By Signe Jørgensen
I have been swishing around in my head the idea of Egoism. This is the idea that individuals are always motivated by self interest, not to be confused with egotism, which is an exaggerated sense of self importance.
When first introduced to this idea, I found it to be quite interesting, however something about it always rubbed me the wrong way, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
When debating egoism, there seems to always be an answer, but somehow the answer always seemed somewhat disparaging. Being the optimist that I am, I have been trying to explore this. The best way to illustrate my thoughts is to come up with examples.
So: I want to do well at school, so I can have a sense of achievement, and have hopes of getting a good job, so I will have a nice life etc. (You get the drift.) The egoist would say that this is all out of self-interest, and he would be right, it is in my best interest to make sure I do well. But what about situations wherein I do something that I really don’t want to, but I do it anyway, because I feel I ought to, morally or otherwise.
Like helping my mother with the gardening; I hate gardening, but I do it anyway.
Surely it would be in my best self-interest not to do it. I could simply say no, and walk off, and go do something that I would enjoy. But the egoist would argue that I help my mother because it would soothe my conscience. If I did not help her, it would cause me to feel guilty, and that is bad. So in the end I do it out of self-interest.
The same reasoning can apply to a different situation. Say there is a person drowning in a lake, I would (hopefully) jump in and save them. The egoist would argue that I did not do this to save the life of the person, but rather that I did it because I would not be able to live with the guilt of not helping, if the person died. This is where it gets interesting.
Borrowing an idea from a friend, let us imagine that there is a magic pill that can take away all feelings of guilt, and say that by chance I had happened to take this pill before stumbling upon a drowning person in a lake. I could walk away, and never feel a trace of guilt.
But somehow, I feel certain that I would still rescue this person. Not because if I didn’t, I’d feel guilty, not for any self-interested reason, but simply because it is not OK to let people drown.
I have always had a sense that there has to be something more, than just egoism. People’s actions must be driven, if only at times, by something other than self-interest. That is why I like the last example; I believe that most people would save the drowning person, even if there was no way it could benefit them.