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Analyzing benevolence

There are no selfless good deeds. All so-called “good deeds” are selfish. It is known as psychological egoism. The supporters of the various ethical, moral theories in our world may argue with those statements. A utilitarianist would say that a good deed is represented by what is best for everyone; what would create the most overall happiness. A deontologist would weigh out the pros and cons and would decide what is their overall moral duty towards the situation. An egoist would do what is best for them and decide morally what will serve their best interests.

Let’s backtrack though to the first statements, that there are no good deeds. Philosophers, sociologists, doctors, and many other high ranking “officials” will completely disagree with those statements, but according to psychological egoism, they are completely true. When a good deed is complete, even something as simple as holding a door open for someone else, the person who fulfilled the deed feels good inside their heart, hence the deed has now become a selfish good deed. Even a larger scale deed, such as donating a large sum of money or even donating an organ to a stranger, in the end the act has made said person feel happy or feel better about their behavior, therefore once again, turning the deed into a selfish good deed.

Psychological egoism’s enhanced definition states that “that each person has but one ultimate aim: his or her own welfare”. (Shaver) Included in this definition is that individuals will seek to help those they care about, because it is also part of their own welfare. Selfishness is not to be confused with self-interest though. “Actions in self-interest are not necessarily selfish actions. For example, it is in your self-interest to obey the law, to exercise, and to enroll in college, but no one would claim that it is selfish for you to do so.” (Philosophy) An egoist will disagree with this though. If it is in your self-interest to obey the law or your will be punished, individuals will follow the law because they do not want to be punished, hence they are performing selfish acts; by obeying the law and safeguarding yourself, you have now been selfish. All people are egoist whether they believe it or not. “Psychological egoism is supported by our frequent observation of self-interested behavior.” (Shaver)

A utilitarianist believes in doing what will benefit the most people with the maximum amount of happiness. The Trolley Problem is best represented by utilitarianism. In the event that a trolley or a train is running loose on the tracks and you have the ability to push a magical button and save five strangers but sacrifice the live of one stranger; as a utilitarianist, you should save the lives of the five strangers. But let’s change the scenario a bit, and say you can either save the five strangers or save your own child; the utilitarianist would still save the five strangers. An egoist would save their own child. To claim that in that scenario and saving your own child is morally wrong is completely absurd. Of course any normal human being would save their own child.

It is egoist to only care about yourself and those you love as opposed to caring about strangers in another country, but there is nothing morally wrong with that. We as human beings can feel empathy or sympathy towards a situation (i.e. starving children in Africa), we can even donate money to help them, but in the end, the donation of the money has made us feel better about ourselves and feel that we have morally done something right, and once again it becomes egoistic. There is nothing morally wrong with choosing to save the life of yourself or a family member over the life of a complete stranger. Psychological egoism is just as it sounds; it is psychologically ingrained in our objective ethical point of views.

Egoism is all around us, especially in the media. You see commercials on television begging you to send money to save the animals or save the children in other countries, but a majority of the time you don’t pick up your phone and call. That is egoism. Even if you did pick up the phone though, that is also egoism. All acts are centered on the idea of egoism. Why? Because you feel better about yourself as a human being, and that is egoism.

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