A blupete Essay

Self-Interest, Part 6 to blupete's Essay
"On The Nature Of Man"

The human individual, in the evolutionary process, considers his choices and calculates which of his choices will be to his advantage, not necessarily to his exclusive advantage, but to his advantage.9 A person normally proceeds to take steps which he thinks would best promote his advantage, which often includes "scratching another person's back."

"The first principle ... is that all actions whatsoever arise from self-interest. It may be enlightened self-interest, it may be unenlightened; but it is assumed as an axiom, that every man, in whatever he does, is aiming at something which he considered will promote his happiness. His conduct is not determined by his will; it is determined by the object of his desire. Adam Smith, in laying the foundations of political economy, expressly eliminates every other motive. He does not say that men never act on other motives; still less, that they never ought to act on other motives. He asserts merely that, as far as the arts of production are concerned, and of buying and selling, the action of self-interest may be counted upon as uniform."10
And, now we quote the great man, himself:
"Every individual necessarily labors to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally indeed neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. He intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good." (Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations.)
There is of course in life to be exceptions. (In the evolutionary scheme of things life could not have come about or combine into complex orders without chance aberrations.) There are people that seemingly do things which are not in their interest, indeed, often against their interest. There is, however, as Rochefoucauld put it, no limit to the roles that self-interest will play, even the role of disinterestedness. Ask yourself, what are the feelings of one as they go about doing charitable work? In what conditions will they proceed to do charitable work? Quite separate from the preceding questions, one might ask, "Does Mother Theresa have absolutely no self-interest in what she does?" Whatever the answer to this last question, one might be assured that the mother Theresas of this world are in a distinct minority. "In general," as Hume has said, "it may be affirmed that there is no such passion in human minds, as the love of mankind, merely as such, independent of personal qualities, or services, or of relation to ourselves." People, in the final analysis, are, as it should be, out for themselves; especially when they are in trouble, even the slightest bit of trouble. "The least pain in our little finger gives us more concern and uneasiness than the destruction of millions of our fellow-beings."11

"Man is a creature of social instinct condemned by his nature to be solitary. Creatures in all outward respects similar to himself are awhirl about him. They cannot help him, nor he them; he cannot even be sure, for all he may assume it, that they share his hope and calling." (Hewlett.)12
"No man is much regarded by the rest of the world. He that considers how little he dwells upon the condition of others, will learn how little the attention of others is attracted by himself. While we see multitudes passing before us, of whom perhaps not one appears to deserve our notice or excite our sympathy, we should remember, that we likewise are lost in the same throng; that the eye which happens to glance upon us is turned into a moment on him that follows us, and that the utmost which we can reasonably hope or fear, is to fill a vacant hour with prattle, and be forgotten." (Dr. Johnson.)
For a Utopian society to work -- What is Needed; and, What is Missing; And Which Accounts for Why Utopian Schemes Have Never Worked and Will Never Work -- there must exist in a large majority of the population, in each individual, a disregard for their immediate self-interest and in its place a public spirit, a patriotism and a concern for humanity in general. The fact of the matter is: it is not in the best interests of the individual to proceed in such a fashion, simply because he knows that most of his fellows will not; and in the face of this he has himself and his own to take care of. William Hazlitt wrote of this:

"The personal always prevails over the intellectual, where the latter is not backed by strong feeling and principle. Where remote and speculative objects do not excite a predominant interest and passion, gross and immediate ones are sure to carry the day, even in ingenuous and well-disposed minds. The will yields necessarily to some motive or other; and where the public good or distant consequences excite no sympathy in the breast, either from shortsightedness or an easiness of temperament that shrinks from any violent effort or painful emotion, self-interest, indolence, the opinion of others, a desire to please, and sense of personal obligation, come in and fill up the void of public spirit, patriotism and humanity."

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Peter Landry

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