A few years ago, I took a summer course called Philosophy of the Mind. (What else would a 13-year-old do?) For three weeks my eyes were glazed from reading articles by B.F. Skinner and Descartes’s Discourse on Method, all set in microscopic font. It was a bit much for someone my age, but in the presence of these great minds, never had I felt so awash with knowledge.
I can remember sitting rapt as my bedraggled, In-N-Out-loving instructor explained the concept of egoism to the class. Basically, the philosophy of egoism entails that anything you do springs from a desire to serve the self, including being charitable.
“That’s not true,” I scoffed, because at 13 I was obviously a philosopher of my own accord and could make such a judgment. But as I brushed my teeth and settled into the creaky bed that night, I furrowed my brow, delving deep into my thoughts. I looked back on every gift I had ever given, every good deed I had ever done, and realized that on some subconscious level, I had performed all those acts in order to make myself feel better.
Think about it: When you give someone a present, that person inevitably feels a little awkward. He or she fumbles for words and doesn’t quite know how to thank you. In some cases, he or she rummages through the bag for the receipt. You, on the other hand, are warmed to the core; you experience a fluttering of the heart, because you believe that you have made someone happy. Now tell me, what feels better? The fuzzy feeling, or the notion that the receiver of the gift will be wearing a cute sweater in the days to come?
Now, whenever I buy a gift, I cannot help but question my motives and think that I am some terrible, selfish person. As much as I love philosophy, the ideas tend to make you overthink things and can obstruct your daily life. I will continue to study philosophy because it’s illuminating and helpful, especially for fiction writing, my favorite hobby, but I could never major in Philosophy or devote my life to it; I would go stir-crazy and doubt myself at every turn.