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"Human nature is selfish"

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Interesting question. 

 

"Human nature" is an ill-defined concept. By my best understanding, it can be thought of as a collection of psychological and physiological attributes of human beings which exist prior to any sort of social conditioning. The problem is that separating nature from conditioning is extremely difficult.

 

Although I have little confidence in this answer, my first assertion is that human beings are naturally somewhat selfish in an Objectivist sense. We naturally seek out values which further our own existence at a basic biological level like nutrition, pleasure, and pain aversion. But at more abstract levels of thought and conceptualization, I have no idea how that would be determined. Are there any case studies of the beliefs and behaviors of human beings who have forever lived in social isolation?

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Yes to the first question, no to the second.

 

Humans are a species with specific properties and specific ways of being benefited or harmed. 

 

Selfishness and unselfishness apply to actions or to characters - to what we choose - and not to what we are born with.

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Is there such as thing as "human nature," and if so, is it accurate to state that it is selfish?

Yes and no. But it is accurate to state that many of the attributes of our nature are vitality directed or goal directed as O'ists would say. These happen automatically like the beating of one's heart or the grumblings of one's stomach. Selfishness is rooted in choice as in to be selfish or to be altruistic.

Our biological makeup continually thrusts to be alive. The choice is what to do about it.

Edited by OhReally

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I have to go with yes on both counts.  I don't think there's any serious question about human nature as being uniquely descriptive of the human animal, or that humans are volitional.  That being the case, human selfishness is as real and consistent as the reality of the choices being made.
 
A 'self' with the ability to choose, chooses selfishly by definition (and nature).

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I have to go with yes on both counts.  I don't think there's any serious question about human nature as being uniquely descriptive of the human animal, or that humans are volitional.  That being the case, human selfishness is as real and consistent as the reality of the choices being made.

 

A 'self' with the ability to choose, chooses selfishly by definition (and nature).

 

I take his question to mean "Is man selfish by nature?", to which I would reply "no, because man can choose not to be selfish."  

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Qua animal, man tries to be selfish; qua rational animal, he often tries not to. 

 

Qua animal, it is natural for man to act toward his values... for himself and those he loves. However, he needs rationality to be truly selfish. He needs reason to identify his values and to act with a long-term view. 

 

Unfortunately, using (faulty) reason man can convince himself that he should (at least occasionally) renounce something he values, to give someone else a benefit. Using (faulty) reason, he can even convince himself that such an act is actually selfish because he chooses it. [For an example, see the last sentence in Devil Advocate's post above.]

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Is there such as thing as "human nature," and if so, is it accurate to state that it is selfish?

1. Yes, there is such a thing as "human nature". Human nature is the metaphysically given part of us.

 

2. No, being selfish is not human nature. Having free will is human nature. You can't both have free will and have one specific choice out of many be a part of your nature. That would be a contradiction.

 

No ethical principle is part of our nature. The ability to choose any one of them is what's part of our nature.

Edited by Nicky

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I have to go with yes on both counts.  I don't think there's any serious question about human nature as being uniquely descriptive of the human animal, or that humans are volitional.  That being the case, human selfishness is as real and consistent as the reality of the choices being made.

 

A 'self' with the ability to choose, chooses selfishly by definition (and nature).

By your definition. But that's obviously not the OP's, or the Objectivist, definition of selfishness. You just randomly changed the definition of a word because you think that makes you seem deep and original. It doesn't, it just makes your post pointless.

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Free will is the ability to effect what I want to happen, i.e., a selfish pursuit.  Apparently selfless actions, for example, are belied by the actor's belief that they will ultimately reap what they sow; the expectation being a personal return on their investment in others.

 

Ayn Rand correctly identifies Man as a contractual animal.  Whether or not rational selfishness is inherent to human nature is another question.

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Whether or not rational selfishness is inherent to human nature is another question.

Is there such as thing as "human nature," and if so, is it accurate to state that it is selfish?

The need to preface selfishness with rational has been made necessary to counter bad examples of 'selfishness' that when properly examined can be shown to not be in the actors self interest. In this sense, it is clear that it is not inherent of human nature to be selfish.

