“We should often blush at our noblest deeds if the world were to see all their underlying motives.”

— François de La Rochefoucauld (1665)

Came across this while reading The Elephant In The Brain by Kevin Simler and Robert Hanson. In it, they demonstrate how unaware we are of our own motives and propose that our conscious mind is intentionally kept in the dark about our selfish motives for fear of making them obvious to others.

“Our brains are built to act in our self-interest while at the same time trying hard not to appear selfish in front of other people. And in order to throw them off the trail, our brains often keep “us”, our conscious minds, in the dark. The less we know of our own ugly motives, the easier it is to hide them from others.”

The Elephant In The Brain, K. Simler and R. Hanson. Page 4.

Though I’m not sure whether or not François de La Rochefoucauld had the unconscious nature of our selfishness in mind, this quote serves well as a nice reminder that we are all acting in our own self-interest all the time, even when it appears otherwise.

On the surface it seems a very cynical outlook on human interaction, but I think it is both humbling and comforting to know that all of our actions are selfishly motivated if you dig deep enough.