Why Do Good? For others or one’s Self?

Returning to the theme of the previous post on morality, I’d like to note that it was inspired by a few different people recently thanking me for my kindness. Since I am a cranky person who disagrees with everyone, this inspired the thought, “How do you know I’m being kind? What if I’m just being self-interested?” Which of course inspired the thought, “This dichotomy between self-interest and kindness is part of Christian morality. I am not a Christian. Therefore, I don’t have to accept this dichotomy.”

Which got me thinking. Which is better, to believe that someone is being kind to you out of a pure desire to do good, or because they’re benefiting in some way?

I suspect that a single or initial act of kindness is best perceived as motivated out of a pure desire to do good, at least in our society. This allows people to accept a single act of kindness without fear of thereby becoming indebted. This allows the net kindness of society to increase.

For repeated acts of kindness, however, I suspect it is best to believe that the other person is receiving some benefit.

Repeated acts of kindness can create a sense of indebtedness, even if totally unintended by the actor. If the indebtedness leads to some mutually agreeable form of reciprocation, then all is well (and the condition is fulfilled.) But if the debt cannot be repaid (for whatever reasons,) this creates unhappiness and conflict.

To relieve this burden of debt, it is probably best to believe that the actor receives some other benefit, such as really enjoying the activity involved.

For my own motivations: I prefer to live in a world where people are kind to each other. This may be a self-interested motivation, but I reject the idea that self-interest is invalid as a reason to be kind.


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