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"Human nature is selfish"

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

You cannot have the concept "choose" without the concept "I." This is a great forum.

Welcome to the forum, Jack.

 

The question, as essentialized here, by the OP is "Is human nature selfish?"

 

To invoke a little devil's advocate here, start with a quip of Dagny's conversation with the guard at the door of "Project F".

 

"Listen carefully," she said. "Either you let me in or I shoot you. You may try to shoot me first, if you can. You have that choice—and no other. Now decide."

 

     His mouth fell open and the key dropped from his hand.

     "Get out of my way," she said.

     He shook his head frantically, pressing his back against the door. "Oh Christ, ma'am!" he gulped in the whine of a desperate plea. "I can't shoot at you, seeing as you come from Mr. Thompson! And I can't let you in against the word of Dr. Ferris! What am I to do? I'm only a little fellow! I'm only obeying orders! It's not up to me!"

     "It's your life," she said.

     "If you let me ask the chief, he'll tell me, he'll—"

     "I won't let you ask anyone."

     "But how do I know that you really have an order from Mr. Thompson?"

     "You don't. Maybe I haven't. Maybe I'm acting on my own—and you'll be punished for obeying me. Maybe I have—and you'll be thrown in jail for disobeying. Maybe Dr. Ferris and Mr. Thompson agree about this. Maybe they don't—and you have to defy one or the other. These are the things you have to decide. There is no one to ask, no one to call, no one to tell you. You will have to decide them yourself."

     "But I can't decide! Why me?"

     "Because it's your body that's barring my way."

     "But I can't decide! I'm not supposed to decide!"

     "I'll count to three," she said. "Then I'll shoot."

     "Wait! Wait! I haven't said yes or no!" he cried, cringing tighter against the door, as if immobility of mind and body were his best protection.

     "One—" she counted; she could see his eyes staring at her in terror—"Two—" she could see that the gun held less terror for him than the alternative she offered—"Three."

     Calmly and impersonally, she, who would have hesitated to fire at an animal, pulled the trigger and fired straight at the heart of a man who had wanted to exist without the responsibility of consciousness.

 

1.) Does this come across as a plausible example of something that could actually occur in reality? (Spoiler elaborates context.)

2.) If the answer to the previous question is yes, does this illustrate an example of human nature as being inherently selfish? (Presumably, in this context, to selfishly choose life.)

Edited by dream_weaver

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Dream-weaver, txs for the memory of that great scene with Dagny.  How about this, if your nature (as a living human being) is not motivated first by your own life and happiness, and if you do not act on that idea, you will either become a parasite on your community or you will probably not live long.

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Reading the two questions asked previously (post 27), the second question should have been asked with regard to how the guard's human nature is illustrative of being inherently selfish.
 
As indicated elsewhere in her writings, the presence of force (Dagny, with her gun) abnegates choice for the guard. Reality requires we act in a certain way to live. In the case of a thug carrying a gun, the request of the thug replaces ones judgement with the threat of death if he doesn't act in a differently prescribed way.
 
Rand wrote the scene to have the turnout it did and this leaves open how it might have turned out had she chose the another course of action for the guard.
 

Dream-weaver, txs for the memory of that great scene with Dagny.  How about this, if your nature (as a living human being) is not motivated first by your own life and happiness, and if you do not act on that idea, you will either become a parasite on your community or you will probably not live long.

I'm reading this as: If your nature (as a living human being) is not motivated by choosing to discover what your own life and happiness requires . . .

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Yes dream, that is a correct interpretation so far.  The mountain to climb is the understanding of metaphysics and epistemology that makes that conclusion a basis for ethics.  Once understood, you have to put up with the history of western philosophy that ignored the basis of Aristotle and chose Plato instead -  St, Augustine, DesCarte, Hume, Kant, (Peirce, James, and Dewey), Kierkegaard, Russell, Comte, Whjitehead,  Ayers, Wittgenstien,  Heideggar, Satre, Nietzsche, Foucault, and Derrida.

 

So many great individual thoughts out of context and so little contextual knowledge.  Modern philosophy has become the analysis of the most recent thought in logic, language, or mathematics.  Modern philosophy academics treat these derivative subjects, these products of human cognition, as if they had reality in metaphysics, as if their identity was axiomatic.  Human derivative concepts are not axiomatic. 

 

To prove the value of the ideas of egoism and selfishness contained in Ayn Rand's fiction, you must study the Aristotelian metaphysics and the Objectivist Epistemology that supports those ideas.  Otherwise, you are reduced to answering all the unsupported premises of the western philosophy thinkers numbered in the first paragraph of this post.

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...

 

I'm reading this as: If your nature (as a living human being) is not motivated by choosing to discover what your own life and happiness requires . . .

 

Given that we are bodies in motion, the first consideration is more appropriately not to die.  Let that sink in for a moment...  How exactly does one get to the point of pausing to ponder what ones life and happiness requires?

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Devil's Advocate - Yes, I am a body in motion, and how does that truth in the physics of cosmology relate to my reality in this place and at this time on this earth during my limited lifetime?  If I'm interested in physics, it's a big deal.  If I enjoy baking bread and making babies not so much.

 

Objectivist detractors complain about the fact that they believe selfishness will lead to the exclusion of the values held by less developed minds.  But that's only true if you accept a malevolent identity as the basis of human reason. 

 

"Bodies in motion," therefore, don't die?  What the hell does that mean?  I pause to consider my existence and happiness without reference to cosmology because I'm not a physicist.

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Given that we are bodies in motion, the first consideration is more appropriately not to die.  Let that sink in for a moment...  How exactly does one get to the point of pausing to ponder what ones life and happiness requires?

