Egoism & Our Motivations

Egoism, says Webster, is "a doctrine that individual self-interest is the actual motive of all conscious action". Everything we do is for personal gain or pleasure, or to minimize pain -- everything, no exceptions.

Some may ask, "What about when we act altruistically?" Well, the egoism doctrine would counter that there is no such thing as pure altruism (the "unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others") -- it doesn't exist. The last part can certainly exist, the devotion part. But the unselfish part doesn't. Instead, altruistic behavior is rooted in the selfish need to feel good about our actions, the pleasant feeling that results from helping others. We do things for others because it makes us feel good to do so. It makes us happier and prouder about how we think of ourselves and our character. Those of us who may infrequently help others simply don't receive the same pleasure, or don't value it as highly, relative to other pleasures we seek. Those of us who are helpful to others value more highly the pleasure we receive from such actions.

Now what I should have said from the beginning is that we are motivated by what we THINK will make us happy. We don't always evaluate correctly. Nor are we always consciously aware of our true motivation.

Alright, given that philosophy, how can it help us evaluate our actions and motivations? Well ... Regarding any action, we can ask ourselves, "What's the gain? What's the payoff?" If we are not consciously aware of our motivation for an action, there must be a subconscious one that is equally self-serving. Finding and understanding it will help us know ourselves better. And I would claim the conscious ones are more likely based on logic, and the subconscious ones based on emotions. The logical ones are relatively easy to understand, the emotional ones at times very difficult to understand ... and difficult to change, if they are in reality causing us pain instead of happiness.

Posted: Sat - November 22, 2003 at 05:51 PM