Tucked away, all clean and shiny, in a mostly-forgotten corner, a soft and meek voice floated from an adjacent shower cubicle requesting for some shampoo as she had forgotten hers. Cheerfully squeezing my toiletries kit through the small gap of the door, I apologised for not being able to leave the cubicle yet. She gave a short and nervous laugh as she thanked me to which I responded by merely describing the contents of my kit in a bid to ease the awkwardness out of the situation.
The 10 mins it took her to finish felt unreasonably long due to my hangry condition after any strenuous activity that tended to shorten the fuse the longer one does anything other than eating or industriously looking for food. Yet amidst splotches of unfavourableness, there were overwhelming sunlit areas inside the cavity in which my electrified heart resides—I recall reading about chemicals released by the body to help one along activities that stretches the boundaries of normal capacity such as running or doing charity work. Endorphins—they call it—nature’s pain relief that brings out feelings like sweet morphine. It makes sense, I thought later, as I remembered that I had forgotten to (still) be angry with Patrick when I sent him a text telling him about my tan and hoping he would ask for a picture.
Altruism also appeared in the search results looking like just the thing to read and write about in an euphoric state—behaviour that is at least partly motivated by a desire to benefit someone else for that person’s sake, requiring no self-sacrifice but includes avoiding or preventing harm.
but—more fun always comes after all ‘buts‘—according to the theory of psychological egoism, all behaviours are motivated by self-interest and in doing so, it is our very own satisfaction that is being sought when making others happy; We will not act if it will only make us worse off—I am not convinced many of us will agree with this in spite of our varied personal experiences when it comes to helping others. Firstly, it would make better sense for ‘worse off’ to be a matter of degree—having less shampoo and spending more time hungry and tired hardly puts me in a worse off position in a way that matters; it’s not the sort of thing one would notice let alone feel satisfied for having given it up or endured on behalf of someone else’s happiness. Secondly, I am of the opinion that altruism should not be read, necessarily, as the condition of being devoid of all instances of self-interest as long as the desire to benefit someone else for their own sake is present, not least because some of us mere mortals affected by— this dastardly thing called—love can result in us doing things we once thought outrageous, inconceivably self-sacrificing and unconditional to boot (such as *ahem* most mothers) but that the concept admits of both non-exclusionary motivations—that it also benefits others other than the beneficiary does not contradict or negate the benefit to the beneficiary in any meaningful sense AND fact that it does benefit the beneficiary for their sake is surely what counts.
Kant distinguishes acting out of duty vs acting as a result of positive feelings like empathy, compassion etc even though the latter is an appropriate response to instances when help is required; if there were no feelings involved, there’s no reason to act which can lead to some appalling results such as whether to save a drowning refugee. Besides, our circumstances would have a bearing on the presence of these feelings such as misfortunes and bad experiences or professional duty, values, religious beliefs etc. Moral duty compels us to act even though we really don’t feel like it so even if nobody has ever given us shampoo on the day we desperately needed chlorine-free tresses, we must not let our own negative experiences and feelings attached to it, compel us to act similarly. In any case, being devoid of feelings does not always lead to problems; For example, it would be safe to say that most of us are more concerned in having our Surgeons act efficiently rather than whether they have any feelings about cutting into us and prodding our organs with sticks. Arguably, doctors should still treat incarcerated murderers despite lacking the accompanying compassion owing to a sense of duty, not simply arising from their professional capacity, but to treat everyone free of moral judgement of their actions; We want doctors to treat STDs even though they do not approve of a promiscuous lifestyle —but that’s just my opinion.
“act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law“
Moral reasoning entails singling out a fundamental principle, testing it for universality and then either check for
(1) existence of perfect duty by assessing if this leads to a sensible result e.g “kill everyone who crosses you” is surely not sensible because making this universal spells the end of mankind (contradiction in conception). In this instance, we have a perfect duty NOT to act
(2) existence of imperfect duty which arises occasionally and up to a certain extent, whose content is not fixed and thus be fulfilled in various ways (contradiction in will). Put simply, certain conditions are necessary before you get to do what you want (will) and as rational beings, we have wants that we think will lead to our ultimate happiness, flourishing or whatever. For example, to be able to study in a University entails someone having built that campus in the first place, people learned enough to become professors and other staff to set up computers (and having learnt computer science/programming/built computers) etc— helping people falls in this category because we need the help of others to realise our own visions.
I think that the difference between (1) and (2) is the absolute quality in perfect duty whereas the latter admits of exceptions, qualifications, conditions etc So in the shampoo scenario, I do not think it a moral duty to go above and beyond providing what I already have and can afford to part with at that immediate point in time—altruistic actions does not have to be grand before it counts as such, surely —can we not pat our backs and take in the well-deserved morphine that is so hard to come by nowadays—To be honest, I am not sure I understand (2) any further other than what my circuitous reasoning allows; in this way, I am going to need help making sense out of it—Maybe the high has already run out and I’m going to have to go downstairs to look for some cats to pet and get them to recount their day in meows.
Incidentally, been looking at this off-white, satin dress for more than a year now— it was $159 and now it’s $95. Given how long it has been on the site, I dare say, if I were to hold on a little while longer, it might even fall to $60-$70 range and within my budget as is the trend with the site. Should I wait? Are there any moral considerations to this? They are a local small fashion/designer business. Some questions need answering.
Johnson, Robert and Adam Cureton, “Kant’s Moral Philosophy”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2021/entries/kant-moral/>.
Kraut, Richard, “Altruism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2020/entries/altruism/>.