Enlightened Self-Interest

According to Wikipedia: Enlightened self-interest is a philosophy in ethics which states that persons who act to further the interests of others (or the interests of the group or groups to which they belong), ultimately serve their own self-interest.
It has often been simply expressed by the belief that an individual, group, or even a commercial entity will “do well by doing good”.

To me that’s not real self-interest, enlightened or otherwise. Self-interest looks at the value of something for oneself first, including judging whether the need for sacrifice or risk for the benefit of one’s group is necessary. Above all, ESI looks at leading others to good order by your example in the observance of moral* social interactions, and which good order benefits you, and everyone else–except tyrants and anarchists. This is very close to the Objectivist’s view, but is a moderation of it to a degree. I don’t think we can say that all motivation must be towards the promotion of oneself in all circumstances. For instance, if it becomes necessary to defend ourselves from an aggressor–be it on a one-on-one level in defense or another, or a national level, we may need to take the risk in the defense of good order and justice for all, including ourselves.

To deny self-interest at any level is to deny our humanity. To declare that it takes priority in all circumstances does the same. The natural default is enlightened self-interest, at least for the moral among us.

(*Morality: Honoring the equal rights of all to their life, liberty and property. This is the only principle that determines all morality, the only rule necessary to gauge all social interaction. All other so-called “morality” is individual virtue determined by the individual that adheres to it.)

…then what do you make of those that are too busy competing with others over bullshit to further the cause/the group? which then furthers their own cause - are they unintelligent then?

Who is ‘all’? Once slaveholders thought they abided by your principle since blacks obviously didn’t count as people. Now, we eat meat and wear fur. Also, how can the right to property be an absolute, when people are born with radically different means and opportunities to acquire it?

Not only that, but living on a planet with finite resources eventually leads to the impeeding of one person’s ‘right’ to property over another. Given the amount of war that this planet has seen it seems like that has been an issue for quiet some time.

I’m sorry, I don’t understand your point?

All humans/sentients.


They justified their expediency using false religion and the double standard to justify their evil. And it was as evil 10,000 years ago as it is today. Morality is intuitively obvious as well as being the simple deduction from one simple assumption–life is of value and sentient life is of ultimate value because of our unique self-awareness which is the source of our ability to recognize and choose between right and wrong.


Yes, and we also eat broccoli and wear cotton. Just because we’re self-aware doesn’t mean we’re removed from the food chain with the ability to use other life to our sustenance as necessary. Would you have all life go extinct because it requires other life to survive? Are we the only ones unfit to live? If I had to judge by the religion of some environmentalists, the answer would have to be yes. But fortunately, their rationalizing is just as flawed as that of the slaveholders. All this means only that we must honor the equal rights of all humans, and revere the sanctity, not the inviolability, of other life.

What do you propose, that everyone should treated as if they have the talents of an NFL quarterback, the intelligence of Einstein, the charisma of a movie star or politician, or the energy and motivation of the founder of a Fortune 500 company? Envy is truly a sin when you try to use it to justify the end-result of forcing life to be “fair”–an impossibility to begin with. You end up merely devaluing one group/individual in favor of some arbitrary, self-righteous set of values based on what is thought of as fair–or worse, the thirst to abuse power. Such rationalization was common among slaveholders.

Any impediment forced by one over another that would violate their life, liberty or property would be immoral. Maybe you could provide a more specific example.

Has there ever been a war where at least one side, if not both sides, were wrong/immoral? Does that mean it’d wrong to defend ourselves from an aggressor?

That’s my point. The idea that life liberty and property are moral ‘rights’ creates a system that is destined, by way of living on a planet of limited resources, to eventually result in a scenario where everyone must become ‘immoral’ to even survive.

Man will continue to grow and spread because it’s their moral right.
Growth gets to a point where sustainability is no longer possible.
Man violates man’s moral rights by way of lack of sustainability.

We’re nowhere near the limit of the degree of food production that wouldn’t sustain a population much larger than it is now. You’re the victim of ZPG propaganda as I was at one time. We could put the entire world population in Texas and survive.

