out of self-interest? There is nothing to gain, simply because you're not there to enjoy it.

This might interest you.

Sacrificing one's life for close relatives can be beneficial to spreading one's genes.
Your close relatives share most of your genes.

So evolution would favor genes that allow or promote this behavior.

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16-03-2014, 05:29 PM
RE: Everything we do is for our own benefit
I don't think we do things just for one reason. It's like saying that we only do things to have sex, it may be true to some point, but it's hardly true if we consider any. other things that motivates us.
The OP premise can fall easily into confirmation bias, we can always find an excuse for how something benefits us, but that doesn't mean it's the primary reason we do it.

EDIT: disregard this post, Baruch said it far better than I ever could :O

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16-03-2014, 05:47 PM
RE: Everything we do is for our own benefit
(16-03-2014 05:23 PM)Chas Wrote:  
(16-03-2014 04:55 PM)undergroundp Wrote:  Very interesting. Empathy has been vital for our survival as a species so it makes sense.


How could he gain any satisfaction if he dies? Our instinct for survival is probably the strongest one. When you die, you give up everything you may want in the world. How can that be out of self-interest? There is nothing to gain, simply because you're not there to enjoy it.

This might interest you.

Sacrificing one's life for close relatives can be beneficial to spreading one's genes.
Your close relatives share most of your genes.

So evolution would favor genes that allow or promote this behavior.

Sharing ones own genes has nothing to do with self interest - it is simply the wrong level of explanation. This is something Richard Dawkins also despises when the idea of a "selfish gene" is inferred to a "selfish person"
When Richard Dawkins wrote the book that is precisely what he meant - at a genetic level there is the appearance of "selfishness" but the phenotype as expressed may well be manifested as altuistic behavior.

Genes are not conscious and calling them "selfish" is a problematic word because the gene is just a program with no awareness or agency or self.
A gene IS NOT a self. Genes are necessary but not sufficient for a "self" in tech jargon. Therefore Genes cannot be SELFish.
However peoples "self" can decide to take action based on rational principles without getting a reward or punishment

There can easily be cases when actions are not motivated by pure self interest (see my previous blog entry on this thread)

A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence -
David Hume


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16-03-2014, 06:01 PM
RE: Everything we do is for our own benefit
(16-03-2014 05:29 PM)nach_in Wrote:  I don't think we do things just for one reason. It's like saying that we only do things to have sex, it may be true to some point, but it's hardly true if we consider any. other things that motivates us.
The OP premise can fall easily into confirmation bias, we can always find an excuse for how something benefits us, but that doesn't mean it's the primary reason we do it.

EDIT: disregard this post, Baruch said it far better than I ever could :O

Your quite right - there are complex sets of motivations and self interest is only part of the subset.
I wouldn't take the credit for coming up with this response - it has been discussed and refined in centuries of philosophy & expanded in today's psychology & cognitive sciences.

Kant is quite explicit that there should be a rational set of principles to follow for ethics - a deontological system and the motivations should not be for consequentialist gains or losses (heaven/Hell...pain/pleasure)

A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence -
David Hume


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16-03-2014, 06:03 PM
RE: Everything we do is for our own benefit
(16-03-2014 05:47 PM)Baruch Wrote:  
(16-03-2014 05:23 PM)Chas Wrote:  This might interest you.

Sacrificing one's life for close relatives can be beneficial to spreading one's genes.
Your close relatives share most of your genes.

So evolution would favor genes that allow or promote this behavior.

Sharing ones own genes has nothing to do with self interest - it is simply the wrong level of explanation. This is something Richard Dawkins also despises when the idea of a "selfish gene" is inferred to a "selfish person"
When Richard Dawkins wrote the book that is precisely what he meant - at a genetic level there is the appearance of "selfishness" but the phenotype as expressed may well be manifested as altuistic behavior.

Genes are not conscious and calling them "selfish" is a problematic word because the gene is just a program with no awareness or agency or self.
A gene IS NOT a self. Genes are necessary but not sufficient for a "self" in tech jargon. Therefore Genes cannot be SELFish.
However peoples "self" can decide to take action based on rational principles without getting a reward or punishment

There can easily be cases when actions are not motivated by pure self interest (see my previous blog entry on this thread)

Did I not make myself clear?

I was talking about it at the genetic level. But genes express themselves above the genetic level. The point I was making is the same point Dawkins made - that genes that make successful phenotypes are the ones that survive and spread.

So genes that create people who might sacrifice themselves in favor of close relatives will leave more copies of themselves. Purely a mechanical algorithm, no intention, no thought.

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16-03-2014, 06:05 PM
RE: Everything we do is for our own benefit
(16-03-2014 05:23 PM)Chas Wrote:  This might interest you.

Sacrificing one's life for close relatives can be beneficial to spreading one's genes.
Your close relatives share most of your genes.

So evolution would favor genes that allow or promote this behavior.

True.

But what stops us from being totally selfish and doing whatever we want? Empathy? Social conventions? Whatever it is, it proves that we don't always act 100% based on self-interest.

