Psychological Egoism is correct
Debate Rounds (3)
All forms of egoism require explication of "self-interest" (or "welfare" or "well-being"). There are two main theories. Preference or desire accounts identify self-interest with the satisfaction of one's desires. Often, and most plausibly, these desires are restricted to self-regarding desires. What makes a desire self-regarding is controversial, but there are clear cases and counter-cases: a desire for my own pleasure is self-regarding; a desire for the welfare of others is not. Objective accounts identify self-interest with the possession of states (such as virtue or knowledge) that are valued independently of whether they are desired. Hedonism, which identifies self-interest with pleasure, is either a preference or an objective account, according to whether what counts as pleasure is determined by one's desires.
Psychological egoism claims that each person has but one ultimate aim: her own welfare. This allows for action that fails to maximize perceived self-interest, but rules out the sort of behavior psychological egoists like to target " such as altruistic behavior or motivation by thoughts of duty alone. It allows for weakness of will, since in weakness of will cases I am still aiming at my own welfare; I am weak in that I do not act as I aim. And it allows for aiming at things other than one's welfare, such as helping others, where these things are a means to one's welfare.
Psychological egoism is supported by our frequent observation of self-interested behavior. Apparently altruistic action is often revealed to be self-interested. And we typically motivate people by appealing to their self-interest (through, for example, punishments and rewards).
Psychological egoism is the view that all of our actions are motivated by what we take to be in our own self-interest. If you think about it, psychological egoism is a denial of libertarian free will because according to libertarianism, no antecedent conditions, including our own desires, are sufficient to determine our choices, which means that for whatever choice we make, we could have chosen differently even if our desires and motivations had been exactly the same. So any argument for libertarian freedom is an argument against psychological egoism.
But I don't subscribe to libertarian freedom. I just put that there for curiosity's sake.
In tonight's debate, I'm going to defend two basic contentions. First, there are no good reasons to think that psychological egoism is true. Second, there is good reason to think psychological egoism is false.
Concerning that first contention, unless we could look at every choice that every person has ever made, we're not in a position to say that the motivation behind each of those choices was self-interested. One could, however, make an inductive case for psychological egoism if one had a sufficiently large sampling of choices that all turned out to be self-interested. But no such study has ever been conducted. Pro appeals to the frequent observation of self-interested behavior, but that does not warrant the universal claim that all of our actions are motivated by self-interest. There's no doubt that people often behave according to self-interest, but psychological egoism makes a stronger claim than that. Psychological egoism claims that all of our actions are motivated by self-interest.
Pro says that apparently altruistic behavior is often revealed to be self-interested. A mistake psychological egoist typically make is confusing the result of an action with its cause. For example, if you help an old lady across the street and feel good about yourself as a result, the psychological egoist will say the good feeling was what actually motivated your action, not the well-being of the old lady. While the psychological egoist can point out self-interested benefits of otherwise altruistic actions, they cannot actually show that the benefit was what motivated the action to begin with. That's just something they assume.
Concering my second contention, if I can show just one example of an action whose primary motivation is not self-interested, then I will have refuted psychological egoism.
Consider this scenario. A man buys a life insurance policy that costs him $20/month for the rest of his life. When he dies, it pays his family $200,000. So he doesn't get anything from the life insurance policy. Rather, it costs him. The reason he gets it is so his family will be taken care of.
Now, a psychological egoist will say that because the man loves his family, he wants them to be taken care of, and buying the life-insurance policy gives him a psychological pay-off. The pay-off for the man is that he feels comforted by the fact that his family will be taken care of when he's gone, and perhaps he feels a sense of pride in sacrificing for them. Since the man gets no material benefit from paying for the life-insurance policy, the only possible benefit he could get is psychological.
So, let's suppose that there's a pill the man could take that would give him those exact same feelings except that the pill is free. So the man has a choice:
A. Pay $20/month and get a psychological pay-off.
B. Save $20/month and get the exact same psychological pay-off.
Now, if you offered any man this choice, he would choose option A every time. The reason is because the psychological pay-off is not actually his real motivation for getting the life insurance policy. His real motivation actually is the interest of others, namely his family. The fact that he gets a psychological-pay is the result of his action, not the cause of it.
This scenario disproves psychological egoism.
I think there are two goals that are should be used to determine if an action is self-interested: continued existence and pleasure. A self-interested action is on that a conscious being judges (consciously or subconsciously) as promoting one or both of those goals based on the value said being places on each. So I am saying that the key factor here is expectation or prediction, not the actual result. Obviously people make decisions that they expect to further those goals, but due to lack of information and/or errors in logic, they are proven wrong.
The second part of my argument will delve into why I think it is fundamentally natural for conscious beings to behave in such a way. I think that it fundamentally natural behavior is more likely to succeed in furthering the continued existence and prosperity of humanity, because humanity is the product of a natural evolution and that there is copious evidence that such behavior has proliferated humanity and made it less susceptible to extinction.