I tend towards agreeing with this, PT - the problem is, however, that we will debate the line of least resistance forever and a day because there is a necessary tension between the two. To the sense that we are socially-contracted or constricted individuals we are paradoxical beings. To the same extent, while I agree about the ethical imperative that this status confers I feel we have to recognise that this is always in danger of being a hostage to fortune. Life is risk…

Food production is only one tiny part of the larger picture when you are regarding life liberty and property. Being able to eat does not cover all of your stated moral rights.

And I agree with that. The best I can say is that we get better at it with practice. We learn from our parents and peers (hopefully), but the real training ground is marriage. We (hopefully) recognize the need for compromise when we live that close to someone as an equal, while not surrendering our core self. Just another reason to take our time choosing a mate. The ultimate test of our ability to cope is not when we’re confronted by someone intent on doing us evil (a shotgun is my weapon of choice), its the obnoxious bore. ](*,)

You were talking about survival.

No, I was talking about the sustainability of the idea that everyone is entitled to life liberty and property. Finite resources make it impossible. Perhaps your ideas of liberty and property are entirely different from mine.

I guess I should give you an example so you can show me where I am going wrong.

According to how I understand your terms of, it is my right by way of life liberty and property to run my air conditioner as I see fit in the summer. I can afford my house payment and my electric payment so I am entitled to doing this. Along with me, everyone else in my city falls into this category. They can afford the bills that are associated with running their AC and are entitled, by way of how I am understanding your terms, to run their AC as they see fit.

By doing this, the resulting usage in electricity causes rolling brownouts throughout the city. This is not some sort of made up scenario either, this has been a serious issue the last 2 summers where I live.

So by way of excercising each individual moral ‘right’ everyone has violated the moral rights of everyone else.

Society is becoming dominant again, this time probably for good. Individual interest will continue to wane until one day soon it will be synonymous with evil itself. To have an individual desire will be unforgivable arrogance. Take what youre given, do your part to contribute, and be happy about it. Any less will be considered pathology, immoral and dangerous antisocial behavior.

“Selfish” individuals, those who assert their individual self interest against the interests of others or one’s position in society will be reconditioned, realigned, their desease cured.

Enlightened self interest is a pleasant fantasy, nothing more. Well, not really all that pleasant, so just a fantasy, then.

I agree with your premise but not your solution or your conclusion. It is your right to do so if you can afford it. But you open a whole can of worms with your scenario since it’s extremely complicated. One factor is how much government has been involved that would contribute or even cause your problems such as excessive regulation on the corporation fiscally and operationally, but even more than that is limiting the development of new energy resources–oil, coal, nuclear. You could also use rationing (rolling brownouts being one very effective and “fair” method), peak use penalties, etc. And this has been coming for a long time (it was even worse in the 90’s for a while), with learjet liberal hypocrites like Al Gore trying to scare the bejebus out of everybody, selling idiotic carbon credits (buying them from his own company), while living in an enormous house and going everywhere in a private jet.

One crisis exploitation after another urging the people to keep demanding government to do more when government is not the solution to the problem, government IS the problem.

So let’s take a less complicated example. S’pose you’re a part of a primitive Indian tribe in the desert, and water is scarce. The only government is a few braves who keep the peace and defend the territory from marauders, for which everyone contributes a ration of food to them since they can’t be a brave and grow corn and hunt at the same time. Everyone brings in their own water from a nearby mountain on mules.

Then one enterprising Indian, saves up a large store of grain and uses it to hire others to help him build and aqueduct. He then charges a minimal fee for water drawn from his system for his investment and the aqueduct’s upkeep. The village flourishes. They have abundant water for their crops which yield quadruples. Families grow. Demand for the water increases, so he raises the price to control the demand to something he can meet and to meet the extra outlay for upkeep and security (the honor system goes out the window).

Is the enterprising Indian greedy? (If so, define greedy).
Is part of the problem overpopulation? If so, does everyone who stays there have a “right” to a share of the water the EI is providing? If so, an equal share, or some system of a proportional share? How/Who decides the proportion?

