Human Nature: Self-Interest & Altruism

Topics: Morality, Religion, Human Pages: 4 (1000 words) Published: November 1, 2012
Human Nature: Self-Interest vs. Altruism

A debate encompassing human nature has carried on for centuries, and philosophers throughout history have provided a vast inventory of explanations they deem to be sufficient in understanding the perplex idea of human nature. A question commonly debated regarding human nature is determining whether human beings are naturally self-interested or altruistic. Political philosophers Bernard Mandeville and Francis Hutcheson specifically addressed this question, but each arrived at different conclusions based on personal observation and reasoning. Mandeville, influenced by Hobbesian thought, advocated the belief that human beings were naturally self-interested. Opposing the idea of self-interest, Francis Hutcheson attacked Mandeville’s notion and reasoned that human beings were inherently altruistic. Although both sets of ideals originated in the early 18th century, both can be utilized to infer about current events and situations (Tannenbaum & Schultz, 2004).

Dutch political philosopher Bernard Mandeville, author of The Fable of the Bees or Private Vice Publik Benefits, attacked a common notion for the time that human beings were naturally altruistic. Mandeville believed that humans were naturally self-interested while most thought of altruism as virtuous and self-interest as vice. He stated that empirical evidence supporting human altruism was non-existent, and it is selfish actions that benefit society. Society that runs on altruism and benevolence is a stagnant society that fails to progress. In Mandeville’s The Fable of the Bees, he emphasizes that when people seek self interests, comforts and pleasures, society inevitably progresses with occurences of new inventions and a circulation of capital. According to Mandeville, a benevolent society is an honest one, “but if they would likewise enjoy their Ease and the Comforts of the World, and be at once opulent, potent and flourishing” as well as a...
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