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Free will is the ability to effect what I want to happen, i.e., a selfish pursuit.  

 

Free will is the ability to effect what happens.  Selfishness is concern with your own interests.  You can want to be concerned with the interests of others and not your own.  

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The need to preface selfishness with rational has been made necessary to counter bad examples of 'selfishness' that when properly examined can be shown to not be in the actors self interest. In this sense, it is clear that it is not inherent of human nature to be selfish.

 

Just the opposite - the preface points to the need to modify an existing (inherent) behavior.

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Free will is the ability to effect what happens.  Selfishness is concern with your own interests.  You can want to be concerned with the interests of others and not your own.  

 

Your want is the interest being acted on, else why bother to have any effect on others?

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Just the opposite - the preface points to the need to modify an existing (inherent) behavior.

Objectivism:The Philosophy of Ayn Rand

Chapter 7—The Good

 

Ayn Rand upholds rational self-interest. This means the ethics of selfishness, with man's life as the standard of value defining "self-interest," and rationality as the primary virtue defining the method of achieving it. Within the Objectivist framework, indeed, the term "rational self-interest" is a redundancy, albeit a necessary one today. We do not recognize any "self-interest" for man outside the context and absolute of reason.

 

Granted, the term used was self-interest, rather than selfishness, immediately followed by what ethic it represented. If it were inherent, why would man need a code of ethics at all?

 

Edited by dream_weaver
formatting

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Your want is the interest being acted on, else why bother to have any effect on others?

Just because you want to do something and just because you think it is in your interest does not make it so. 

When you assume things are in your interest, that assumption is built on some chain of premises.

If those premises are wrong -- the obvious though stereotypical one being the completely baseless fantasy about heaven -- then your actions are wrong to the extent that they are derived from that assumption. So, someone who thinks God will give him a great life in a harem full of virgins if he blows himself up is NOT acting in his interest (at least not if that's all the reason he's got for doing so). The same goes for Mother Teresa.

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Is there such as thing as "human nature," and if so, is it accurate to state that it is selfish?

What do you mean by "nature" and by "selfishness?" By nature, do you mean "metaphysical material identity" or are you referring to a pre-birth or genetic mental endowment? The clearest answer in Objectivism requires this distinction. Otherwise you have to read thru questions about the place of biology and drug use as concrete examples of questions.

Edited by jacassidy2

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Given our volitional nature the question can be reduced to, are we inherently selfish or selfless?  If it were the latter, then acts of aggression would be rare indeed.  Religion, politics and philosophy all speak to the former premise, that Man is inherently selfish, i.e., sinful, aggressive and uncooperative, and that we must learn to control our selfish nature in order to form and maintain stable communities.  Ethics is an attempt to moderate an existing condition, again not necessary if we all played well together to begin with.

 

Ayn Rand didn't invent selfishness, but she can be credited as one of the first to defend it as a necessary survival skill.

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... selfish, i.e., sinful, aggressive and uncooperative, and that we must learn to control our selfish nature in order to form and maintain stable communities...

Ayn Rand didn't invent selfishness, but she can be credited as one of the first to defend it as a necessary survival skill.

Of course she did not. What she demonstrated (and I'm not claiming that she was the first to do so) is that the concept of selfishness you present (see first quote) is false.

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Given our volitional nature the question can be reduced to, are we inherently selfish or selfless?

Given our volition nature [a things nature is a things inherent trait], the question can be reduced to: Do we choose selfishness or selflessness?

 

Some (arguably most) religions, politics, and philosophies hold that Man is inherently selfish. Much of what you see in the world around you is a testimony to what such thinking leads to.

 

Ayn Rand did not invent selfishness. In Faith and Force, from Philosophy: Who Needs It,  she articulates quite clearly:

I cannot summarize for you the essence and the base of my  morality any better than I did it in Atlas Shrugged. So, rather than attempt to paraphrase it, I will read to you the passages from Atlas Shrugged which pertain to the nature, the base and the proof of my morality.

