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ATTRIBUTES OF SELFISHNESS - B, PREVIOUS SECTION - NEXT SECTION - HELP - FACEBOOK
6. Partiality is another attribute of selfishness. It consists in giving the preference to certain interests, on account of their being either directly the interests of self, or so connected with self-interest as to be preferred on that account. It matters not, whether the interest to which the preference is given be of greater or of lesser value, if so be it is preferred, not for the reason of its greater value, but because of its relation to self. In some instances the practical preference may justly be given to a lesser interest, on account of its sustaining such a relation to us that we can secure it, when the greater interest could not be secured by us. If the reason of the preference, in such case, be, not that it is self-interest, but an interest that can be secured while the greater cannot, the preference is a just one, and not partiality. My family for example, sustain such relations to me, that I can more readily and surely secure their interests, than I can those of my neighbor, or of a stranger. For this reason I am under obligation to give the practical preference to the interests of my own family, not because they are my own, nor because their interests sustain such a relation to my own, but because I can more readily secure their interests than those of any other family.
The question in such a case turns upon the amount I am able to secure, and not on the intrinsic value merely. It is a general truth, that we can secure more readily and certainly the interests of those to whom we sustain certain relations; and therefore, God and reason point out these interests as particular objects of our attention and effort. This is not partiality but impartiality. It is treating interests as they should be treated.
But selfishness is always partial. If it gives any interest whatever, the preference, it is because of its relation to self. It always, and, continuing to be selfishness, necessarily, lays the greatest stress upon, and gives the preference to, those interests the promotion of which will gratify self.
Here care should be taken to avoid delusion. Oftentimes selfishness appears to be very disinterested and very impartial. For example: here is a man whose compassion, as a mere feeling or state of the sensibility, is greatly developed. He meets a beggar, an object that strongly excites his ruling passion. He empties his pockets, and even takes off his coat and gives it to him, and in his paroxysm he will divide his all with him, or even give him all. Now this would generally pass for most undoubted virtue, as a rare and impressive instance of moral goodness. But there is no virtue, no benevolence in it. It is a mere yielding of the will to the control of feeling, and has nothing in it of the nature of virtue. Innumerable examples of this might be adduced, as illustrations of this truth. It is only an instance and an illustration of selfishness. It is the will seeking to gratify the feeling of compassion, which for the time is the strongest desire.
We constitutionally desire not only our own happiness, but also that of men in general, when their happiness in no way conflicts with our own. Hence selfish men will often manifest a deep interest in the welfare of those, whose welfare will not interfere with their own. Now, should the will be yielded up to the gratification of this desire, this would often be regarded as virtue. For example: a few years since much interest and feeling were excited in this country by the cause and sufferings of the Greeks, in their struggle for liberty; and since in the cause of the Poles. A spirit of enthusiasm appeared, and many were ready to give and do almost anything for the cause of liberty. They gave up their will to the gratification of this excited state of feeling. This, they may have supposed, was virtue; but it was not, nor was there a semblance of virtue about it, when it is once understood, that virtue consists in yielding the will to the law of the intelligence, and not to the impulse of excited feelings.
Some writers have fallen into the strange mistake of making virtue to consist in seeking the gratification of certain desires, because, as they say, these desires are virtuous. They make some of the desires selfish, and some benevolent. To yield the will to the control of the selfish inclinations is sin; to yield to the control of the benevolent desires, such as the desire of my neighbor's happiness and of the public happiness, is virtue, because these are good desires, while the selfish desires are evil. Now this is, and has been, a very common view of virtue and vice. But it is fundamentally erroneous. None of the constitutional desires are good or evil in themselves; they are alike involuntary, and all alike terminate on their correlated objects. To yield the will to the control of any one of them, no matter which, is sin; it is following a blind feeling, desire, or impulse of the sensibility, instead of yielding to the demands of the intelligence, as the law affirming power. To will the good of my neighbor, or of my country, and of God, because of the intrinsic value of those interests, that is to will them as an end, and in obedience to the law of the reason, is virtue; but to will them to gratify a constitutional but blind desire, is selfishness and sin. The desires terminate on their respective objects; but the will, in this case, seeks the objects, not for their own sake, but because they are desired, that is, to gratify the desires. This is choosing them, not as an end, but as a means of self-gratification. This is making self-gratification the end after all. This must be a universal truth, when a thing is chosen merely in obedience to desire. The benevolence of these writers is sheer selfishness, and their virtue is vice.
