Welcome to Atheist Discussion, a new community created by former members of The Thinking Atheist forum.

Thread Rating:
  • 0 Vote(s) - 0 Average
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Are human beings inherently selfish?

Are human beings inherently selfish?
(08-19-2019, 01:01 PM)Dānu Wrote: It depends on what one means by selfish.

Humans are definitely self-interested, we wouldn't be here if we weren't.  But the term selfish seems to have connotations that self-interested does not, and I'd need to know what I'm signing onto first.  Like the thread on stubborness, there appear to be 'innocent' ways of conceiving these traits, and ways which invite stigma.  It seems a tailor made situation for misunderstandings based upon equivocation between the various connotations.

The word "selfish" has a morally negative connotation for many people in many contexts.

I have (or, at times, struggle to have) a basically positive view that most people, given half a chance, mean well and try their best to do well. That doesn't mean they don't, at times, fail to adequately consider the needs and feelings of others. Failing to do so constitutes, colloquially, "selfishness". But the motivation to discount the feelings of others, to tamp down your empathy or humility, is often driven by ignorance and its twin, fear. It is most often not a matter of a person setting out to not give a shit. It is, I think, more a function of fear (well founded or not at times) of scarcity. The sense that there's not enough love, resources, or time to give up some of yours for the good of others by choosing to give rather than take.

I think this view explains why all people suck at times, without making the naked and un-nuanced statement that everyone is "selfish" by nature.

Free's point that everything is a dance between pain and pleasure is not without merit, philosophically. But it's not my experience that I tend to weigh pain vs pleasure in deciding whether to defer gratification for the benefit of another (including the benefit of my future self). For us humans it's more abstract and meta than that. I tend to experience it as effort vs outcomes. If I perceive a particular goal to be too costly, then it lacks value. If enough things in my life lack value, it feels subjectively meaningless, although "meaningless" is not a thing in itself. It's just an emotional reaction to low value.

Pain and suffering and the desire for self protection only enter into my thought processes when the pain is sufficiently acute.

So then life is not so much about avoidance of pain and seeking pleasure, even if you can make a reductionist argument in favor of that. It is, at a conscious level, about seeking greater value for yourself and for your social circle. It is world-building for the purpose of experiencing purposefulness. And in the service of this, we're perfectly capable of delayed gratification / self sacrifice. Sometimes we even manage to pull it off.
The following 2 users Like mordant's post:
  • Dānu, grympy

Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)