Ethical egoism – Wikipedia

Ethical position that moral agents should act in their own self-interest

Ethical egoism is the normative ethical position that moral agents ought to act in their own self-interest. It differs from psychological egoism, which claims that people can only act in their self-interest. Ethical egoism also differs from rational egoism, which holds that it is rational to act in one's self-interest.[1]Ethical egoism holds, therefore, that actions whose consequences will benefit the doer can be considered ethical in this sense.

Ethical egoism contrasts with ethical altruism, which holds that moral agents have an obligation to help others. Egoism and altruism both contrast with ethical utilitarianism, which holds that a moral agent should treat one's self (also known as the subject) with no higher regard than one has for others (as egoism does, by elevating self-interests and "the self" to a status not granted to others). But it also holds that one is not obligated to sacrifice one's own interests (as altruism does) to help others' interests, so long as one's own interests (i.e. one's own desires or well-being) are substantially equivalent to the others' interests and well-being, but he has the choice to do so. Egoism, utilitarianism, and altruism are all forms of consequentialism, but egoism and altruism contrast with utilitarianism, in that egoism and altruism are both agent-focused forms of consequentialism (i.e. subject-focused or subjective). However, utilitarianism is held to be agent-neutral (i.e. objective and impartial): it does not treat the subject's (i.e. the self's, i.e. the moral "agent's") own interests as being more or less important than the interests, desires, or well-being of others.

Ethical egoism does not, however, require moral agents to harm the interests and well-being of others when making moral deliberation; e.g. what is in an agent's self-interest may be incidentally detrimental, beneficial, or neutral in its effect on others. Individualism allows for others' interest and well-being to be disregarded or not, as long as what is chosen is efficacious in satisfying the self-interest of the agent. Nor does ethical egoism necessarily entail that, in pursuing self-interest, one ought always to do what one wants to do; e.g. in the long term, the fulfillment of short-term desires may prove detrimental to the self. Fleeting pleasure, then, takes a back seat to protracted eudaimonia. In the words of James Rachels, "Ethical egoism ... endorses selfishness, but it doesn't endorse foolishness."[2]

Ethical egoism is often used as the philosophical basis for support of right-libertarianism and individualist anarchism.[3] These are political positions based partly on a belief that individuals should not coercively prevent others from exercising freedom of action.

Ethical egoism can be broadly divided into three categories: individual, personal, and universal. An individual ethical egoist would hold that all people should do whatever benefits "my" (the individual's) self-interest; a personal ethical egoist would hold that they should act in their self-interest, but would make no claims about what anyone else ought to do; a universal ethical egoist would argue that everyone should act in ways that are in their self-interest.[4][5]

Ethical egoism was introduced by the philosopher Henry Sidgwick in his book The Methods of Ethics, written in 1874. Sidgwick compared egoism to the philosophy of utilitarianism, writing that whereas utilitarianism sought to maximize overall pleasure, egoism focused only on maximizing individual pleasure.[6]

Philosophers before Sidgwick have also retroactively been identified as ethical egoists. One ancient example is the philosophy of Yang Zhu (4th century BC), Yangism, who views wei wo, or "everything for myself", as the only virtue necessary for self-cultivation.[7] Ancient Greek philosophers like Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics were exponents of virtue ethics, and "did not accept the formal principle that whatever the good is, we should seek only our own good, or prefer it to the good of others."[6] However, the beliefs of the Cyrenaics have been referred to as a "form of egoistic hedonism",[8] and while some refer to Epicurus' hedonism as a form of virtue ethics, others argue his ethics are more properly described as ethical egoism.[9]

Philosopher James Rachels, in an essay that takes as its title the theory's name, outlines the three arguments most commonly touted in its favor:[10]

It has been argued that extreme ethical egoism is self-defeating. Faced with a situation of limited resources, egoists would consume as much of the resource as they could, making the overall situation worse for everybody. Egoists may respond that if the situation becomes worse for everybody, that would include the egoist, so it is not, in fact, in their rational self-interest to take things to such extremes.[16] However, the (unregulated) tragedy of the commons and the (one off) prisoner's dilemma are cases in which, on the one hand, it is rational for an individual to seek to take as much as possible even though that makes things worse for everybody, and on the other hand, those cases are not self-refuting since that behaviour remains rational even though it is ultimately self-defeating, i.e. self-defeating does not imply self-refuting. Egoists might respond that a tragedy of the commons, however, assumes some degree of public land. That is, a commons forbidding homesteading requires regulation. Thus, an argument against the tragedy of the commons, in this belief system, is fundamentally an argument for private property rights and the system that recognizes both property rights and rational self-interestcapitalism.[17] More generally, egoists might say that an increasing respect for individual rights uniquely allows for increasing wealth creation and increasing usable resources despite a fixed amount of raw materials (e.g. the West pre-1776 versus post-1776, East versus West Germany, Hong Kong versus mainland China, North versus South Korea, etc.).[18]

It is not clear how to apply a private ownership model to many examples of "Commons", however. Examples include large fisheries, the atmosphere and the ocean.[19][20]

Some perhaps decisive problems with ethical egoism have been pointed out.

One is that an ethical egoist would not want ethical egoism to be universalized: as it would be in the egoist's best self-interest if others acted altruistically towards him, he wouldn't want them to act egoistically; however, that is what he considers to be morally binding. His moral principles would demand of others not to follow them, which can be considered self-defeating and leads to the question: "How can ethical egoism be considered morally binding if its advocates do not want it to be universally applied?"[21]

Another objection (e.g. by James Rachels) states that the distinction ethical egoism makes between "yourself" and "the rest" demanding to view the interests of "yourself" as more important is arbitrary, as no justification for it can be offered; considering that the merits and desires of "the rest" are comparable to those of "yourself" while lacking a justifiable distinction, Rachels concludes that "the rest" should be given the same moral consideration as "yourself".[21][22]

The term ethical egoism has been applied retroactively to philosophers such as Bernard de Mandeville and to many other materialists of his generation, although none of them declared themselves to be egoists. Note that materialism does not necessarily imply egoism, as indicated by Karl Marx, and the many other materialists who espoused forms of collectivism. It has been argued that ethical egoism can lend itself to individualist anarchism such as that of Benjamin Tucker, or the combined anarcho-communism and egoism of Emma Goldman, both of whom were proponents of many egoist ideas put forward by Max Stirner. In this context, egoism is another way of describing the sense that the common good should be enjoyed by all. However, most notable anarchists in history have been less radical, retaining altruism and a sense of the importance of the individual that is appreciable but does not go as far as egoism. Recent trends to greater appreciation of egoism within anarchism tend to come from less classical directions such as post-left anarchy or Situationism (e.g. Raoul Vaneigem). Egoism has also been referenced by anarcho-capitalists, such as Murray Rothbard.

Philosopher Max Stirner, in his book The Ego and Its Own, was the first philosopher to call himself an egoist, though his writing makes clear that he desired not a new idea of morality (ethical egoism), but rather a rejection of morality (amoralism), as a nonexistent and limiting "spook"; for this, Stirner has been described as the first individualist anarchist. Other philosophers, such as Thomas Hobbes and David Gauthier, have argued that the conflicts which arise when people each pursue their own ends can be resolved for the best of each individual only if they all voluntarily forgo some of their aimsthat is, one's self-interest is often best pursued by allowing others to pursue their self-interest as well so that liberty is equal among individuals. Sacrificing one's short-term self-interest to maximize one's long-term self-interest is one form of "rational self-interest" which is the idea behind most philosophers' advocacy of ethical egoism. Egoists have also argued that one's actual interests are not immediately obvious, and that the pursuit of self-interest involves more than merely the acquisition of some good, but the maximizing of one's chances of survival and/or happiness.

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche suggested that egoistic or "life-affirming" behavior stimulates jealousy or "ressentiment" in others, and that this is the psychological motive for the altruism in Christianity. Sociologist Helmut Schoeck similarly considered envy the motive of collective efforts by society to reduce the disproportionate gains of successful individuals through moral or legal constraints, with altruism being primary among these.[23] In addition, Nietzsche (in Beyond Good and Evil) and Alasdair MacIntyre (in After Virtue) have pointed out that the ancient Greeks did not associate morality with altruism in the way that post-Christian Western civilization has done.Aristotle's view is that we have duties to ourselves as well as to other people (e.g. friends) and to the polis as a whole. The same is true for Thomas Aquinas, Christian Wolff and Immanuel Kant, who claim that there are duties to ourselves as Aristotle did, although it has been argued that, for Aristotle, the duty to one's self is primary.[24]

Ayn Rand argued that there is a positive harmony of interests among free, rational humans, such that no moral agent can rationally coerce another person consistently with his own long-term self-interest. Rand argued that other people are an enormous value to an individual's well-being (through education, trade and affection), but also that this value could be fully realized only under conditions of political and economic freedom. According to Rand, voluntary trade alone can assure that human interaction is mutually beneficial.[25] Rand's student, Leonard Peikoff has argued that the identification of one's interests itself is impossible absent the use of principles, and that self-interest cannot be consistently pursued absent a consistent adherence to certain ethical principles.[26] Recently, Rand's position has also been defended by such writers as Tara Smith, Tibor Machan, Allan Gotthelf, David Kelley, Douglas Rasmussen, Nathaniel Branden, Harry Binswanger, Andrew Bernstein, and Craig Biddle.

Philosopher David L. Norton identified himself an "ethical individualist", and, like Rand, saw a harmony between an individual's fidelity to his own self-actualization, or "personal destiny", and the achievement of society's well being.[27]

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Ethical egoism - Wikipedia

What Is Ethical Egoism? – ThoughtCo

Ethical egoism is the view that people ought to pursue their own self-interest, and no one has any obligation to promote anyone elses interests. It is thus a normative or prescriptive theory: it is concerned with how people ought to behave. In this respect, ethical egoism is quite different from psychological egoism, the theory that all our actions are ultimately self-interested. Psychological egoism is a purely descriptive theory that purports to describe a basic fact about human nature.

Everyone pursuing his own self-interest is the best way to promote the general good. This argument was made famous by Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733) in his poem "The Fable of the Bees" and by Adam Smith (1723-1790) in his pioneering work on economics, "The Wealth of Nations."

In a famous passage, Smith wrote that when individuals single-mindedly pursue the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires they unintentionally, as if led by an invisible hand, benefit society as a whole. This happy result comes about because people generally are the best judges of what is in their own interest, and they are much more motivated to work hard to benefit themselves than to achieve any other goal.

An obvious objection to this argument, though, is that it doesnt really support ethical egoism. It assumes that what really matters is the well-being of society as a whole, the general good. It then claims that the best way to achieve this end is for everyone to look out for themselves. But if it could be proved that this attitude did not, in fact, promote the general good, then those who advance this argument would presumably stop advocating egoism.

Another objection is that what the argument states is not always true. Consider the prisoners dilemma, for instance. This is a hypothetical situation described in game theory.You and a comrade, (call him X) are being held in prison. You are both asked to confess. The terms of the deal you are offered are as follows:

Regardless of what X does, the best thing for you to do is confess. Because if he doesnt confess, youll get a light sentence; and if he does confess, youll at least avoid getting extra prison time. But the same reasoning holds for X as well. According to ethical egoism, you should both pursue your rational self-interest. But then the outcome is not the best one possible. You both get five years, whereas if both of you had put your self-interest on hold, youd each only get two years.

The point of this is simple. It isnt always in your best interest to pursue your own self-interest without concern for others. Sacrificing your own interests for the good of others denies the fundamental value of your own life to yourself.

This seems to be the sort of argument put forward by Ayn Rand, the leading exponent of objectivism and the author of "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged."Her complaint is that the Judeo-Christian moral tradition, which includesor has fed intomodern liberalism and socialism, pushes an ethic of altruism.Altruism means putting the interests of others before your own.

This is something people are routinely praised for doing, encouraged to do, and in some circumstances even required to do, such as when you pay taxes to support the needy.According to Rand, no one has any right to expect or demand that I make any sacrifices for the sake of anyone other than myself.

A problem with this argument is that it seems to assume that there is generally a conflict between pursuing your own interests and helping others.In fact, though, most people would say that these two goals are not necessarily opposed at all.Much of the time they complement one another.

For instance, one student may help a housemate with her homework, which is altruistic.But that student also has an interest in enjoying good relations with her housemates. She may not help everyone in all circumstances, but she will help if the sacrifice involved is not too great.Most people behave like this, seeking a balance between egoism and altruism.

Ethical egoism is not a very popular moral philosophy. This is because it goes against certain basic assumptions that most people have regarding what ethics involves. Two objections seem especially powerful.

Ethical egoism has no solutions to offer when a problem arises involving conflicts of interest. Many ethical issues are of this sort. For example, a company wants to empty waste into a river; the people living downstream object. Ethical egoism advises that both parties actively pursue what they want. It doesnt suggest any sort of resolution or commonsense compromise.

Ethical egoism goes against the principle of impartiality. A basic assumption made by many moral philosophersand many other people, for that matteris that we should not discriminate against people on arbitrary grounds such as race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or ethnic origin. But ethical egoism holds that we should not even try to be impartial. Rather, we should distinguish between ourselves and everyone else, and give ourselves preferential treatment.

To many, this seems to contradict the very essence of morality. The golden ruleversions of which appear in Confucianism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islamsays we should treat others as we would like to be treated. One of the greatest moral philosophers of modern times, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), argued that the fundamental principle of morality (the categorical imperative, in his jargon) is that we should not make exceptions of ourselves. According to Kant, we shouldntperform an action if we cannot honestly wish that everyone would behave in a similar way in the same circumstances.

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What Is Ethical Egoism? - ThoughtCo

Egoism | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

In philosophy, egoism is the theory that ones self is, or should be, the motivation and the goal of ones own action. Egoism has two variants, descriptive or normative. The descriptive (or positive) variant conceives egoism as a factual description of human affairs. That is, people are motivated by their own interests and desires, and they cannot be described otherwise. The normative variant proposes that people should be so motivated, regardless of what presently motivates their behavior. Altruism is the opposite of egoism. The term egoism derives from ego, the Latin term for I in English. Egoism should be distinguished from egotism, which means a psychological overvaluation of ones own importance, or of ones own activities.

People act for many reasons; but for whom, or what, do or should they actfor themselves, for God, or for the good of the planet? Can an individual ever act only according to her own interests without regard for others interests. Conversely, can an individual ever truly act for others in complete disregard for her own interests? The answers will depend on an account of free will. Some philosophers argue that an individual has no choice in these matters, claiming that a persons acts are determined by prior events which make illusory any belief in choice. Nevertheless, if an element of choice is permitted against the great causal impetus from nature, or God, it follows that a person possesses some control over her next action, and, that, therefore, one may inquire as to whether the individual does, or, should choose a self-or-other-oriented action. Morally speaking, one can ask whether the individual should pursue her own interests, or, whether she should reject self-interest and pursue others interest instead: to what extent are other-regarding acts morally praiseworthy compared to self-regarding acts?

The descriptive egoists theory is called psychological egoism. Psychological egoism describes human nature as being wholly self-centered and self-motivated. Examples of this explanation of human nature predate the formation of the theory, and, are found in writings such as that of British Victorian historian, Macaulay, and, in that of British Reformation political philosopher, Thomas Hobbes. To the question, What proposition is there respecting human nature which is absolutely and universally true?, Macaulay, replies, We know of only one . . . that men always act from self-interest. (Quoted in Garvin.) In Leviathan, Hobbes maintains that, No man giveth but with intention of good to himself; because gift is voluntary; and of all voluntary acts the object to every man is his own pleasure. In its strong form, psychological egoism asserts that people always act in their own interests, and, cannot but act in their own interests, even though they may disguise their motivation with references to helping others or doing their duty.

Opponents claim that psychological egoism renders ethics useless. However, this accusation assumes that ethical behavior is necessarily other-regarding, which opponents would first have to establish. Opponents may also exploit counterfactual evidence to criticize psychological egoism surely, they claim, there is a host of evidence supporting altruistic or duty bound actions that cannot be said to engage the self-interest of the agent. However, what qualifies to be counted as apparent counterfactual evidence by opponents becomes an intricate and debatable issue. This is because, in response to their opponents, psychological egoists may attempt to shift the question away from outward appearances to ultimate motives of acting benevolently towards others; for example, they may claim that seemingly altruistic behavior (giving a stranger some money) necessarily does have a self-interested component. For example, if the individual were not to offer aid to a stranger, he or she may feel guilty or may look bad in front of a peer group.

On this point, psychological egoisms validity turns on examining and analyzing moral motivation. But since motivation is inherently private and inaccessible to others (an agent could be lying to herself or to others about the original motive), the theory shifts from a theoretical description of human natureone that can be put to observational testingto an assumption about the inner workings of human nature: psychological egoism moves beyond the possibility of empirical verification and the possibility of empirical negation (since motives are private), and therefore it becomes what is termed a closed theory.

A closed theory is a theory that rejects competing theories on its own terms and is non-verifiable and non-falsifiable. If psychological egoism is reduced to an assumption concerning human nature and its hidden motives, then it follows that it is just as valid to hold a competing theory of human motivation such as psychological altruism.

Psychological altruism holds that all human action is necessarily other-centered, and other-motivated. Ones becoming a hermit (an apparently selfish act) can be reinterpreted through psychological altruism as an act of pure noble selflessness: a hermit is not selfishly hiding herself away, rather, what she is doing is not inflicting her potentially ungraceful actions or displeasing looks upon others. A parallel analysis of psychological altruism thus results in opposing conclusions to psychological egoism. However, psychological altruism is arguably just as closed as psychological egoism: with it one assumes that an agents inherently private and consequently unverifiable motives are altruistic. If both theories can be validly maintained, and if the choice between them becomes the flip of a coin, then their soundness must be questioned.

A weak version of psychological egoism accepts the possibility of altruistic or benevolent behavior, but maintains that, whenever a choice is made by an agent to act, the action is by definition one that the agent wants to do at that point. The action is self-serving, and is therefore sufficiently explained by the theory of psychological egoism. Let one assume that person A wants to help the poor; therefore, A is acting egoistically by actually wanting to help; again, if A ran into a burning building to save a kitten, it must be the case that A wanted or desired to save the kitten. However, defining all motivations as what an agent desires to do remains problematic: logically, the theory becomes tautologous and therefore unable to provide a useful, descriptive meaning of motivation because one is essentially making an arguably philosophically uninteresting claim that an agent is motivated to do what she is motivated to do. Besides which, if helping others is what A desires to do, then to what extent can A be continued to be called an egoist? A acts because that is what A does, and consideration of the ethical ought becomes immediately redundant. Consequently, opponents argue that psychological egoism is philosophically inadequate because it sidesteps the great nuances of motive. For example, one can argue that the psychological egoists notion of motive sidesteps the clashes that her theory has with the notion of duty, and, related social virtues such as honor, respect, and reputation, which fill the tomes of history and literature.

David Hume, in his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (Appendix IIOf Self Love), offers six rebuttals of what he calls the selfish hypothesis, an arguably archaic relative of psychological egoism. First, Hume argues that self-interest opposes moral sentiments that may engage one in concern for others, and, may motivate ones actions for others. These moral sentiments include love, friendship, compassion, and gratitude. Second, psychological egoism attempts to reduce human motivation to a single cause, which is a fruitless taskthe love of simplicityhas been the source of much false reasoning in philosophy. Third, it is evident that animals act benevolently towards one another, and, if it is admitted that animals can act altruistically, then how can it be denied in humans? Fourth, the concepts we use to describe benevolent behavior cannot be meaningless; sometimes an agent obviously does not have a personal interest in the fortune of another, yet will wish her well. Any attempt to create an imaginary vested interest, as the psychological egoist will attempt, proves futile. Fifth, Hume asserts that we have prior motivations to self-interest; we may have, for example, a predisposition towards vanity, fame, or vengeance that transcends any benefit to the agent. Finally, Hume claims that even if the selfish hypothesis were true, there are a sufficient number of dispositions to generate a wide possibility of moral actions, allowing one person to be called vicious and another humane; and he claims that the latter is to be preferred over the former.

The second variant of egoism is normative in that it stipulates the agent ought to promote the self above other values. Herbert Spencer said, Ethics has to recognize the truth, recognized in unethical thought, that egoism comes before altruism. The acts required for continued self-preservation, including the enjoyments of benefits achieved by such arts, are the first requisites to universal welfare. Unless each duly cares for himself, his care for all others is ended in death, and if each thus dies there remain no others to be cared for. He was echoing a long history of the importance of self-regarding behavior that can be traced back to Aristotles theory of friendship in the Nichomachaean Ethics. In his theory, Aristotle argues that a man must befriend himself before he can befriend others. The general theory of normative egoism does not attempt to describe human nature directly, but asserts how people ought to behave. It comes in two general forms: rational egoism and ethical egoism.

Rational egoism claims that the promotion of ones own interests is always in accordance with reason. The greatest and most provocative proponent of rational egoism is Ayn Rand, whose The Virtue of Selfishness outlines the logic and appeal of the theory. Rand argues that: first, properly defined, selfishness rejects the sacrificial ethics of the Wests Judaic-Christian heritage on the grounds that it is right for man to live his own life; and, Rand argues that, second, selfishness is a proper virtue to pursue. That being said, she rejects the selfless selfishness of irrationally acting individuals: the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action and that man must act for his own rational self-interest. To be ethically selfish thus entails a commitment to reason rather than to emotionally driven whims and instincts.