How, exactly, does one come to grasp that man's mind is his basic tool of survival, that reason is his only tool of knowledge, and that purpose is the choice of the happiness which that tool must proceed to achieve? Perhaps there is/was someone out there that has/had paused to ponder this already.

Paraphrasing John Galt here: wanting not to die is not going to provide you with the knowledge needed to live.

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My reference to bodies in motion is meant to point out that choosing to live is the redundant feature of natural programming; a default state of being one step removed from natural instinct.  Self aware, volitional beings cannot choose to be born, but they can choose to die, and every action that avoids that event is a selfish vote to continue to exist.  Human nature is selfish in that respect.

 

Ethical behavior is the add on.

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...Human nature is selfish in that respect.

 

Ethical behavior is the add on.

Objectivism would rather say

"...Human nature is selfish in that respect

Unethical behavior is the add-on"

 

 

Human nature, qua animal, is selfish ("naturally" selfish, if one wants to take poetic licence).

However, being a rational animal who can make the wrong choices at the broadest level ... i.e. at the level of buying into a philosophy of altruism, man can be unselfish.

 

Strictly speaking, this is not an add-on to man. Man is a rational animal; rationality distinguishes him from animals but it is not an add-on to his humanness. In other words, he is -- by nature -- a rational animal. In other words, he is -- by nature -- not selfish or unselfish. He can choose either. As an adult, or under the influence of adults, he often does choose to be unselfish.

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I believe it's a contradiction to say that human nature, qua animal, is selfish, but qua man, isn't selfish; that there's selfish, and then there's selfish.  An image of the Elephant Man comes to mind asserting, "I'm not a (selfish) animal!  I am a (selfish) human being!"  Man is a rational animal, selfish and I would add inquisitive by nature, which means by the time one pauses to reflect on the meaning of life, one has already selfishly chosen to hang around long enough to invest in some personal improvements.

 

Yes, he can choose to act unselfishly, or indifferently; he can even ape being an ape.  The philosophical point is not to return man to a state of tabula rasa so that he can then choose to become rationally selfish.  The point is to properly identify and work with what he already has going for him; to go from "one small step" beyond animal instinct, to "one giant leap for mankind."

Edited by Devil's Advocate

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Ayn Rand correctly identifies Man as a contractual animal.

No. You might, and if you do then that's a fair assessment (although, like the "political animal" I'd consider it a nonessential) but "reason" means a lot more than that.

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

"To be selfish is to be motivated by concern for one’s self-interest. This requires that one consider what constitutes one’s self-interest and how to achieve it — what values and goals to pursue, what principles and policies to adopt. If a man were not concerned with this question, he could not be said objectively to be concerned with or to desire his self-interest; one cannot be concerned with or desire that of which one has no knowledge."

-Isn't Everyone Selfish?

... 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.

If we'd all be happier pursuing our own selfish, sinful, aggressive and uncooperative desires then why the Hell should we form such communities?

Wouldn't we be better off as savages?

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

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No. You might, and if you do then that's a fair assessment (although, like the "political animal" I'd consider it a nonessential) but "reason" means a lot more than that.

 

"Individual rights is the only proper principle of human coexistence, because it rests on man’s nature, i.e., the nature and requirements of a conceptual consciousness. Man gains enormous values from dealing with other men; living in a human society is his proper way of life—but only on certain conditions. Man is not a lone wolf and he is not a social animal. He is a contractual animal. He has to plan his life long-range, make his own choices, and deal with other men by voluntary agreement (and he has to be able to rely on their observance of the agreements they entered)." ~ ARL, Individual Rights

 

...

If we'd all be happier pursuing our own selfish, sinful, aggressive and uncooperative desires then why the Hell should we form such communities?

Wouldn't we be better off as savages?

 

I think the above quote addresses this too, but to clarify my point in post #19, the historical recognition of human selfishness viewed it negatively for the various reasons I listed in that post.  Ayn Rand recognized and promoted it as a positive, and I agree with her view.  The point remains that our selfish nature isn't contested so much as what we ought to do about it.

Edited by Devil's Advocate

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"The issue of an action’s selfishness or unselfishness depends, not on whether or not one wants to perform it, but on why one wants to perform it. By what standard was the action chosen? To achieve what goal? If a man proclaimed that he felt he would best benefit others by robbing and murdering them, men would not be willing to grant that his actions were altruistic. By the same logic and for the same reasons, if a man pursues a course of blind self-destruction, his feeling that he has something to gain by it does not establish his actions as selfish."

-Isn't Everyone Selfish?

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

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The fact that Man also has a volitional nature accounts for apparently unselfish actions that are actually quite selfishly enacted.  One cannot avoid assigning a selfish motivation to an act of volition; you chose it, or you endorsed it.  That has nothing to say about whether a specific act is rational or irrational.  Volition makes the combination of rational selfishness a learned event even though both elements are part of man's nature, i.e., the rational element of action is a choice, but always a selfish one.

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The point remains that our selfish nature isn't contested so much as what we ought to do about it.

One cannot avoid assigning a selfish motivation to an act of volition; you chose it, or you endorsed it.

 

Yes, you choose to do whatever you do, but that's not what "selfishness" means.  And it's not a matter of semantics; the concepts you're using right now are flawed (and the flaw is actually rather dangerous - to you).

I understand your argument; I've known plenty of people who've held the same ideas and I'm not just making noises when I say that you will (you probably already do) suffer for your failure to correct them.

 

Now, you can continue restating the same argument and I can continue quoting the solution, or you can read the damn thing.

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No need to get heated.  As I said before, I agree with Ayn Rand's description of our selfish nature.  I don't agree with packaging the term rational into the common definition of  "lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure" for the purpose of saying there's selfish and then there's selfish.  We can leave it at that.

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