Tag Archives: selfishness

Be Selfish!

Consider the following, and ask which of these two philosophers is really the altruist, and which is really selfish?

“You should be selfish, because when people set out to improve society, they meddle in their neighbors’ affairs and pass laws and seize control and make everyone unhappy.  Take whichever job that pays the most money: the reason the job pays more is that the efficient market thinks it produces more value than its alternatives.  Take a job that pays less, and you’re second-guessing what the market thinks will benefit society most.”

“You should be altruistic, because the world is an iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma, and the strategy that fares best is Tit for Tat with initial cooperation.  People don’t like jerks.  Nice guys really do finish first.  Studies show that people who contribute to society and have a sense of meaning in their lives, are happier than people who don’t; being selfish will only make you unhappy in the long run.”

Blank out the recommendations of these two philosophers, and you can see that the first philosopher is using strictly prosocial criteria to justify his recommendations; to him, what validates an argument for selfishness is showing that selfishness benefits everyone.  The second philosopher appeals to strictly individual and hedonic criteria; to him, what validates an argument for altruism is showing that altruism benefits him as an individual: higher social status or more intense feelings of pleasure.

So which of these two is the actual altruist?  Whichever one actually holds open doors for little old ladies.

Found this little gem through Carl Jakobsson.

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