In the strong version of rational egoism defended by Rand, not only is it rational to pursue ones own interests, it is irrational not to pursue them. In a weaker version, one may note that while it is rational to pursue ones own interests, there may be occasions when not pursuing them is not necessarily irrational.

Critics of rational egoism may claim that reason may dictate that ones interests should not govern ones actions. The possibility of conflicting reasons in a society need not be evoked in this matter; one need only claim that reason may invoke an impartiality clause, in other words, a clause that demands that in a certain situation ones interests should not be furthered. For example, consider a free-rider situation. In marking students papers, a teacher may argue that to offer inflated grades is to make her life easier, and, therefore, is in her self-interest: marking otherwise would incur negative feedback from students and having to spend time counseling on writing skills, and so on. It is even arguably foreseeable that inflating grades may never have negative consequences for anyone. The teacher could conceivably free-ride on the tougher marking of the rest of the department or university and not worry about the negative consequences of a diminished reputation to either. However, impartiality considerations demand an alternative courseit is not right to change grades to make life easier. Here self-interest conflicts with reason. Nonetheless, a Randian would reject the teachers free-riding being rational: since the teacher is employed to mark objectively and impartially in the first place, to do otherwise is to commit a fraud both against the employing institution and the student. (This is indeed an analogous situation explored in Rands The Fountainhead, in which the hero architect regrets having propped up a friends inabilities).

A simpler scenario may also be considered. Suppose that two men seek the hand of one woman, and they deduce that they should fight for her love. A critic may reason that the two men rationally claim that if one of them were vanquished, the other may enjoy the beloved. However, the solution ignores the womans right to choose between her suitors, and thus the mens reasoning is flawed.

In a different scenario, game theory (emanating from John von Neumanns and Oskar Morgensterns Theory of Games and Economic Behaviour, 1944) points to another possible logical error in rational egoism by offering an example in which the pursuit of self-interest results in both agents being made worse off.

This is famously described in the Prisoners Dilemma.

Prisoner A

From the table, two criminals, A and B, face different sentences depending on whether they confess their guilt or not. Each prisoner does not know what his partner will choose and communication between the two prisoners is not permitted. There are no lawyers and presumably no humane interaction between the prisoners and their captors.

Rationally (i.e., from the point of view of the numbers involved), we can assume that both will want to minimize their sentences. Herein lies the rub if both avoid confessing, they will serve 2 years each a total of 4 years between them. If they both happen to confess, they each serve 5 years each, or 10 years between them.

However they both face a tantalizing option: if A confesses while his partner doesnt confess, A can get away in 6 months leaving B to languish for 10 years (and the same is true for B): this would result in a collective total of 10.5 years served.

For the game, the optimal solution is assumed to be the lowest total years served, which would be both refusing to confess and each therefore serving 2 years each.The probable outcome of the dilemma though is that both will confess in the desire to get off in 6 months, but therefore they will end up serving 10 years in total.This is seen to be non-rational or sub-optimal for both prisoners as the total years served is not the best collective solution.

The Prisoners Dilemma offers a mathematical model as to why self-interested action could lead to a socially non-optimal equilibrium (in which the participants all end up in a worse scenario). To game theorists, many situations can be modeled in a similar way to the classic Prisoners Dilemma including issues of nuclear deterrence, environmental pollution, corporate advertising campaigns and even romantic dates.

Supporters identify a game as any interaction between agents that is governed by a set of rules specifying the possible moves for each participant and a set of outcomes for each possible combination of moves. They add: One is hard put to find an example of social phenomenon that cannot be so described. (Hargreaves-Heap and Varoufakis, p.1).

Nonetheless, it can be countered that the nature of the game artificially pre-empts other possibilities: the sentences are fixed not by the participants but by external force (the game masters), so the choices facing the agents are outside of their control. Although this may certainly be applied to the restricted choices facing the two prisoners or contestants in a game, it is not obvious that every-day life generates such limited and limiting choices. The prisoners dilemma is not to be repeated: so there are no further negotiations based on what the other side chose.

More importantly, games with such restricting options and results are entered into voluntarily and can be avoided (we can argue that the prisoners chose to engage in the game in that they chose to commit a crime and hence ran the possibility of being caught!). Outside of games, agents affect each other and the outcomes in many different ways and can hence vary the outcomes as they interact in real life, communication involves altering the perception of how the world works, the values attached to different decisions, and hence what ought to be done and what potential consequences may arise.

In summary, even within the confines of the Prisoners Dilemma the assumptions that differing options be offered to each such that their self-interest works against the other can be challenged logically, ethically and judicially. Firstly, the collective outcomes of the game can be changed by the game master to produce a socially and individually optimal solution the numbers can be altered. Secondly, presenting such a dilemma to the prisoners can be considered ethically and judicially questionable as the final sentence that each gets is dependent on what another party says, rather than on the guilt and deserved punished of the individual.

Interestingly, repeated games tested by psychologists and economists tend to present a range of solutions depending on the stakes and other rules, with Axelrods findings (The Evolution of Cooperation, 1984) indicating that egotistic action can work for mutual harmony under the principle of tit for tat i.e., an understanding that giving something each creates a better outcome for both.

At a deeper level, some egoists may reject the possibility of fixed or absolute values that individuals acting selfishly and caught up in their own pursuits cannot see. Nietzsche, for instance, would counter that values are created by the individual and thereby do not stand independently of his or her self to be explained by another authority; similarly, St. Augustine would say love, and do as you will; neither of which may be helpful to the prisoners above but which may be of greater guidance for individuals in normal life.

Rand exhorts the application of reason to ethical situations, but a critic may reply that what is rational is not always the same as what is reasonable. The critic may emphasize the historicity of choice, that is, she may emphasize that ones apparent choice is demarcated by, and dependent on, the particular language, culture of right and consequence and environmental circumstance in which an individual finds herself living: a Victorian English gentleman perceived a different moral sphere and consequently horizon of goals than an American frontiersman. This criticism may, however, turn on semantic or contextual nuances. The Randian may counter that what is rational is reasonable: for one can argue that rationality is governed as much by understanding the context (Sartres facticity is a highly useful term) as adhering to the laws of logic and of non-contradiction.

Ethical egoism is the normative theory that the promotion of ones own good is in accordance with morality. In the strong version, it is held that it is always moral to promote ones own good, and it is never moral not to promote it. In the weak version, it is said that although it is always moral to promote ones own good, it is not necessarily never moral to not. That is, there may be conditions in which the avoidance of personal interest may be a moral action.

In an imaginary construction of a world inhabited by a single being, it is possible that the pursuit of morality is the same as the pursuit of self-interest in that what is good for the agent is the same as what is in the agents interests. Arguably, there could never arise an occasion when the agent ought not to pursue self-interest in favor of another morality, unless he produces an alternative ethical system in which he ought to renounce his values in favor of an imaginary self, or, other entity such as the universe, or the agents God. Opponents of ethical egoism may claim, however, that although it is possible for this Robinson Crusoe type creature to lament previous choices as not conducive to self-interest (enjoying the pleasures of swimming all day, and not spending necessary time producing food), the mistake is not a moral mistake but a mistake of identifying self-interest. Presumably this lonely creature will begin to comprehend the distinctions between short, and long-term interests, and, that short-term pains can be countered by long-term gains.

In addition, opponents argue that even in a world inhabited by a single being, duties would still apply; (Kantian) duties are those actions that reason dictates ought to be pursued regardless of any gain, or loss to self or others. Further, the deontologist asserts the application of yet another moral sphere which ought to be pursued, namely, that of impartial duties. The problem with complicating the creatures world with impartial duties, however, is in defining an impartial task in a purely subjective world. Impartiality, the ethical egoist may retort, could only exist where there are competing selves: otherwise, the attempt to be impartial in judging ones actions is a redundant exercise. (However, the Cartesian rationalist could retort that need not be so, that a sentient being should act rationally, and reason will disclose what are the proper actions he should follow.)

If we move away from the imaginary construct of a single beings world, ethical egoism comes under fire from more pertinent arguments. In complying with ethical egoism, the individual aims at her own greatest good. Ignoring a definition of the good for the present, it may justly be argued that pursuing ones own greatest good can conflict with anothers pursuit, thus creating a situation of conflict. In a typical example, a young person may see his greatest good in murdering his rich uncle to inherit his millions. It is the rich uncles greatest good to continue enjoying his money, as he sees fit. According to detractors, conflict is an inherent problem of ethical egoism, and the model seemingly does not possess a conflict resolution system. With the additional premise of living in society, ethical egoism has much to respond to: obviously there are situations when two peoples greatest goods the subjectively perceived working of their own self-interest will conflict, and, a solution to such dilemmas is a necessary element of any theory attempting to provide an ethical system.

The ethical egoist contends that her theory, in fact, has resolutions to the conflict. The first resolution proceeds from a state of nature examination. If, in the wilderness, two people simultaneously come across the only source of drinkable water a potential dilemma arises if both make a simultaneous claim to it. With no recourse to arbitration they must either accept an equal share of the water, which would comply with rational egoism. (In other words, it is in the interest of both to share, for both may enjoy the water and each others company, and, if the water is inexhaustible, neither can gain from monopolizing the source.) But a critic may maintain that this solution is not necessarily in compliance with ethical egoism. Arguably, the critic continues, the two have no possible resolution, and must, therefore, fight for the water. This is often the line taken against egoism generally: that it results in insoluble conflict that implies, or necessitates a resort to force by one or both of the parties concerned. For the critic, the proffered resolution is, therefore, an acceptance of the ethical theory that might is right; that is, the critic maintains that the resolution accepts that the stronger will take possession and thereby gain proprietary rights.

However, ethical egoism does not have to logically result in a Darwinian struggle between the strong and the weak in which strength determines moral rectitude to resources or values. Indeed, the realist position may strike one as philosophically inadequate as that of psychological egoism, although popularly attractive. For example, instead of succumbing to insoluble conflict, the two people could cooperate (as rational egoism would require). Through cooperation, both agents would, thereby, mutually benefit from securing and sharing the resource. Against the critics pessimistic presumption that conflict is insoluble without recourse to victory, the ethical egoist can retort that reasoning people can recognize that their greatest interests are served more through cooperation than conflict. War is inherently costly, and, even the fighting beasts of the wild instinctively recognize its potential costs, and, have evolved conflict-avoiding strategies.

On the other hand, the ethical egoist can argue less benevolently, that in case one man reaches the desired resource first, he would then be able to take rightful control and possession of it the second person cannot possess any right to it, except insofar as he may trade with its present owner. Of course, charitable considerations may motivate the owner to secure a share for the second comer, and economic considerations may prompt both to trade in those products that each can better produce or acquire: the one may guard the water supply from animals while the other hunts. Such would be a classical liberal reading of this situation, which considers the advance of property rights to be the obvious solution to apparently intractable conflicts over resources.

A second conflict-resolution stems from critics fears that ethical egoists could logically pursue their interests at the cost of others. Specifically, a critic may contend that personal gain logically cannot be in ones best interest if it entails doing harm to another: doing harm to another would be to accept the principle that doing harm to another is ethical (that is, one would be equating doing harm with ones own best interests), whereas, reflection shows that principle to be illogical on universalistic criteria. However, an ethical egoist may respond that in the case of the rich uncle and greedy nephew, for example, it is not the case that the nephew would be acting ethically by killing his uncle, and that for a critic to contend otherwise is to criticize personal gain from the separate ethical standpoint that condemns murder. In addition, the ethical egoist may respond by saying that these particular fears are based on a confusion resulting from conflating ethics (that is, self-interest) with personal gain; The ethical egoist may contend that if the nephew were to attempt to do harm for personal gain, that he would find that his uncle or others would or may be permitted to do harm in return. The argument that I have a right to harm those who get in my way is foiled by the argument that others have a right to harm me should I get in the way. That is, in the end, the nephew variously could see how harming another for personal gain would not be in his self-interest at all.

The critics fear is based on a misreading of ethical egoism, and is an attempt to subtly reinsert the might is right premise. Consequently, the ethical egoist is unfairly chastised on the basis of a straw-man argument. Ultimately, however, one comes to the conclusion reached in the discussion of the first resolution; that is, one must either accept the principle that might is right (which in most cases would be evidentially contrary to ones best interest), or accept that cooperation with others is a more successful approach to improving ones interests. Though interaction can either be violent or peaceful, an ethical egoist rejects violence as undermining the pursuit of self-interest.

A third conflict-resolution entails the insertion of rights as a standard. This resolution incorporates the conclusions of the first two resolutions by stating that there is an ethical framework that can logically be extrapolated from ethical egoism. However, the logical extrapolation is philosophically difficult (and, hence, intriguing) because ethical egoism is the theory that the promotion of ones own self-interest is in accordance with morality whereas rights incorporate boundaries to behavior that reason or experience has shown to be contrary to the pursuit of self-interest. Although it is facile to argue that the greedy nephew does not have a right to claim his uncles money because it is not his but his uncles, and to claim that it is wrong to act aggressively against the person of another because that person has a legitimate right to live in peace (thus providing the substance of conflict-resolution for ethical egoism), the problem of expounding this theory for the ethical egoist lies in the intellectual arguments required to substantiate the claims for the existence of rights and then, once substantiated, connecting them to the pursuit of an individuals greatest good.

A final type of ethical egoism is conditional egoism. This is the theory that egoism is morally acceptable or right if it leads to morally acceptable ends. For example, self-interested behavior can be accepted and applauded if it leads to the betterment of society as a whole; the ultimate test rests not on acting self-interestedly but on whether society is improved as a result. A famous example of this kind of thinking is from Adam Smiths The Wealth of Nations, in which Smith outlines the public benefits resulting from self-interested behavior (borrowing a theory from the earlier writer Bernard Mandeville and his Fable of the Bees). Smith writes: It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages (Wealth of Nations, I.ii.2).

As Smith himself admits, if egoistic behavior lends itself to societys detriment, then it ought to be stopped. The theory of conditional egoism is thus dependent on a superior moral goal such as an action being in the common interest, that is, the public good. The grave problem facing conditional egoists is according to what standard ought the limits on egoism be placed? In other words, who or what is to define the nature of the public good? If it is a person who is set up as the great arbitrator of the public, then it is uncertain if there can be a guarantee that he or she is embodying or arguing for an impartial standard of the good and not for his or her own particular interest. If it is an impartial standard that sets the limit, one that can be indicated by any reasonable person, then it behooves the philosopher to explain the nature of that standard.

In most public good theories, the assumption is made that there exists a collective entity over and above the individuals that comprise it: race, nation, religion, and state being common examples. Collectivists then attempt to explain what in particular should be held as the interest of the group. Inevitably, however, conflict arises, and resolutions have to be produced. Some seek refuge in claiming the need for perpetual dialogue (rather than exchange), but others return to the need for force to settle apparently insoluble conflicts; nonetheless, the various shades of egoism pose a valid and appealing criticism of collectivism: that individuals act; groups dont. Karl Poppers works on methodological individualism are a useful source in criticizing collectivist thinking (for example, Poppers The Poverty of Historicism).

Psychological egoism is fraught with the logical problem of collapsing into a closed theory, and hence being a mere assumption that could validly be accepted as describing human motivation and morality, or be rejected in favor of a psychological altruism (or even a psychological ecologism in which all actions necessarily benefit the agents environment).

Normative egoism, however, engages in a philosophically more intriguing dialogue with protractors. Normative egoists argue from various positions that an individual ought to pursue his or her own interest. These may be summarized as follows: the individual is best placed to know what defines that interest, or it is thoroughly the individuals right to pursue that interest. The latter is divided into two sub-arguments: either because it is the reasonable/rational course of action, or because it is the best guarantee of maximizing social welfare.

Egoists also stress that the implication of critics condemnation of self-serving or self-motivating action is the call to renounce freedom in favor of control by others, who then are empowered to choose on their behalf. This entails an acceptance of Aristotles political maxim that some are born to rule and others are born to be ruled, also read as individuals are generally too stupid to act either in their own best interests or in the interests of those who would wish to command them. Rejecting both descriptions (the first as being arrogant and empirically questionable and the second as unmasking the truly immoral ambition lurking behind attacks on selfishness), egoists ironically can be read as moral and political egalitarians glorifying the dignity of each and every person to pursue life as they see fit. Mistakes in securing the proper means and appropriate ends will be made by individuals, but if they are morally responsible for their actions they not only will bear the consequences but also the opportunity for adapting and learning. When that responsibility is removed and individuals are exhorted to live for an alternative cause, their incentive and joy in improving their own welfare is concomitantly diminished, which will, for many egoists, ultimately foster an uncritical, unthinking mass of obedient bodies vulnerable to political manipulation: when the ego is trammeled, so too is freedom ensnared, and without freedom ethics is removed from individual to collective or government responsibility.

Egoists also reject the insight into personal motivation that others whether they are psychological or sociological experts declare they possess, and which they may accordingly fine-tune or encourage to better ends. Why an individual acts remains an intrinsically personal and private act that is the stuff of memoirs and literature, but how they should act releases our investigations into ethics of what shall define the good for the self-regarding agent.

Alexander MoseleyEmail: alexandermoseley@icloud.comUnited Kingdom

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Egoism | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

15 Important Pros and Cons of Ethical Egoism ConnectUS

Ethical egoism is the acceptance of society for people to pursue their own self-interests. No one has an obligation to promote what anyone else tries to do because their personal views are the only thing that matters. That makes this theory prescriptive and normative in its application because it becomes concerned about how people behave.

It is essential to remember that the ethical version of egoism is different than the psychological form of it. The latter theory suggests that every action we take is ultimately with our self-interest in mind. That makes it more of a descriptive approach because that is a basic fact of human nature.

The argument for ethical egoism because famous in the poem The Fable of the Bees by Bernard Mandeville and The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. Both works describe an environment where people who single-mindedly pursue personal gratification benefit society as a whole. The reason for this outcome is that individuals are more motivated to work hard when personal benefits come from the outcome.

1. Ethical egoism encourages self-awareness.If you can know yourself and what you need, then it is easier to stay productive in modern society. The benefits of having this trait in ones life include a higher level of emotional intelligence, greater listening and empathy skills, along with improved critical thinking. This combination of factors allows for better decisions to be made, which leads to stronger communication and better relationships.

Self-awareness enhances leadership capabilities so that your capacity for accomplishments becomes higher. You can have internal and external versions of this benefit, which involves how we see ourselves and how others see us.

2. There are more opportunities for personal improvement.If you focus on a path involving ethical egoism, then your self-interests become the top priority. Instead of striving to push others forward, youre working toward making yourself better in some way. There are six approaches that you can try with this advantage that can take your work to the next level, ranging from simple breathing exercises to delegating the work you hate to do to other people.

Everyone experiences this positive attribute of ethical egoism from a young age. You might be tempted to steal a candy bar from the store, but the external factor of getting into trouble with your parents or the police makes you decide to pursue greater needs instead. It is an approach that makes you think about your overall wellbeing first.

3. Everyone would have an opportunity to provide for themselves.Ethical egoism is an approach that says what you think or feel are the best motivators to keep you productive. Youre effectively the salesperson of your own life, earning what you believe is your full potential every day. It eliminates the idea of a safety net because the only person you can depend upon is yourself, but then society restructures itself so that every individual has opportunities to pursue their definition of success.

That doesnt mean we would eliminate poverty and hunger immediately by taking an approach that includes ethical egoism. Some people would choose to live a vagabond lifestyle where they would have few responsibilities placed on them. It does give each person a chance to take control of their lives so that they can do what they feel is right for themselves.

4. Ethical egoism allows people to implement self-care routines.When you start putting yourself first, then the first word in your vocabulary becomes no. That makes it a lot easier for you to begin working toward the goals you have in life because others are not directing your footsteps. When you eliminate the control of others, then it becomes easier to prioritize your to-do list each take. Knowing what tasks are the most essential to complete helps you to achieve a goal faster.

Ethical egoism promotes consistency in the facets of this advantage by encouraging people to build new habits. When you make a decision, then you stick to it. Youre conditioning others to accept you for who you are without judging them for being who they are.

5. No one can manipulate you when practicing ethical egoism.You become entirely immune to the idea of having someone take advantage of you when society practices ethical egoism. The people who use others to advance their personal agendas will no longer have the option to make others do favors for them that push their journey forward. Everyone will be taking that approach, so you stay in control of your circumstances at all times.

This advantage also means that others will no longer have the option to guilt you into taking actions that you dont want to do. Youre spending more time on the things in life that you enjoy doing.

6. It eliminates the autopilot approach that people take in life.Many people go through life without a cognitive awareness of their choices or themselves. This approach to life puts you on autopilot because youre allowing the routine to take control instead of your desires. If you have ever zoned out during your commute to or from work, then youve experienced this effect. Those routines can encompass years of your life without a specific direction beyond paying your bills or making enough money.

