Are Humans Fundamentally Compassionate or Selfish

Dec 2018
925
563
Wisconsin
#1
There are two thought experiments that leads you to believe two different answers.

1. The Trolley Problem. Yes I've already discussed this but in sum, a train is running down the track towards five workers and you have the ability to pull a lever which will divert the train to a side track with one worker. Would you pull the lever saving five lives but killing one? Or, say a train is going down a track towards five workers and you're standing with a man next to the track. Would you push the man in front of the train saving the five lives but killing one? Many say they will save the five lives in the first scenario but not in the second. Philosophers posture this is because the value of life in general is dependent on the impact it has on the individual's life. IE I'll pull the lever which kills one life but I won't push a man in front of a train because the guilt and mental harm it causes impacts my decisions. This argues that humans are selfish.

2. The Child at the Well Problem. You're walking through the park and you see a young child crawling around the rim of a well. How do you respond? Do you continue walking or do you run to try and save the child? Most people say they run to try and save the child and do so without thought. They do this with no additional information. They don't know if they'll be rewarded for their action. They don't know who the child will grow up to be. They don't even know how deep the well is and if it could potentially cause harm. They simply react to the perceived threat to another life. This argues that humans are compassionate.

So what say you?
 
Apr 2013
35,465
24,069
Left coast
#2
As with so many other discussions of this type, there is no single answer. There are trends maybe, but any particular individual may react to the same stimulus in different ways depending on a vast range of conditions.
 
Dec 2015
14,187
13,096
Arizona
#3
We have no idea what we will do in any given situation. SURE! Most of us like to think of ourselves as heroes who would do the right thing--in the moment--but would we? When the chips are down?

Humans are selfish *SELFISH* individuals. Just read a few DTT posts. It's all about "ME". "MY". Number ONE. "I".
Why do you suppose there are so many children in foster care? Selfishness.
Fraud? Cheating? Adultery? Theft? Addiction? Rape? Abuse? Neglect?
Just about every single problem we have in this country BEGINS WITH selfishness. I include myself in the mix.
AND there is SOME validity in selfishness--depending on the situation.

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Dec 2018
1,026
396
New England
#4
I think there's little doubt that humans, as a group, are first and foremost self-interested. Even acts of charity can be viewed in this way based on the feeling of satisfaction felt by the giver.

And while a bit of an aside, this is why capitalist systems tend to work better than collectivist ones. Markets work with human nature, not against it.