I recently purchased a gently used car from a fellow student who was in a bit of a jam. The balloon payment for the car had wiped out his savings and he faced an oncoming school year in need of a job and short on resources. He had a variable asking price and offered me the lowest price he was willing to take. I made a larger counter offer. You might accuse me of arrogantly proclaiming my virtue, but in all honesty, offering a larger price was still in my own self interest.
Economists discuss the value one places on something using the neutral term, ‘utility.’ Utility is the value someone places on an object, a principle or an action. Just about any interaction between people can be assigned a ‘utility’ value. How many ‘utils’ of value would you place on the time you are spending to read this? Obviously, it is of greater utility to you than (insert alternative activity), because you are still reading… Perhaps you just stopped, realizing that the utility value of reading about utils is less valuable than the next episode of Top Chef. I certainly won’t try to make a persuasive case against good cooking, but the idea of utility is important. Several research questions come to my mind: Does God act in His own self interest? Does God appeal to our self-interest to influence our relationship with Him? Are our sacrificial acts really in accord with a different self-interest?I’ll take shot at the last question and leave the others for another time. When I paid more than my friend’s asking price was I ignoring my own self interest? I could have made a lower offer… In actuality, I wanted to make sure that my friend did not feel that I had taken improper advantage of our relationship in a business transaction. The utility value of fair dealing with a good friend was of greater value to me than the money charged in the transaction. I paid a slightly higher price than I could have, but gained a necessary vehicle in good condition and ensured good relations with my friend. All in accordance with my own selfish desires. Can you think of an example where you cannot identify some aspect of self-interest in an interaction with another person? I’m starting to think that self interest is ubiquitous.