Ethical egoism pushes you toward a higher level of success. The people who find themselves stuck on autopilot tend to feel miserable and disengaged. Self-awareness is the cure that can clear your mind of the fog, making you feel like youve woken up from a long nightmare. Since society trains us on what our routines should be, a shift to ethical egoism could cause everyone to stop living in their routines.

7. Productivity would rise in society when ethical egoism is in control.When Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations in the 18th century, he suggested that when individuals pursue gratification of their insatiable desires single-mindedly, then they unintentionally benefit society as a whole. It is as if they are led by an invisible hand, as he put it in his work. The idea is that people are usually the best judges of what is in their own best interest. Individuals have more motivation to work hard to benefit themselves than to achieve any other goal.

That means productivity levels rise because everyone has a focus on what their daily needs will be. When everyone is looking out for themselves, then the general good becomes achievable because most people are not going to let themselves be run over by others.

1. It is an approach that would create a self-centered society.One of the principal tenets of ethical egoism is that no one else looks after your personal needs except you. That means everyone, including people in families, is pursuing a reflection of their self-interest. Marriages wouldnt be warm or compassionate places they would become a means to an end. Relationships with children would become the same way.

The idea that communication would improve to create stronger relationships is plausible, but ethical egoism always focuses on self-interest. If those bonds that people form no longer help to push someone forward, then society would say in this structure that you can abandon those people without a second thought.

2. There would be a loss of empathy in society with ethical egoism.Implementing a society focused on ethical egoism would cause us to lose sight of our current culture of empathy. The benefits of understanding how others think or feel are numerous, and its absence is one of the hallmarks of psychopathy. We need this trait to establish friendships, have satisfaction in our intimate relationships, and see reductions of aggression in society. Increases in empathy reduce incidents of domestic violence.

If people pursue their self-interests more than they support each other, then society would become violent. Our loss of empathy would lead to more errors, worse health outcomes, and people would feel less satisfied because each effort would become more difficult to complete.

3. It would lead to a breakdown in workplace relationships.Ethical egoism suggests that employee relationships would become problematic in a society with this structure because the business would only serve its purpose as a means to an end. The relationships formed throughout a career are focusing on what others can do for you instead of being a mutually beneficial place where a rising tide lifts all boats. Everyone would forgo what others could accomplish because their benefits are always the top priority in this structure.

4. Ethical egoism eliminates the concept of objectivity from society.If each person in society were to follow the theory of ethical egoism, then there would no longer be objectivity. No one would care about what anyone else thought with regards to their actions or pursuits. The only drive toward thoughts, feelings, and decisions would be self-interest.

That doesnt mean altruism would disappear entirely. People would still help others if there was a beneficial reason to do so, such as helping a charity because it promotes a higher level of fame. The issue here is that caring for others would often become the action of last resort instead of being a top priority.

5. It would only work if everyone was practicing this theory.Ethical egoism is a theory that only works when everyone practices it. Since people will not associate with someone for long if your words or actions are a reflection of only caring for yourself, the need to be loved by others would eventually cause this approach to malfunction. If the first priority of everyone is to profit from someone else without regard to their status in life, then those effects will eventually fail. There is nothing wrong with the approach of wanting to live life on your own terms, but the idea is to treat others in the same way that you want to be treated.

6. There are no solutions offered when conflicts of interest arise.Ethical egoism doesnt provide a solution when issues arise that involve a conflict of interest. Since most ethical issues involve this sort of problem, the approach at a societal level could cause productivity to grind to a halt. Imagine that a sewage treatment facility wants to dump raw waste into the local river. The people who live downstream from the facility would naturally object to that behavior. This approach would cause both parties to actively pursue what they want.

Ethical egoism doesnt suggest any sort of compromise to the situation. It does not encourage you to arrive at a place of common-sense resolution. You are going to win or lose because there is nothing in between those options

7. Ethical egoism goes against the principle of impartiality.The basic assumption made by most moral philosophers is that we shouldnt discriminate against people for arbitrary reasons. That means a persons gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, or race shouldnt become part of the discussion because our diversity is what makes us stronger. Ethical egoism suggests that we shouldnt even try to be tolerant because it is more important to distinguish between ourselves and everyone else. Then we focus on offering preferential treatment internally or to our external factors.

Immanuel Kant argued over 200 years ago that the fundamental principle of morality is that we shouldnt make exceptions of ourselves. Thats what ethical egoism wants us to do. We shouldnt perform actions if we can honestly wish that everyone would behave in the same way under similar circumstances.

8. It isnt always in a persons best interest to pursue their own self-interest.Game theory uses the prisoners dilemma as an example of why ethical egoism is problematic. If you are in a hypothetical situation where a crime was committed and the police ask you to confess, the terms of the deal say that you get 6 months and your friend gets 10 years in prison. If your friend confesses and you do not, then the opposite result occurs. When both people confess, then you get five years, but if no one confesses, then you both get two years.

Regardless of what your friend does, the best thing to do is to confess because youll get a lighter sentence. Ethical egoism says both should pursue rational self-interest, but then the outcome is not the best possible one. It is an idea that shows how sacrificing your own interests for the good of others somethings denies the fundamental value of your own life.


The pros and cons of ethical egoism lead us to a place where morality becomes an individualized definition instead of a societal constraint. If killing someone was the action to take to improve ones status in society, then a refusal to commit violence would become the definition of an immoral act.

Thats why this approach, although theoretically a way to increase production and satisfaction, would ultimately create a place where no one would feel safe. It would be a chaotic environment where everyone focused on what their needs were first at the expense of everyone else.

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15 Important Pros and Cons of Ethical Egoism ConnectUS

Ethical Egoism Theory Explained – HRF

Ethical egoism theory provides a normative position that encourages people from a moral standpoint to do what is in their own best self-interest. This process differs from only acting upon items of self-interest or creating a rational explanation behind the need to pursue ones own self-interest.

In ethical egoism, actions which have consequences that will benefit the individual can be considered ethical, even if others hold a different definition of ethics.

The concepts of ethical egoism were first introduced by Henry Sidgwick in a book published in 1874 entitled The Methods of Ethics. Sidgwick introduced the idea of ethical egoism to counter the idea of utilitarianism, or the desire to maximize personal pleasure at all times. Egoism, Sidgwick argues, focuses on maximizing the pleasure of the individual.

Ethical egoism can be divided into three general categories.

Although it might seem to imply otherwise, ethical egoism theory does not require individuals to harm the interests of others when making a moral decision. That harm may occur as a consequence of pursuing ones own interest, but it does not promote foolishness. It does not promote always doing what one wants to do either.

That is because short-term decisions that might seem good at the time may be detrimental to a persons long-term outlook. Eating potato chips, drinking 5 sodas each day, and having cake for dinner every night might provide short-term pleasure, but ethical egoism would say such actions are not in the persons self-interest because of the threat those short-term decisions would have on long-term health.

The primary justification for ethical egoism is that each person has a natural desire to fulfill their own wants and needs. Each person is also placed into a position where they can pursue those wants and needs with whatever energy they desire. Some may choose wants over needs and suffer, while others may not be able to meet even basic needs, but that does not change the ethics in pursuing what is desired.

A popular expression in society comes from Christianity, specifically from the book of Genesis. God asks Cain where his brother happens to be. Cains response is defiant. I dont know. Am I my brothers keeper? In ethical egoism, the idea is that each person knows what is best for their short-term and long-term wants and needs. Others must make assumptions about what they are, which makes the acquiring process inefficient.

It may be a reasonable belief to assume that individuals can support one another, but it would also be a reasonable belief to assume that we would cause more harm than good when trying to meet those wants and needs for someone else.

Ethical Egoism also eliminates the concept of altruism. This is usually exampled by hunger. If you eat a sandwich in front of someone who is hungry, it would be considered an immoral indulgence because you are meeting your needs, but ignoring the needs of someone else. Yet it would be a moral indulgence to solve hunger in someone else, but creating hunger in oneself. Ethical egoism solves that problem by directing each individual to solve their own hunger problem instead of relying on someone else to do it for them.

It could be argued that every moral duty that has been accepted by various human societies over the centuries has been based on principles of ethical egoism. Whether that means love one another or always tell the truth, the goal is to improve ones own wants and needs in some way.

Ethical egoism is only as beneficial as the moral code of the person implementing this theory. A murderer could say that it is morally right to kill others because it provides them with satisfaction, especially if there is no fear of imprisonment, being caught, or having a death warrant issued after a conviction. Thieves could steal in good conscience. Husbands or wives could cheat on their spouses because concerns are for the self only.

Ethical egoism theory has its proponents and its critics. By understanding its concepts, it becomes possible to see how each person implements them in their daily lives.

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Ethical Egoism Theory Explained - HRF

Egoism | philosophy | Britannica

Egoism, (from Latin ego, I), in philosophy, an ethical theory holding that the good is based on the pursuit of self-interest. The word is sometimes misused for egotism, the overstressing of ones own worth.

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ethics: Ethical egoism

Ethical egoism departs from this consensus, because it asserts that moral decision making should be guided entirely by self-interest. One

Egoist doctrines are less concerned with the philosophic problem of what is the self than with the common notions of a person and his concerns. They see perfection sought through the furthering of a mans own welfare and profitallowing, however, that sometimes he may not know where these lie and must be brought to recognize them.

Many ethical theories have an egoist bias. The hedonism of the ancient Greeks bids each man to seek his own greatest happiness; in the 17th century, Thomas Hobbes, a Materialist, and Benedict de Spinoza, a Rationalist, held in different ways that self-preservation is the good; and those who stress the tending of ones own conscience and moral growth are likewise egoists in this sense. In contrast with such views is an ethics that is governed more by mans social aspects, which stresses the importance of the community rather than that of the individual. Under this head come such theories as Stoic cosmopolitanism, tribal solidarity, and utilitarianism, which are all forms of what the positivist Auguste Comte called altruism. The distinction, however, cannot always be neatly drawn.

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Egoism | philosophy | Britannica

Dostoyevsky Misprisioned: The House of the Dead and American Prison Literature – lareviewofbooks

DECEMBER 23, 2019

If prison reformers like myself know anything about Dostoevsky, it is his supposed authorship of a sentence consisting of fourteen words.

James E. Robertson, editor-in-chief emeritus, Criminal Law Bulletin, from an email to the author

Prison is hell for the majority, but salvation for the few.

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975; trans. by Ivan Narodny, 1995)


OUR AGE OF all-pervasive fake news is also an age of compulsive fact-checking, made possible by the expanding resources of the internet. And this new wealth of information allows us not only to determine which fact or quotation is wrong or misleading, but also perhaps more interestingly to reconstruct the cultural and historical origins of concealed falsehoods and myths, to consider misleading information as a cultural phenomenon that speaks volumes about its time and about the biases and aspirations of those involved, wittingly and unwittingly, in the mystification.

I have recently become intrigued by a quotation that has been attributed to Dostoyevsky for decades. Until the late 1990s, it was known only in English, and consisted of 14 words: The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons. It has been quoted, very often as an epigraph or a closing remark, by numerous American and British activists, lawyers, senators, judges (including Justice Anthony Kennedy), writers, journalists (from The New York Times to the Los Angeles Times to the Guardian), and scholars (but, tellingly, not by Dostoyevsky experts). Writing in The Globe and Mail in 2017, Patrick White wryly observed that one can hear this Dostoyevsky quote at correctional conferences with nauseating regularity: Its ubiquitous because its good. Indeed, its even good enough for Hollywood, appearing on the silver screen as the opening quote in the trailer for Con Air (1997).

The Library of Congress dictionary of quotations Respectfully Quoted comments on its origins: Attributed to Fyodor Dostoevsky. Unverified. Other American dictionaries of quotations and Wikiquote indicate that its source is Dostoyevskys semi-autobiographical prison novel The House of the Dead (1862). Some American publications even refer to page 76 of the 1957 Grove edition of Constance Garnetts translation.

Yet this is all untrue, because (a) there is no such quote in Dostoyevskys original text (or in any other work written by him) and (b) there is no such quote in Garnetts translation (page 76 of the 1957 edition describes the kindly soul called Nastasya Ivanovna: Some people maintain (I have heard it and read it) that the purest love for ones neighbour is at the same time the greatest egoism. What egoism there could be in this case, I cant understand.

Moreover, Dostoyevsky could not possibly have uttered these words since they had nothing to do with his actual (and, to be sure, paradoxical) views of prison as expressed in the novel. Dostoyevsky, who had spent four years in chains, from 1849 to 1854, at a prison camp (katorga) in Siberia, was immensely interested in Western penal theories and literature on punishment and the prison experience; as a matter of fact, in 1861, the journal co-edited by Dostoyevsky and his brother published a Russian translation of Giacomo Casanovas prison memoirs, Histoire de ma fuite des prisons de la Rpublique de Venise quon appelle les Plombs. He should have been familiar, as Anna Schur suggests in Wages of Evil: Dostoevsky and Punishment (2012), with the Western idea that punishment is a product of a nations degree of civilization a view that had been known to educated Russians since Catherine the Greats enlightened Instruction (1767) and was frequently aired on the pages of Russian periodicals in the age of the great legal reforms of Alexander II.

However, the writers religious views of punishment and prisons strikingly differ from the secular ideas of Cesare Beccaria, the founding father of Western penology, Catherine, or 19th-century Russian philanthropists and legal scholars. Although TheHouse of the Dead does portray the corruption, fundamental injustice, and total ineffectiveness of the Russian penitentiary system, it does not question, Schur notes, the need for the existence of punishment and never calls for prison reform per se. The novels protagonist, the disgraced nobleman and wife-murderer Goryanchikov, perceives the horrifying institution as a test of his own spirit, rather than as a test of civilization (a foreign word that had negative connotations for Dostoyevsky). Dostoyevskys focus is on the painful resurrection of the fallen man, both as an individual soul and as the embodiment of Russias folk spirit, not on the improvement of physical conditions.

Unsurprisingly, Dostoyevsky portrays prison as a dead thing. It is what it is: hell more precisely, the hell of suffering to spiritual salvation, as Robert Louis Jackson puts it in The Art of Dostoevsky: Deliriums and Nocturnes (1981). The prison in and of itself does not attract hatred; instead, it forces Goryanchikov to judge his past, reevaluate his secular beliefs, and eventually bless the fate that enabled his Christian revival. And who was to blame, whose fault was it? asks the protagonist about the tragic lot of the multitude of gifted, strong people buried within the walls of the prison. Thats just it, who was to blame? Aptly, an unknown reader of my copy of the 1957 Grove edition left two angry question marks in the margins next to this rhetorical question.

Its clear, then, that the quote that graced the screen in Con Air is a con, fundamentally alien to Dostoyevskys beliefs. It is a curious product of cultural misreading, or, in Harold Blooms terminology, creative misprision and myth-making. In what follows, I will try to reconstruct the history of this misprision. I must warn the reader in advance that this essay, to paraphrase famous words traditionally (and wrongly) attributed to Emperor Joseph II, has an awful lot of quotes. But rest assured: they are all real and documented.


As I discovered, the English quotation has been in circulation since the late 1960s and evolved, in the late 20th century, into a longer, less commonly used, version: A society should be judged not by the way it treats its outstanding citizens, but by the way it treats its criminals. The initial version shows up not only in newspaper articles, public speeches, and court hearings, but also on activists shirts and posters and the drawings of inmates. What, then, was its source?

In 1964, the Canadian playwright and ex-inmate John Herbert wrote a sensational prison play that bore the Shakespearean title Fortune and Mens Eyes and focused on a first-time convicts entry into an isolated, desperate, all-male society in which homosexual acts are the institutionalized basis of the political and social structure. In interviews, Herbert constantly cited Dostoyevskys words about prisons and civilization as a kind of epigraph to his play, without any reference to their actual source.[1] First presented in New York City by the Broadway impresario David Rothenberg in 1967, Herberts play has subsequently been produced more than 400 times in over 100 countries, including a 1969 show directed by James Baldwin in Istanbul. In 1971, a film based on the play was released.

The play even lent its name to the influential prisoners rights group Fortune Society, led by Rothenberg (the group is still active in New York). As Rothenberg stated in October 1968, Dostoyevskys words became the slogan of the Society, whose goal was to create a greater public awareness of the prison system in America today and to reveal complexities and problems faced by inmates during their incarceration. Since its founding in 1969, the Society has been broadcasting its weekly radio program Both Sides of the Bars and publishing the monthly newsletter The Fortune News with the words attributed to Dostoyevskys The House of the Dead as its motto, which always appears on the front page in the upper right corner:

In the spring of 1969, The Village Voice reported that Rothenberg has used his publicity talents on behalf of ex-convicts, sharing his office with them and accompanying them on speaking engagements. Elaborating on Dostoyevskys quote, the newspaper concluded that the crusade for decent and effective prisons is an uphill battle but one well worth engaging in if we are ever to approximate our boast of being civilized.

Dostoyevskys supposed dictum, very much in keeping with the 1960s and 70s Western progressive agenda epitomized by Foucaults Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison, was adopted by American activists as the motto for the prison reform movement.


My hypothesis is that we are dealing with a mystification, perhaps unintended, that originated in Herberts circle. Herbert may have thought (wrongly) that this statement summarized the Russian writers views of the subject, as expressed in his prison novel. It is possible that the Canadian playwright simply invoked, and attributed by association, a common idea that had circulated in various versions and in different languages for more than a century. One can find similar declarations, without references to the Russian writer, in sources ranging from Barthlemy Maurices 1840 Histoire politique et anecdotique des prisons de la Seine (Voulez-vous apprcier le degr de moralit auquel un peuple est parvenu, mesurer, pour ainsi dire, sa civilisation? voyez comment ce peuple traite ses prisonniers), to Kenneth Rucks introduction to the 1929 Everyman edition of John Howards 1777 The State of the Prisons in England and Wales (the condition of its prisons and its prisoners is no bad indication of the development of any society and its degree of civilization), to Judge Walter V. Schaefers 1957 Oliver Wendell Holmes Lecture (The quality of a nations civilization can be largely measured by the methods it uses in the enforcement of its criminal law), to a 1958 essay by the prominent French lawyer and historian Maurice Garon (On peut dire que, dans une certaine mesure, on apprcie la moralit et le degr de civilisation dun peuple la manire dont il traite ses prisonniers).

Historically, the sentiment under investigation originates in Montesquieus teaching of the degrees of civilization in The Spirit of the Laws (1748), which inspired Beccaria to write, in On Crimes and Punishments (1764), If there were an exact and universal scale of crimes and punishments, we should have an approximate and common measure of the gradations of tyranny and liberty, and of the basic humanity and evil of the different nations. Beccarias words had a deep influence on 19th-century penal reform movements, including Russian ones, and by the mid-20th century had become a kind of fatherless absolute statement widely used in legal documents and manuals. For example, it opens the 1963 Minimum Jail Standards: Recommended Standards for Administration, Construction, Programs of the Californian prison system: The treatment of crime and criminals may some day be used by historians as one measure of the degree of civilization achieved by nations.

By the time Herbert and the Fortune Society canonized and disseminated the quotation on prisons and civilization as belonging to Dostoyevsky, there was already an established tradition of using the Russian writers real words on the ineffectiveness of solitary confinement in American literature about prisons; for instance, Howard B. Gills article Correctional Philosophy and Architecture (1963), from The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science, bears a famous Dostoyevskian epigraph: It is acknowledged that neither convict prisons, nor the hulks, nor any system of hard labour ever cured a criminal. Tellingly, in 1960s publications, these words were often seconded by Winston Churchills dictum, dated 1910: The mood and temper of the public with regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilization of any country. [2] One can speculate that in this context our quotation was the random result of ascribing Dostoyevskys name and aura to a popular old statement, associated with Churchills actual words.


But why Dostoyevsky? To be sure, plenty other candidates for the dictums authorship were named in various Western sources: Benjamin Disraeli, Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Churchill, and Nelson Mandela. [3] In the Italian tradition, it has regularly been attributed to Voltaire (Non fatemi vedere i vostri palazzi ma le vostre carceri, poich da esse che si misura il grado di civilt di una Nazione), and in the French tradition, to Albert Camus (Nous ne pouvons juger du degr de civilisation dune nation quen visitant ses prisons). However, in the end, all these candidates have been passed over in favor of the Russian writer.

In The Making of a Counter-culture Icon: Henry Millers Dostoevsky (2007), Maria Bloshteyn asserts that TheHouse of the Dead was the first of his works to capture the imagination of American readers. With this novel, Dostoyevsky entered the American consciousness as an autobiographical writer to be revered for the authenticity of his observations. Marketed by early publishers with the title Buried Alive: Or, Ten Years of Penal Servitude in Siberia (1881), the novel was perceived by late 19th- and early 20th-century readers as a severe critique of Russias oppressive regime.