I often see myself doing things that don't bring me any pleasure, things I don't want to do, and that even if I don't do them, it won't bring me any discomfort or cause problems.

Like, when I'm at work, I sometimes stay an hour longer and do some extra work. Nothing will happen if I don't do it. I won't have less things to do the next day. My boss won't think anything bad about me if I don't do it, neither anything good if I do it. I don't care about what she thinks. I don't get any pleasure in doing it.

I do things when people are not watching, just because I feel I need to do them, even if no one ever finds out. It doesn't give me any pleasure to fix something broken, I actually think to myself "why am I even bothering?".

Or sometimes, I just do something good for someone and while doing it, I feel terrible for forcing myself to do it. But there is something in me that tells me I should do it. It doesn't mean I want it, it doesn't mean I get pleasure by seeing someone else enjoying something good I've done.

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16-03-2014, 06:25 PM
RE: Everything we do is for our own benefit
This is too much thinking for one night, I'll reply in the morning Sad
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16-03-2014, 09:32 PM
RE: Everything we do is for our own benefit
(16-03-2014 04:28 PM)undergroundp Wrote:  If that were true, there would be no cases of people sacrificing themselves so that others will live.

However, I always think about that and point it out to Christians. "Be good so that you can get Paradise". Well, there's benefit there, so you're not exactly a "good" person.

That IS true.

[1] A altruistic view of value has been form,
[2] on the nervi level, specific nervous pathways have been formed accordingly,
[3] at crises, when the thought of sacrifice is triggered, nervous signals pass throught those pathways and trigger the releasing of endorphin and enkephalin, and overwhelm the effects of adrenaline that tell you "danger ! run !"
[4] he/she sacrifices himself/herself.

Explained.

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17-03-2014, 12:33 AM (This post was last modified: 17-03-2014 12:47 AM by Tartarus Sauce.)
RE: Everything we do is for our own benefit
(16-03-2014 04:03 PM)Magoo Wrote:  I found this idea on a random website last year, and I actually found myself agreeing with it. Let me explain.

We all strive to be happy. We play a game, we are happy. We have money, we are happy. We eat chocolate, we are happy. Whatever it is that you enjoy, you will do. But even if you are doing work, for the benefit of someone else, you are still only serving yourself.

Say you are walking down the street, and you give money to a homeless person. You are a good person right? You care for others? Well, not really. After you gave away that money, now you feel happy inside. You feel great because you helped someone. Although it seems like you are caring, the reality is you are serving yourself because you are making yourself happy by doing so.

Another example. A friend asks for a massive favour from you. You really really don't want to do it, but yet you do it anyway because you are their friend. You may not have enjoyed doing it, you may have helped your friend, but in fact the only reason you did it is because it made you feel happy by helping hour friend.

I know this probably sounds confusing, and I am writing this as I think of it. However, this argument really got my thinking about why I care for other people and do things for them. Try to think about how you really feel when you are do something for someone else.

What you are describing is extreme psychological egoism and I find it to be one of the most infantile depictions of the spectrum of human motivations. The central tenet of extreme psychological egoism is all humans act selfishly all the time, an untenable position which oversimplifies the complexity of human behavior.

Let me start with its fundamental assumption: It conflates the product of an action with the motivation of the action. This is one of extreme psychological egoism's main problems. All of the examples you just used? None of them actually prove that a person does any of those things with the main drive being the resultant state of emotion from the action, rather psychological egoism asserts this without evidence. While it may very well be true that pure self-interest was the main motivator, there is nothing inherent within the logic of the situation stating that motivation and result couldn't be disentangled, ie: that the resultant emotional state was simply that---a consequence--- while something else was fundamentally driving the action.

This is more obvious in extreme situations where the childish and unsatisfactory nature of extreme psychological egoism is exposed. Suppose a child has been kidnapped or is in some sort of danger. Extreme psychological egoism would state that the parents have no real concern over their child's well being, but that they are just responding and acting in regards to their own negative emotional state or worries over the resultant state (if child is harmed/killed I will be sad/ therefore I will save child so I can be happy). Any of the numerous parents on this board will inform you of what total bullshit such a conclusion is and how their concerns for their children completely transcend egotistical boundaries (there are, of course, shitty parents out there as well).

Lastly, extreme psychological egoism falls short of any explanation for multiple human behaviors. Let's take selfless sacrifice as an example. There have been thousands of cases throughout history of sane, healthy people dying for some "greater cause:" self-immolation, self-starvation, other types of suicidal protests, soldiers saving their comrades from certain death by hurling themselves on top of a grenade, etc. Extreme psychological egoism doesn't have any explanation for this type of behavior since the resultant state of such actions is the destruction of the ego and the consciousness it uses as a vessel.

Rather than adhere to some ludicrous and unnecessary absolute, universally binding statement, I suggest looking into moderate psychological egoism, which modifies the principle: most people will act mostly out of self-interest most of the time. This is a much easier to defend position which makes far fewer unwarranted assumptions and allows leeway for other factors to have influence on the myriad of intricacies surrounding human motivations and behavior.

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