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If you are someone who likes to help others, is helping them actually a selfish

If you are someone who likes to help others, is helping them actually a selfish act that is only done to avoid feelings of guilt that would otherwise occur? Is it really any less selfish than a sadist who hurts others for personal enjoyment, despite the happiness that may be felt in those who are helped?

In the general muddle of psychological impulses that might come under the category of motivations for a given action, we can distinguish between our principle aim(a) in doing the action, and enabling conditions such as its being broadly in their interests to do such actions. The mere existence of such enabling conditions does not mean that they figure in one's principle aims; the mere fact that it is in my interests to look after my child does not mean that that is my principle aim when I treat her kindly - in particular, it does not mean that my interests are what I have in mind when I treat her kindly. So one might have a situation in which someone - a nice person who enjoys helping others - has nothing more than 'helping my friend' as her principle aim, even while something like 'I'll feel better for doing it' might figure as an enabling condition (it might make it easier to put in the necessary time and effort that the friend needs).

We judge people in important part by reference to their principle aims, and if someone's principle aims are sadistic then they are morally speaking entirely different from someone whose principle aims are to help others. Kant thought the mark of morally good action is doing it from duty, doing it just because it's the right thing to do. He thereby sets (I would say) a very strange standard of moral worth; one which has no place for altruistic feelings as moral motivations. By contrast, Hume before him was more Aristotelian and conceived most good moral actions to be, simply, those that we naturally admire. Here, in this (I would say) more natural philosophical conception of the moral, we find a proper home for the idea that if a person's principle aim is to help someone, then they and their action are to that extent morally good. The sadist's acts of sadism have no such admirable motivations.

Maybe yes, if you unreflectively act to promote your own enjoyment and to avoid unpleasantness for yourself. But this condition may not be fulfilled. One example is that of a person who has worked hard to become someone who takes deep pleasure in the (morally appropriate) happiness of others. Philosophers as different as Aristotle and Kant agree that we can and ought to promote such a disposition in ourselves -- Aristotle because he believed this to be a necessary element of true virtue, Kant because he believed this would avoid temptations that could lead the agent to fail in her duties. Another example is that of a person who finds that helping others is what she most enjoys doing, but who also reflects on this enjoyment and conscientiously approves of it in moral terms. Had she found that sadistic conduct is what she most enjoys, she would have restrained herself and tried to change her own desires insofar as possible. In both these case, the enjoyment conferred by the helping act is...

Is it ethical for a depressed person to limit social interaction with friends,

Is it ethical for a depressed person to limit social interaction with friends, based on the idea that the friends might find such interaction unpleasant? Part of the problem is that friends often don't openly admit to not enjoying the depressed presence, but, if the depressed person finds it difficult to live with him-/herself, would it not follow that other people also find his/her company difficult? Increased isolation would undoubtedly have adverse effects on the depressed person. Would it be possible for a philosopher to explain the ethical position of the depressed person as regards to social interaction, please?

When you are going through a depression your social identity is severely undermined. The mirroring effect that others have on your own perception of yourself- the way you "see yourself seen"- is so modified by your emotional states that one can argue that it would be probably safer to avoid too much contact with others. I'm not claimimg this on ethical bases: I agree with Thomas Pogge's idea that depressed people shouldn't avoid interactions on moral reasons, that is, to "spare" friends and acquaintances of their unpleasant presence. Still, I think that depression is a major distortion of the usual social feed-back we get from others in stabilizing our personal identities. Thus, one may argue that a mild isolation can be therapeutic. Jean Paul Sartre used to say that "Hell is other people". I think that depressed know very well the meaning of his claim and avoiding others in some circumstances can be a safe move.

When Mary is depressed, this rubs off on those who are close to her. It casts a shadow over their lives and deprives them of what Mary might otherwise add to their flourishing. Her depression also, and more substantially, blights her own life, makes it less rich, interesting, successful than it would otherwise be. Both points support the conclusion that it is ethically desirable that Mary get over her depression. For her own sake and for the sake of others, Mary ought to do what she can to get over her depression and others should support her effort. This conclusion goes against your hypothesis that Mary should spare her friends the effects of her depression. This on your very plausible assumption that isolating oneself from one's friends has adverse effects on one's depression. Mary needs friends in the state she's in. And, realizing this, her (true) friends wouldn't want her to withdraw. Putting this in terms of the Golden Rule, Mary might ask herself: If a good friend of mine were depressed...