 

The notion that Man is inherently selfish, i.e., sinful, ceases to have any weight when its source, Original Sin, has been exposed to be little more than a slap at morality.

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DA said:

Given our volitional nature the question can be reduced to, are we inherently selfish or selfless?

Life inherently requires selfishness. Life qua man requires reason. A rational organism is a volitional organism. Man must choose to live by discovering what is in ones rational self interest. The result is to remain alive. Reality to be commanded must be obeyed. Obeisance is irrelevant where there is no choice.

Edit:

Ethics is an attempt to moderate an existing condition, again not necessary if we all played well together to begin with.

That existing condition is non-omniscience- the volitional nature of reason. Man does not automatically know what is in his/her self interest.

The moral picture you are painting is anti-life. There are no conflicts of interest among rational men. It is exactly self interest that makes living in civilization a value.

Edited by Plasmatic

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Of course she did not. What she demonstrated (and I'm not claiming that she was the first to do so) is that the concept of selfishness you present (see first quote) is false.

 

You don't appear to be arguing that humans aren't selfish by nature, only that concepts associated with that trait prior to Objectivism were false.  If so, then I agree, otherwise please elaborate.  I don't accept that volitional, self-aware individuals are neither selfish nor selfless by nature.  To choose (AKA free will) implies a preference for what I want.

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The argument that volition precludes a selfish nature implies a natural state of indifference in order to preserve the ability to choose.  Since choice cannot occur without motivation, what then motivates an inherently indifferent individual to act in a particular way?   Objectivism holds that volition is a type of causation, which if true is of little use to an inherently indifferent individual who brings nothing personal to the game of life.

 

The fact is choice is not negated by a natural predisposition to be selfish, or to put it another way (softwareNerd), a default state doesn’t preclude the selection of an alternate one.  Volition isn’t a tool of indifference, and free will isn’t a exercise of subordinance.  Individuals are naturally selfish because they are invested in living; their life being the only reliable base of knowledge Nature has provided them.

 

“I choose” has no meaning without deference to the term “I”.

Edited by Devil's Advocate

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I'm new to this site and want to exercise my Objectivist muscles, but I don't find many mistakes in the posts I read.  Nothing I can test my years of study on by offering a basic and fundamental piece of Aristotelian metaphysics or Randian Epistomology.  So, I'll enjoy mostly learning by confirmation.

 

The last handful of posts from "devil's Advocate," "plasmatic," and "dreamweaver" are so on point as to require no explanation or elucidation in the context of Objectivism. So why would those only moderately familiar with Ayn Rand be confused by such good explanations? -----  Because there is a misplaced cultural prejudice infused, in error, in the identity of the concepts selfishness and egoism.

Since the Pre-Socratic philosophers, the idea of egoism/selfishness was equated with attaining value thru force/fraud - by using your physicality to overcome or your reason to trick. Just consider the social environment they existed in. These early thinkers originated, and later thinkers agreed, that the virtue of self interest and its related value, happiness, were tied to a malevolent view of human epistemology. While it is true that mechanistic and material aberrations occur in human physiology and psychology, the idea that human nature is confiscatory rather than productive is cultural, not metaphysical, and is an insult to human reason.

In plain, non-academic, English - selfishness means, motivation in the objective benefit of the organism making the choice. Not in the socially, screwed up benefit, or the mentally defective benefit, but in the benefit based on identification of the real nature of the organism. Doing whatever occurs to you on a whim is not selfish by this definition - you have to use your reason.

If you find happiness in exploitation of the work of others by force or fraud, then you are seeking happiness outside the metaphysical identity of human beings - you are not being selfish and you will, in the end, fail to achieve the value of happiness.  You ignored the identity of your reason and instead acted based on the identity of a lower animal, a predator.  You will know you didn't earn the value and must look over your shoulder for others who, mistakenly, think like you, and for the people you cheated.

And so to the OP, you must abandon the common, cultural stolen concept of selfishness.  It's not genetic or inherent, and it's only socially confiscatory if you accept bad definitions.  The cognitive source of selfishness is not whim, it's reason.





 

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