Psychological egoism, can anyone provide an everyday action which a healthy human mind would carry out which doesn't have the motive of preservation of the individuals own life at heart?

For example, some may provide the example of forming friendships or falling in love. However this is ultimately because forming relationships with these people is mutually benefit since they will both have someone to rely on, crucial to Humans, who are social creatures which would struggle to survive by themselves.

Interested to see if anyone can dissuade me from this dark outlook of Humanity.

  • $\begingroup$ Also, some may come up with notions of charity and sacrifice. I reckon they still hope for something better later while they're sacrificing. If not while donating / sacrificing, that's what we pre-decide on and train ourselves to be compassionate, sometimes forgetting what we hoped for. $\endgroup$
    – azam
    Feb 26, 2016 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ I believe Richard Dawkins wrote a book that deals with this, called the selfish gene. I know this isn't a full answer which is why I haven't written it as I don't have time right now. If you have access this paper it explains how altruism works, and why its never true altruism nature.com/nature/journal/v425/n6960/full/nature02043.html and this may be useful too link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12144-998-1000-0 $\endgroup$
    – Comte
    Mar 3, 2016 at 14:49

3 Answers 3


Giving a dollar to homeless people on the street serves no aid to the donor, since the only difference is who has that dollar, and clearly to have the dollar is better than not. This action is therefore entirely altruistic.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ But donors can also gets an ego boost, in the belief that they are "better" than other people who do not donate. Also there can be a personal benefit regarding charitable donations that can be documented, such as tax savings. $\endgroup$
    – user3169
    Feb 26, 2016 at 5:56
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    $\begingroup$ An undocumented gift can't be claimed. An ego boost doesn't provide any measurable survival benefit. $\endgroup$
    – Nij
    Feb 26, 2016 at 8:50
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe it relieves some absurd guilt you feel for having money when someone else doesn't. $\endgroup$
    – theMayer
    Feb 26, 2016 at 13:48
  • $\begingroup$ Believe it or not, for some people, giving to the less fortunate is an action they do out of the kindness of their heart. No guilt, no motive for ego boost, no strings attached. Just pure kindness. @Nij makes a great point both in his answer, and his comment $\endgroup$
    – Mena Labib
    Feb 26, 2016 at 14:55
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    $\begingroup$ The vast majority? Thr video showed maybe half and had highlighted those with significant monetary wealth as those who were repulsed when the "homeless" person tried to give them money. Along with that forcing a gift on someone is generally impolite and in no way shows the relationship between a donor and a receiver. $\endgroup$ Feb 27, 2016 at 1:06

I encourage you to read what evolutionary psychology has to say about what you're talking about. This science is maybe the origin of your "dark" vision but it is due to a common oversimplification. As my explanation could be no way better than Steven Pinker's one about this issue, I extract here this paragraphs that contain a clarification about your question (full text here):

The attempt to dissect our moral intuitions can look like an attempt to debunk them. Evolutionary psychologists seem to want to unmask our noblest motives as ultimately self-interested — to show that our love for children, compassion for the unfortunate and sense of justice are just tactics in a Darwinian struggle to perpetuate our genes.[...]

In reality, none of these fears are warranted, and it’s important to see why not. [...]

Unfortunately, the meme of the selfish gene escaped from popular biology books and mutated into the idea that organisms (including people) are ruthlessly self-serving. And this doesn’t follow. Genes are not a reservoir of our dark unconscious wishes. “Selfish” genes are perfectly compatible with selfless organisms, because a gene’s metaphorical goal of selfishly replicating itself can be implemented by wiring up the brain of the organism to do unselfish things, like being nice to relatives or doing good deeds for needy strangers. When a mother stays up all night comforting a sick child, the genes that endowed her with that tenderness were “selfish” in a metaphorical sense, but by no stretch of the imagination is she being selfish.

Nor does reciprocal altruism — the evolutionary rationale behind fairness — imply that people do good deeds in the cynical expectation of repayment down the line. We all know of unrequited good deeds, like tipping a waitress in a city you will never visit again and falling on a grenade to save platoonmates. These bursts of goodness are not as anomalous to a biologist as they might appear.

In his classic 1971 article, Trivers, the biologist, showed how natural selection could push in the direction of true selflessness. [...]

Trivers' article is also clarifying to answer your question. If you read the full text of the article you'll also find an explanation about how true selflessness can perfectly be a product of natural selection.

The word "dark" in your question attracted my attention. Why should it be "dark" to profit from doing good? Is like saying that the pleasure of drinking water when one is thirsty is not a real pleasure because the "real intention" of thirst is to preserve one's own life (usually nobody drinks motivated by not dying but for pleasure, although avoiding death is what we are "really" doing). Why should be there any contradiction? does the "real" (functional) explanation of what we drink for make it less pleasant? Does any explanation about doing good to others make those things less good?


Depends on what you mean by "selfish"

Selfishness itself is generally defined as being concerned, sometimes excessively or exclusively, for oneself or one's own advantage, pleasure, or welfare, regardless of others.

If that's what you mean by being selfish, then a simple act of helping others at the cost of your own pleasure, benefits, or welfare already disapproves that deep-down humans are all selfish. You can argue that such acts may ultimately caused by expectations of a perceived benefit, conscious or not. But consider these examples:

  • A mother/father jumping in to save their child from a speeding car, saving the child but killing them in the process.
  • A soldier throwing him/herself to a grenade to save his/her fellow soldiers.
  • Someone who attempt to stop a school-shooting, and got killed in the process

Acts such as those, which resulted in ending of one's life, most likely don't stem from expectations of future benefits (I mean, they would be dead afterwards, what benefits could they be possibly expecting?). And they surely don't have the motive of preservation of the individuals own life at heart.

Yes, you can still argue that "heaven" or similar religion's concepts may be the main motive. But I'm pretty sure that even people who doesn't believe such concepts would still likely to do the first example (at least).

Taking it further, such acts may indeed be explained by needs of preservation of human as a species (sacrificing one live in order to save more lives or future generation). If this still classifies as "selfish" to you, then I can't find other example. However, I would argue that what human behavior can't be ultimately traced back to "human species preservation" motive, with or without personal benefits? I believe that there's nothing wrong with that, and thus it's not a "dark outlook" at all.


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