Phi Beta Cons

Enlightened Self-Interest vs. Service Learning

John Egger, professor of economics at Towson University, argues cogently against awarding academic credit for community service, a widespread practice today in colleges across the country. Egger is responding to Towson University president Robert Caret who has pompously touted “service learning” as a way to deliver students from self-absorption and get them involved in the community. Egger points out that a good liberal education would instill an appreciation of the needs of community better than spending college credits on “service.” Also, as Adam Smith said, one of the best ways to get people to co-operate with others is through an understanding of the beneficent mutuality of self-interest. Enlightened self-interest can also boost equality in a way that a helping-the-unfortunate approach cannot. Service learning, on the other hand, according to Egger, “weakens respect for society by implying that other people, less fortunate in some way, are owed one’s time and effort. Teaching that others are morally entitled to a part of one’s life — people one does not know, may not like and whose misfortune one had no role in creating — is the surest way to engender a sense of resentment and disdain, not benevolence, toward one’s fellow human beings.”

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