The idea it was named after

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Egoism theory

My brother FĂ©lix once formulated a theory around egoism. The theory states that everything we do have an egoist side.

An easy way to test theories is trying to find cases that invalidate them. One could argue that mother Teresa of Calcut could be a well-known proof where this theory would fail, because she did her labours for charity, clearly in a non-egoist way. Nevertheless, it turns out that Teresa of Calcut not only doesn't invalidate the theory, but she represents actually a non-critical and easy case where it's confirmed. I will explain this in a later in this entry, but now we'll try to understand better the reasoning behind this theory.

If you offer help your little sister in mathemathics, it makes you feel better with yourself or at least it's supposed to. It can be generally stated that there's a reason behind every human act. So actually you do it because of something. If instead in such situation you don't offer help to her, you wouldn't have your conscience clear. The reality is that when you perform an altruistic action it's because you need or want to achieve an inner goal, even if you finally don't manage to achieve it. The altruistic task is not an end for itself, it's a way to achieve mental sucess, a mental state. You do it for yourself. It's actually, in that sense, an egoist action but in a deeper level of your mind.

The case of Teresa of Calcut is a simple example because the reasons behind her behaviour were religious. Some people do a Yihad in order to go to Paradise - an atrocious simplicity for the sake of the argument -. Others provide help to people who need it also because it's the task God gave them. Probably Teresa decided that it was better to perform that task among many other easier things she could have done despite she thought it was god will, in any case there lies also a type/level of egoism in the reasons behind the decisions, as was argued in the previous paragraph.

A curious finding that comes from the egoism theory is that selfishness is not always bad - apply here your favourite definition of the concept of wickedness -, because otherwise everything would be bad and if so, it's not likely that we would have a definition for good. So of course there are measurable differences between doing the Yihad and helping people, even though both activities are driven by - different levels of - egoist ideas, just as all of human actions according to this theory.


  • I always think a lot when this theory comes to my mind. Is it possible that everything we do is just to get something in exchange? In fact, i can't think in any situation where this theory could not be true. Even in the Calculta Mother case, i believe she did it because that was what her mind and her heart told her to do... because she needed to do it... so in this case it would be just another hidden egoism case.. But, i believe that the problem is not there. I think that if someone starts acting just because of a pure deduction process (i mean, as if you always think "what would be te best for everyone?" in every situation) always he's got to take a decision, i wouldn't not be able to say that he did it because he actually wanted to get a benefict. It's probably that after doing it, taking decisions in that way would be the new way to be egoist, but the thing is that the first step must not have been taken to get that benefict because it is supposed to be decided without really thinking it. Or even if that could not be possible, the fact of just thinking in a way to cheat ourselves to realy do altruist things, should have started by a really altruist act. Or even if that doesn't seems to be very "solid", i believe that a reaction or an "instinct action" would really be altruist. This must be an atomic decision that can not be even "felt" nor thought. Anyway, i think people behavior has more egoist actions (i mean the egoism exposed by this theory) that really altruist actions.

    By Blogger Alejandro, at 02 December, 2007 02:40  

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