In the late 1950s and 60s, Dostoyevskys prison novel gained new momentum in the American and British public imaginations, as evidenced by the editions of 1957, 1959, 1962 and 1965, published with Ernest J. Simmonss and H. Sutherland Edwardss introductions detailing the authors prison life. The writer Robert Payne also dedicated a chapter to Dostoyevskys ordeal in his well-received 1961 biography Dostoyevsky: A Human Portrait, which included the following haunting portrait, captioned Dostoyevsky in prison, attributed to the Russian realist artist Klavdii V. Lebedev, and likely taken from the only known reproduction of the mysterious portrait Dostoevsky in Exile, which was published in an migr edition of Dostoyevskys writings in the 1920s:

Suspiciously, the catalog of Lebedevs works contains no portrait of Dostoyevsky. Moreover, the dark-haired man depicted is clearly not Dostoyevsky but, more likely, a random peasant or artisan with a tobacco pouch. In fact, a page earlier, Payne had written that upon arrival at the prison camp, Dostoyevsky had been shaved (half of his mustache removed, and all his beard) and was made to wear gray canvas trousers, a gray coat, and a kind of sailor cap without brim or visor. Later on, this alleged prison portrait of Dostoyevsky was reproduced in American newspapers and even used for the cover page of some editions of Crime and Punishment. Presented as the iconic image of a mysterious Russian author, the portrait bears a closer resemblance to the generic, almost mythological image of pensive, long-bearded, long-suffering Russian writers from Lev Tolstoy to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

Nevertheless, the rekindled fascination with Dostoyevskys prison novel and personal experiences in the 1960s opened up a new way of looking at him in the West. TheHouse of the Dead was read not only as a Russian story that severely criticized the tsarist prison system in exotic Siberia, but rather as a powerful statement against the inhumane treatment of inmates everywhere. For example, in June 1964, The Globe and Mail published an article by John Kraglund about Leo Janeks opera From the House of the Dead. Kraglund observed that the composers principal concern was to let a number of prisoners tell their own stories and to show the effect of imprisonment which reduced all prisoners to the same physical and spiritual level of negative existence upon those who differed only in initial character. And south of the Canadian border, interest in the Russian writer and ex-convict was roused by post-Stalinist prison writing, especially the work and public presence of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Tellingly, one 1971 anthology of prison poetry included an anonymous inmates poem addressed to Solzhenitsyn: This is why there is no sadness. / I lick your tears, / Your salt writes our names on my tongue, / Our rings of salt mean forever.

In a word, Dostoyevskys TheHouse of the Dead was successfully domesticated by American audiences. In the social and political imagination of the 1960s and 70s, the novel seemed to propagate a broader, anti-bourgeois, anti-totalitarian vision of human society. And as Bloshteyn points out, Dostoyevskys work might have had a particularly significant impact upon a number of African-American writers, who praised the Russians interest in the psychology of the pariah or outcast and considered him a witness and model writer who helped them to legitimize their struggles with literary form. [4] As James Baldwin observed in 1963, in Life magazine, It was Dostoevsky and Dickens who taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who ever had been alive. Only if we face these open wounds in ourselves can we understand them in other people. To quote Dale Petersons excellent analysis, Dostoyevskys novel was comprehended by African-American writers as one of the major soul-trying ordeals that affirm the pain of divided minds being stretched to accommodate the birth of a cultural hybridity, a multiple culturedness that more and more is becoming the measure of our common humanity. [5]

Unsurprisingly, the quotation on prisons and civilization allegedly drawn from the powerful work of a Russian giant was widely used by African-American human rights activists, as evidenced, for instance, both by its role as an epigraph to the article The Black Prisoner as Victim, published by the noted lawyer and civil rights activist William Haywood Burns in The Black Law Journal (1971), and in this poster:

Although the first citation of Dostoyevskys alleged dictum in association with Herberts play and the Fortune Society group is dated August 3, 1968, the frequency of citation peaked in the years 197172, following fierce public discussion of the bloody Attica prison riot. Consider the following entry for 1971 in Clarence S. Kailins The Black Chronicle: An American History Textbook Supplement (1974):

On September 23, inhuman prison conditions, long suppressed from public notice, led to an uprising by Attica Prison inmates. The uprising was suppressed when Governor Rockefeller sent in one thousand state troopers. Forty-two inmates and guards were killed, apparently by police fire (Hostages Killed By Bullets, Not Knives. No Guns Held By Inmates, Madison Capital Times, September 24, 1971). The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons Dostoevsky.

In this context, the quotation by a Russian writer known for his strong anti-Western sentiments sounds less like a basic legal principle and more like a sarcastic expos of the deceptiveness of white American civilization as a whole. [6]


It would not be an exaggeration to say that David Rothenberg, his Fortune Society, and many other activists of the age considered the author of The House of the Dead to be a father figure for their own social and literary experiments. Starting in the early issues of The Fortune News, members of the group published and advertised literary works written by convicts and ex-convicts. US newspapers observed the growth of prison publications and spoke of prison authors as a contemporary phenomenon influenced, in part, by Dostoyevskys novel:

During the last year, The News had published the writings of several convict-authors, providing, we had hoped, an insight into the minds of the prisoners and of their environment behind the wall []Prison authors, whether their writing has been smuggled outside the wall or passed by the censor, have to be credited with revealing some of the violent conditions existing in prisons. In The House of the Dead Feodor Dostoevski wrote, The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons. Society now is being judged by the prison authors. [7]

According to an article by John Hamer from 1972, one of the most prolific American convict-authors who (to paraphrase another famous dictum, falsely attributed to the writer) came out of Dostoyevskys prison clothes and discovered a vast readership outside the prison walls was Frank Bisignano. [8] Bisignano killed an off-duty police officer in Newark in 1961 and became the first man on death row in New Jerseys history to gain his freedom by parole.[9] The reformers represented Bisignano as a man who had entered prison as a high school dropout with an 8th grade education, completed his G.E.D. in 1963, slowly and quietly triumphed over his demons, published several articles in The Village Voice, including a partly fictionalized account of prison life titled The World as Seen Through a Not Quite Dead Mans Eye, and was eventually hired as a public relations employee at Trenton State College. We are a special breed, Bisignano declared to Hamer, special in that we possess more raw material, more pen power, more nitty-gritty than any two writers on the street; but, as writers in prison, we stand less chance of making it, of marketing our work, than any hack in the free world. To be sure, the degree of success of the reformers educational experiment in this particular case can be judged by the titles of the repentant sinners novels, published under the penname Warren Bisig before or immediately after his release in 1973: My Sexy Mom and I; The Sweet Taste of Daddy; Mother Takes a Sin Trip; The New Prison Nurse; Willing Virgin; The Garment Industry Girls; Deeper Throat; Open Legs; and The Child of Gomorrah. A random, and possibly the most innocent, quote from this offspring of Dostoyevsky runs: Orgasm! she thought, feeling it begin. Nothing else mattered not Uncle John, not tomorrow, not anything. Nothing except reaching the place where pussies and pricks and assholes and mouths united (Dianes Lessons in Bondage).

Bisignanos pseudonym Warren Bisig clearly indicates the collaborative nature of his writings. He was discovered by a Californian literary agent, named James A. Warren, who had sent out some 465 letters to prisons all over the country appealing for manuscripts. Hamer reported that Warren received more than 2,500 responses and about 200 actual manuscripts, including several he called sure-fire winners and many others he considered promising. When Warren contacted him, Bisignano had only 95 cents in his prison account. Luckily, pornography pays, and the convict-writer noted with amusement that between August 1971 and January 1972 he turned out seven sex books and earned more than $6,000. [10]

Of course, Dostoyevsky (or, more precisely, his fictional alter ego and murderer-turned-author Goryanchikov) inspired a number of gifted offenders with aspirations beyond pornography and profit. One of them, portrayed in a 1969 article in The Village Voice, compared his fate with Raskolnikovs death of jail and spiritual rebirth: Prison was a turning point for me. I took a vow there that I would never take things for granted. Another convict, mentioned by the Voice, commented on Dostoyevskys alleged dictum from TheHouse of the Dead: Its true. You see what its all about. People say, But thats a jail. I say, No, its America. Its whats underneath. [11] In fact, the idea of America as the prison house of the Black nation was central to the prison literature of 196472, as manifested in the works of its major practitioners, Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, George Jackson, Etheridge Knight, and Sam Melville (the latter was an ardent reader of Dostoyevsky). In Prison Literature in America: The Victim as Criminal and Artist (1989), Howard Bruce Franklin, distinguished two overlapping groups of prison writers that emerged during this period: [T]he political activist thrust into prison, and the common criminal thrust into political activism. Both groups were fascinated with Dostoyevskys TheHouse of the Dead as searing defense of a prisoners human dignity and the measure of our common humanity.

The period also witnessed the emergence of a new genre: anthologies of work authored by the convicts of a given correctional institution. As the editor of one such collection, Words from the House of the Dead: Prison Writings from Soledad Prison (1971), eloquently explained in his introduction,

Dostoevski wrote a book of his prison experiences and titled it The House of the Dead. The title is still appropriate even though the Russian novelist was writing about conditions a century ago and in another culture. The physical environment of prison has changed perhaps for the better since then, from the dark, damp, stony dungeon to the electrically lit, waxed and buffed concrete cell with its own sink and flush toilet. At least this is the situation on the main line in most of the California prisons. But this is all a smokescreen. [] The truth is behind the smokescreen. The jailer with the whip and knout is still there but he has modern psychological weapons. Prison is still the house of the dead. Every day someone dies spiritually.

Yet some authors disagreed with this radical generalization and tried to send Dostoyevskys novel and the quotation on prisons and civilization back to Russia in order to vindicate the US penitentiary system. It is ironic, wrote criminologist Charles H. Logan in Private Prisons: Cons and Pros (1990), that some critics of private prisons are fond of quoting Dostoevsky that the degree of a nations civilization can be seen in the way it treats its prisoners and wondering aloud what Dostoevsky would think of private prisons. According to Logan, if Dostoyevsky had lived in the Soviet Union, he would have been witness to one of the most brutal and lawless prison systems in history, with political prisoners jammed shoulder to shoulder into airless cells and box-cars and shipped to punitive slave camps where they were worked, starved, and frozen to death. However, if he visited contemporary American prisons, including private prisons, Dostoevsky would probably be impressed by the civil and human rights protections, the food and medical care, the standards of decency, even the space, he would generally find there, at least in comparison to the Soviet Gulag. Overall, the quotation would indeed say something about our civilization, but nothing that would discourage private sector involvement in the running of prisons.

Dostoyevskys famous words on prisons and civilization are still very much alive and frequently used in the Anglophone press in accounts of the horrors of houses of the dead. They were cited in the May 1, 2019, issue of my home newspaper, The Daily Princetonian:

Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote that the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons. Enter Americas prisons and it becomes clear that we are nowhere near as just a society as we claim to be. If we want to get closer to the values we idealize, we should rethink whether incarceration is the answer at all.

Most recently, human rights activists have used the quotation as a weapon to critique secret prisons across the globe and the Trump regimes unwavering support for incarceration of adult immigrants and their innocent children. [12]


The irony of history has also seen the Russian writers alleged dictum return to Russia. To the best of my knowledge, its first appearance dates back to 1977, when it cropped up in the Russian translation of Howard Zinns Postwar America (1973), who credited the words to Dostoyevsky. Characteristically, the famously well-trained Soviet translators smelled the rat and deleted the name of the Russian writer from their rendition.

The attribution to Dostoyevsky entered Russian public discourse only in the late 1990s and early 2000s, likely first popularized by the Russian-American film director Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky, who used it in interviews and in his 2006 essay Crimes and Punishments. Another source for the quotes Russification appears to be a Russian translation of the English review of oligarch and political dissident Mikhail Khodorkovskys 2012 prison memoirs:

The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons, wrote Dostoevsky in The House of the Dead. Khodorkovskys testimony is that this is a corrupt system with little or no effort to do more than coop up the hopeless, the drug-addicted, the vicious and the occasional visionary. [13]

Although Khodorkovsky never quotes Dostoyevskys apocryphal words in his book, the ultimate goal of his prison memoir, as formulated in its introduction, seems to be informed by this American statement: I wrote about the country in which our remarkable people continue to live in penury and without rights. And I wrote about a future Russia that we will be able to feel proud of without a trace of shame the Russia that will ultimately take the road of European civilization. A road we all share.

Today, Russian politicians, activists, and journalists frequently use Dostoyevskys alleged words to excoriate the Russian penal system. In turn, the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service adopted it as a kind of ideological dcor. This very fair statement, as Yaroslav Nilov, a deputy of the State Duma, observes, hangs at the entrance of the womens penal colony in Kolosovka in Kaliningrad Province. Another visitor of the colony suggested that it is possibly due to this slogan that we are at 100% production capacity!

Russian bloggers as well, as their American, French, and German counterparts have been searching for the source of the quotation in Dostoyevskys works for almost 10 years, to no avail.


The phenomenon of a fake Dostoyevsky is by no means new. The most famous of his apocryphal sayings, paraphrased earlier in this article, is that all Russian authors came out of Gogols Overcoat. [14] In 2013, Eric Naiman uncovered a magnificent English hoax dealing with Dostoyevskys alleged encounter with Charles Dickens. [15] Yet, as we have seen, the American history of our quotation presents a very different case. It reveals not only the statements origin and false attribution, but also the American reception of Dostoyevsky and the differences between his and Western interpretations of prison. Whereas many liberal criminalists and reformers in the United States have tried to gradually improve the nations penal system and a number of radical activists have condemned prison as an incorrigibly corrupt and oppressive bourgeois institution, Dostoyevsky tended to view it as a horrible house of the dead which senselessly destroys the most gifted, the strongest of our people, yet provides chosen sufferers with a unique chance for miraculous spiritual epiphany and moral renewal.

Indeed, American culture can be tested by its treatment of Dostoyevsky as manifested in the history of our quotation. The aphorism, ideologically rooted in 18th-century Enlightenment thinking and falsely attributed to the author of TheHouse of the Dead by American activists of the late 1960s, sums up the essence of US prison reform and protest movements, as well as the message of the eras prison literature. Sanctified by the name and cultural aura of the great anti-Western writer and former inmate, the quotation lent a universal ethical dimension to a targeted critique of the North American prison-industrial complex.

As Amy Ronner told me in discussing this matter, there is something about Dostoyevsky that makes American criminologists and activists reach out to him for support: Sometimes we are so desperate to have him as our ally that we even construct (unintentionally?) a myth or falsehood. Why him? I think that this sincere fascination with and unintended misprision of Dostoyevskys human rights writings can be explained by a unique American sensitivity to the existential issue of humiliated human dignity, which Dostoyevsky raised and portrayed in his post-prison novels so powerfully but interpreted in a framework very different from enlightened civilizationist ideologies. The real Dostoyevsky, then, is an alien to contemporary prison activists, who have, by force of necessity, converted him into a natural and desirable ally.


The quotation used as the second epigraph to this essay obviously does not (and could not) come from the writings of Michel Foucault, either in the original or in translation. However, no one can prevent its active proliferation once it falls on suitable ideological soil.

I am very grateful to Peter Brooks, Amy D. Ronner, James E. Robertson, Dale E. Peterson, Alexander Dolinin, Michael A. Wachtel, Kevin M. F. Platt, Tim Langen, Kirsten Lodge, Igor Pilshchikov,Elizabeth Geballe, and Chiara Benetollo for their generous advice and helpful critical comments. I also thank Jana Makarova for obtaining a copy of the pseudo-Dostoyevsky portrait from a rare edition.

Ilya Vinitsky is a professor of Russian literature at Princeton University. He is a 20192020 Guggenheim Fellow, working on the cultural biography and political imagination of Ivan Narodny, a Russian-Estonian-American revolutionist, arms dealer, journalist, writer, art critic, and promoter.

[1] See Dane Lanken, Playwright John Herbert Stays on the Outside, The Montreal Gazette, November 7, 1970, and Frank Prosnitz, The Fortune Society Offers Hope, Asbury Park Press, August 3, 1968.

[2] See in Dread, harsh orders not now heard in jails, The Leader-Post, July 23, 1956. These words were rendered in Churchills 1951 book Closing the Ring as [n]othing can be more abhorrent to democracy than to imprison a person or keep him in prison because he is unpopular. This is really the test of civilization.

[3] Mandela expanded upon the quotation in his memoirs: A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones and South Africa treated its imprisoned African citizens like animals.

[4] Maria Bloshteyn, Rage and Revolt: Dostoevsky and Three African-American Writers, Comparative Literature Studies 38, no. 4 (2001); see also Dale E. Peterson, Notes from the Underworld: Dostoevsky, DuBois, and the Unveiling of Ethnic Soul, The Massachusetts Review 54, no. 3 (2013).

[5] Dale E. Peterson, Underground Notes: Dostoevsky, Bakhtin, and the African American Confessional Novel in Bakhtin and the Nation, ed. Donald A. Wesling et al. (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2000)

[6] In Dostoevsky and the Law (2015), the legal scholar Amy D. Ronner offers a striking example of American readings of the novel not as a portrayal of Russias archaic penal system, a world apart from our own, but rather as an illuminating story of the unsettling likeness between Dostoevskys Omsk fortress and our own prisons, a recreation of Dead House in the contemporary United States.

[7] Prison Authors. Our Editorial Opinion, New Castle News, January 26, 1972.

[8] John Hamer, Convict Writers Find a Public, The Record, January 26, 1972.

[9] Frank Bisignano, Literary Future for Cons, Fortune News, December 1971.

[10] Carl Zeitz, Hes Starting Over After 11 Years on Death Row, The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 30, 1973.

[11] Bell Gale Chevigny, After the Death of Jail, Rebirth Like Raskolnikov, The Village Voice, July 10, 1969.

[12] The Shinborn Star, July 5, 2019.

[13] Financial Times, April 11, 2014; see the Russian text here.

[14] The French and Russian origins of these words were first traced by S. A. Reiser and, most recently and convincingly, by Aleksandr Dolinin in Kto zhe skazal Vse my vyshli iz Shineli Gogolia? Russkaia literatura, no. 3 (2018).

[15] Eric Naiman, When Dickens Met Dostoevsky, Times Literary Supplement, April 10, 2013.

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Dostoyevsky Misprisioned: The House of the Dead and American Prison Literature - lareviewofbooks

The Triumph of Preposterousness – Fair Observer

As impeachment proceedings move forward in the House of Representatives, Politico reports that US President Donald Trump has proposed to mobilize his network of backers to help fund the campaigns of several Republican senators facing serious reelection challenges in 2020. Each of them has signed onto a Republican-backed resolution condemning the inquiry as unprecedented and undemocratic, Alex Isenstadt writes. For those Americans who still ignore the meaning of quid pro quo, this could provide a new illustration to help them at vocabulary building.

If, as expected, the House votes to impeach Trump, the Senate will become the jury of his impeachment trial.In a tweet with a link to the Politico article, the former head of the US Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, said: The accused is helping jurors raise money. Does it get any more preposterous than that?

Here is todays 3D definition:


In the realm of the now-dominant political system of plutocratic hyperreality, a synonym for normal and worthy of admiration

The Online Etymology Dictionary provides the following account of the meaning of the word: 1540s, from Latin praeposterus absurd, contrary to nature, inverted, perverted, in reverse order, literally before-behind (compare topsy-turvy, cart before the horse), from prae before + posterus subsequent.

When a system demonstrates consistentprinciples of behavior, a disciplined observer will assume there is abehavioral rule, or scientific law, at work. The strong correlation betweenmoney acquired or spent and what is applauded as merited success in the currentculture of the US and most of the Western world points toward a new behavioralnorm that has turned older ethical instincts on their head. The value of anyitem, deliberate act or even personal reputation has become synonymous with themonetary price one places on it.

When on The Daily Show this past week host Trevor Noah, interviewing former Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer, announced Balmers net worth of $51.7 billion, the presumably leftist, anti-plutocratic, Democratic audience erupted into spontaneous, admiring applause even before Noah could finish his sentence. Balmer invented nothing and became rich partly by chance, through his association with Bill Gates, and partly through his preposterous, over-the-top commercial style focused on money and success.

As an attorney specializing in government ethics who served under three presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump Schaub may represent one of the last of a dwindling minority in the public sector who accept that there are laws governing behavior in society that supersede the force of cash. On the strength of his belief in the existence of something called ethics, he judges Trumps attempt to provide funding for his future jurors perverse, contrary to ordinary values, the opposite of normal and quite literally preposterous.

And yet the rest of the nation, including its media, appears to excuse Trumps actions as simply self-interested and, therefore, normal. For most Americans relishing the fact that they live in a free country, because Trump has the ability to mobilize wealth his own or the wealth of others he should not only be allowed but even expected to do so.

This doesnt mean that the notion of ethics no longer exists. Many people will see Trumps gambit as unfair. But such behavior no longer seems preposterous to anyone whose profession doesnt involve theorizing formal ethics. Instead, certain forms of preposterous behavior have become an implicit model commanding admiration. The easiest and surest way of achieving success is to break the ethical and moral rules, defy the conventions and, as quickly as possible, display ones achievement measured by the money or power acquired. Trumps election in 2016, weeks after the release of the Access Hollywood tape, validated that thesis.

Brazen lying, provocative actions, antisocial behavior in the form of sheer egoism, selfishness and narcissism, and successful bullying are acts the public now sees as either acceptable or inevitable attributes of those who succeed through their assertiveness. If coupled with monetary success, these traits are elevated to the status of a behavioral model. Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas and energy secretary, has just explained why he thinks Trump is the chosen one, comparing him to the Old Testament kings David, Solomon and Saul. It is part of Gods plan for the people who rule and judge over us on this planet in our government.

