lesson of the day: sometimes, we philosophers have no sense of perspective

December 13, 2011

so the students in the intro to philosophy class I TA for had to do a reading on “psychological egoism”; it’s the view based on the idea that the only thing people are actually able to pursue (or hold as fundamentally valuable) is their own self-interest. Basically, everything someone does, including the promotion of others’ happiness or well-being, is always, really and truly, done out of their own bottom line self-interest. The fact that people often take themselves to be thinking otherwise is largely just a matter of self-deception, according to this view.

Here’s the awesome part: this view was not the most absurd part of the reading assignment. Instead, the absurdity award goes to the counterexample offered by one super-savvy philosopher as a challenge (objection) to this view:

And here, to report from his very own mouth, the horse:

“One might reply to the psychological egoist in some such manner as this: I know some behavior, at least, is unselfish, because I saw my aunt Emma yesterday give her last cent to a beggar. Now she will have to go a whole week with nothing to eat. Surely, that was not selfish of her (Feinberg & Shafer-Landau: Reason & Responsibility, 14th ed: 523).”

 (Annnd, back to me:)

Jesus and Holy mother of mercy: Does no one see what’s wrong with this picture?!?

First off, I don’t know who the hell Aunt Emma is sleeping with to where she only spends 4 CENTS/ MONTH on food(!!)– but give me his-or her- number! Okay, that’s red flag number one in this thought-experiment-from-hell (and it was really steaming my beans)- regardless, even bracketing that non-sense…. we still have Aunt Emma’s asshole philosopher-nephew who is not only (1) watching his (probably senile and cognitively deficient) poor auntie Emma give a way *literally* the *last penny she had left to put some nourishment into her decaying bones* before his very (vapid and emotionless) eyes, BUT (2) he apparently plans to let her starve to death over the course of a week to make his mind-bender of a philosophical point against a lame-ass, trivially true, fairly un-insightful perspective on human action.

Lesson of the day: sometimes, we philosophers have no sense of perspective.

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