The Instigator
mongoose
Pro (for)
Losing
19 Points
The Contender
TheSkeptic
Con (against)
Winning
25 Points

Everything that humans do is because of their own self-interest.

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 9 votes the winner is...
TheSkeptic
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 8/26/2009 Category: Society
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 6,279 times Debate No: 9346
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (45)
Votes (9)

 

mongoose

Pro

People only do things out of self-interest. A person works hard for his own goals, probably to get money, because he wants money. People do not break laws because they have the self-interest of not going to jail. I will further this argument when I have an opponent, and refutations to argue against.
TheSkeptic

Con

I thank my opponent for creating this open debate, and I hope it turns out to be great.

What my opponent is espousing is the view called psychological egoism (PE), which "claims that each person has but one ultimate aim: her own welfare.[1]" I will refute his view in a two different ways. I will demonstrate that not only is it an inconclusive empirical theory, since essentially it's a descriptive theory resulting from observations from human behavior, but also that even if it's a valid theory it's vacuous and trivial. The second attack, that PE is vacuous, may be more controversial (in respect to as if this counts as a proper counterargument). The voters can take the second attack as food for thought, but my first argument will undoubtedly act as a clear opposition to the theory.

====================
PE is an inconclusive empirical doctrine
====================

Let's step back and wonder. What reason do we have to believe in PE? There is no empirical evidence to show that all are motivated by self-interest. While it may be the case that we can reflect on past actions and see many of our actions are motivated by self-interest, it does not follow that all actions are motivated by self-interest.

For example, a common counterexample to PE is the situation in which a soldier jumps on a grenade to save his fellow comrades. The critic of PE would say that this is an example in which the soldier wanted to save the lives of others or because it was his duty, not self-interest. The supporter of PE, however, would say that perhaps the soldier did so to escape a life of guilt from not saving his fellow soldiers if he hadn't jumped on the grenade, and thus it was an act out of self-interest.

The problem with this kind of rebuttal while this is a possible account of some cases, there is no reason or necessary connection to think it covers all cases. Therefore, at best PE can be thought of an inconclusive empirical doctrine, meaning we would have to be "agnostic" about it, or a predominant egoist as I am.

====================
PE is a trivial empirical doctrine
====================

However, some PE supporters (L-M comes to mind) argue for it in another way. They would argue that self-interest is identified by satisfying one's preferences or goals. It would seem quite obvious that all actions are in self-interest, since by this definition acting out with accordance to your intent (which is one of the defining characteristics of action, the others being a goal and arguable physical movement) is guaranteed.

Yet, if this is so PE becomes a trivial truth. This means that there can be no observation suited to refute PE - it's simply given by the nature of action. By the way PE is defined, all possible counter-examples have been ruled out - making it certainly contentious as an empirical doctrine.

Furthermore, PE is trivial because even though it's meant to show a distinction between something in nature (namely human behavior), it turns out to do nothing. If "self-interested actions" is to be a meaningful class of actions, then there must be a distinction between self-interest acts and non self-interested acts. However, if PE were to mean fulfilling one's intent then all actions are self-interested, meaning it would be REDUNDANT to say "self-interest action".

If this is so, then saying "all actions are actions" is logically identical - thus revealing the triviality of PE.

====================
Conclusion
====================

Remember, even if you don't believe the trivial state of PE is a substantive counterargument, my first argument still shows that at best it's an inconclusive empirical doctrine.

---References---
1. http://plato.stanford.edu...
Debate Round No. 1
mongoose

Pro

I thank my opponent for accepting this debate.

First I will refute my opponent's comment about the inconclusiveness of PE. I think that "self-interest" is a better example than "welfare" as far as what PE causes people to do. If they believe that something is more important to them than their own welfare, then they will act more to fulfill that interest.

"Let's step back and wonder. What reason do we have to believe in PE? There is no empirical evidence to show that all are motivated by self-interest. While it may be the case that we can reflect on past actions and see many of our actions are motivated by self-interest, it does not follow that all actions are motivated by self-interest."

We have every reason to believe that people do things in self-interest. There is no reason to believe that people would do things that are not in their own self-interest. People would do things in their own self-interest because they want to. If they didn't want to, they wouldn't do it.