Taking a step back, for perspective, we should delve into the issue of life and define its nature. From Wikipedia:
Life is a characteristic distinguishing objects having signaling and self-sustaining processes from those that do not, either because such functions have ceased (death), or because they lack such functions and are classified as inanimate.
So life, by definition, is a characteristic of an object that attempts to preserve it"s existence. Because conscious beings are alive and, as far as we know, must evolve from non-conscious beings that were also alive, self-preservation is a natural, hard-wired, tendency of humans.
The other very relevant definition of life is an object which not only self-sustains but tends to proliferate objects similar to itself through reproduction. These two characteristics of life are what led to the evolution of the phenomenon called "pleasure" which is observable in all entities with a central nervous system. Brains evolved to the point where they experience pleasure from certain conditions. These conditions were "selected" by evolution because they tend to promote a living object"s continued existence and/or reproduction.
Non-conscious animals there is no ability to communicate with natural language or perform abstract reasoning so their evolution is much slower and more constrained. I think this is the case precisely because animals lack the ability to derive pleasure from a wide variety of events that humans can. In other words, the search space that evolution can explore with non-conscious life is a small subset of the space which it can explore with conscious life. The process of evolution can delve deeper into what is possible. I would like to elaborate further but this seems good for now.
In my opening, I said that I would defend two contentions: (1) that there are no good reasons to think psychological egoism is true, and (2) that there is good reason to think psychological egoism is false.
I gave an argment in the first round for that second contention, but Pro did not respond to it. I'll just point out in this round that the argument stands unrefuted.
Concerning the second premise I explained why there are no good reasons to think psychological egoism is true. Pro didn't really respond to what I said there, but in this round, he attempted to support psychological egoism by appealing to something I already acknowledge in the first round. I said, "There's no doubt that people often behave according to self-interest, but psychological egoism makes a stronger claim than that." All Pro really argued in this round is that people do act in self-interest. That is not under dispute. But psychological egoism is the view that people always act out of self-interest. All of our acts are self-interested acts, according to psychological egoism. Pointing out that people do act in self-interest is not sufficient to show that psychological egoism is true.
Pro hasn't given us any good reason to think psychological egoism is true. The best he's been able to do so far is to show that people do act in self interest, which I have agreed to. He needs a bit more argument to support the resolution of this debate.
In this round, I will remake my case more thoroughly, and then address my opponents arguments.
After reading the Stanford entry, I discovered that has confusing explanations so I would like to refer the reader to use http://en.wikipedia.org... as the reference that defines my position.
The Stanford encylopedia states that "Psychological egoism claims that each person has but one ultimate aim: her own welfare. This allows for action that fails to maximize perceived self-interest, but rules out the sort of behavior psychological egoists like to target — such as altruistic behavior or motivation by thoughts of duty alone. It allows for weakness of will, since in weakness of will cases I am still aiming at my own welfare; I am weak in that I do not act as I aim. And it allows for aiming at things other than one's welfare, such as helping others, where these things are a means to one's welfare." This explanation is confusing because the proper definitions of "altruistic behavior" and even "motivation by thoughts of duty alone" are dependent on the veracity of psychological egoism. The key aspect to remember is that motivation includes conscious AND subconscious desires. In other words, the decisions, or output, of a human brain is entirely dependant upon how it processes it's inputs. From the perspective of psychological egoism, those two phrases are defined more strictly than the commonly accepted definitions "altruistic behavior" seem to ignore the propensity of the brain to make decisions subconsciously. The definition is that behavior is altruistic merely if the motivations that the decider is consciously aware of are purely concerned with the well-being of others. My contention is that even if the conscious part of the brain is entirely unaware of it's subconscious motivations( which must follow some system of rules for formulation), the goal of the subconscious brain, and therefore the brain as whole, is always to maximize expected welfare.
CON wrote "While the psychological egoist can point out self-interested benefits of otherwise altruistic actions, they cannot actually show that the benefit was what motivated the action to begin with. That's just something they assume." This is clearly an impossible thing to prove in a scientific manner, given the current state of technology and is therefore a weak criticism of psychological egoism. To do so we would need an understanding of the workings of the human brain exponentially more accurate than we have today.
CON wrote "Consider this scenario. A man buys a life insurance policy that costs him $20/month for the rest of his life. When he dies, it pays his family $200,000. So he doesn't get anything from the life insurance policy. Rather, it costs him. The reason he gets it is so his family will be taken care of." It is certainly plausible that he expects to gain pleasure and/or avoid pain as a result of taking this action. By purchasing this insurance he will prevent the psychological discomfort that comes from considering his family's fate after his demise. Moreover it is plausible that he has concluded consciously or subconsciously that avoiding that discomfort will aid him in achieving other goals. CON then states "So, let's suppose that there's a pill the man could take that would give him those exact same feelings except that the pill is free. So the man has a choice:
A. Pay $20/month and get a psychological pay-off.
B. Save $20/month and get the exact same psychological pay-off."
This is a not and never could be a real scenario because there will never be a pill that can guarantee to perfectly replicate the exact same psychological effects. Also if there was somehow such a pill, why would it be free?