Trump is not alone. There is no end of telling examples among those who rule and judge in todays political, industrial and media culture: Kanye West, Elon Musk, Boris Johnson, Rodrigo Duterte, Jair Bolsonaro, Narendra Modi, the late Jeffrey Epstein, Dick Cheney, Bernie Madoff, Harvey Weinstein, Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, Mark Zuckerberg, O.J. Simpson, practically any televangelist and the list goes on.

Some of them bully; some of them steal; several of them murder and rape; some move fast and break things. Most have learned or invented special ways of conning large numbers of people. All of them not only brazenly lie but insist on the veracity of their lies. Some of them, subsequent to their success and celebrity, have been caught in a legal trap simply because, besides ensuring their own fame, they tend to make enemies, often among those as brazen as they are.

In other words, preposterous no longer simply means in radical violation of the norm. Preposterousness has become a new norm, though reserved for the talented, wealthy few. It isnt without risk. But it tends to be one of the quickest paths to success and wealth in a world in which wealth itself has become the strongest insurance against the legal, ethical and political challenges that society may still put forward to thwart preposterous behavior.

Because being successful with preposterous behavior requires a special talent, history has consistently produced a number of exceptionally talented individuals with the means of achieving fame, though not always fortune, through their preposterous acts. Unsuccessful and unconvincing preposterous behavior has usually tended to be classified as antisocial if not criminal.

Among the ancients, the Greek general Alcibiades, the cynic Diogenes, Nero and Caligula cultivated different styles of preposterousness that made them famous and, in some cases, dangerous. From Genghis Khan, Napoleon and on to Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, conquerors and would-be conquerors while concentrating on the material aspects of conquest have at least played at being preposterous in the name of acquiring and consolidating power. So while it is not a new phenomenon, until recently preposterous behavior focused not on financial success or prowess, but exclusively on the power of the preposterous personality.

All that has changed in contemporary culture, thanks to an evolution in ethical norms due to the recently established role of monetary value as the supreme measure of worth. Wealth and the inexorable influence of money have taken a central place in our culture, complementing and, to some degree, even displacing personality and talent. Personalities such as Trump, Epstein and Madoff wouldnt have had so much influence over so many people without the attraction of wealth. Those who have acquired wealth, often more by chance than talent, find that they now have a license to develop, display and even promote their preposterousness because of that wealth. Elon Musk and Kanye West illustrate that trend.

This past week, Musk offered an unintended demonstration of the power of preposterousness when he organized the unveiling of his Tesla electric pickup truck and watched as his proud claim of shatterproof windows was literally shattered in front of a live audience. In the aftermath of what for non-preposterous people would be a shameful and costly humiliation, Musk announced that he had received 187,000 orders for the truck. He left the fatal impression that he either lied about or worse misunderstood the technical characteristics of the technology he is admired for producing.

The fact that this failure in no way either dampened the publics enthusiasm for his products nor stained his personal reputation proves that preposterousness associated with financial success works. He did, however (provisionally), sacrifice $770 million of his net worth as Teslas shares took a dive.

In presenting the Conservative Party election manifesto this past weekend, three weeks before Decembers general election, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised investment in infrastructure, health care and other services, accompanied by no increase in taxes. More generally, he painted a picture of five years of British utopia, all of that thanks to his proclaimed ability and determination to push through Brexit.

Voters have good reason to doubt nearly all of Johnsons promises and every reason to believe that this isnt the first time he has lied to the nation. And yet he is projected to achieve a commanding majority in Parliament. In contrast, the very sincere Theresa May lost her majority in Parliament in 2017 and, while battling for two and a half years to fulfill what she believed to be her mission, could accomplish nothing. Preposterousness definitely pays.

Some may see as a degradation of democracy the fact that bombastic liars and corrupt manipulators are applauded and rewarded for their transparently disingenuous or utterly mistaken maneuvers simply because they dared to do it. Both Johnson and Musk to say nothing of Trump have created an image of a personality that dares to say or do preposterous things and, when they fail, to earn immediate forgiveness for their errors.

This has become a sign of leadership in a civilization governed by the values of celebrity culture. Those rare voices who invoke the notion of ethics and call such actions preposterous will not only never be publicly cheered, but their critique of preposterousness will at best be acknowledged as a quaint relic of a no longer relevant past in which people cared about integrity and moral values.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devils Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observers editorial policy.

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The Triumph of Preposterousness - Fair Observer

Dr. Charles Kay Egoism

Egoism is a teleological theory of ethics that sets as its goal the benefit, pleasure, or greatest good of the oneself alone. It is contrasted with altruism, which is not strictly self-interested, but includes in its goal the interests of others as well. There are at least three different ways in which the theory of egoism can be presented:

This is the claim that humans by nature are motivated only by self-interest . Any act, no matter how altruistic it might seem, is actually motivated by some selfish desire of the agent (e.g., desire for reward, avoidance of guilt, personal happiness). This is a descriptive claim about human nature. Since the claim is universalall acts are motivated by self interestit could be proven false by a single counterexample.

It will be difficult to find an action that the psychological egoist will acknowledge as purely altruistic, however. There is almost always some benefit to ourselves in any action we choose. For example, if I helped my friend out of trouble, I may feel happy afterwards. But is that happiness the motive for my action or just a result of my action? The psychological egoist must demonstrate that the beneficial consequences of an action are actually the motivation of of all of our actions. (Why would it make me happy to see my friend out of trouble if I didnt already care about my friends best interest? Wouldnt that be altruism?)

This is the claim that individuals should always act in their own best interest. It is a normative claim. If ethical egoism is true, that appears to imply that psychological egoism is false: there would be no point to arguing that we ought to do what we must do by nature.

But if altruism is possible, why should it be avoided? Some writers suggest we all should focus our resources on satisfying our own interests, rather than those of others. Society will then be more efficient and this will better serve the interests of all. By referring to the interests of all, however, this approach reveals itself to be a version of utilitarianism, and not genuine egoism. It is merely a theory about how best to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number.

An alternative formulation of ethical egoism states that I ought always to act in my own self-interesteven if this conflicts with the values and interests of otherssimply because that is what I desire most. It is not clear how an altruist could find common ground to argue with such an individualistic ethical egoist, but it is also not clear why such an egoist would ever want to argue against the altruist: Since the individualistic egoist believes that whatever serves his own interests is (morally) right, he will want everyone else to be altruistic. Otherwise they would not serve the egoists own interests! It seems that anyone who truly believed in individualistic ethical egoism could not publicly promote the theory without such inconsistency. Indeed, the self-interest of the egoist is best served by publicly claiming to be an altruist and thereby keeping everyones good favor.

When working with certain economic or sociological models, we may frequently assume that people will act in such a way as to promote their own interests. This is not a normative claim and usually not even a descriptive claim. Instead it is a minimalist assumption used for certain calculations. If we assume only self-interest on the part of all agents, we can determine certain extreme-case (e.g., maximin) outcomes for the model. Implicit in this assumption, although not always stated, is the idea that altruistic behavior on the part of the agents, although not presupposed, would yield outcomes at least as good and probably better.

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Dr. Charles Kay Egoism

Psychological egoism – Wikipedia

For other forms of egoism, see Egoism.

Psychological egoism is the view that humans are always motivated by self-interest and selfishness, even in what seem to be acts of altruism. It claims that, when people choose to help others, they do so ultimately because of the personal benefits that they themselves expect to obtain, directly or indirectly, from doing. This is a descriptive rather than normative view, since it only makes claims about how things are, not how they ought to be. It is, however, related to several other normative forms of egoism, such as ethical egoism and rational egoism.

A specific form of psychological egoism is psychological hedonism, the view that the ultimate motive for all voluntary human action is the desire to experience pleasure or to avoid pain. Many discussions of psychological egoism focus on this type, but the two are not the same: theorists have explained behavior motivated by self-interest without using pleasure and pain as the final causes of behavior.[1] Psychological hedonism argues actions are caused by both a need for pleasure immediately and in the future. However, immediate gratification can be sacrificed for a chance of greater, future pleasure.[2] Further, humans are not motivated to strictly avoid pain and only pursue pleasure, but, instead, humans will endure pain to achieve the greatest net pleasure. Accordingly, all actions are tools for increasing pleasure or decreasing pain, even those defined as altruistic and those that do not cause an immediate change in satisfaction levels.

Beginning with ancient philosophy, Epicureanism claims humans live to maximize pleasure.[3] Epicurus argued the theory of human behavior being motivated by pleasure alone is evidenced from infancy to adulthood. Humanity performs altruistic, honorable, and virtuous acts not for the sake of another or because of a moral code but rather to increase the well being of the self.

In modern philosophy, Jeremy Bentham asserted, like Epicurus, that human behavior is governed by a need to increase pleasure and decrease pain.[4] Bentham explicitly described what types and qualities of pain and pleasure exist, and how human motives are singularly explained using psychological hedonism. Bentham attempted to quantify psychological hedonism. Bentham endeavored to find the ideal human behavior based on hedonic calculus or the measurement of relative gains and losses in pain and pleasure to determine the most pleasurable action a human could choose in a situation.

From an evolutionary perspective, Herbert Spencer, a psychological egoist, argued that all animals primarily seek to survive and protect their lineage. Essentially, the need for the individual and for the individual's immediate family to live supersedes the others' need to live.[5] All species attempt to maximize their own chances of survival and, therefore, well being. Spencer asserted the best adapted creatures will have their pleasure levels outweigh their pain levels in their environments. Thus, pleasure meant an animal was fulfilling its egoist goal of self survival, and pleasure would always be pursued because species constantly strive for survival.

Whether or not Sigmund Freud was a psychological egoist, his concept of the pleasure principle borrowed much from psychological egoism and psychological hedonism in particular.[6] The pleasure principle rules the behavior of the Id which is an unconscious force driving humans to release tension from unfulfilled desires. When Freud introduced Thanatos and its opposing force, Eros, the pleasure principle emanating from psychological hedonism became aligned with the Eros, which drives a person to satiate sexual and reproductive desires.[7] Alternatively, Thanatos seeks the cessation of pain through death and the end of the pursuit of pleasure: thus a hedonism rules Thanatos, but it centers on the complete avoidance of pain rather than psychological hedonist function which pursues pleasure and avoids pain. Therefore, Freud believed in qualitatively different hedonisms where the total avoidance of pain hedonism and the achievement of the greatest net pleasure hedonism are separate and associated with distinct functions and drives of the human psyche.[8] Although Eros and Thanatos are ruled by qualitatively different types of hedonism, Eros remains under the rule of Jeremy Bentham's quantitative psychological hedonism because Eros seeks the greatest net pleasure.

Traditional behaviorism dictates all human behavior is explained by classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Operant conditioning works through reinforcement and punishment which adds or removes pleasure and pain to manipulate behavior. Using pleasure and pain to control behavior means behaviorists assumed the principles of psychological hedonism could be applied to predicting human behavior. For example, Thorndike's law of effect states that behaviors associated with pleasantness will be learned and those associated with pain will be extinguished.[9] Often, behaviorist experiments using humans and animals are built around the assumption that subjects will pursue pleasure and avoid pain.[10] Although psychological hedonism is incorporated into the fundamental principles and experimental designs of behaviorism, behaviorism itself explains and interprets only observable behavior and therefore does not theorize about the ultimate cause of human behavior. Thus, behaviorism uses but does not strictly support psychological hedonism over other understandings of the ultimate drive of human behavior.

Psychological egoism is controversial. Proponents cite evidence from introspection: reflection on one's own actions may reveal their motives and intended results to be based on self-interest. Psychological egoists and hedonists have found through numerous observations of natural human behavior that behavior can be manipulated through reward and punishment both of which have direct effects of pain and pleasure.[11] Also, the work of some social scientists has empirically supported this theory.[12] Further, they claim psychological egoism posits a theory that is a more parsimonious explanation than competing theories.[13]

Opponents have argued that psychological egoism is not more parsimonious than other theories. For example, a theory that claims altruism occurs for the sake of altruism explains altruism with less complexity than the egoistic approach. The psychological egoist asserts humans act altruistically for selfish reasons even when cost of the altruistic action is far outweighed by the reward of acting selfishly because altruism is performed to fulfill the desire of a person to act altruistically.[13] Other critics argue that it is false either because it is an over-simplified interpretation of behavior[14][15][16] or that there exists empirical evidence of altruistic behaviour.[17] Recently, some have argued that evolutionary theory provides evidence against it.[18]

Critics have stated that proponents of psychological egoism often confuse the satisfaction of their own desires with the satisfaction of their own self-regarding desires. Even though it is true that every human being seeks his own satisfaction, this sometimes may only be achieved via the well-being of his neighbor. An example of this situation could be phoning for an ambulance when a car accident has happened. In this case, the caller desires the well-being of the victim, even though the desire itself is the caller's own.[19]

To counter this critique, psychological egoism asserts that all such desires for the well being of others are ultimately derived from self-interest. For example, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was a psychological egoist for some of his career, though he is said to have repudiated that later in his campaign against morality. He argues in 133 of The Dawn, that in such cases compassionate impulses arise out of the projection of our identity unto the object of our feeling. He gives some hypothetical examples as illustrations to his thesis: that of a person, feeling horrified after witnessing a personal feud, coughing blood, or that of the impulse felt to save a person who is drowning in the water. In such cases, according to Nietzsche, there comes into play unconscious fears regarding our own safety. The suffering of another person is felt as a threat to our own happiness and sense of safety, because it reveals our own vulnerability to misfortunes, and thus, by relieving it, one could also ameliorate those personal sentiments. Essentially, proponents argue that altruism is rooted in self-interest whereas opponents claim altruism occurs for altruism's sake or is caused by a non-selfish reason.[20]

David Hume once wrote, "What interest can a fond mother have in view, who loses her health by assiduous attendance on her sick child, and afterwards languishes and dies of grief, when freed, by its death [the child's], from the slavery of that attendance?".[15] It seems incorrect to describe such a mother's goal as self-interested.

Psychological egoists, however, respond that helping others in such ways is ultimately motivated by some form of self-interest, such as non-sensory satisfaction, the expectation of reciprocation, the desire to gain respect or reputation, or by the expectation of a reward in a putative afterlife. The helpful action is merely instrumental to these ultimately selfish goals.

In the ninth century, Mohammed Ibn Al-Jahm Al-Barmaki ( ) has been quoted saying:

"No one deserves thanks from another about something he has done for him or goodness he has done, he is either willing to get a reward from God, therefore he wanted to serve himself, or he wanted to get a reward from people, therefore, he has done that to get profit for himself, or to be mentioned and praised by people, therefore, to it is also for himself, or due to his mercy and tenderheartedness, so he has simply done that goodness to pacify these feelings and treat himself."[21]

This sort of explanation appears to be close to the view of La Rochefoucauld[22] (and perhaps Hobbes[23]).

According to psychological hedonism, the ultimate egoistic motive is to gain good feelings of pleasure and avoid bad feelings of pain. Other, less restricted forms of psychological egoism may allow the ultimate goal of a person to include such things as avoiding punishments from oneself or others (such as guilt or shame) and attaining rewards (such as pride, self-worth, power or reciprocal beneficial action).

Some psychologists explain empathy in terms of psychological hedonism. According to the "merge with others hypothesis", empathy increases the more an individual feels like they are one with another person, and decreases as the oneness decreases.[24] Therefore, altruistic actions emanating from empathy and empathy itself are caused by making others' interests our own, and the satisfaction of their desires becomes our own, not just theirs. Both cognitive studies and neuropsychological experiments have provided evidence for this theory: as humans increase our oneness with others our empathy increases, and as empathy increases our inclination to act altruistically increases.[25] Neuropsychological studies have linked mirror neurons to humans experiencing empathy. Mirror neurons are activated both when a human (or animal) performs an action and when they observe another human (or animal) performs the same action. Researchers have found that the more these mirror neurons fire the more human subjects report empathy. From a neurological perspective, scientists argue that when a human empathizes with another, the brain operates as if the human is actually participating in the actions of the other person. Thus, when performing altruistic actions motivated by empathy, humans experience someone else's pleasure of being helped. Therefore, in performing acts of altruism, people act in their own self interests even at a neurological level.

Even accepting the theory of universal positivity, it is difficult to explain, for example, the actions of a soldier who sacrifices his life by jumping on a grenade in order to save his comrades. In this case, there is simply no time to experience positivity toward one's actions, although a psychological egoist may argue that the soldier experiences moral positivity in knowing that he is sacrificing his life to ensure the survival of his comrades, or that he is avoiding negativity associated with the thought of all his comrades dying.[26] Psychological egoists argue that although some actions may not clearly cause physical nor social positivity, nor avoid negativity, one's current contemplation or reactionary mental expectation of these is the main factor of the decision. When a dog is first taught to sit, it is given a biscuit. This is repeated until, finally, the dog sits without requiring a biscuit. Psychological egoists could claim that such actions which do not 'directly' result in positivity, or reward, are not dissimilar from the actions of the dog. In this case, the action (sitting on command) will have become a force of habit, and breaking such a habit would result in mental discomfort. This basic theory of conditioning behavior, applied to other seemingly ineffective positive actions, can be used to explain moral responses that are instantaneous and instinctive such as the soldier jumping on the grenade.

Psychological egoism has been accused of being circular: "If a person willingly performs an act, that means he derives personal enjoyment from it; therefore, people only perform acts that give them personal enjoyment." In particular, seemingly altruistic acts must be performed because people derive enjoyment from them and are therefore, in reality, egoistic. This statement is circular because its conclusion is identical to its hypothesis: it assumes that people only perform acts that give them personal enjoyment, and concludes that people only perform acts that give them personal enjoyment. This objection was tendered by William Hazlitt[27] and Thomas Macaulay[28] in the 19th century, and has been restated many times since. An earlier version of the same objection was made by Joseph Butler in 1726.

Joel Feinberg, in his 1958 paper "Psychological Egoism", embraces a similar critique by drawing attention to the infinite regress of psychological egoism. He expounds it in the following cross-examination:

In their 1998 book, Unto Others, Sober and Wilson detailed an evolutionary argument based on the likelihood for egoism to evolve under the pressures of natural selection.[18] Specifically, they focus on the human behavior of parental care. To set up their argument, they propose two potential psychological mechanisms for this. The hedonistic mechanism is based on a parent's ultimate desire for pleasure or the avoidance of pain and a belief that caring for its offspring will be instrumental to that. The altruistic mechanism is based on an altruistic ultimate desire to care for its offspring.

Sober and Wilson argue that when evaluating the likelihood of a given trait to evolve, three factors must be considered: availability, reliability and energetic efficiency. The genes for a given trait must first be available in the gene pool for selection. The trait must then reliably produce an increase in fitness for the organism. The trait must also operate with energetic efficiency to not limit the fitness of the organism. Sober and Wilson argue that there is neither reason to suppose that an altruistic mechanism should be any less available than a hedonistic one nor reason to suppose that the content of thoughts and desires (hedonistic vs. altruistic) should impact energetic efficiency. As availability and energetic efficiency are taken to be equivalent for both mechanisms it follows that the more reliable mechanism will then be the more likely mechanism.

For the hedonistic mechanism to produce the behavior of caring for offspring, the parent must believe that the caring behavior will produce pleasure or avoidance of pain for the parent. Sober and Wilson argue that the belief also must be true and constantly reinforced, or it would not be likely enough to persist. If the belief fails then the behavior is not produced. The altruistic mechanism does not rely on belief; therefore, they argue that it would be less likely to fail than the alternative, i.e. more reliable.

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Psychological egoism - Wikipedia

A Framework for Making Ethical Decisions | Science and …


Decisions about right and wrong permeate everyday life. Ethics should concern all levels of life: acting properly as individuals, creating responsible organizations and governments, and making our society as a whole more ethical. This document is designed as an introduction to making ethical decisions. It recognizes that decisions about right and wrong can be difficult, and may be related to individual context. It first provides a summary of the major sources for ethical thinking, and then presents a framework for decision-making.


Ethics provides a set of standards for behavior that helps us decide how we ought to act in a range of situations. In a sense, we can say that ethics is all about making choices, and about providing reasons why we should make these choices.

Ethics is sometimes conflated or confused with other ways of making choices, including religion, law or morality. Many religions promote ethical decision-making but do not always address the full range of ethical choices that we face. Religions may also advocate or prohibit certain behaviors which may not be considered the proper domain of ethics, such as dietary restrictions or sexual behaviors. A good system of law should be ethical, but the law establishes precedent in trying to dictate universal guidelines, and is thus not able to respond to individual contexts. Law may have a difficult time designing or enforcing standards in some important areas, and may be slow to address new problems. Both law and ethics deal with questions of how we should live together with others, but ethics is sometimes also thought to apply to how individuals act even when others are not involved. Finally, many people use the terms morality and ethics interchangeably. Others reserve morality for the state of virtue while seeing ethics as a code that enables morality. Another way to think about the relationship between ethics and morality is to see ethics as providing a rational basis for morality, that is, ethics provides good reasons for why something is moral.


