President Lincoln once remarked that all men are prompted by selfishness in doing good. (Rachels, 54) Mr Lincoln is not the first man to believe in this phenomena. Throughout history, countless individuals have argued that humans are always inherently motivated by self interest. (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) But is there any evidence to support the argument and is it strong enough? This research paper will aim to examine the veracity of the claim that humans are invariably motivated by self interest. In the philosophy there have been numerous debates concerning whether this theory is true. Intellectuals who propose this theory are known as psychological egoists. Psychological egoism argues that we are driven to pursue our own self interests by nature and we cannot do otherwise (Chaffee 443). Many opponents of psychological egoism believe in psychological altruism which states that sometimes humans can have truly altruistic motives, altruism being the selfless principle of the concern of the welfare for others (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). In order to examine the claim, a philosophical analysis will be conducted on the two philosophical approaches.
II. Psychological Egoism
There have been many ideas put forth towards how a human should or should not act, but psychological egoism tries to explain the motivation behind every action that he or she takes in his lifetime. Since psychological egoism is a claim which states how all humans act but not how they ought to act, it is categorized as a descriptive ethic (Rachels 52). This idea is attempting to put forth that all human actions are a means to an end, meaning that every action that a person takes is an effort to try to benefit oneself in some way, shape or fashion. It does not address whether an action will actually benefit the person, but simply that a person will take the action in hopes of benefiting oneself. (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
This claim is also applicable to actions that appear to be truly altruistic to a person’s eyes. Take for example a person who does philanthropic work and donates millions of dollars to people in need. Many people would say that this person very altruistic, but a supporter of psychological egoism might argue that he has done so because of a secret agenda. That secret agenda could be that he wanted to gain publicity or because he simply wanted to gain happiness from helping others. In psychological egoism the desire to attain happiness in helping others can also be seen as something that a person does in their own self interest. The theory does not mandate that a person takes every action in the effort to benefit themselves only, so people may take actions to benefit others as well.
It is important to note the difference between psychological egoism and psychological hedonism. Psychological hedonism is the theory that any voluntary action that a human takes is in accordance with two main goals, either...