CON wrote "Concerning that first contention, unless we could look at every choice that every person has ever made, we're not in a position to say that the motivation behind each of those choices was self-interested." because "Psychological egoism claims that all of our actions are motivated by self-interest." This is what psychological egoism claims is true. I think that it is true and that the case for its veracity has been well made, but, my intended contention, I recognize that I failed to make this clear, is merely that, by its nature every choice made by a human is motivated by self-interest. Perhaps on rare occasion a human is able to overcome its nature and rewire itself into operating in a fundamentally selfless way. I don't think that is the case but even if it is, psychological egoism is the default nature of a human being. Moreover the tendency of a human to obey the rules of psychological egoism, consciously or subconsciously, is so strong that it is impossible for a majority of humans to ever overcome it. This is impossible, in part, because those that do overcome it will tend to reproduce less.
I invite all readers to challenge me to a debate on this or any other serious topic.
Pro finally got around to addressing my arguments in this round, so I'll see if I can defend my contentions against his critique. But before I do, let me say something the difference between altruism and egoism. Altruism is when you act out of concern for the interest of another person. Egoism is when you act out of a concern for your own interest. Psychological egoism is the view that all of our actions (even the ones that appear on the surface to be altruistic) are motivated by what we take to be in our own self-interest. Granted, sometimes we don't what's best for us, but that's why I included the "what we take" part. If psychological egoism is true, then there are no altruistic acts.
Now to my contentions.
First contention: There are no good reasons to think psychological egoism is true.
By "good reasons," I mean reasons that give us strong warrant for thinking psychological egoism is true. My strategy was to bring up typical arguments pschological egoists make, as well as the arguments Pro made, and show why they are not good reasons. Pro could've undermined this contention by bringing up a good reason, but I don't think he's done that.
One way psychological egoists attempt to show that even apparently altruistic behavior is self-interested is by pointing to the benefits of acting that way. For example, if I help an old lady across the street, I avoid guilt, and I feel good about myself. I said that while psychological egoists can point out these benefits, they cannot show that these benefits are what motivated the behavior to begin with. Pro responded in this round by saying this is a "weak criticism of psychological egoism." But it's not a criticism of psychological egoism at all. Rather, it's a criticism of one of the major arguments for psychological egoism. Remember the contention I was defending at this point was that there are no good reasons to think psychological egoism is true. It is in the second contention that I show that psychological egoism is false. I suspect Pro misunderstood my argument here. What Pro should've done is attempt to show that the benefits of otherwise altruistic acts are what motivate the acts or that we can look at the benefits of our acts to determine what motivated them to begin with. As it is, he didn't make any attempt to defend this argument I was responding to.
I also pointed out in the first round that "unless we could look at every choice that every person has ever made, we're not in a position to say that the motivation behind each of those choices was self-interested." Again, Pro didn't really respond to this point even though he quoted it. Instead, what he did was assert (not argue) that it is human nature to act in self-interest. He came dangerously close to conceding the debate when he said, "Perhaps on rare occasion a human is able to overcome its nature and rewire itself into operating in a fundamentally selfless way," but then followed it up with, "I don't think that is the case. . ."
Recall that I have already conceded that we all act in self-interest. But that is not the issue. The issue is whether all of our acts are motivated by self-interest. Pro has not shown that.
Since Pro hasn't offered any good reason to think psychological egoism is true, my first contention stands unrefuted.
Second contention: There is good reason to think psychological egoism is false.
I used a thought experiment to defend my second contention. In the thought experiment, we imagine a person who has a choice between two alternatives that offer the same psychological benefits, but one is more financially beneficial than the other, the person still chooses the option that benefits himself the least because in spite of whatever psychological benefits he gets, his real motivation for acting is the interest of others.
Pro's response is just a failure to understand how a thought experiment works. He simply said that such a scenario would never happen and questioned why such a pill would ever be free. But it's irrelevant whether the scenario would ever happen or not. It's a thought experiment! It's meant to help us think through an issue. Even if there never is such a pill, it shows that when people buy life insurance policies, they do so out of a concern for the interest of others, not themselves. You need the pill to exist in order to make that point. You just need to know what the person would choose if the pill were available, and that is enough to make the point. That refutes psychological egoism.
Since Pro made no good arguments in support of psychological egoism, and since he was not able to refute my argument against psychological egoism, the resolution has been undermined.
Thank you for coming to tonight's debate.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Ore_Ele 2 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: This was an interesting debate, however, poor structuring did hurt. Pro did not address Con's main arguments until his final round. When he should have argued against them in his R2, so that there could be more discussion on those. Ultimately, Pro is arguing that PE is correct, yet could not defend any of the points on it. Con stated that while self-interest is often observed, that does not mean that it is everywhere. Pro dismissed this saying that we cannot know that. Pro also dismissed Con's point about health insurance vs a pill saying that such a situation is impossible and why would the pill be free. Simply dismissing an argument is not the same as refuting it. As such the thought experiment stands.
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