How is it possible to have self-interest and to be able to form moral judgements?

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Pietercircus10
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How is it possible to have self-interest and to be able to form moral judgements?

Post by Pietercircus10 »

Drawing on from the work of Adam Smith, how do the two co-exist together? Is it possible to have self-interest while also being able to form our own moral judgements? Don't they cancel each other out?

What sort of mechanisms underpin these two combinations?

Please let me know your thoughts!
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Re: How is it possible to have self-interest and to be able to form moral judgements?

Post by HJCarden »

Pietercircus10 wrote: May 5th, 2021, 4:55 am Drawing on from the work of Adam Smith, how do the two co-exist together? Is it possible to have self-interest while also being able to form our own moral judgements? Don't they cancel each other out?

What sort of mechanisms underpin these two combinations?

Please let me know your thoughts!
I think this paradox is the primary motivator for many who are trying to develop a moral system or find one to adhere to. It is difficult for me to imagine a moral system that I'd agree with that plays entirely into our own self interest, however, am I helplessly biased in this right? Will I always lean towards moral laws that take care of a decent portion of my self interest that force me to make the smallest sacrifices possible in order to adhere to them? One possible way to escape this would be to adopt a moral system that demanded constant self sacrifice and demanded one always make the best moral decisions. However, this would too seem to be wrong, because there must be some level of care for oneself, for if no one cared for themselves the whole of humanity might be in a pretty poor state. If we spent every waking hour sacrificing ourselves for others and denying our own self interest, we wouldn't morally even be able to allot ourselves time to wipe our own ass.

This above situation seems almost inescapable the more and more I think about it. The only honest ways out seem to either entirely act upon our own self interest or act entirely selflessly if one is to get rid of this problem. However, both of these options are unsavory to me. For me, this question morphs into an existential one. What is the role of morality in my existence? Is it to fill this social need, or am I aiming for some truly higher and somehow more righteous form of behavior? What helps me see past this is my firm belief that through enough contemplation and self experimentation, I CAN divorce my self interest from a pursuit of moral truth whatever that may be, and that is something I try to work on every day.
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Re: How is it possible to have self-interest and to be able to form moral judgements?

Post by Terrapin Station »

Pietercircus10 wrote: May 5th, 2021, 4:55 am Drawing on from the work of Adam Smith, how do the two co-exist together? Is it possible to have self-interest while also being able to form our own moral judgements? Don't they cancel each other out?

What sort of mechanisms underpin these two combinations?

Please let me know your thoughts!
You should explain why you'd believe that they would cancel each other out.
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Re: How is it possible to have self-interest and to be able to form moral judgements?

Post by Pattern-chaser »

Pietercircus10 wrote: May 5th, 2021, 4:55 am Drawing on from the work of Adam Smith, how do the two co-exist together? Is it possible to have self-interest while also being able to form our own moral judgements? Don't they cancel each other out?

What sort of mechanisms underpin these two combinations?
Altruism? 🤔
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Re: How is it possible to have self-interest and to be able to form moral judgements?

Post by Thomyum2 »

Pietercircus10 wrote: May 5th, 2021, 4:55 am Drawing on from the work of Adam Smith, how do the two co-exist together? Is it possible to have self-interest while also being able to form our own moral judgements? Don't they cancel each other out?

What sort of mechanisms underpin these two combinations?

Please let me know your thoughts!
I think that rather than cancelling each other out, the self-interests of people are actually at the foundation of morality - the need to form moral judgments comes about precisely because we have to find ways to reconcile our self-interests with the interests of others. Williams James makes an excellent and concise analysis of this dynamic in his essay "The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life", which I highly recommend if you haven't read it already.
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Re: How is it possible to have self-interest and to be able to form moral judgements?

Post by chewybrian »

Pietercircus10 wrote: May 5th, 2021, 4:55 am Drawing on from the work of Adam Smith, how do the two co-exist together? Is it possible to have self-interest while also being able to form our own moral judgements? Don't they cancel each other out?

What sort of mechanisms underpin these two combinations?

Please let me know your thoughts!
According to Socrates, they are one in the same. It is in our personal self interest to do the right thing at all times. The value of being a good person exceeds any possible gain from taking more than your share or treating others disrespectfully in pursuit of some short term gain. He claimed that we only behave selfishly out of ignorance, because we don't fully understand the consequences of our choices, and don't value things properly. I agree.

