Picturing Human Life
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Focusing on recent discussions of psychological egoism and altruism can help us toward a general picture of what human lives are like. Much of human motivation is neither egoistic nor a altruistic, but nonetheless depends on instincts or basic desires that treat other people or things outside us as intrinsically important. The desire for esteem and love from others, the desire for proximity to others, the desire to attain competence and mastery, curiosity or inquisitiveness, and even malice and sadism toward others all illustrate this possibility and can be considered “neutral” as between egoism and altruism. Such neutral motivation pervades human life and basically involves bringing what lies outside us into our lives, a process I call “expansive encompassing.” This most general characterization of what human lives are like avoids the pessimism of Freud, Hobbes, and others, but also avoids the excessive optimism about human life and motivation that characterizes care ethics and the Mencian tradition of Chinese thought.