Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant, individual self-interest is the driving force behind the progress of society.


Human beings are usually known as social animal means they need to have a certain society and healthy interactions with each other for survival in a better way. From here it seems that humans are different from other animals because they are socially more dependent on each other as Smith says that, “man is an animal that makes bargains: no other animal does this-no dog exchanges bones with another” (Smith) The exchange between human is not only mere cause to have social interactions and to build relations with other humans being. Most of the philosophers including Smith and Kant believe that social interactions among human beings are due to self-interest of individuals. They claim that the individual self interest leads to collective betterment of the society and every one get benefits from selfish nature of human beings. According to Smith, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” (Smith) Here very clearly Smith argues that a butcher doesn’t make the meat to just please one but he does it for his own interest to earn from it and so as others. If we take example from our own life we can witness the element of self-interest in almost every act. For instance, as a student we go to school, college and then university. We try to be as punctual as we can; we study, do assignments, take notices, listen to lectures, obey our professor, so on and so forth. Why we do these all, instead we can have a more fun activity such as waiting TV, playing games or spend time with friends and family. The main reason to spend time for studies is to have a good job so that we can earn handsome amount of money, have a house, can earn respect in society, and may be some other reasons. The main idea is that everyone does things out of self-interest but it is not necessary that self-interest of all individuals is same. For the same job people may have different self-interests.

If we study Kant he also believes that self-interest has a key role in certain things, but he also believes that self-interest is immoral. As Kant claims that, “Individual has responsibilities based on a care set of moral principles that go beyond those of narrow self-interest” (Kant) In fact morality is essential component when we talk about human race but one can’t deny the fact that self-interest is the driving force behind the economic and political development of any region or state. Kant also claims that, “It is not God’s will merely that we should be happy, but that we should make ourselves happy.” (Kant) Here he is openly discusses about self-interest. If you don’t try to make yourself happy then even God can’t do anything for you. Kant’s do agree that people are selfish but he believes that” performing duties, be truthful and not commit suicide” or things beyond the selfish nature of human beings. He claims that these are part of morality and selfishness can’t be moral.

Now, the point to ponder is that, if everyone in the society is selfish then how can we have harmony, security and trust on others. Self-interest of individual’s leads to the collective good and it comes out as social good for all. Suppose me and my friend are living on an island. I am tall and can collect fruits easily but I have aqua-phobia so can’t fish. Whereas, my friend is very good at fishing but can’t collect as many fruits as I can. So we both agree to exchange fruits and fish so that both have enough of each of them. This exchange of goods is solely based on self-interest of both of us. From this individual self-interest we end up with collective benefit. Same is true for large societies; people exchange goods and services for sake of their own self-interest which leads to collective good for the societies. According to Smith, in this process people start to trust each other so that others will trust them. People live in harmony with others so that they will live in the peace, everyone wants peace, in order to ensured individual security all live in peace and the one who break the rules has to pay for it either in terms of socially alienated by the society or punishment from the government.

If human beings are selfish then what about the philanthropy, charity, moral support, and financial support to the individuals who are in need. Many people will argue on this issue in different ways here is what I believe can be the reasons behind helping others virtually without any self-interest. I think one of the main reasons behind helping others in need are because being the same specie it evokes the feelings of attachment or in other words sense of humanity, and helping other human beings gives happiness and satisfaction. People also help others out of expectations because if they help someone in need then they expect someone to help them in need. It is a process of what you will get is depends on what you will give. Secondly, people help other for religious reasons. In many religions especially in monotheist religions the concept of after life, heaven and hell are part of religious believes. Many people help others here on earth to earn a better after life and many of the charity are due to religious causes. Thirdly, people help others because when someone is asking for help it means that person is accepting he/she is weak and need your help. The person asking for help is giving you the power over themselves. Humans are always in competition of having more and more power; therefore, I believe that when someone is asking for help they are accepting their weakness and appreciating others power. The sense of being powerful makes people inclined to help others. At the end I can say that in one way or other the component of self-interest is present which leads to collective good of all people and growth of the society. Virtually there is no act which is done without self-interest of any individual even morality is also part of self interest of human beings. We behave morally and respectfully with others so that they will treat us in the same way.



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