"For example, a common counterexample to PE is the situation in which a soldier jumps on a grenade to save his fellow comrades. The critic of PE would say that this is an example in which the soldier wanted to save the lives of others or because it was his duty, not self-interest. The supporter of PE, however, would say that perhaps the soldier did so to escape a life of guilt from not saving his fellow soldiers if he hadn't jumped on the grenade, and thus it was an act out of self-interest."

If he did it because of it being his duty, then clearly he was interested in doing his duty. At this point, his interest is more for their safety than his own.

"The problem with this kind of rebuttal while this is a possible account of some cases, there is no reason or necessary connection to think it covers all cases. Therefore, at best PE can be thought of an inconclusive empirical doctrine, meaning we would have to be "agnostic" about it, or a predominant egoist as I am."

There is great reason to believe that it covers all cases. If he didn't want to do it, he wouldn't have done it. There was nothing actually forcing him to do it. He volunteered. This removes the case that makes some people turn to predominant egoism.

I will now move on to the argument that it is trivial.

"However, some PE supporters (L-M comes to mind) argue for it in another way. They would argue that self-interest is identified by satisfying one's preferences or goals. It would seem quite obvious that all actions are in self-interest, since by this definition acting out with accordance to your intent (which is one of the defining characteristics of action, the others being a goal and arguable physical movement) is guaranteed."

This seems to be what I am saying.

"Yet, if this is so PE becomes a trivial truth. This means that there can be no observation suited to refute PE - it's simply given by the nature of action. By the way PE is defined, all possible counter-examples have been ruled out - making it certainly contentious as an empirical doctrine."

Yes.

"Furthermore, PE is trivial because even though it's meant to show a distinction between something in nature (namely human behavior), it turns out to do nothing. If 'self-interested actions' is to be a meaningful class of actions, then there must be a distinction between self-interest acts and non self-interested acts. However, if PE were to mean fulfilling one's intent then all actions are self-interested, meaning it would be REDUNDANT to say 'self-interest action'."

And it is redundant to say "corrupt politician." Does that make it not true? Of course not.

"If this is so, then saying 'all actions are actions' is logically identical - thus revealing the triviality of PE."

If it is trivial, then it is still true. That means nothing.

Conclusion:

There is no reason to believe that people would do things they didn't want to do. They always have a choice, and choose the choice in their best interest.

Quoth Dr. House:

"Everything we do is dictated by motive."

http://housemd-guide.com...
TheSkeptic

Con

I thank my opponent for his response.

It seems that he has actually admitted that PE, if self-interest is identified with acting out one's intent, then it's a triviality. Though disappointing of my opponent to do that, it was pretty predictable. If this was a serious philosophical discussion, this submission would make him a laughingstock. However, I realize this is a debate so it would seem that this argument goes to him.

As of now, it's up to my readers. If you are ardent with keeping rigorous rules, then under this definition of self-interest my opponent wins. However, if you feel one has admitted their argument is trivial then you may vote against him.

At this point, I will simply demonstrate why we must not be content with a trivial version of PE. I will explain that not only is it unfit as an empirical doctrine (which it purports to be), but that it adds nothing to philosophical discussion - it literally is trivial. Of course, I know many people find a trivial truth to still be a truth, and thus my opponent wins. For those who believe that, I have nothing left to say. It would seem that rigors of debate supersedes serious philosophical discussion, so I won't bother to voice any opposition in this context.

====================
Triviality of my opponent's version of PE
====================

As shown before, if he aligns self-interest with acting out one's interest, then this is NO different from an action. As discussed in the philosophy of action, an action is commonly thought of having an intent, goal, and bodily movement guided by the user (though the last part is contentious, since this would exclude mental events). As you can see, my opponent's definition of PE results in just calling it an action. Therefore, saying selfish actions is redundant - it merely means action. There is NO substantive difference at all.

Sure, my opponent may play around and say "corrupt politician" is redundant as well, but he's obviously missing the point. While it's cliche to believe every politician is corrupt, this is obviously NOT the case. My opponent would have to give a great amount of evidence to show every politician is corrupt - there is bound to be at least one legit one.