This is something I have taken on faith. But, this is not the same kind of faith that I might need to accept a certain religion, or God in general. I already feel subjectively that my life is better when I try to do the right thing. I am more at ease around others without the guilt or shame of what I might have tried to get away with. When I do wrong, I am more nervous, afraid, sad or even angry. When I try to be good, I am calmer and happier.

Intuitively, I feel that Socrates was right. My experience, all subjective, backs up my belief. If we want to live in a just society, we should first be just ourselves. We can't build a just society on the backs of a bunch of free riders. If you believe in justice, then you must do your part.
"If determinism holds, then past events have conspired to cause me to hold this view--it is out of my control. Either I am right about free will, or it is not my fault that I am wrong."
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Re: How is it possible to have self-interest and to be able to form moral judgements?

Post by Pattern-chaser »

chewybrian wrote: May 6th, 2021, 7:11 pm According to Socrates, they are one in the same. It is in our personal self interest to do the right thing at all times. The value of being a good person exceeds any possible gain from taking more than your share or treating others disrespectfully in pursuit of some short term gain. He claimed that we only behave selfishly out of ignorance, because we don't fully understand the consequences of our choices, and don't value things properly. I agree.

This is something I have taken on faith. But, this is not the same kind of faith that I might need to accept a certain religion, or God in general. I already feel subjectively that my life is better when I try to do the right thing. I am more at ease around others without the guilt or shame of what I might have tried to get away with. When I do wrong, I am more nervous, afraid, sad or even angry. When I try to be good, I am calmer and happier.

Intuitively, I feel that Socrates was right. My experience, all subjective, backs up my belief. If we want to live in a just society, we should first be just ourselves. We can't build a just society on the backs of a bunch of free riders. If you believe in justice, then you must do your part.

This is so good it's inspirational! It made me feel good - and proud to be human - just to read it. I haven't read anything like this in recent times. Thank you.

But there is one small comment I must disagree with you and Socrates on. I don't accept that we "behave selfishly out of ignorance". We do it out of greed; the wish to have more than others do. Just as the good aspects of humanity you describe make me feel good, the greed makes me feel bad. Both are aspects of humanity and human behaviour. We cannot deny our 'baser' instincts, I feel.
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Re: How is it possible to have self-interest and to be able to form moral judgements?

Post by chewybrian »

Pattern-chaser wrote: May 7th, 2021, 6:39 am
chewybrian wrote: May 6th, 2021, 7:11 pm According to Socrates, they are one in the same. It is in our personal self interest to do the right thing at all times. The value of being a good person exceeds any possible gain from taking more than your share or treating others disrespectfully in pursuit of some short term gain. He claimed that we only behave selfishly out of ignorance, because we don't fully understand the consequences of our choices, and don't value things properly. I agree.

This is something I have taken on faith. But, this is not the same kind of faith that I might need to accept a certain religion, or God in general. I already feel subjectively that my life is better when I try to do the right thing. I am more at ease around others without the guilt or shame of what I might have tried to get away with. When I do wrong, I am more nervous, afraid, sad or even angry. When I try to be good, I am calmer and happier.

Intuitively, I feel that Socrates was right. My experience, all subjective, backs up my belief. If we want to live in a just society, we should first be just ourselves. We can't build a just society on the backs of a bunch of free riders. If you believe in justice, then you must do your part.

This is so good it's inspirational! It made me feel good - and proud to be human - just to read it. I haven't read anything like this in recent times. Thank you.

But there is one small comment I must disagree with you and Socrates on. I don't accept that we "behave selfishly out of ignorance". We do it out of greed; the wish to have more than others do. Just as the good aspects of humanity you describe make me feel good, the greed makes me feel bad. Both are aspects of humanity and human behaviour. We cannot deny our 'baser' instincts, I feel.
Socrates would disagree, I think. He said nobody purposely does evil. So, if you think greed is evil, then it falls within that area of ignorance, too. Another way to look at it is through cognitive science. We are terrible at estimating or anticipating our own happiness. We suffer (if suffer is the right word) from hedonic adaptation. We thing things are going to be much better or much worse than they turn out to be. The seemingly greatest or worst thing ever plays out to be "meh".

Look at what happens to most lottery winners. They think their problems will be solved, and they will be happy all the time as a result of the riches. But, they soon adapt and the buzz of being able to spend is not as great. Further, they can no longer blame their situation for their unhappiness, and (probably incorrectly) blame themselves for not being happy despite the freedom of their new riches.

