Self-interest is for one’s benefit

C. Bradly Thompson executive director of the Clemson Institute for study of capitalism spoke at convocation on Friday.

C. Bradly Thompson executive director of the Clemson Institute for study of capitalism spoke at convocation on Friday. Photo by Sami Wright.

The last speaker in the Spring 2014 Convocation Lecture Series spoke Friday on how capitalism and self-interest benefits humanity.

Bradley C. Thompson, executive director at the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism, started his Convocation with two seemingly contradictory questions: “Why be moral?” and “Why be selfish?”

“It is in your self-interest to be moral,” he said. “That moral code creates who we are and what we choose to do.”

He explained that morality and selfishness can go hand-in-hand.

“Most people assume that moral goodness is synonymous with sacrifice,” he said. “Our culture tells us (that) to create wealth is morally suspect, but to give it away is morally praiseworthy. In other words, the pursuit of your own happiness is morally tainted.”

To make this point more clear, he explained more of what morality is, why we have it and how it affects individuals.

“Morality is a code of values and virtues that helps one navigate the way through a long and complex life,” he said. “Morality is a question of fact; some things are objectively moral or immoral.”

Thompson compared being immoral to being physically ill.

“Morality should be treated like a science,” he said. “It is in our self-interest to be as concerned with our moral health as much as we are about our physical health.”

Thompson then pointed out how morality and self-interest are separated by a fine line.

“Self-interest, rightly understood, is about trading with men and women in win-win relationships,” he said. “You are not acting in self-interest if you are choosing to sit on the couch all day every day; wanting something is different than acting in self-interest.”

He said self-interest is not a bad thing, and for humans to survive, they need to have self-interest and be selfish.

“If you didn’t have self-interest, you would die,” he said. “It is a requirement for human life.”

He said there are certain aspects inside of humans that guide who they are and morality is a key part of that.

“Everyone lives his or her life according to some moral code,” he said. “Man isn’t fitted with an internal moral GPS system. We learn our own code; every single day of your lives, you make choices to be moral or immoral.”

Lying, cheating and stealing are immoral, he said.

“Not only is lying, cheating and stealing immoral, they are impractical,” he said. “Liars, cheaters and stealers seem to get away with things, but not in the long run. They are not happy.”

Neal Mason, a senior political science major from South Jordan, said Convocations are a perfect place to discuss controversial topics such as capitalism in the government and marketplace.

“It’s a point of view I don’t completely affiliate with, but I appreciate the consistency he had with his argument,” he said. “The university setting is a great setting to explore different ideas in depth, because in the real world, these views can be shot down as too radical to discuss.”


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