There are many systems of ethics, and numerous ways to think about right and wrong actions or good and bad character. The field of ethics is traditionally divided into three areas: 1.) meta-ethics, which deals with the nature of the right or the good, as well as the nature and justification of ethical claims; 2.) normative ethics, which deals with the standards and principles used to determine whether something is right or good; 3.) applied ethics, which deals with the actual application of ethical principles to a particular situation. While it is helpful to approach the field of ethics in this order, we might keep in mind that this somewhat top down approach does not exhaust the study of ethics. Our experience with applying particular ethical standards or principles can inform our understanding of how good these standard or principles are.

Three Broad Types of Ethical Theory:Ethical theories are often broadly divided into three types: i) Consequentialist theories, which are primarily concerned with the ethical consequences of particular actions; ii) Non-consequentialist theories, which tend to be broadly concerned with the intentions of the person making ethical decisions about particular actions; and iii) Agent-centered theories, which, unlike consequentialist and non-consequentialist theories, are more concerned with the overall ethical status of individuals, or agents, and are less concerned to identify the morality of particular actions. Each of these three broad categories contains varieties of approaches to ethics, some of which share characteristics across the categories. Below is a sample of some of the most important and useful of these ethical approaches.

i.) Consequentialist Theories:

The Utilitarian Approach Utilitarianism can be traced back to the school of the Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus of Samos (341-270 BCE), who argued that the best life is one that produces the least pain and distress. The 18th Century British philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) applied a similar standard to individual actions, and created a system in which actions could be described as good or bad depending upon the amount and degree of pleasure and/or pain they would produce. Benthams student, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) modified this system by making its standard for the good the more subjective concept of happiness, as opposed to the more materialist idea of pleasure.

Utilitarianism is one of the most common approaches to making ethical decisions, especially decisions with consequences that concern large groups of people, in part because it instructs us to weigh the different amounts of good and bad that will be produced by our action. This conforms to our feeling that some good and some bad will necessarily be the result of our action and that the best action will be that which provides the most good or does the least harm, or, to put it another way, produces the greatest balance of good over harm. Ethical environmental action, then, is the one that produces the greatest good and does the least harm for all who are affectedgovernment, corporations, the community, and the environment.

The Egoistic ApproachOne variation of the utilitarian approach is known as ethical egoism, or the ethics of self- interest. In this approach, an individual often uses utilitarian calculation to produce the greatest amount of good for him or herself. Ancient Greek Sophists like Thrasymacus (c. 459-400 BCE), who famously claimed that might makes right, and early modern thinkers like Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) may be considered forerunners of this approach. One of the most influential recent proponents of ethical egoism was the Russian-American philosopher Ayn Rand (1905-1982), who, in the book The Virtue of Selfishness (1964), argues that self-interest is a prerequisite to self-respect and to respect for others. There are numerous parallels between ethical egoism and laissez-faire economic theories, in which the pursuit of self-interest is seen as leading to the benefit of society, although the benefit of society is seen only as the fortunate byproduct of following individual self-interest, not its goal.

The Common Good Approach The ancient Greek philosophers Plato (427-347 BCE) and Aristotle (384-322 BCE) promoted the perspective that our actions should contribute to ethical communal life life. The most influential modern proponent of this approach was the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), who argued that the best society should be guided by the general will of the people which would then produce what is best for the people as a whole. This approach to ethics underscores the networked aspects of society and emphasizes respect and compassion for others, especially those who are more vulnerable.

ii.) Non-consequentialist Theories:

The Duty-Based ApproachThe duty-based approach, sometimes called deontological ethics, is most commonly associated with the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), although it had important precursors in earlier non-consquentialist, often explicitly religious, thinking of people like Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430), who emphasized the importance of the personal will and intention (and of the omnipotent God who sees this interior mental state) to ethical decision making. Kant argued that doing what is right is not about the consequences of our actions (something over which we ultimately have no control) but about having the proper intention in performing the action. The ethical action is one taken from duty, that is, it is done precisely because it is our obligation to perform the action. Ethical obligations are the same for all rational creatures (they are universal), and knowledge of what these obligations entail is arrived at by discovering rules of behavior that are not contradicted by reason.

Kants famous formula for discovering our ethical duty is known as the categorical imperative. It has a number of different versions, but Kant believed they all amounted to the same imperative. The most basic form of the imperative is: Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. So, for example, lying is unethical because we could not universalize a maxim that said One should always lie. Such a maxim would render all speech meaningless. We can, however, universalize the maxim, Always speak truthfully, without running into a logical contradiction. (Notice the duty-based approach says nothing about how easy or difficult it would be to carry out these maxims, only that it is our duty as rational creatures to do so.) In acting according to a law that we have discovered to be rational according to our own universal reason, we are acting autonomously (in a self-regulating fashion), and thus are bound by duty, a duty we have given ourselves as rational creatures. We thus freely choose (we will) to bind ourselves to the moral law. For Kant, choosing to obey the universal moral law is the very nature of acting ethically.

The Rights Approach The Rights approach to ethics is another non-consequentialist approach which derives much of its current force from Kantian duty-based ethics, although it also has a history that dates back at least to the Stoics of Ancient Greece and Rome, and has another influential current which flows from work of the British empiricist philosopher John Locke (1632-1704). This approach stipulates that the best ethical action is that which protects the ethical rights of those who are affected by the action. It emphasizes the belief that all humans have a right to dignity. This is based on a formulation of Kants categorical imperative that says: Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means to an end. The list of ethical rights is debated; many now argue that animals and other non-humans such as robots also have rights.

The Fairness or Justice Approach The Law Code of Hammurabi in Ancient Mesopotamia (c. 1750 BCE) held that all free men should be treated alike, just as all slaves should be treated alike. When combined with the universality of the rights approach, the justice approach can be applied to all human persons. The most influential version of this approach today is found in the work of American philosopher John Rawls (1921-2002), who argued, along Kantian lines, that just ethical principles are those that would be chosen by free and rational people in an initial situation of equality. This hypothetical contract is considered fair or just because it provides a procedure for what counts as a fair action, and does not concern itself with the consequences of those actions. Fairness of starting point is the principle for what is considered just.

The Divine Command ApproachAs its name suggests, this approach sees what is right as the same as what God commands, and ethical standards are the creation of Gods will. Following Gods will is seen as the very definition what is ethical. Because God is seen as omnipotent and possessed of free will, God could change what is now considered ethical, and God is not bound by any standard of right or wrong short of logical contradiction. The Medieval Christian philosopher William of Ockham (1285-1349) was one of the most influential thinkers in this tradition, and his writings served as a guide for Protestant Reformers like Martin Luther (1483-1546) and Jean Calvin (1509-1564). The Danish philosopher Sren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), in praising the biblical Patriarch Abrahams willingness to kill his son Isaac at Gods command, claimed that truly right action must ultimately go beyond everyday morality to what he called the teleological suspension of the ethical, again demonstrating the somewhat tenuous relationship between religion and ethics mentioned earlier.

iii.) Agent-centered Theories:

The Virtue Approach One long-standing ethical principle argues that ethical actions should be consistent with ideal human virtues. Aristotle, for example, argued that ethics should be concerned with the whole of a persons life, not with the individual discrete actions a person may perform in any given situation. A person of good character would be one who has attainted certain virtues. This approach is also prominent in non-Western contexts, especially in East Asia, where the tradition of the Chinese sage Confucius (551-479 BCE) emphasizes the importance of acting virtuously (in an appropriate manner) in a variety of situations. Because virtue ethics is concerned with the entirety of a persons life, it takes the process of education and training seriously, and emphasizes the importance of role models to our understanding of how to engage in ethical deliberation.

The Feminist ApproachIn recent decades, the virtue approach to ethics has been supplemented and sometimes significantly revised by thinkers in the feminist tradition, who often emphasize the importance of the experiences of women and other marginalized groups to ethical deliberation. Among the most important contributions of this approach is its foregrounding of the principle of care as a legitimately primary ethical concern, often in opposition to the seemingly cold and impersonal justice approach. Like virtue ethics, feminist ethics concerned with the totality of human life and how this life comes to influence the way we make ethical decisions.

Applied Ethics

Terms Used in Ethical JudgmentsApplied ethics deals with issues in private or public life that are matters for ethical judgments. The following are important terms used in making moral judgments about particular actions.

Obligatory: When we say something is ethically obligatory we mean that it is not only right to do it, but that it is wrong not to do it. In other words, we have a ethical obligation to perform the action. Sometimes the easiest way to see if an action is ethically obligatory is to look at what it would mean NOT to perform the action. For example, we might say it is ethically obligatory for parents to care for their children, not only because it is right for them to do it, but also because it is wrong for them not to do it. The children would suffer and die if parents did not care for them. The parents are thus ethically obligated to care for their children.

Impermissible: The opposite of an ethically obligatory action is an action that is ethically impermissible, meaning that it is wrong to do it and right not to do it. For example, we would say that murder is ethically impermissible.

Permissible: Sometimes actions are referred to as ethically permissible, or ethically neutral, because it is neither right nor wrong to do them or not to do them. We might say that having plastic surgery is ethically permissible, because it is not wrong to have the surgery (it is not impermissible), but neither is it ethically necessary (obligatory) to have the surgery. Some argue that suicide is permissible in certain circumstances. That is, a person would not be wrong in committing suicide, nor would they be wrong in not committing suicide. Others would say that suicide is ethically impermissible.

Supererogatory: A fourth type of ethical action is called supererogatory. These types of actions are seen as going above and beyond the call of duty. They are right to do, but it is not wrong not to do them. For example, two people are walking down a hallway and see a third person drop their book bag, spilling all of their books and papers onto the floor. If one person stops to help the third person pick up their books, but the other person keeps on walking, we somehow feel that the person who stopped to help has acted in a more ethically appropriate way than the person who did not stop, but we cannot say that the person who did not stop was unethical in not stopping. In other words, the person who did not help was in no way obligated (it was not ethically obligatory) to help. But we nevertheless want to ethically praise the person who did stop, so we call his or her actions supererogatory.


Making good ethical decisions requires a trained sensitivity to ethical issues and a practiced method for exploring the ethical aspects of a decision and weighing the considerations that should impact our choice of a course of action. Having a method for ethical decision making is essential. When practiced regularly, the method becomes so familiar that we work through it automatically without consulting the specific steps. This is one reason why we can sometimes say that we have a moral intuition about a certain situation, even when we have not consciously thought through the issue. We are practiced at making ethical judgments, just as we can be practiced at playing the piano, and can sit and play well without thinking. Nevertheless, it is not always advisable to follow our immediate intuitions, especially in particularly complicated or unfamiliar situations. Here our method for ethical decision making should enable us to recognize these new and unfamiliar situations and to act accordingly.

The more novel and difficult the ethical choice we face, the more we need to rely on discussion and dialogue with others about the dilemma. Only by careful exploration of the problem, aided by the insights and different perspectives of others, can we make good ethical choices in such situations.

Three FrameworksBased upon the three-part division of traditional normative ethical theories discussed above, it makes sense to suggest three broad frameworks to guide ethical decision making: The Consequentialist Framework; The Duty Framework; and the Virtue Framework.

While each of the three frameworks is useful for making ethical decisions, none is perfectotherwise the perfect theory would have driven the other imperfect theories from the field long ago. Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of the frameworks will be helpful in deciding which is most useful in approach the particular situation with which we are presented.

The Consequentialist Framework In the Consequentialist framework, we focus on the future effects of the possible courses of action, considering the people who will be directly or indirectly affected. We ask about what outcomes are desirable in a given situation, and consider ethical conduct to be whatever will achieve the best consequences. The person using the Consequences framework desires to produce the most good.

Among the advantages of this ethical framework is that focusing on the results of an action is a pragmatic approach. It helps in situations involving many people, some of whom may benefit from the action, while others may not. On the other hand, it is not always possible to predict the consequences of an action, so some actions that are expected to produce good consequences might actually end up harming people. Additionally, people sometimes react negatively to the use of compromise which is an inherent part of this approach, and they recoil from the implication that the end justifies the means. It also does not include a pronouncement that certain things are always wrong, as even the most heinous actions may result in a good outcome for some people, and this framework allows for these actions to then be ethical.

The Duty Framework In the Duty framework, we focus on the duties and obligations that we have in a given situation, and consider what ethical obligations we have and what things we should never do. Ethical conduct is defined by doing ones duties and doing the right thing, and the goal is performing the correct action.

This framework has the advantage of creating a system of rules that has consistent expectations of all people; if an action is ethically correct or a duty is required, it would apply to every person in a given situation. This even-handedness encourages treating everyone with equal dignity and respect.

This framework also focuses on following moral rules or duty regardless of outcome, so it allows for the possibility that one might have acted ethically, even if there is a bad result. Therefore, this framework works best in situations where there is a sense of obligation or in those in which we need to consider why duty or obligation mandates or forbids certain courses of action.

However, this framework also has its limitations. First, it can appear cold and impersonal, in that it might require actions which are known to produce harms, even though they are strictly in keeping with a particular moral rule. It also does not provide a way to determine which duty we should follow if we are presented with a situation in which two or more duties conflict. It can also be rigid in applying the notion of duty to everyone regardless of personal situation.

The Virtue Framework In the Virtue framework, we try to identify the character traits (either positive or negative) that might motivate us in a given situation. We are concerned with what kind of person we should be and what our actions indicate about our character. We define ethical behavior as whatever a virtuous person would do in the situation, and we seek to develop similar virtues.

Obviously, this framework is useful in situations that ask what sort of person one should be. As a way of making sense of the world, it allows for a wide range of behaviors to be called ethical, as there might be many different types of good character and many paths to developing it. Consequently, it takes into account all parts of human experience and their role in ethical deliberation, as it believes that all of ones experiences, emotions, and thoughts can influence the development of ones character.

Although this framework takes into account a variety of human experience, it also makes it more difficult to resolve disputes, as there can often be more disagreement about virtuous traits than ethical actions. Also, because the framework looks at character, it is not particularly good at helping someone to decide what actions to take in a given situation or determine the rules that would guide ones actions. Also, because it emphasizes the importance of role models and education to ethical behavior, it can sometimes merely reinforce current cultural norms as the standard of ethical behavior.

Putting the Frameworks TogetherBy framing the situation or choice you are facing in one of the ways presented above, specific features will be brought into focus more clearly. However, it should be noted that each framework has its limits: by focusing our attention on one set of features, other important features may be obscured. Hence it is important to be familiar with all three frameworks and to understand how they relate to each otherwhere they may overlap, and where they may differ.

The chart below is designed to highlight the main contrasts between the three frameworks:




Deliberative process

What kind of outcomes should I produce (or try to produce)?

What are my obligations in this situation, and what are the things I should never do?

What kind of person should I be (or try to be), and what will my actions show about my character?


Directs attention to the future effects of an action, for all people who will be directly or indirectly affected by the action.

Directs attention to the duties that exist prior to the situation and determines obligations.

Attempts to discern character traits (virtues and vices) that are, or could be, motivating the people involved in the situation.

Definition of Ethical Conduct

Ethical conduct is the action that will achieve the best consequences.

Ethical conduct involves always doing the right thing: never failing to do one's duty.

Ethical conduct is whatever a fully virtuous person would do in the circumstances.


Aim is to produce the most good.

Aim is to perform the right action.

Aim is to develop ones character.

Because the answers to the three main types of ethical questions asked by each framework are not mutually exclusive, each framework can be used to make at least some progress in answering the questions posed by the other two.

In many situations, all three frameworks will result in the sameor at least very similarconclusions about what you should do, although they will typically give different reasons for reaching those conclusions.

However, because they focus on different ethical features, the conclusions reached through one framework will occasionally differ from the conclusions reached through one (or both) of the others.


When using the frameworks to make ethical judgments about specific cases, it will be useful to follow the process below.

Recognizing an Ethical IssueOne of the most important things to do at the beginning of ethical deliberation is to locate, to the extent possible, the specifically ethical aspects of the issue at hand. Sometimes what appears to be an ethical dispute is really a dispute about facts or concepts. For example, some Utilitarians might argue that the death penalty is ethical because it deters crime and thus produces the greatest amount of good with the least harm. Other Utilitarians, however, might argue that the death penalty does not deter crime, and thus produces more harm than good. The argument here is over which facts argue for the morality of a particular action, not simply over the morality of particular principles. All Utilitarians would abide by the principle of producing the most good with the least harm.

Consider the Parties InvolvedAnother important aspect to reflect upon are the various individuals and groups who may be affected by your decision. Consider who might be harmed or who might benefit.

Gather all of the Relevant InformationBefore taking action, it is a good idea to make sure that you have gathered all of the pertinent information, and that all potential sources of information have been consulted.

Formulate Actions and Consider AlternativesEvaluate your decision-making options by asking the following questions:

Which action will produce the most good and do the least harm? (The Utilitarian Approach)

Which action respects the rights of all who have a stake in the decision? (The Rights Approach)

Which action treats people equally or proportionately? (The Justice Approach)

Which action serves the community as a whole, not just some members? (The Common Good Approach)

Which action leads me to act as the sort of person I should be? (The Virtue Approach)

Make a Decision and Consider ItAfter examining all of the potential actions, which best addresses the situation? How do I feel about my choice?

Act Many ethical situations are uncomfortable because we can never have all of the information. Even so, we must often take action.

Reflect on the OutcomeWhat were the results of my decision? What were the intended and unintended consequences? Would I change anything now that I have seen the consequences?


Making ethical decisions requires sensitivity to the ethical implications of problems and situations. It also requires practice. Having a framework for ethical decision making is essential. We hope that the information above is helpful in developing your own experience in making choices.


This framework for thinking ethically is the product of dialogue and debate in the seminar Making Choices: Ethical Decisions at the Frontier of Global Science held at Brown University in the spring semester 2011. It relies on the Ethical Framework developed at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara Universityand the Ethical Framework developed by the Center for Ethical Deliberation at the University of Northern Coloradoas well as the Ethical Frameworks for Academic Decision-Making on the Faculty Focus websitewhich in turn relies upon Understanding Ethical Frameworks for E-Learning Decision-Making, December 1, 2008, Distance Education Report (find url)

Primary contributors include Sheila Bonde and Paul Firenze, with critical input from James Green, Margot Grinberg, Josephine Korijn, Emily Levoy, Alysha Naik, Laura Ucik and Liza Weisberg. It was last revised in May, 2013.

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A Framework for Making Ethical Decisions | Science and ...

Psychological Egoism vs Ethical Egoism | Flow Psychology

It is said that selfishness is a human nature. Consequently, selfishness is something that relates to egoism. Selfishness is in many forms, which will be discussed later on. Both of these subjects have been a center of discussion for years now. Among the subjects that have been part of it is the topic about psychological egoism vs. ethical egoism.

As for the psychological egoism vs. ethical egoism, the latter is described as the belief in which it states that humans are usually always selfish. Humans are always acting out of their own self-interest, which leads to happiness. The former, however, is the belief that humans are supposed to act only concerning their own interest.

Based on the beliefs itself and how each was defined, the kinds of egoisms that people practice are now differentiated. One type of egoism tells about acting based on or with the presence of a motive and the other acting on something based purely for the persons benefit.

In psychological egoism, it is explained that individuals only do good things because it is in their own interest to do so. As an example, a person decided and chose not to steal for the fact that he or she is afraid to feel the guilt or afraid to go to prison. As for ethical egoism, it is explained that it is just right for individuals to act based on their own self-interest. It means a person acts out for his or her benefit only.

In general, it is described as the empirical doctrine in which the motive for which a person makes a voluntary action is one that falls for that same individuals benefit. In a wider scope, in every action that a person does, even though it is seen as something that is for the benefit of others, there is still a hidden motive that serves for the self-interest of the person.

There are two arguments under this. One, this egoism is considered as a descriptive theory that resulted from the observations made on human behavior. Thus, it can only become a real empirical theory once there are no present exceptions. Second, there is no claim as to how a person should act. Thus, it is a fact that all individuals are seeking their self-interest in the theory. For psychological egoist, they view this as a verifiable and non-moral.

It is described as that doctrine that is prescriptive or normative. It means a person is supposed to seek something only for his own welfare. The primary idea in this belief is that only the persons own welfare is the one valuable for that same individual. There are also two arguments here. One, not all people are naturally seeking just their self-interest. It only claims that people should seek ones self-interest even if not everyone will do the same thing. The second, if it is to be regarded as one theory, then it must be applicable to all persons.

In the end, there is only one thing that can be concluded about the subject psychological egoism vs. ethical egoism. It is that even with the stated theories on egoism, people are not always motivated to act based on selfishness. At times, people just act based on pure kindness in mind.