So, if we can be that wrong about something huge like winning the lottery, imagine how often we botch the math on simple ideas of what we should or shouldn't do, and how much pride, joy, or satisfaction we might get from various choices. That's what I am getting at, though I might not be in perfect alignment with Socrates. If we could run all the real numbers, knowing in advance what choices would make us happiest in the long run, I suspect we would find little conflict between selfish interests and the "right thing". They would turn out to be the same.
"If determinism holds, then past events have conspired to cause me to hold this view--it is out of my control. Either I am right about free will, or it is not my fault that I am wrong."
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Re: How is it possible to have self-interest and to be able to form moral judgements?

Post by chewybrian »

Pattern-chaser wrote: May 7th, 2021, 6:39 am

This is so good it's inspirational! It made me feel good - and proud to be human - just to read it. I haven't read anything like this in recent times. Thank you.
p.s. Thanks for the kind words, but I will give the credit to the Stoics, from whom I 'stole' these ideas, for the most part. You might enjoy my main man Epictetus. It's only 20 pages, but it is dense with wisdom (I think):

http://classics.mit.edu/Epictetus/epicench.html

Here are a few snips below that might apply to our subject at hand...
If I can get them with the preservation of my own honor and fidelity and greatness of mind, show me the way and I will get them; but if you require me to lose my own proper good that you may gain what is not good, consider how inequitable and foolish you are

(there is another translation of this that says "you are a blockhead", which I like very much).

Besides, which would you rather have, a sum of money, or a friend of fidelity and honor? Rather assist me, then, to gain this character than require me to do those things by which I may lose it. Well, but my country, say you, as far as depends on me, will be unassisted. Here again, what assistance is this you mean? "It will not have porticoes nor baths of your providing." And what signifies that? Why, neither does a smith provide it with shoes, or a shoemaker with arms. It is enough if everyone fully performs his own proper business. And were you to supply it with another citizen of honor and fidelity, would not he be of use to it? Yes. Therefore neither are you yourself useless to it. "What place, then, say you, will I hold in the state?" Whatever you can hold with the preservation of your fidelity and honor.

As the proposition, "Either it is day or it is night," is extremely proper for a disjunctive argument, but quite improper in a conjunctive one, so, at a feast, to choose the largest share is very suitable to the bodily appetite, but utterly inconsistent with the social spirit of an entertainment. When you eat with another, then, remember not only the value of those things which are set before you to the body, but the value of that behavior which ought to be observed towards the person who gives the entertainment.

When any person harms you, or speaks badly of you, remember that he acts or speaks from a supposition of its being his duty. Now, it is not possible that he should follow what appears right to you, but what appears so to himself. Therefore, if he judges from a wrong appearance, he is the person hurt, since he too is the person deceived. For if anyone should suppose a true proposition to be false, the proposition is not hurt, but he who is deceived about it. Setting out, then, from these principles, you will meekly bear a person who reviles you, for you will say upon every occasion, "It seemed so to him."
"If determinism holds, then past events have conspired to cause me to hold this view--it is out of my control. Either I am right about free will, or it is not my fault that I am wrong."
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Re: How is it possible to have self-interest and to be able to form moral judgements?

Post by Terrapin Station »

So did we help him with his homework?
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Re: How is it possible to have self-interest and to be able to form moral judgements?

Post by Pattern-chaser »

Thanks for the link. Your main man seems quite interesting....
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Re: How is it possible to have self-interest and to be able to form moral judgements?

Post by Jake4020 »

Well because for the most part it is in your self interest to have moral judge yourself and others to an extent. Where that line is I don't know. That's a very long conversation. But I would argue a degree of your self interest is judging yourself if not as harsh or harsher than you do others. That's an obvious one to me.
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Re: How is it possible to have self-interest and to be able to form moral judgements?

Post by popeye1945 »

Hi Pietercircus,

Morality and self-interest are one and the same thing or should be, and in most cases are, or are failures to that objective. You meantion Adam Smith, don't think his strong point was morality, he was an economist. Morality if it has not lost track of its object is the life and well-being of the subjects of the society that embraces its given morality. In many instances where the supernatural is brought into the picture the purpose, or function of life and well being become clouded and confused. Money and the means of acquiring it may come into play, but morality does not govern this discipline.
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