The choice of any thing whatever, because it is desired, irrespective of the demands of the reason, is selfishness and sin. It matters not what it is. The very statement, that I choose a thing because I desire it, is only another form of saying, that I choose it for my own sake, or for the sake of appeasing the desire, and not on account of its own intrinsic value. All such choice is always and necessarily partial. It is giving one interest the preference over another, not because of its perceived intrinsic and superior value, but because it is an object of desire. If I yield to mere desire in any case, it must be to gratify the desire. This is, and in the case supposed must be, the end for which the choice is made. To deny this is to deny that the will seeks the object because it is desired. Partiality consists in giving one thing the preference of another for no good reason. That is, not because the intelligence demands this preference, but because the sensibility demands it. Partiality is therefore always and necessarily an attribute of selfishness.
7. Efficiency is another attribute of selfishness. Desire never produces action until it influences the will. It has no efficiency or causality in itself. It cannot, without the concurrence of the will, command the attention of the intellect, or move a muscle of the body. The whole causality of the mind resides in the will. In it resides the power of accomplishment.
Again: the whole efficiency of the mind, as it respects accomplishment, resides in the choice of an end, or in the ultimate intention. All action of the will, or all willing, must consist in choosing either an end, or the means of accomplishing an end. If there is choice, something is chosen. That something is chosen for some reason. To deny this is a denial that any thing is chosen. The ultimate reason for the choice and the thing chosen, are identical. This we have repeatedly seen.
Again: we have seen that the means cannot be chosen until the end is chosen. The choice of the end is distinct from the volitions or endeavors of the mind to secure the end. But although the choice of an end is not identical with the subordinate choices and volitions to secure the end, yet it necessitates them. The choice once made, secures or necessitates the executive volitions to secure the end. By this it is not intended that the mind is not free to relinquish its end, and of course to relinquish the use of the means to accomplish it; but only that, while the choice or intention remains, the choice of the end by the will is efficient in producing volitions to realize the end. This is true both of benevolence and selfishness. They are both choices of an end, and are necessarily efficient in producing the use of the means to realize this end. They are choices of opposite ends, and, of course, will produce their respective results.
The Bible represents sinners as having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; that while the will is committed to the indulgence of the inclinations, they cannot cease from the indulgence. There is no way, therefore, for the sinner to escape from the commission of sin, but to cease to be selfish. While selfishness continues, you may change the form of outward manifestation, you may deny one appetite or desire for the sake of indulging another; but it is and must be sin still. The desire to escape hell, and to obtain heaven may become the strongest, in which case, selfishness will take on a most sanctimonious type. But if the will is following desire, it is selfishness still; and all your religious duties, as you call them, are only selfishness robed in the stolen habiliments of loving obedience to God.
Be it remembered, then, that selfishness is, and must be, efficient in producing its effects. It is cause; the effect must follow. The whole life and activity of sinners is founded in it. It constitutes their life, or rather their spiritual death. They are dead in trespasses and in sins. It is in vain for them to dream of doing anything good, until they relinquish their selfishness. While this continues, they cannot act at all, except as they use the means to accomplish a selfish end. It is impossible, while the will remains committed to a selfish end, or to the promotion of self-interest or self-gratification, that it should use the means to promote a benevolent end. The first thing is to change the end, and then the sinner can cease from outward sin. Indeed, if the end be changed, many of the same acts which were before sinful will become holy. While the selfish end continues, whatever a sinner does, is selfish. Whether he eats, or drinks, or labors, or preaches, or, in short, whatever he does, is to promote some form of self-interest. The end being wrong, all is, and must be, wrong.
This is the philosophy of Christ. "Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things" (Matt. 12:33, 35). "Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig-tree, My brethren, bear olive berries? Either a vine figs? So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh" (James 3:11, 12). "For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit: for of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart, bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh" (Luke 6:43-45).
8. Opposition to benevolence or to virtue, or to holiness and true religion, is one of the attributes of selfishness.
Selfishness is not, in its relations to benevolence, a mere negation. It cannot be. It is the choice of self-gratification as the supreme and ultimate end of life. While the will is committed to this end, and benevolence, or a mind committed to an opposite end, is contemplated, the will cannot remain in a state of indifference to benevolence. It must either yield its preference of self-indulgence, or resist the benevolence which the intellect perceives. The will cannot remain in the exercise of this selfish choice, without as it were bracing and girding itself against that virtue, which it does not imitate. If it does not imitate it, it must be because it refuses to do so. The intellect does, and must, strongly urge the will to imitate benevolence, and to seek the same end. The will must yield or resist, and the resistance must be more or less resolute and determined, as the demands of the intellect are more or less emphatic. This resistance to benevolence or to the demands of the intellect in view of it is what the Bible calls, hardening the heart. It is obstinacy of will, under the light and the presence of true religion, and the admitted claims of benevolence.