Dec 20, 2013-Flow Psychology Editor

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Psychological Egoism vs Ethical Egoism | Flow Psychology

Ethics: Ethical Egoism and Utilitarianism – Bartleby.com

550 Words Jan 28th, 2018 2 Pages

Normative egoism has the individual making claims about what should be done to do the "right" thing, rather than what one does Ethical egoism requires that for an action to be moral it must maximize one's own self interest Rational actions are moral actionsEthical egoism puts the self in front of all others in finding moralityEssentially, the argument follows that each of us is most familiar with our own wants and needs. We do not know the wants and needs of others in the same way, nor are we equipped to always follow in others' best interests. It is then more efficient and logical to pursue our own needs and look out for ourselves so that others do not have to. This view also assumes that the individual is more able to provide for their own needs and also has that responsibility. Therefore, because the onus is on the self, society can be free to work for the betterment of larger projects that benefit everyone as opposed to taking care of individuals (Feinberg, 2008, pp. 520-3).At times, ethical egoism can benefit the larger group, as in a doctor in a rural town with free rent and a captive audience. The city provides the rent, the doctor the care, but all benefit.UtilitarianismAct Utilitarianism is the view that the

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Ethical egoism – RationalWiki

Ethical egoism is the consequentialist philosophy which states that morality should be based on self-interest. It is the philosophical basis for many libertarians and (so they claim) Randroids but also got support from Thomas Hobbes.[1]. Some egoists that do not believe in the existence of ethics call themselves rational egoists, because they want to be selfish, but do not want to support metaphysical ideas like ethics and morals.

Ethical egoism is based on three arguments:

It is the polar opposite of ethical altruism, the belief that one ought to live for others, and is contrasted with utilitarianism, which is objective. Egoism is subjective, meaning that its implications and conclusions change from person to person and nothing is objectively ethical. This is interesting considering that some of the most vocal proponents of ethical egoism are so-called Objectivists.[2]

Egoism is very appealing to some because it philosophically justifies selfishness, even at the expense of others, and therefore reduces feelings of guilt after acting like a heartless jerk. Also, being a jerk is their moral equivalent of being nice and vice versa.

Ethical egoism is seen as arbitrary because it values the selfish individual more than other people and there are no objective grounds for this. Similarly racism values one race more than others arbitrarily.[1]

Contrary to many strawmen arguments, egoism does not mean that you should never act in the interest of another, even if it does not benefit you. Instead, it is acting to benefit yourself, regardless of whether it harms or benefits another. Another way of saying this is that intentions are always selfish. Results may vary, whether they are good for others or not. This is because those who selfishly refuse to help others later find others will not return favours since they received none. If some misfortune arises and the egoist now needs the unselfish help of another, and if everyone is a consistent egoist, the egoist may or may not get the help he needs. So in the interests of self-interest, an egoist must act altruistically, at least sometimes, even if intentions are only about personal gain, thus why it is a relativistic philosophy. There are three types of egoism: universal (everybody should act for their own self-benefit), personal (the egoist is an egoist, but other people can be altruistic or utilitarian), and individual (everybody acts for one individual's self-benefit, which is completely unrealistic).

Alternatively, many egoists are also Individualists, like Stirner and Nietzsche, who would say that those that require the help of others do not deserve the help of others.[3] Incidentally normal people who are not sociopaths would likely lose self respect and become less happy if they only helped others at such times[4] Ethical egoism, like all exclusively subjective philosophies, is prone to constant self-contradiction because it supports all individuals' self interests. It also can lead to conclusions such as choosing not to intervene in a crime against another. Egoists have difficulty caring about anything that does not deal with themselves, which is one reason why ethical egoism is so impractical for people who are very aware of the world. The very legitimacy of the theory is often called into question because it prevents its own adherents from taking reasonable stances on major political and social issues and cannot in itself solve these issues, without resorting to popular choice.[3]

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Ethical Egoism Essay – 1596 Words – studymode.com

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself: Response to Ethical EgoismPHIL-12222 March 2013

We are often taught at an early age that when struggling to make a decision to let our consciences be our guides. Conscience can be defined as our adherence to moral principles, or our considerations of fairness and justice. The word consideration is used because every individual has their own standards for what they feel to be morally right versus what they feel to be morally wrong, however this concept is not as black and white as it may seem.

We accredit our moral considerations to many external and internal factors. An example of an external factor is government laws because they are predetermined rules about behavior and action that have been societally deemed as morally wrong. Laws are based on sociological mores, which follow a cultures commonly shared and widely observed moral behavior, therefore breaking a law implies going against the proper code your society. Prison also has an external influence on our decision making because it serves as a threat for the negative consequences of disobeying laws, such as the loss of our freedom. Internal factors are our own self-value and personal virtues as well as our sense of selfishness and our concerns of morality.

Ethical egoism is the philosophical belief that moral agents ought to do what is in their own self-interest because that is the rational way to live. It contrasts with the theory of ethical altruism, which holds thats it is our moral obligation to help others. A philosopher and avid supporter of ethical egoism named Ayn Rand however saw ethical altruism in a different way. She viewed altruism as self-sacrifice, and as a state of mind absent from the reality of the life and worth of a human being. Rand was the creator of the property of ethical egoism known as objectivism, or the philosophy that the proper life for rational beings is the pursuit of happiness, and that altruism is incompatible with rational morality. She asked, Why is it moral to serve the happiness of others but not our own?

Rand was a promoter of self-value and believed that, our lives belong to us and therefore it is our moral obligation to live it in the most personally satisfying way as possible. She wrote, You have been taught that morality is a code of behavior imposed on you by whim, the whim of a supernatural power or the whim of society, to serve Gods purpose on your neighbors welfare, to please an authority beyond the grave or else next door- but not to serve your life or pleasure. Your pleasure, you have been taught, is to be found in immorality, your interests would best be served by evil, and any moral code must be designed not for you, but against you, not to further your life, but to drain it. (Rand, 532)

Rand saw our existences as having one of two options: to live or not to live. She viewed the world as a competitive place where the strong and knowledgeable dominated survival simply by using their minds as their protection. A mans mind is his basic tool of survival. Life is given to him, survival is not. (Rand, 533) Unlike the organs inside our bodies that automatically function without our aid, our minds require us to think and use logic to obtain their benefits, and therefore those who choose to abstain from thinking and logical reasoning are deprived of one of their two defense mechanisms.

In relation to our ability to reasons are our values and virtues, because we need a code of values to guide our actions, and our virtues are our actions themselves. Value is that which one acts to gain and keep, virtue is the action by which one gains and keeps it. (Rand, 533) Rand believed that all virtues and values derive from our desire to exist or to diminish and that the three most crucial values to survival are reason, purpose, and self-esteem and the most important virtue to be that of pride. Reason can only be produced through our willingness...

Bibliography: Pojman, Louis P. Egoism and Altruism: A Critique of Ayn Rand The Moral Life: An Introductory Reader in Ethics and Literature. Louis P. Pojman & Lewis Vaughn. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.Rand, Ayn. In Defense of Ethical Egoism The Moral Life: An Introductory Reader in Ethics and Literature. Louis P. Pojman & Lewis Vaughn. New York: Oxford University Press,2011.

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Ethical Egoism Essay - 1596 Words - studymode.com

Egoism | philosophy | Britannica.com

Egoism, (from Latin ego, I), in philosophy, an ethical theory holding that the good is based on the pursuit of self-interest. The word is sometimes misused for egotism, the overstressing of ones own worth.

Egoist doctrines are less concerned with the philosophic problem of what is the self than with the common notions of a person and his concerns. They see perfection sought through the furthering of a mans own welfare and profitallowing, however, that sometimes he may not know where these lie and must be brought to recognize them.

Many ethical theories have an egoist bias. The hedonism of the ancient Greeks bids each man to seek his own greatest happiness; in the 17th century, Thomas Hobbes, a Materialist, and Benedict de Spinoza, a Rationalist, held in different ways that self-preservation is the good; and those who stress the tending of ones own conscience and moral growth are likewise egoists in this sense. In contrast with such views is an ethics that is governed more by mans social aspects, which stresses the importance of the community rather than that of the individual. Under this head come such theories as Stoic cosmopolitanism, tribal solidarity, and utilitarianism, which are all forms of what the positivist Auguste Comte called altruism. The distinction, however, cannot always be neatly drawn.

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Egoism | philosophy | Britannica.com

The Differences Between Utilitarianism & Ethical Egoism

Consequentialism is a moral theory that states that the consequences of one's actions are the basis for any morality or judgment toward that action. Both utilitarianism and ethical egoism are theories within consequentialism that focus on the outcome of conduct as the primary motivation of that action and any critique of whether or not that conduct is ethical. The major difference between utilitarianism and ethical egoism is where those acts are directed.

Utilitarianism focuses on the idea of the greater good. Essentially, this ethical theory intends to maximize good for the the most people. The moral worth of any action is judged by how much good results for all sentient beings. While some individuals may suffer from these actions, utilitarianism holds that the conduct may still be ethical if it does more good for a greater number of people than it harms.

Ethical egoism, also known simply as egoism, holds that moral conduct ought to be judged through self-interest. Egoism states that the good consequences for the individual agent outweigh the consequences placed upon others. In egoism, actions could be considered ethical for the individual if the one taking the action is benefited, while any benefit or detriment to the welfare of others is a side effect and not as important as the consequences for the individual.

The primary differences between these two theories, keeping in mind that there are numerous sub-theories within each branch of thought, is the value placed between the individual and others. In utilitarianism, the most ethical action may be that which harms the individual agent but maximizes the positive impact for the most people overall, essentially placing the emphasis on the whole as opposed to the individual. In egoism, the individual has a greater value than others, thus it is ethical to act in one's own self-interest even if it may potentially harm others.

Utilitarianism seeks to maximize good by minimizing harm to all while egoism seeks to maximize good by keeping the individual happy. In utilitarianism, actions must be judged on the amount of people (or beings) that benefit from the action as opposed to how many the same action may potentially harm. Proponents argue that utilitarianism results in a greater sum of benefit to its harm, based upon outcome and not intention. However, critics of utilitarianism argue that following the interest of the greater good may result in tremendous harm to a large number of individuals.

Meanwhile, egoists argue that acting in self-interest can result in position action because the individual knows best how to benefit his own self, and if everyone were to act in the interest of others, then the general welfare of all would decrease as they are never working for their own good. Egoists trust that others will act in their own interests, thus making it unnecessary to take action solely for their benefit.

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The Differences Between Utilitarianism & Ethical Egoism

Ethical Egoism, Essay Sample – essaybasics.com

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The pursuit of own self-interest describes ethical egoism. This moral intuition dictates that people ought to do what they perceive as morally right. Thus, acts whose results benefit the doer qualifies to be ethical. It represents a true contrast with ethical altruism that advocates for helping others. Despite acting on ones interest, ethical egoism cautions against harming the wellbeing of others. Ethical egoism is further divided into three categories which include personal, individual and universal ethical egoism. Personal ethical egoism stipulates that an act arises from the self-interest motive with no regard to other motives. Individual ethical egoism upholds that people should serve ones self-interest. On the other hand, universal ethical egoism dictates that all persons have the right to pursue own interests in exclusivity.

The best approach to promoting the general good arises from allowing people to pursue their own self-interest. In most instances, as individuals gratify their insatiable desires they unintentionally benefit the society through an invisible hand. In fact, all persons are better off if each follows their own interest.

Coercing individuals to sacrifice their moral interest for the large society implies denying them their fundamental value of personal decision-making. Nonetheless, ones well-being is a moral concern for that person that calls for non-interference from other sources. Also, an act should be motivated by the benefits one derives from it. One ought to only care for oneself.

The concept of ethical egoism promotes admirable virtues like rationality, productivity, and personal responsibility. These virtues are crucial for personal development and growth. Therefore, allowing external influence hinders cognitive independence.

Traditional morality embraces the fact that the well-being of people forms part of ones jurisdiction or act. Caring for others is a warranted concern without which, it leads to egoist radicalization. Radical ethical egoist will care less about causing harm or pain to others so long as they receive their benefit. In essence, ethics exist to limit harms while maximizing benefits arising from peoples actions.

It lacks a moral basis through which people can amicably resolve conflicts. It never suggests a resolution amidst conflicting interest yet individuals are encouraged to serve their interests. Without a moral obligation to compromise or sacrifice for another, radical egoists will never have a common ground. Unlike egoism, altruism dictates the need to sacrifice ones good for the benefit of other people.

The occurrence of interpersonal decisions may transcend an egoists opinion. Self-denial sets in due to the intersection of interpersonal benefits. Thus, it is difficult for an ethical egoist individual to advise others as it creates self-contradiction.

Ethical egoism fails to uphold the impartiality principle. It acknowledges preferential treatment to oneself instead of discouraging discrimination. Under morality, a fundamental principle exists that stipulates that we should treat others equal and never make exceptions of ourselves. The human race is rich in diversity and rarely can one act in the similar capacity as another.

In conclusion, the virtue of selfishness does not count in egoism. Self-sacrifice is not a virtue but a detrimental aspect to egoists. Ethical egoism promotes individualism leading to a drawback on the observation and adherence to societal morals by individuals. Unfortunately, egoism operates in a society where people constantly interact. Therefore, ignoring the actions, reactions and influence of other people on ones life and decisions are hardly inevitable. Nonetheless, meeting personal interests sometimes requires the sacrifice of other self-interests to create a balance in life. This is to quantify the fact that ethical egoism may not function in a vacuum but requires the intervention of other ethical standings.

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Ethical Egoism Essay – 1537 Words | Bartleby

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That is their essential ethical principle. Finally, there is the hypothetical egoist, who argues that all individuals ought to pursue their own interests if they are looking for coming to a specific end. In a way, that type of egoist is not an actual egoist; he is rather a utilitarian who believes that happiness for all can be enhanced if each person looks out after his own self. A true ethical egoist would argue against the hypothetical egoist. He would not look to increase the happiness of others, only that of himself. A true ethical egoist must not become a hypothetical egoist, because then he is no longer an egoist. Nor should he become an individual egoist, because it would not be ethical. In addition, the truest ethical egoist must not publicize, or even try to persuade, others of his own policy. When an individual advocates his own doctrine upon others, he is then persuading them to do the same. Hence, each person would begin to pursue his or her own interest and thus it would not be to the persuaders advantage, for it will harm his own interest. A true ethical egoist would convince people to do otherwise, and in return, this will serve the individuals greatest interests. What is meant by my own good? David P. Gauthier, author of Morality and Rational Self-Interest, says that Either that the thing I get is good, or that my possessing it is good. What he is stating is that good can differ in

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Ethical Egoism Essay - 1537 Words | Bartleby

Ethical Theories Summarized & Explained: Consequentialism …

The purpose of this article is to explain different ethical theories and compare and contrast them in a way thats clear and easy for students to understand. There are three major categories of ethical systems that students typically learn about in philosophy classes: consequentialism, deontology and virtue ethics. I will describe all of them briefly, then describe each one of them in more detail, pointing out their defining features and major variants. Ill then discuss the nature of Objectivist Ethical Egoism and how it compares and contrasts with each of these types of ethics.

The Ethical Theories: Brief Summary

Consequentialism names a type of ethical theory that judges human practices, like actions or rules, based on their consequences. Human practices that produce good consequences are morally right, while ones that produce bad consequences are morally wrong. Roughly speaking, a consequentialist says that you should do certain things, because those actions produce good consequences. By far the most common historical variantof consequentialism is Classic Utilitarianism. Classic Utilitarianism was advocated by such philosophers as Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.

Deontology names a type of ethical theory that judges human practicesbased on whether they are consistent with certain duties that the theory holds as intrinsically moral. Consequences are irrelevant to a fully deontological theory. Deontological theories tend to focus on the motives of actions, and whether a given action was motivated by duty or something else. In many deontological theories, motivation by moral duty itselfrather than other factors, like self-interestis essential to an actions being morally right. An advocate of deontology says that you should do certain things, just because those things are the right things to do, (they align with duty.)The originator of deontology as a formal theoretical framework was the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. Later advocates have included W.D. Ross, Robert Nozick and Christine Korsgaard.

Virtue ethics names a type of ethical theory that takes virtues of character, rather than individual actions or rules, as the most fundamentalethical concepts. Moral virtues like honesty, courage, integrity, temperance and generosity are takento be inherently good first, then actions are evaluated based on whether they express those virtues. That is, do the actions match what a virtuous person would do in those circumstances? Basically, a virtue ethicist says that you should do certain things, because they are examples of good character. Modern virtue ethics takes inspiration from the moral theories of Ancient Greek philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics, (especially Aristotle.) Prominent advocates include Christine Swanton, Rosalind Hursthouse and Alasdair MacIntyre.

Objectivist Ethical Egoism, unlike the other terms here, names one specific theory. It takes human life as the abstract or general standard of moral evaluation. Roughly speaking, that which promotes human life is the good, that which damages or destroys it is the bad. Because Objectivism, the whole philosophy from which this ethics springs, views human life as fundamentally individualneeding to be lived, maintained and enhanced by each individual through his own actionObjectivist Ethical Egoism (OEE) takes each individuals own life as his own effective standard of value. That which promotes the individuals own life overall is the good for him, that which damages or destroys his own life is the bad for him.

But OEE does not simply say that actions that end up promoting your life are moral, and actions that end up damaging it are immoral. Objectivism holds that the fundamental job of morality is to guide human choices in the context in which they aremade. Objectivism accepts the obvious truth that humans are not omniscient, and so cannot predict all the exact consequences of their actions in advance. It says that the way humans gain general or conditional knowledgeknowledge thatcan be applied to predict future consequencesis by forming rational principles from empirical observation and experience. In the field of morality, this means derivingrational moral principles from experience. These principles are general statementsof fact that are then applied to particular situations to determine a proper course of action. Thus, OEE says that a chosen action is moral, if and only if it represents a proper application of a life-promoting moral principle to the acting individuals current circumstances.

Among the principles that OEE holds as true are the idea that the rational self-interests of individuals do not conflict, and that initiating force against others (murder, slavery, theft, etc.) is destructive not only to the victims lives, but also to the perpetrators.

Basically, Objectivist Ethical Egoism says that you should do certain things, because those things actually support and/or enrich your own life.OEE is Ayn Rands highly distinctive theory that is widely misinterpreted by academic philosophers and the general public. It has been advocated and explained by such philosophers as Leonard Peikoff, Tara Smith, Allan Gotthelf and Gregory Salmieri.I will discuss OEEs relationship with the three ethical categories, and whether it can be considered a memberof any of them, when I discuss it in more detail later in this essay.


Jeremy Bentham

Consequentialism is a category that includes those ethical theories that judge human practices as morally right or wrong based on their consequences. (Practice here is used very broadly to includea specific action, a rule guiding actions, a motive guiding actions, or a virtue of character.) Consequentialist theories say that morally right practicesare those that tend to increase or maximize whatever is inherentlymorally good. (1) If apractice tends to produce more moral goodness than any alternative practicewould have, then it is a morally right practice. Consequentialist philosophers differ on whether practices that tend to increase that which is morally good, but increase it less than an available alternative practice, can be called morally right. Are practices that produce less goodness wrongpractices, or merely sub-optimal but permissible rightpractices? In any case, for a pure consequentialist, the practice that tends to maximize moral goodness is the morally best practice.

There are many different types of consequentialism that people can adopt. Consequentialist theories can be divided into types in threemajorways. The first way is in what exactly it is about human practices that is being morally evaluated. A theory can evaluate individual actionsthis is called act consequentialism. Or a theory can evaluate the rules by which someone actsthis is called rule consequentialism. Or a theory can evaluate the motives by which someone actsthis is called motive consequentialism. Or a theory can evaluate the character traitsone demonstrates when one actsthis is called virtue consequentialism.

The secondmajor way consequentialist theories can be divided is by whose consequences count as morally relevant. That is, what beings are directly morally relevant in evaluating the consequences of a practice.Is it all conscious creatures? Is it all humans? Is it a subgroup of humans? Is it only the agent? Or is it all humans except the agent? Respectively, these choices among beneficiaries can be called broad consequentialism, human-centered consequentialism, group chauvinism, consequentialist egoism, and consequentialist altruism. (2)

The thirdmajor way of dividing consequentialist theories, as far as I can tell, only makes sense when applied to act consequentialism. Act consequentialist theories can be dividedby the sort of consequences that are relevant to the evaluation of an act. Are actual consequences the relevant factor? Or is it the consequences that analysis would show are most probable at the time of the decision to act?Or is it the consequences that the acting person (the agent) actuallyforesaw at the time he acted? Or is it the consequences that were reasonably foreseeable by the agent? Or is it the consequences that the agent intended to occur? (These different sorts of consequences could be called different epistemic statuses.)

The reason philosophers may want to consider the alternatives to actual consequences as the relevant type, is that people are not omniscient and cant predict the future consequences of actions perfectly. So it doesnt necessarily seem right to morally judge a decision, that was made at a given time and with a limited state of knowledge, by all of the actual consequences that followed. It would seem that one is saying that a person whose action produced bad consequences due to factors outside his possible knowledge was acting immorally. So, with actual consequentialism, people will sometimes be judged as acting immorally because they are not infalliblepredictors of the future. This tends to go against common-sense ideas of what morality demands.

Once we select an option from each of the three above lists, we have a pretty good idea of what sort of consequentialist theory were discussing. But we still havent narrowed our selection down to a single theory. For that we need a separate theory of moral goodness, more technically called a value theory or axiology.

The ethical approachof consequentialism depends on the notion of producing morally good consequences. But the consequentialist approach, by itself, does not answer the question of what the moral good is. So specificconsequentialist theories are partly defined by what they believe to be morally good.

