The Ethics and Self-Interest Paradox
May 29, 2013 7 Comments
By Linda Fisher Thornton
There was a lively discussion on LinkedIn in response to my post “Ethics Means Acting Beyond Self-Interest.” Readers joined in the discussion and came up with a number of very interesting observations.
The observations taken together form a paradox. Here are some discussion highlights:
- “Beyond self-interest” has personal and interpersonal aspects
- We must let go of the idea that we already “know” in order to be open to learning what we don’t yet know
- We need to balance the interests of self, other and the larger environment since they are connected
- When fear is involved, decisions can be short-sighted, self-serving and reactive
- Some people refer to “beyond self-interest” as the “social contract”
- You don’t need to talk about “beyond self-interest” in ethics if you believe that what is good for others helps you too. In that case, you will do what is ethically right, and it will be mutually beneficial
- Self-interest must contain the interests of others (and vice versa)
- Ethics includes acting with human dignity and that always includes acting beyond self-interest
- At the highest level, ethics embraces self-interest as well as the interests of many other constituents
- A better term than “beyond self-interest” would be “enlightened self-interest” to indicate a higher level of ethical awareness that meets the needs of self and many other constituents
This discussion revealed that the post’s title “Ethics Means Acting Beyond Self-Interest” is true if you are thinking of ethics, yourself and your interests in isolation.
If you broaden your view enough, and use a higher level understanding of ethics, the same statement is false when you interpret ethics as being inherently mutually beneficial to self and others.
As often happens, those who commented took the conversation well beyond the scope of the article. Many thanks to all who joined the conversation!
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