Self-interest plays no part in genuine morality, discuss

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15/04/10
Philosophy essay: Mr Jackson
Self interest plays no part in genuine morality, discuss.
From a commonsense perspective, `self interest plays no part in genuine
morality' seems to suggest that any moral act, for example donating your life savings
to charity because it makes you feel good to know you have helped someone, must
be considered immoral if self interest plays a part in the reasoning to carry out said
act. So, this example of donating to charity for the sake of feeling good must be
disregarded and deemed immoral. This seems intuitively wrong.
Callicles, from Plato's `the Gorgias' is an egoist and argues that behaving
altruistically is foolish, he says that pleasure is the ultimate good and so the sensible
person must discount morality and only act in terms of pursuing their own wants and
needs. Socrates easily undermines this position, explaining that the life of such a
hedonist is equivalent to that of a person with a leaky jar, although another person
may fill their jar and then be satisfied, the hedonist must constantly and frantically
refill their jar. Since the hedonist lives their life in a state of constant craving and
never satisfaction, they can never be happy. In this case, I would have to agree with
the title statement that this level of self interest does not seem to be plausible in
terms of acting morally.
Aristotle was of the teleological perspective, and saw things in terms of their
function, so he believed that the soul was a kind of blueprint for the way that
humans should live, Aristotle said that it is in our self interest to be moral, but not in
the sense that Callicles thought, because he said instead of just aiming for pleasure
as the egoist might, Aristotle said that we must ultimately strive for eudaimonia. To
do this we must develop our virtues through the Doctrine of the Mean, and
therefore act appropriately in every situation, a by-product of this endeavour to
achieve eudaimonia and to flourish is that we become moral people with emotional,
practical and intellectual intelligence. This perspective on genuine morality: that we
must flourish as people, and part of flourishing includes becoming a truly moral
person, does not seem to be as self serving as the egoists' position, it also makes a
lot of intuitive sense. In the case of Aristotle's position on morality, I would have to
disagree with the above statement, `self interest plays no part in morality' because
this level of self interest does not appear to contrast with morality, and in my
opinion self interest of this kind would only enhance a persons moral actions,
meaning that self interest can play a part in genuine morality.
Kant would agree with the title statement, maintaining that self interest can
play no part in genuine morality at all, this is because Kant believed that morality is
absolute, all moral judgements are objective and for this reason can be universal ­
because self interest personalises morality, and morality must apply to all people
equally. Kant said that self interest cannot play a part in morality so the only way we
can be moral is to follow our duty, which can be uncovered through autonomous
reasoning. One of Kant's main points was that we must uncover our duties using the
categorical imperative to find a maxim and then universalise it to see if it is plausible
as a moral action for everyone to follow. The categorical imperative means that
nothing should be done if it depends on something else ­ this would be a
hypothetical imperative, for example `you should go to sixth form if you want to get
a good education' would be hypothetical, because if you did not want a good
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­ Kant says all
morality should be categorical so that everyone can act the same way without
contradiction. Kant says that genuine morality can only be fulfilled when you are
doing your duty, because it is discovered through reason, this ensures that actions
are separate from bias and are definitely non-selfish, meaning they must be good and
moral.…read more

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