Is the font of morality ultimately self-interest?

A thought I had a while ago came back to me recently: Why are people moral? Why do people not loot and pillage their neighbors more freely than they already do? I eventually came up with the conclusion that what people called moral always came down to either watching out for your own ong-term interests or, more often, the interests of whomever is in charge. Simple things like theft and murder are immoral because we have a code of law, and agree to give up a freedom in exchange for the knowledge that other people have given it up, too. Things like the treatment of POWs and the societal moral of “don’t kick people when they’re down” could very well stem from people’s fears of one day being in a similar position, and thus hoping to establish a trend. So, are all ethics and morals are just restated self-interest?

Perhaps, it’s a case of do unto others?

I believe what you’re describing is empathy-we can imagine how WE would feel in that situation.

Is that right?

Were you assuming the theory of natural selection is true when you considered this question? Because I don’t see why you’d come to the conclusion that morality is based in self interest if you were not.

What is questionable about the more traditionally accepted idea that people are moral because they watch out for the long term interests of people other than themselves? Why does it make any more sense for me to care only about myself than to care what happens to other people (assuming natural selection is not a proven theory)? I think that since most people would agree that morality is not purely self serving, the burden of proof lies with those who say otherwise.

robertliguori, I think I see what you’re getting at. I agree with you that morals are dictated by the majority, but I disagree slightly with parts of your premise.

What’s the only reason anyone want to fulfill the interests of whomever is in charge? If there was something in it for themselves. A reward of some kind.

What I would say is that the only reasons anyone does anything are basically self-serving.

Well, this would imply that deep down inside we all have some sort of need to steal and murder, and that we’re all fighting that urge because it’s “the right thing to do”. Whereas this may be true for some people, it’s definitely not the case for most.

Theft and murder are “immoral” because they have the effect of bringing great harm upon others, and society generally punishes those who do harm to others. Also, if you value your fellows, there is a great deal of do unto others as well.

My answer to your question:

Ethics and morals are in society’s best interest, but behavior is always “just restated self-interest”.

I’m afraid I simply can’t agree that all actions and thoughts, including charity and morality, are self-serving. This simply does not make sense.

Now, I will agree that there are often times where people do moral or charitable things for the wrong reasons. For example, a sense of societal obligation, a fear of punishment if caught, or even fear for your immortal soul would qualify here. Certainly morality often is presented as a “it’s good for everyone, including you” idea.

Yet there are clearly times when this does not qualify. Why do people stop to help a woman who’s dropped her groceries? Why do people open doors for strangers? I’ve seen many times where a person dropped their wallet without realizing it, and a stranger picked it up and ran after them. (In fact, I’ve been that person who dropped a wallet, or cash, or my car keys.) Do you honestly believe that they stop to think about whether they will benefit in some way?

You don’t necessarily have to believe that it’s some divine force within us. Humans are social animals, and it makes sense for us all not to want to spit in the face of our neighbor just as soon as look at them. We are raised to believe that certain things are right and wrong. Yes, we all have selfish moments, but that hardly justifies our behavior as univerally selfish.

There are many, many incidences where people will do acts of spontaneous altruism as well as acts of greed and malevolence. I don’t think that everyone simply acts according to their greatest personal gain. It simply does not make sense with observable human behavior.

VirgieLee, I’d like to hear you elaborate your opinion a little more on how morality plays a part in natural selection. I’m not quite understanding it yet.

I suggest that, by doing things that are beneficial to others, you must surely experience some form of satisfaction, which is self-serving.

What is the nature of that satisfaction? Depends entirely on the person, but it’s still in your own self-interest.

You’re right about morality not being self-serving. It’s one of society’s devices to protect itself and its members. But it seems to me the decision to adhere to that morality and act with kindness to others is self-serving, because it is rewarded.

I understand the principle of survival of the fittest to be based (at least partially) on the idea that those organisms which act most effectively in their own interests are able to perpetuate their bloodline. So human beings acquired (gradually and by random mutation, I suppose) the innate drive to practice morality, because those who had this drive act in their long term self interest and thus survived to pass on their genes.
“I suggest that, by doing things that are beneficial to others, you must surely experience some form of satisfaction, which is self-serving.”

Touche. It is important to note that people derive satisfaction from acting in love toward other people (do you agree that is the same as acting morally?), but do you act in love because it gives pleasure, or is that coincidental? Morality often means doing what is right despite the displeasure it will cause, so either the satisfaction outweighs the displeasure or there is different kind of force, not having to do with feelings, driving people.

Very interesting post, Jpeg Jones … I’ll have to think about that.

IF being a moral person is not ultimately self-serving, why the heck should I be moral?

I am not sure that individuals reach the same conclusions if they start out with a self-serving formula for determining their actions, that’s the proverbial rub; but many a person (myself included) who started out determined to be and/or do that which is Right ended up giving central billing to your innermost hunger for the life that is most worth living, which is to say having it the best that you can have it, which is definitely self-serving.

To answer the OP, though – the font of morality is definitely New Century Schoolbook. Just look at it and you can tell.