The issue of what motivates human behaviour, what instinctive or learnt impulses cause one to act as he or she does, has been long speculated and debated. While no single theorist has been able to satisfactorily trace the origin of our thoughts, actions, feelings and instincts, several have made noteworthy contributions.
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One might ant to cook in order to appease hunger or to gain compliments from a spouse or to save money which would have been spent ordering food. In keeping with this cause-effect relationship, it does seem very easy to advocate that yes, we only do what we want to do.
There is a complication however, which might also be considered an exception; fear. One may also do an act out of fear of the consequences if it were not done. For instance, an all too common phenomenon is thousands of people trudging to their workplaces daily out of fear of being fired or the fear of their wages being cut, or fear of awaiting bills. One may cook at home, continuing from an above example, also out of fear of extra calories or germs that outside food may contain. In such cases, strictly speaking, the individual does not want to act, but does so, since not performing the act would result in an unpleasant situation.
Another consideration when attempting to figure whether we do only what we want to do, is the conflict between rationale and emotion. As Hume states, "nothing is more usual in philosophy, and even in common life, than to talk of the combat of passion and reason." The concept of what one wants to do then, would fit into the realm of passion or emotion rather than logic or reason. Hume emphasizes that reason alone can never be a motive to any action, nor can it oppose action in the direction of the will. In fact, reason is simply the discovery of the link between a driving emotion and its eventual desired consequences. (Hume, 1882) It is the knowledge of the fact that a particular thing is desired and will be achieved if acted upon in a particular manner. Thus, if reason figures only as a connection and not a cause of action, and emotions translate as 'want to do', it is easily concluded that eventually we only do what we want to do.
In any case, whatever the source of action, the individual's primary concern is a selfish one. Whether an action is performed to create a pleasant consequence or to avoid an unpleasant situation, the basic driving force is a self-centered one. This brings us to the second part of the essay - whether there exist any natural virtues, which do not depend upon consequences or convenience, but yet instigate one to act in a particular manner. Strict empirical scientists would say no; it does not make logical sense for people to utilize their energies and resources without any benefit. Furthermore, it goes contrary to the survival instinct which pushes one to behave so as to obtain maximum advantages. Added, such behaviour, which social scientists now recognize as altruism, if engaged in often enough and by too many people, would completely overhaul the wheels of societies and economies that are governed by gain oriented cause-effect relationships.
James Fieser emphasizes that natural virtues, (which include benevolence, meekness, charity and generosity) "are instinctive character traits of the agent which give rise to passions which in turn motivate the will to action." (Fieser, 1997) Artificial virtues, which are learnt or developed include justice, keeping promises, allegiance and chastity, and are evident to different degrees in different people, as Hume professes. Since natural virtues are instinctive, they would also be common to all
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