We always want what’s important to us. There’s actually a theory based on this called Psychological Egoism that argues that we always must do what we perceive to be in our own best interests. Now, it’s worth noting here that ‘our own best interests’ can be widely interpreted. For instance, I might argue that I volunteer at a homeless shelter because it makes me feel good, or that I give to the church because its my duty as a Christian and my duty is important to me. Ultimately, the key term here is ‘perceive.’ What I perceive to be in my best interests may not actually be in my best interests, or it may be in my interest only because it supports a common interest, but according to this theory I am only capable of acting in ways that I perceive to be in my own best interest. However, how does this account for self-sacrifice–this is an obvious question, and thus one that comes up very often. However, consider: let us assume that I give my life in order to save the lives of my wife and child. Surely, this couldn’t be in my own best interest, could it? I wind up dead, and there’s no interest in being dead, is there? However, perhaps I perceived this (even if subconsciously so) to be in my own best interest because I can’t bear the thought of surviving my wife and child. Perhaps my martialed courage serves largely to free me from the bleakest future I can imagine. Or perhaps I see my own interest in the lives of my wife and child. Perhaps it is not that I fear surviving them, but that I look forward to surviving in and through their legacy, and thus I perceive my own interest to be uniquely tied to theirs in such a way that if their interest is destroyed, then mine is as well. Thus, sacrificing my life to preserve their lives, and thus my own interest through their lives, is completely rational and I perceive it to be in my own best interest.
Obviously, there are many who oppose psychological egoism, but it always raises good and interesting arguments. So, here is your challenge for today. I want you to come up with the strongest possible challenge that you can think of for psychological egoism. Do your very best to create a situation in which your action couldn’t possibly be perceived to be in your own best interests. Then write me a 1000 word story trying to show that can be. Maybe you’ll prove yourself wrong, maybe you won’t. Either way, you’ll come up with some interesting ideas and hopefully a good story.