GMAT : Analysis of An Issue

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An Issue

75. There are essentially two forces that motivate people : self-interest and fear.


Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the opinion expressed above. Support your point of view with reasons and / or examples from your own experience, observations or reading.


The speaker claims that people are motivated only by fear and self-interest. This claim relies on the belief that human beings are essentially selfish or egoistic. In my view, the speaker oversimplified human nature ignoring the important motivating force of altruism.

On the one hand, I agree that most of our actions result in large part from self- interest and from our survival instincts, such as fear. For example, our educational and vocational lives are to a great extent motivated by our interest in ensuring our own livelihood, safety, health and so on. We might perpetuate bad personal relationships because we are insecure or afraid of what will happen to us if we change course. Even providing for our own children may to some extent be motivated by selfishness - satisfying a need for fulfilment or easing our fear that we will be alone in our old age.

On the other hand, to assert that all of our actions are essentially motivated by self- interest and fear is to overemphasize one aspect of human nature. Humans are also altruistic - that is, we act to benefit others, even though doing so may not be in our own interest. The speaker might claim that altruistic acts are just egoistic ones in disguise - done to avoid unpleasant feelings of guilt, to give oneself pleasure or to obligate another person. However, this counter argument suffers from three critical problems. First, some examples of altruism are difficult to describe in terms of self-interest alone. Consider the soldier who falls on a grenade to save his companions. It would be nonsensical to assert that this soldier is acting selfishly when he knows his action will certainly result in his own immediate death. Second, the argument offends our intuition that human motivation is far more complex. Third, it relies on a poor assumption. Just because we feel good about helping others, it does not follow that the only reason we help is in order to feel good.

In sum, the speaker oversimplifies human nature. All human motivation cannot be reduced to fear and self-interest. We can also be motivated by altruism and the pleasure we might take in helping others is not necessarily an indication that our actions are selfish.

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