Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Do people do everything for selfish reasons?

Isn't it true that whenever we do something good we get something out of it? Like pleasure from the joy of helping someone? Does that mean that a good act like helping someone is just another form of selfishness?

The problem with this argument is that pleasure seems to be: "anything that makes an action worth doing to someone". That's how every possible action, good or bad, is a matter of pleasure and therefore (according to the argument) selfishness.

Another way of putting this is that every act requires motivation, and that always means pleasure from doing it.

But wait a second - is this right? Can it really be selfish just to have a motivation? If motivation = pleasure? Seems a bit broad.

I think it's so broad that the argument says nothing. The argument doesn't discover anything empirically but relies on the definitions of 'pleasure', 'act', and 'motivation' to argue.

I would say instead that pleasure in doing something is actually a result of the decision to do that thing (whatever it is). What makes any pleasure selfish or not selfish depends on whether that decision is bad or good/neutral. Once we decide that we want to do something, then we get pleasure from the thought of doing it. So if someone has decided to get pleasure from being really nice, then the pleasure from doing that is selfless, because they didn't *have* to get pleasure from that - they could have gotten pleasure from being selfish. So nice people have done something good for choosing to get pleasure from doing the right thing. That pleasure is not selfish, even though they feel good about helping people, since that pleasure is a reflection of a desire to help people, which is a good thing.

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