Strong Psychological Egoism

Psychological egoism can be classified into 2 kinds, “strong psychological egoism” and “weak psychological egoism”. “Weak psychological egoism” states that all that ever motivates a person is his desires.

On the other hand, “strong psychological egoism” states that all that ever motivates a person is self-interest, or selfish desires. This means that people always act in their own interests, even though they might disguise their motivation by saying that they only wanted to help others or do their duty.

Butler argues that “strong psychological egoism” is a false view because one does something just for the sake of doing this thing, not thinking of the consequences or the pleasure that he might get after doing it. For example, it so happens that you help an old lady across the street and then you feel good. Psychological egoists would say that you helped her across the street in order to feel good yourself. Butler would argue that you didn’t help her across the street in order to feel good (your end being “feeling good”), but you did it for the sake of helping the old lady (your end being “helping the lady”). The fact that you felt good doesn’t mean that it was your original motive to do so.

Butler says that “all particular appetites and passions are toward external things themselves, distinct from the pleasure arising from them” because there couldn’t be this pleasure if there wasn’t “appetite to one thing more than another”. This means that the intention for doing an action is due to the fact that I want to do this action because I like it, not because I will feel good by doing it. If it were the opposite, everything we do would give us an equal amount of pleasure, and things would have no value in themselves, so this proves that things or actions really do have value in themselves.

Sometimes people are motivated to do things that will not be to their self-interest, such as sacrifice or charity, or things that they don’t really desire to do… for example: your mom tells you to throw the garbage. You really don’t want to, but it is your duty to, so you do it with out ever feeling good about it. What would have been your motive for doing so?

“Psychological egoism” is just a label that one is given according to the way he thinks. Different people think differently, and are motivated differently. It all depends on the person and how the person thinks and views things. Here is an example of how people are different:

I can see a boy drowning, possibilities:
1) I don’t help him, I don’t feel guilty
2) I don’t help him, but feel guilty
3) I help him, I feel happy for saving him
4) I help him, I feel neutral about it – as if nothing happened

Case

What motivated me

What I was thinking (how I think)

Does saving a life have any value (in itself) to me

Did I get any pleasure from saving him

Label

1a)

nothing

I will not benefit from saving him, it’s not my duty

no

Indifferent Strong Psychological Egoist

1b)

nothing

I will not benefit from saving him, no one is around to see me save him and honor me

Not really

Strong psychological egoist

2)

nothing

Someone should save him/I should have saved him

Yes

Passive observer

3a)

Duty

It’s my duty to save a life

Yes

yes

A courageous citizen

3b)

Self-interest

I will be called a “hero”

Not really/

maybe

yes

Strong psychological egoist

4)

Duty

It’s my duty to save a life

yes

no

A courageous citizen

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