When I mean trivial, I mean it in a technical way - my opponent's version of PE does absolutely empty of factual content. In philosophy, this is known as a tautology. A tautology would normally be acceptable if used in logic, but if it's an empirical doctrine then one can suspect that it's unsuitable. An empirical doctrine that is by definition is unfalsifiable should be thrown away, as argued by Karl Popper and most scientists of today. Therefore, I will extend this type of reasoning into my next argument:

====================
Why the triviality matters, and how it makes PE an unsuitable empirical doctrine
====================

As demonstrated before, my opponent's position by definition has been reduced to saying that the class "self-interested actions" is extensionally isomorphic with the class of actions. I will not show why as an empirical doctrine this is unacceptable.

First of all, it should be made quite frank that my opponent is supporting PE. His first round and the resolution clearly claim what PE does, and he voices no opposition to my labeling of his position as PE. As such, it should also be recognized that PE is an empirical doctrine, since it purports to make a claim about human behavior.

The problem is that my opponent's version of PE is unfalsifiable. By the way it's defined, there can be no counterexample of an action not motivated by self-interest. If an empirical doctrine is unfalsifiable by definition, then it's unsuitable as an empirical doctrine to start off with.

====================
Conclusion
====================

I can't help but take issue with my opponent - admitting your position is a trivial truth is just unheard of in a serious discussion. But this is a debate, so nonetheless I have offered my reasoning as to why we PE is an unsuitable empirical doctrine.
Debate Round No. 2
mongoose

Pro

"It seems that he has actually admitted that PE, if self-interest is identified with acting out one's intent, then it's a triviality. Though disappointing of my opponent to do that, it was pretty predictable. If this was a serious philosophical discussion, this submission would make him a laughingstock. However, I realize this is a debate so it would seem that this argument goes to him."

Yay.

"As of now, it's up to my readers. If you are ardent with keeping rigorous rules, then under this definition of self-interest my opponent wins. However, if you feel one has admitted their argument is trivial then you may vote against him."

Just because it is trivial does not mean that it is not true.

"At this point, I will simply demonstrate why we must not be content with a trivial version of PE. I will explain that not only is it unfit as an empirical doctrine (which it purports to be), but that it adds nothing to philosophical discussion - it literally is trivial. Of course, I know many people find a trivial truth to still be a truth, and thus my opponent wins. For those who believe that, I have nothing left to say. It would seem that rigors of debate supersedes serious philosophical discussion, so I won't bother to voice any opposition in this context."

This debate is not over whether or not is an empirical doctrine. It is about if humans do everything in their own self-interest, which they do.

"As shown before, if he aligns self-interest with acting out one's interest, then this is NO different from an action. As discussed in the philosophy of action, an action is commonly thought of having an intent, goal, and bodily movement guided by the user (though the last part is contentious, since this would exclude mental events). As you can see, my opponent's definition of PE results in just calling it an action. Therefore, saying selfish actions is redundant - it merely means action. There is NO substantive difference at all."

Selfish does not mean "in one's own self-interest." It means " looking after own desires: concerned with your own interests, needs, and wishes while ignoring those of others." [1]

"Sure, my opponent may play around and say "corrupt politician" is redundant as well, but he's obviously missing the point. While it's cliche to believe every politician is corrupt, this is obviously NOT the case. My opponent would have to give a great amount of evidence to show every politician is corrupt - there is bound to be at least one legit one."

But there is not one who is not motivated by his self-interests, whatever those may be.

"When I mean trivial, I mean it in a technical way - my opponent's version of PE does absolutely empty of factual content. In philosophy, this is known as a tautology. A tautology would normally be acceptable if used in logic, but if it's an empirical doctrine then one can suspect that it's unsuitable. An empirical doctrine that is by definition is unfalsifiable should be thrown away, as argued by Karl Popper and most scientists of today. Therefore, I will extend this type of reasoning into my next argument:"

We aren't arguing about whether or not is an empirical doctrine, so it should not be thrown away.

"As demonstrated before, my opponent's position by definition has been reduced to saying that the class "self-interested actions" is extensionally isomorphic with the class of actions."

