Psychological egoism, can anyone provide an everyday action which a healthy human mind would carry out which doesn't have the motive of preservation of the individuals own life at heart?

For example, some may provide the example of forming friendships or falling in love. However this is ultimately because forming relationships with these people is mutually benefit since they will both have someone to rely on, crucial to Humans, who are social creatures which would struggle to survive by themselves.

Interested to see if anyone can dissuade me from this dark outlook of Humanity.

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    Why do you insist they be "everyday" actions? If it weren't for that provision, the obvious answer would be instances of self-sacrifice and suicide.
    – Era
    Feb 25, 2016 at 22:22
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    To see what natural selection "selected" us for is by no means "dark", maybe for some romantics. Since you learned it, you may cope with it.
    – Rodrigo
    Feb 25, 2016 at 23:59
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    I said 'everyday' to avoid the obvious debate of self sacrifice, etc, (though I would argue that such an action is for some subconscious need for self worth, or subconscious expectations the same would be done for you, which is again self interest). Feb 26, 2016 at 1:34
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    I wanted an 'everyday' example since this would be much more interesting in my opinion, please do not get angy that it diverts from your own viewpoints...... & true Rodrigo I think accepting the world for how it is is the way to go, however the outlook that we humans act out of self interest is a dark one to hold in today's society was my meaning. Feb 26, 2016 at 1:36
  • @ThatKidConnor I think what Rodrigo was getting at is that in the course of discussing the nature of humanity, the prospect of each individual acting out of self-interest is not particularly "dark" by objective standards any more than trigonometry is "dark" in the pursuit of physics. The negative moral connotation for "selfishness" is the result of abstract social norms; the basic idea of "selfishness", that humans might act for their own individual benefit is a biological certainty - you would be hard pressed to find a scientist/psychologist who would argue otherwise.
    – bosco
    Feb 26, 2016 at 1:55

4 Answers 4


Saving the lives of one's children at the cost of one's own is not uncommon. So there is a dimension missing from your question.

Broadened to include the continuation of one's family and culture or the larger systems of which those are a part as a form of 'indirect selfishness', however, the answer has to be 'no'. From the point of view of Dawkins' theory of selfish genes, we are made by genes for their own selfish purposes.

If we were not somewhat selfish, to a degree that we gathered power to ourselves in the service of our genes, they would stop bothering to make us and make something else.

This is the second-hand, scientific version of the basic notion of Nietzsche's philosophy. The goal of an organism is to serve its will to power. Fortunately, power takes so many forms that the lives of organisms can be complex, artistic, and fulfilling.

  • Can't believe I didn't think to quote The Selfish Gene. Loved that book.
    – Cloud
    Feb 26, 2016 at 2:07

Unlikely. "Pure altruism" has not been deemed possible, so far.

In The Dawn, the 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche maintains that that which is erroneously called ‘pity’ is not selfless but variously self-motivated.

Even seemingly selfless acts might just be a method of appearing charitable, gain "social credit", etc.

You could technically do something menial, like kicking a pop can in your path, which wouldn't technically be selfish, but mainly because it has no moral consequences (provided you don't have a duty to pick up and recycle the can, or assuming you don't think pop cans having feelings and souls and don't like being kicked).



Can you argue that you are not selfish?

Yes, of course you can make the argument. It doesn't mean that it will be sound or definitive in it's assertions, but any point can be argued.

The argument itself is highly subjective - we cannot assert the validity of either side of the debate because there is no authoritative resource which to test the assertion against. One could just as easily argue that they volunteer at a homeless shelter to the benefit of their own ego or public image as could be asserted that their contributions are committed solely to the benefit of others.

No opinion can be well-maintained regarding the "degree" of selflessness an ("other regarding") action is motivated by without investing faith into a philosophical model regarding humanity.

You must ask: is a person's "selfish/selflessness" defined by the average degree of "selflessness" of their actions or is the quality entirely an attribute of their personality or "self"? How does one judge the degree of "selflessness" of an action - is it defined by the actor's motives, or the action's utilitarian consequences?

Then there arises the question of whether or not and arbitrary rating of "selflessness" has any definitive value: if one donates a large sum of money to a sound humanitarian organization that uses it to feed hundreds of starving children, and did so simply for a tax write-off and a boost of public image - does it really matter whether or not why they donated the money?


I'm prone to think the motives are inconsequential - the starving children certainly don't care why they received sustenance so much as they care about receiving it. I would argue that regardless of the donator's motives, their actions ultimately produced a measure of "good" in servicing the individual humanities of others; I might so far as to argue that this common interpretation of "good" is the very reason the donator's actions may be viewed upon fondly by others. Perhaps they did so with "selfish" interests, but here the quality of their motives has no meaningful value.

Furthermore I think the nature of humanity and morality in general exists almost exclusively in "grey area" - things are very rarely black or white. Given our limited understanding of the mind, it seems reasonable to me that every action is motivated by hundreds of factors, both conscious and sub-conscious. I feel it is thus likely that all (non-effectively-self-regarding) actions exhibit and are driven by both selfless as well as selfish motives.

Can you argue that you are not selfish?

No, you can't make a sound argument that you or anyone else is either "selfish" or "selfless". Everyone exhibits both qualities simultaneously. I can only discuss and interpret the qualities with respect to individual aspects of their actions - and perhaps patterns that emerge over the course of many actions. But I can neither assert that I comprehend all of their motivations nor can I assign arbitrary value to the "degree of selflessness", and so it seems unreasonable to ever hope to objectively classify a person, pattern, or singular action as either or.


Sometimes it's the terms that we come across that shape our own thought - an outcome of epistemic violence; thoughts that come down at us, and beat us.

To reduce everything to one - this is the essence of any kind of monism.

Thus on the ethical plane, drawn along the axes of selfishness on one, and selflessness (it's contrary or opposite) on the other; we may, by the axiom posited above, reduce all ethics to one; so to selflessness, or to selfishness.

But there is another way of reducing, which is the unity of opposites; and when the two opposites are united, it's unity transcends either part.

As we're reverse-engineering ethics - as a whole; so then, take hold of ethics, and 'untranscend' it; we find then, two parts - selfishness, and selflessness; a pair of opposites.

If one proceeds further, to 'untranscend', does one remain at all, on the ethical plane; or has one moved to somewhere else altogether?

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