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Journal of Philosophical Research

Volume 16, 1991

R. B. Brandt
Pages 353-363
DOI: 10.5840/jpr_1991_8

Overvold on Self-Interest and Self-Sacrifice

In order to explain the idea that sacrifice involves voluntary diminution of the agent’s well-being, “well-being” must be explained. The thesis that an agent’s well-being just consists in the occurrence of events wanted is rejected. Overvold replaces it by the view that the motivating desires involve the existence of the agent, alive, at the time of their satisfaction. This view seems counterintuitive. The whole desire-satisfaction theory is to be rejected partly because we dont’t think an event worthwile if it is not liked when it occurs, and partly because the theory cannot give a sensible account of what is good for an individual when his desires change. A more satisfactory view is that the goodness of an event for a person is fixed by his total gratifications as a result of its occurrence, provided they would occur if the person were fully informed about facts knowledge of which would change them if it existed. But self-sacrifice seems to involve not only voluntary diminution of well-being in this sense, but belief that the action is taken for the benefit of someone else. Overvold’s view leaves open the possibility that acting morally is never contrary to self-interest, if one of the agent’s major interests is that he act morally. This is an ingenious suggestion, but seems a bit counterintuitive.

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