“Many people, including myself, argue that all people are inherently self-interested because, by definition, a person desires and values what he or she desires and values. Those desires and values also develop into goals, and the person makes their decisions in an attempt to most fulfill those desires, values, and goals.”
The assumption seems to be that because people are inherently ‘self-interested’ (meaning that they have desires and values which develop into goals and other self-directed actions) that they ought to do so! I’m wholly uncertain on two points: (1) the argument gets off to a bad start with somewhat spacious reasoning: because such and such is the case that it ought to be right for people to do so, and (2) the argument is motivated by use of a rather troubled ontological assumption—that there’s a self and whatever that self ethically desires or chooses is appropriate for satisfying such self-desires and so on. However, one of the troubled aspects of selfishness is that it is often unreflective, harmfully encourages the pursuit of goals that damage rather than contributes in some compassionate way, and is often apathetic to the sufferings of others! I think these qualities are what most thinkers of an altruistic nature are thinking when they clearly recognize a conflict between egoistic oriented ethics and altruistically oriented ethics. So, yes, logically, and depending on the circumstance we’re discussing, one can take Scott’s highly qualified version of selfishness and say that selfishness is compatible with selflessness. However, such a distinction is seemingly too artificial to be of much help in practicality. After all, the real meat of this issue is over what theory and impulse should guide our ethical theory and practice when conflict is to be considered!
Additionally, I would like to know how is it that we seem to be so certain that all people have desires and values in the way that has been outlined here. After all, much of human history could arguably be viewed more altruistically oriented than selfish! In basic, human nature’s ultimate desire is for community and general good will. This may be compatible with Scott’s thought here, but it certainly demands the justificatory basis of establishing that our higher impulse or nature is self-oriented and not group oriented categorically!
Also, such an approach seems to lack a theoretical prerequisite of logical interest: the problem I see with selfishness as an ethical guide is that it seems to be assumed without justification that what ‘I’ value possesses some special ethical category and those ‘others’ who’s goals and values differ from mine are to be seen as less significant. However, we have no reason for thinking this! In basic, such ethical theory appears to be based on similar grounds as racism, dividing people into two distinct ethical categories on the basis of some supposed inequality. If others interests-at the ethical level- are comparable to our own, although- we may act for self at different non-ethical levels of human interests and activity, then we have no clear ethical theoretical line of delineation between the so-called self-interest of ‘me’ and ‘others.’ Therefore, the thing that appears to justify helping others, which is based on Scott’s idea of self-interest, is found wanting.