Yes.

"I will not show why as an empirical doctrine this is unacceptable."

I am now completely confused.

"First of all, it should be made quite frank that my opponent is supporting PE. His first round and the resolution clearly claim what PE does, and he voices no opposition to my labeling of his position as PE. As such, it should also be recognized that PE is an empirical doctrine, since it purports to make a claim about human behavior."

My position advocates the same things as PE, but not as an empirical doctrine, as a fact.

unfalsifiable: not capable of being proved false [2]

"The problem is that my opponent's version of PE is unfalsifiable. By the way it's defined, there can be no counterexample of an action not motivated by self-interest. If an empirical doctrine is unfalsifiable by definition, then it's unsuitable as an empirical doctrine to start off with."

Hence why I'm not arguing for it as an empirical doctrine.

That is no reason to believe that it is false.

In conclusion, all humans act in self-interest. My opponent never gave any more reason as to why it would be false, but only as to why it is not an empirical doctrine, something I never said I was arguing for. Vote PRO.

I thank my opponent for this debate.

[1] http://encarta.msn.com...
[2] http://www.merriam-webster.com...
TheSkeptic

Con

To be frank, I'm disappointed with my opponent's response. He clearly misses the point of my argument, even when I allow him to advocate a triviality.

My opponent's main counterargument is to argue that PE is not an empirical doctrine, but he has given no reason for why this is so. I can tell he is unfamiliar with PE or any philosophical discussion about it because if he were truly a proponent of PE - which he obviously is given his position - then he would realize it is very much an empirical doctrine.

As you can see from my two links[1][2], PE is a descriptive account of human behavior. In fact, the second link goes into great detail to describe PE "the empirical doctrine that the determining motive of every voluntary action is a desire for one's own welfare." It should plainly obvious it's an empirical doctrine - it attempts to explain an element of human behavior.

"But there is not one [politician] who is not motivated by his self-interests, whatever those may be."

My opponent employs an analogy and then drops it's original content. He states that corrupt politician is redundant, but we use it anyway. As I stated in my previous round, this is NOT so. There is obviously a politician who is conceivably not corrupt, and thus those "corrupt politician" is not logically identical to "politician." However, he sweeps this rebuttal aside by reiterating his position. Mongoose, if you're going to use an analogy you should stick to it.

Since my opponent has completely disregarded my point about it being unfalsifiable, I feel no need to say anymore.

---References---
1. http://plato.stanford.edu...
2. http://philosophy.lander.edu...
Debate Round No. 3
45 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
Ah, I see. Well then my response would apply to whoever would.
Posted by mongoose 7 years ago
mongoose
RFD:

Conduct: TIED
SG: TIED
Convincing Arguements: PRO
Con only argued that it was trivial, not that it was false.
Sources: TIED

I didn't give myself SG. I just explained why someone might.
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
Thanks for the RFD Maikuru! Yeah, I came into this debate expecting to have a good philosophical discussion, but it boiled down to such a ...response. Oh well, I guess I just need to act as cautiously as possible in the future.
Posted by Maikuru 7 years ago
Maikuru
This was...silly.

C: Tie
S & G: Con - Pro's responses were lazy and lackluster. Also, the perpetual quoting is very irritating.
A: Pro - Lazy, lackluster, and sufficient to prove the resolution. An unsatisfying win but it doesn't really matter haha.
S: Con - Definitions and quotes don't constitute valid sources in this debate.
Posted by LightningRod 7 years ago
LightningRod
That's the mongeese/mongoose way.

1. Search for the most trivial mistakes to point-grub,

2. When that fails, insult everyone who understands grammar by using Microsoft Word's spell check as judgment.
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
= unnecessary nitpicking. If you wanted to count that against me for the spelling/grammar point, then I might as well browse through your entire round for a single spelling or grammar mistake, even though you gave a painstakingly small amount of responses.
Posted by mongoose 7 years ago
mongoose
= error in spelling
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
not = now
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
Ai ya, it's obviously an error. If it was a concession, then why would the following paragraphs demonstrate your trivial version of PE is an unacceptable empirical doctrine?
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mongoose
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