Meanwhile, EI #2 who was fixing to go one mountain over and build another water system in an unpopulated area, sees what’s happening to EI #1 and says to himself, forget it. All that work for this, no way, and on top of that, all the surplus grain I’ve saved up would be lost. So he packs his grain up on some mules, waves goodbye and is never heard from again in his village. He goes many moons away where he finds a few willing people to help hire out to build an aqueduct of his own. But first he explains what happened to EI #1 and they all sign a pact to protect him from it happening again.

The pact works great for a long time but eventually people start to grumble about EI #2’s gr-gr-gr-gr-grandson who’s inherited the aqueduct, and by what right is it his. So, rationalizing that the pact was a living document, after all didn’t it really belong to the workers who originally worked to build it, so they Indian Nation(alized) it and took possession of it together. But it soon became apparent that they didn’t know anything about operating or maintaining an aqueduct, particularly one as complex as EI #2’s decedents had made it, so it fell into disrepair and finally became useless.

Is the right to property a true moral right, or is it just another word for greed? If greed, again, define greed if you didn’t the first time. If a right, why? Does this mean that the owners of the aqueduct are not subject to a moral for which they can be found at fault?

There are many other scenarios. What if they’d just blown up the aqueduct? What if and invader takes the village over, slows their water to a trickle and diverts the rest to his home village? It’s hard enough to explain this simple situation to people, particularly if they’re disengaged being too busy watching Indian Idol smoke signals. “Oooooooo”. “Ahhhhhhh.”

The tom toms are now open.

What he said.

I literally have no idea what the point of your post was. As far as I can tell you’re now trying to get me to define your terms of life liberty and property to you?

Lets start over. How do you define life liberty and property? Until I understand what that means to you there is no point in even discussing how they are or are not moral rights to every sentient being.

Life, in context here, is sentient life, which is life that is self-aware, and by extension aware of other sentient life. If you give ultimate value to your own life, by what reason can you not give equal value to all sentient life?

The right to liberty and property are extensions of the right to life. You own yourself and therefore you have the right to control what you do with your life within the limits of the equal rights of others to their life, liberty and property.

To declare that we don’t have these rights, something where a double standard is allowed and therefore the rights of some are inferior to the rights of some others, will result in the loss of good order and chaos.

So now do you understand the Indian story? (I have no idea why I picked Indians, just seemed to work, but maybe not.)

I think it is a matter of knowledge and wisdom or the intellect and awareness to obtain them.

A pure self-motivated person is a person who disregards concern for others almost entirely. Such a practice is seldom wise in that it defeats the self-interest goal by creating adversaries and presuming to be able to conquer the universe without assistance.

Enlightened self-interest is about being enlightened to the fact that you are merely an effort toward an order of your own harmony and that to achieve that goal, you have no choice whatsoever but to be of assistance to others who are doing the same.

Every life is the same effort toward the same goal, merely separated by incidence and ability. Enlightened self-interest reveals that they must work together and share risks. The risk sharing is the critical issue. Burden sharing is not as critical although significant as well. If the means to balance it all was simple, it would have all been done very long ago.

What is needed is the exact proper contract between the individual and the group. Such a contract is not one of subservience in either direction but of shared risk and burden. Many people have laid out how to accomplish it. What it requires is the right place at the right time with the right people seeking hope.

…for whatever my opinion is worth.

Well put. But could you give an example of burden sharing?

Burden sharing refers to equal give and take between the individual and the group. For example, a welfare system tends toward the group giving and the individual not giving, whereas a total Nietzschian capitalist system is more of the individual striving and the group merely reaping benefits.

Enlightened self-interest would involve the enlightenment that “if you expect anything, you should expect to earn it” from both the group’s stance as well as the individual’s.

Ah, yes indeed. In fact, even Jefferson advocated welfare but they (except, ostensibly, the disabled) had to work to earn it. I remember thinking at the time when I was driving through “public” housing, why are we paying someone to mow the grass and other such landscaping task. The should work and be grateful for living in a society that offers them the opportunity. If welfare weren’t so comfortable, if we weren’t so busy protecting their supposed pride and giving them more than people earn on minimum wage, well, we wouldn’t have a problem.