I say yes. Why? Because I think it’s true on a basic level, and because admitting this brings it much more clearly into view that selfishness is nothing wrong. We do not find it wrong when people seek their own good, usually. What we find wrong is when people seek their own good in ways that harm or neglect others – and they do not care (callousness), or they actively enjoy being the cause of grief and harm (cruelty).
Apart from callousness, apart from cruelty, what in selfishness is ever wrong?
Put it this way: what makes the greatest part of your own good? If you’re like me, the greatest part of your own good is others’ own good. To feed and further that good richly rewards your own. How do we behave when seeking our own good, in such case?
Not in ways anyone would call selfish. And yet really, they are – for we have found our greatest good in people. Specific people, sometimes just humanity in general, as we encounter them. And being a good thing in chance encounters or long-spun relations is the best good we own, and seek, and grow.
A clever dick in college once disproved altruism for me by saying “Altruism is unselfish giving. Yet every good deed carries a strong component of selfish reward. If it isn’t some hoped-for moral reward like good karma or heaven, it is the social reward of how others see us – a good person. At the very least there is always the selfish reward of the pleasure we take in doing good and being good. This selfish pleasure is the single biggest reason why we do it. Altruism therefore cannot exist, as good is inherently selfish.”
I was like “Fair cop. You do realize you’ve convicted altruism of selfishness at the cost of convicting humanity of essential good nature or personal good inclination? It hardly matters which! There is something in either our nature or in our desire which rewards us with satisfaction, with fulfillment, with good feeling for good being and good doing. Now how would this be if we were not essentially or characteristically good? What is being satisfied? What is being fulfilled?”
If so, does doing something for your child when they ask an inherently selfish deed?
Well, if the thing they ask is good for the child, of course it’s an inherently selfish deed. The child is so large a part of your heart. The child’s good, happiness and flourishing enriches yours like probably nothing else. Talk about bang for the buck – making good for that child or being good to them is its own huge payoff! Or if the child is asking something you know is bad for them, you must stand back and be unselfish. You must deny, wishing you could grant every wish but knowing boundaries are best in the long run.
Which is for the child’s own good, too. So you feel a healthy and utterly selfish glow from making the right decision and being a good parent.
Selfishness is pursuit of own good.
Pursuit of good is good.Pursuit of good is only bad when we risk, harm, diminish or destroy other good in pursuing ours. It is found bad when we pursue our own good – not selfishly! – But callously or cruelly, at the expense of others. And don’t care! Or actively low-level revel in it. Or high-level revel.
When we pursue our own good in aimed intent from self to better and best self – this is essentially selfish, even if we angle our aim at improving the thing we are in this world for others. Even if almost all our efforts are outwardly-focused, seeking the good of the one in front of us, seeking mutual good with all those whose lives we touch, whose lives touch ours, seeking greater good for humanity in general – all this is to seek our own good. The good feeling of good bring and good doing.
To seek our own good in such ways (and especially the good of others) just shows we know best where and how to find it. Yes, it’s selfish – there is a strong component of selfish reward. Ultimately, to feel and know the good of a better self. To find we have bettered ourselves in the rich satisfaction of what comes in aiming well, and better, and best – every chance we get. It’s no grind or toil. It eases and brightens the consequence of our being!
Yet selfishness itself – seeking own good – is good. It is only callous or cruel selfishness that is found bad. And misuse or abuse of selfishness is no argument against selfishness.
It’s an argument against its misuse or abuse.