Moral goodness may be identified with pleasure, preference satisfaction, justice, beauty, knowledge, wisdom, honor, peace, etc. Or, in the case of what is called negative consequentialism, moral goodness may be associated with the lack of something. This could be pain, injustice, ugliness, etc.

Historically, the most common version of consequentialism wasClassic Utilitarianism. Classic Utilitarianism (CU) defines moral goodness as pleasurespecifically, the aggregate pleasure of all sentient creatures. This pleasure is also called subjective happiness. So a common statement encapsulating utilitarianism is that it advocates for the greatest happiness of the greatest number. In this theory, pain is held to be a negation of pleasure, so it would be counted as subtracting fromaggregate pleasure. This function of pleasure minus pain is generally called utility.

Classic Utilitarianism is a form of act consequentialism, soit is a persons individual actions that are judged morally as good or bad, according to whether their consequences tend toincrease or decrease utility. CU also takes the actual consequences for net utility as the morally relevant kind, rather than probable, foreseen, or intended consequences at the time of the action. And it clearly takes universal consequences as the relevant kind, since it evaluates actions according to their effects on aggregate human and animalutility.

Classic utilitarianism was advocatedwith some variationsby philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and Henry Sidgwick. (It should be noted that the distinction between act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism was not well defined at the time these philosophers were active. So they were not explicit nor necessarily perfectly consistent about choosing one over the other.)

Act Consequentialism Table

Rule Consequentialism Table

Virtue Consequentialism Table

Motive Consequentialism Table

If we alter one parameter of CU, we can get a different theory. Instead of aggregate utility of all sentient creatures, we could count only the utility of the agent as morally relevant. This would generate a theory we could call Classic Utility Egoism.(As well see in more detail, this form of egoism is very different from Objectivist Ethical Egoism.)

If we also switch act consequentialism for virtue consequentialism, we get a category we could call Virtue Utility Egoism. The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus would fit into this category rather nicely, since he regarded the pleasure of the agent as the good, and virtue as instrumental to that pleasure.

If we switch Classic Utilitarianism from act consequentialism to ruleconsequentialism, while keeping its other categories and its axiology, we get a theory that could be referred to as Classic RuleUtilitarianism.

Finally, if we take CU and only change its axiology, we get a different theory. If we no longer consider classic utility (pleasure minus pain) to be morally good, but instead consider the satisfaction of the preferences of conscious organisms to be good,we get an approximation of Peter Singers contemporary preference utilitarianism. (Peter Singer is a well-known Australian moral philosopher who teaches at Princeton University. It should be noted that he was a preference utilitarian prior to 2014, when he announced that he had switched to Classic Utilitarianism. See Footnote (3).)

It should be noted that different forms of consequentialism can be categorized and distinguished based on other criteria that I have not mentioned here. Most of these criteria can be considered part of the theories axiologiestheir varying explanations of what ismorally good. There are pluralistic theories, that hold that moral goodness cannot be reduced to one factor, like utility, but that it consists of more than one irreducible component. And there are also theories that attempt to hybridize different types of consequentialism with each other, or hybridize consequentialism with other types of ethical theories. For more detail on the various forms of consequentialism, you can see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) entry on Consequentialism.


Immanuel Kant

A deontological theory judges human practices as morally right or wrong based on whether they are consistent with certain duties that the theory holds as intrinsically moral.

As a classof formal ethical theories, deontology has its origins in the ethical approach of the 18th-Century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. Kant described two types of ethical rules or imperatives: hypothetical and categorical. Hypothetical imperatives are rules that you follow in order to attain some goal. For example, if you always tell the truth to good people in order to have authentic, healthy, win-win relationships with them, this would be a hypothetical imperative: a policy for the sake of a goal. On the other hand, a categorical imperative is a rule thats followed for the sake of no other goal. It is followed just because a moral law commands it. For example, if you never lie to anyone, simply because its the right thing to do, regardless of any consequencesgood or badthat might follow, then you would be acting on a categorical imperative.

Kant believed that only categorical imperatives could properly be considered part of morality. And he argued that there was one and only one such imperative that could be rationally justified, which, in Kants philosophy, is called the Categorical Imperative. Kant first stated this rule as: Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law. This moral law, according to Kant, was supposed to prohibit murder, theft, lying to others, cheating, suicide, etc. Those acts that could be seen to violate the Categorical Imperative were morally prohibited, regardless of any good consequences that might be gained from committing them, or any bad consequences that might be avoided by committing them. (4) Kant held that, in order to have moral worththat is, to be good and praiseworthy from a moral standpointactions must be motivated by obedience to the moral law, (duty.) If someone does something in accordance with the moral lawsay telling the truthbut is motivated by the desire to have good relationships or to avoid being convicted of fraud, the action is not a morally rightaction. The action must be performed not merely according to duty, but from duty.

Some early followers of Kant, such as Friedrich Schiller, as well as many later critics up through the mid-20th Century, interpreted Kant as holding that actions must be motivated purely by duty to be unambiguously morally worthy or right. Most commentatorsfound this requirement implausible and overly austere. Starting around 1980, the dominant interpretation shifted, following an influential paperby Barbara Herman. It is more typical now to interpret Kant as saying that an action having other motives can have moral worth, if the persons motive of duty would be sufficient in itself to produce the proper action, and thus stands ready to override all other motives when they would produce an action not in accordance with the Categorical Imperative.

Theorists of deontology since Kant have taken his basic approachi.e. treating categorical moral duties as fundamental to normative ethicsand adaptedit to formulate their ownmoral theories. In the early-to-mid-20th Century, W.D. Ross developed a moral theory that, instead of appealing to one categorical imperative, appealed to five irreducibledeontic principlesthat were supposed to govern a persons obligations. From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, these are:

a duty of fidelity, that is, a duty to keep our promises; a duty of reparation or a duty to act to right a previous wrong we have done; a duty of gratitude, or a duty to return services to those from whom we have in the past accepted benefits; a duty to promote a maximum of aggregate good; and finally a duty of non-maleficence, or a duty not to harm others.

Ross supplemented his duty to promote a maximum of aggregate good with statements of what he considered to be intrinsic goods:virtue, knowledge, justice, and the pleasure of others, (not of oneself.) So this makes his ethical system a sort of combination of deontology and consequentialism: deontology at the base, with consequentialism added on as one of the duties.

SinceKants deontology includes only one irreducible categorical imperative, it can be called monist. Rosss deontology, in contrast, has more than one irreducible (basic) categorical imperative, so it can be called pluralist. (5)

Kants and Rosss ethical theories are both deontological theories that focus on the general obligations of the agent as a moral agent. (This means that individuals have duties to themselves based ontheir own agency.) These are called agent-centered deontological theories. On the other hand, some philosophers have theorized that human rights can be based on deontological imperatives. They see an agents rights as irreducible moral constraints on the actions of others toward that agent. (So this means thatindividuals have duties to others based on the agency of those others.) These sorts of theories are called patient-centered deontology.This sort of deontology is most oftendiscussedand advocated by academic libertarians, both right and left. Notable sourcesincludeRobert Nozick, Eric Mack,Michael Otsuka, and Hillel Steiner.

On the level of particular duties, bothagent-centered and patient-centered dutiesduties based on ones own agencyand duties based on the agency of othersare generally understood as being in the Kantian tradition, and are oftencontained together in deontologicaltheories. The difference between the two types of theories lies in where the overallfocus of the theory is: duties to self or duties to others. Typically, agent-centered theories like Kants include patient-centered duties, while patient-centered theories like Nozicks often dont include agent-centered duties.

Virtue Ethics


Instead of focusing primarily on the consequences of actions or duty fulfillment, virtue ethics takes virtuesqualities of moral characteras fundamental to the ethical life.

Modern virtue ethics got its start when Elizabeth Anscombe wrote her article, Modern Moral Philosophy in 1958. In this article, Anscombe expressed dissatisfaction with the utilitarian and deontological ethical theories of her day. She suggested that the ethical theories of the Ancient Greeks, such as those of Plato and Aristotle, could bethe most plausible and satisfactory ones, once they were more theoretically developed.

In the academic revival of virtue ethics that followed, Aristotles ethics became the most popular model for the basic concerns of the virtue ethicists. So to understand modern virtue ethics, it will help tremendously to understand Aristotles ethical views.

For Aristotle, a virtue is an excellence of a persons functioning in a certain area of life. It is a stable character trait that governs a persons actions in some respect. It is not a superficial habit or routine, but permeates every aspect of a persons character, including his emotions, desires and intuitions. The Greek term for such a virtue or excellence of character is arete, and this term is still sometimes used by virtue ethicists today.

Aristotle holds that every virtue is a meanan average or middle groundbetween two extremes which are both vices. So, for example, Aristotle believed that courage was a virtue and was a mean between the vices of cowardice and rashness. The virtue of courage consists of having the proper amount of the quality of confidence in ones character. Too little confidence, and the person is a coward. Too much confidence, and he is rash and foolish. In the practice of indulging in pleasures, temperance is the right amount of indulgence, where licentiousness is too much and insensibility is too little. Other qualities that Aristotle considers virtues, include truthfulness, magnanimity, modesty, and pride. (Pride meansactually being deserving of great things and knowing that one is, not unjustified arrogance.)

So how does one know the boundaries between too much or too little and the right amount? Well, Aristotle didnt think that ethics was an exact science, so he didnt think ethics could answer this directly. Aristotle thought that, in order to act within the boundaries of arete, a personneeds practical wisdom. The Greek term for this faculty isphronesis. (6)

A person who achieves virtue orarete in all the various areas of life, arrives at a condition often called happiness or flourishing. The Greek term for this condition is eudaimonia. Though eudaimonia is sometimes translated as happiness, it does not merely denote an emotional state or subjective feeling.A person in a state of eudaimonia is, according to Aristotle, living in a way that fulfills his natural potentialas a human being. He is living in harmony with his essential nature as a rational animal. Thus, eudaimonia is supposed to be a holistic condition of a person, potentially observable by others. (That is, eudaimonia is supposed to be an objective condition that encompasses both mindand body.)

Virtue ethicists today generally take this basic approach to ethics and make modifications. For virtue ethicists, eudaimonia is not a logically distinct consequence of being virtuous, but in fact consists of being virtuous. Anyone who thought eudaimonia could be treated as a distinct consequence ofarete, would not be a true virtue ethicist, but a virtue consequentialist, with eudaimonia as the moral good. So when a true virtue ethicist is asked what eudaimonia is, their full answer must include their favoredvirtues as being at least partially constitutive of it. This makes eudaimonia a moralized or value-laden concept, according to virtue ethicists, which must be derived from the virtues. Here, the virtues cannot be derived as the causal means toeudaimonia, because eudaimoniajust is the exercise of all the virtues, (perhaps with other conditionsadded.)

Virtue ethical theories can be divided into those thatare universalist and those thatare culturally contextualist. Universalist theories see virtues as applicable in the same basic form to all human beings, regardless of culture. These theories are like Aristotles in this respect. Proponents of universalist theories include Philippa Foot and Rosalind Hursthouse. Cultural contextualist theories see virtues as taking different forms depending oncultural tradition. Even if the virtues in different cultural contexts have the same name, like honesty or justice, they may well be different in theiressential content. The main proponent of this sort of theory has been Alasdair MacIntyre. (7)

There are various different views within virtue ethics about what the exact nature and meaningof the virtues is, and there are sometheorists whotakeinspiration for their theories from Plato and other ancients. Modern virtue ethics is a relatively young movement in the modern academic world. So it hasnt been explored, labeled and categorized to the degree that consequentialism and deontology have.

Objectivist Ethical Egoism

Objectivist Ethical Egoism (OEE) holds that human life is the abstract standard of value in morality. For each individual, who is making moral decisions and acting, this means his own life is his own standard of right and wrong.

OEE was developed by Ayn Rand, and further explicated by philosophers such as Leonard Peikoff, Harry Binswanger, Tara Smith, Darryl Wright, Allan Gotthelf and Gregory Salmieri.

OEE arises in the context of the whole fundamental philosophy that is Objectivism: that is, the Objectivist metaphysics and epistemology. OEE is the application of Objectivist epistemology to the fundamental problem of how to live as a human being in reality as it is.

Principles, Human Nature, and Morality

Objectivist epistemology holds that, in order to successfully predict the future (not exactly, but within certain parameters) human beings must observe the world with their senses and develop principles by reasoning on the basis of those observations. This holds whether the prediction is made in the fieldof the natural sciences, the humanities, or morality.

Rational principles are not mere rules. They are general statements of fact that, when combined with a situation and a goal, yield a normative guideline. So, for example, if I have a person on the surface of theEarth, the Newtonian principle of gravity tells me that I can put that person into a circular Earth orbit by launching him to a certain height at a certain speed and in a certain direction. If my goal is to do this, then I have my basic normative guideline: I should launch him at that height, speed and direction.

If you recall the section on deontology, you should recognize this sort of normative guideline as a hypothetical imperative, in Kants terminology: a normative guideline followed for the sake of a goal. According to Objectivism, all genuinely normative guidelinesthat is, all normative guidelines based in realityare hypothetical. This holds whether the normative guideline is in morality or some other field. Objectivism rejects categorical imperatives altogether as baseless.

As with physics and space flight, principles of chemistry normatively guide individuals action for successful chemical synthesis and characterization, principles of psychology guide action in the pursuit of mental health, principles of electronics guide action in the making of televisions and computers, etc. So what do principles of morality guide action in achieving? According to Objectivism, principles of morality guide action in the maintenance and promotion of ones own life, as a human being.

I hasten to addthat life, as it is used here, is not equivalent to being biologically living by having a beating heart, and promoting my life does not mean striving to maximize the length of time myheart is beating. Being comatose or in a vegetative state until one dies is not life in the relevant sense, and it cannot be sustained beyond a few days without the intervention of other humans, who are actually living and sustaining themselves as humans. The life as a human being for which moral principles are required, is a life of conscious value pursuit: that is, it is the deliberate choosing and thoughtful pursuit of goals that sustain oneself.

Humans cant survive like plants do, by rooting themselves into the ground and drawing nutrients from the soil. Nor can they survive by sheer emotions, drives and instincts, like other animals do. To survive for any significant length of time, humans have to think, plan, and obtain what they need using their minds. At the most rudimentary level, this can mean making tools and weapons, hunting animals and gathering fruit and vegetables. Or, atincreasingly advanced stages, it can mean subsistence farming, or producing and trading artisanal goods, meat and farm produce, or it can mean a modern industrial society with a division of labor between industrial farmers, steel producers, car manufacturers, transportation services, etc.

Humans survive by pursuing and achievingobjective values. Objective here does not mean mind-independent or agent-independent. It means based on facts of reality and not a matter of faith, personal whim or arbitrary convention. Objectivism understands that values are relational to each individual, but also that the relationship is a matter of fact, not a matter of faith or whims.

So, as a simple example, food is valuable to the person who is hungry. It only directly supports his life if he is the one to eat it. Food is not valuable in itself, apart from the needs of the hungry person. Yet it is not a matter of faith, whims, or convention that people need to eat to live; it is a matter of fact. (SeeValues Are Relational, But Not Subjective for a more detailed explanation of this point.)

The characteristic and necessary mode of human survival, which is self-sustaining action (i.e. pursuit of objective values) on the basis of thought, is the foundation of an objective account of human happiness, in Objectivism. This happiness is not merely a subjective assessment of ones own psychological state, but a state of consciousnessthat is the psychological aspectof living ones life as a human being. It is the experience of living well as a human being which can be called flourishing or, using Aristotles terminology, eudaimonia.

So here we see that Objectivism identifies eudaimonia with successful and sustainable life. It provides a solid theoretical foundation for Aristotles ultimate good. It clearly explains what eudaimonia means and gives it content in a way that is not dependent on assorted virtues of character as its irreducible foundation. It thus avoids the logical circle of: What are the virtues? The character traits that combine under auspiciousconditions to produce eudaimonia. What is eudaimonia? The state that is the combination of the virtues under auspicious conditions. For Objectivism, happiness is the mental experience of eudaimonia, which is surviving as a human, par excellence. It is the mental experience of engagingto the fullest of ones capacityin the sorts of actions that enable humans to survive and be healthy in the long term.

At this point, lets take a moment to observe an important issue:Earlier, I said that principles of morality guide action in the maintenance and promotion of ones own life. Yet all true principles can potentially be helpful in supporting and enhancing an individuals life. Principles of physics and electronics can enable the development of life-saving medical technology, the deployment of satellites for instant long-distance communication, etc. Principles of chemistry can enable the development of life-saving and life-enhancing pharmaceuticals. Principles of psychology can be used to improvea persons psychological health and help them lead a more fulfilled life. Etc.

So what actually differentiates moral principles from the principles of other fields? The Objectivist answer is first to note that moral principles are one subcategoryofphilosophical principles. Then we say that what differentiates philosophical principles is that, unlike the principles of other fields, the principles of philosophymust be utilized in some capacity by every human being, in the course of living a full human life. Morality is the branch of philosophy that deals withall freely chosen human actions. Basic moral principles apply to every free choice of action any person might make. So while principles of physics may be inapplicable and useless for a psychologist treating a patient, and principles of chemistry may be inapplicable for a student studying music, moral principles are applicable for everyone in virtually every waking moment, in every aspect of life where they are not being coercedby others. (8)

Moral principles are the principles that apply to all freely chosen actions as such, not just actions in the particular field of applied physics, or of music composition, or of applied psychology. Notice here that Im saying that normative morality is analogous to the applied fields of knowledge: applied physics, applied music theory, and applied psychology, but on a broader scale of application in ones life. So what is the field of knowledge that morality applies? The field of knowledge is fundamental human nature, which, in Objectivism, is understood to be a branch of metaphysics. In Objectivism, morality is applied metaphysics. It is the application of metaphysics to the chosengoal of living ones own flourishing, happy life. (9)

It was principles of fundamental human naturemetaphysicsthat I was discussing when I was explaining the concept of life and how humans cant survivelike plants or other animals, but must use their minds to live.

So now that we have a general idea of the nature of morality, in the Objectivist view, and moralitysconnection to Objectivist metaphysics and epistemology, lets discuss the content of Objectivist Ethical Egoism in more detail.

The Cardinal Values

So what does an individual need in order to engage in the sorts of actions that enable survival as a human in thelong-term? Objectivism holds that three cardinal values are needed by everyone in every waking moment: reason, purpose and self-esteem. The fundamental need of reason should be clear from what wasdiscussed earlier about human nature. It is the most basic value required for human life. One should do things that improve ones ability to reason, such as gaining knowledge and learning how to think. One should not do things that destroy ones ability to reason, such as abusing drugs or alcohol, or accepting things on sheer blind faith. One should avoid contradictions in ones thinking, since holding contradictory beliefs is the violation of reason.

Purpose is an aspect of reason, properly conceived. Holding it as a value emphasizes the need to treat reasoning as a means to goals, and not merely as an end in itself. Reasoning that is purely idle contemplation, with no further life-serving goal in view, is a detriment to life. (Please note here that intellectual goals can serve ones life in very indirect ways, as in many cases of increasing ones knowledge of highly abstract, theoretical topics.) In the Objectivist view, reasoning must be directed toward the production of knowledge that is ultimately used in reality in some fashion, in order to be worthwhile and genuine. All human thought and actions must be organized around some sort of reality-based purpose.

Self-esteem is the judgmentof ones own life and self as valuable. On the most basic level, humans need some amount of self-esteem for purposeful, life-sustaining action. This self-esteem is acquired through the judgmentexplicit or implicitthat one is capable of achieving happiness, and the knowledge that one fully intends to pursue that goal. A fuller self-esteem is gained as one actually achievesrational goalsand develops good character.

The Objectivist Virtues

According to Objectivism, these values are the fundamental goals one should pursue. They encompass many particular careers, hobbies, relationships and lifestyles. The fundamental means by which an individual pursues these goals are virtues. According to Objectivism, virtues are not fundamentally traits of character, (as virtue ethicists hold.) They are intellectual principles guiding action. If an individual consistently applies these principles in his life, then they can be automatized and can be said to form a basic part of the individuals character.

There is one fundamental virtue, according to Objectivism: rationality. Rationality is acting in accordance with ones reasoning to the best of ones ability. Being rational does not mean that an individual will be infallible. A fully rational individual may make mistakes in regard to facts, as well as in regard to methods of thinking (logic.) (10) An irrational person is one who doesnt consistently strive to be correct in every issue significant to his life. Irrationality is willfully turning away from facts and logic as ones guides to action. This may be done openly, through an appeal to something other than reason as a guide, such as faith, sheer intuition, emotion, or instinct, or it may be hidden by rationalizations, (thinking processes corrupted by emotionalism and/or dogma.)

The virtue of rationality, on its own, is very general, and so doesnt give people a lot of guidance in how to live moral lives. Thus, Objectivism breaks rationality down into six component virtues: honesty, independence, productiveness, integrity, justice and pride. Ayn Rand described each of these virtues as the recognition of certain fundamental facts about reality, human consciousness, and ones own nature as a human being:

Independence is your recognition of the fact that yours is the responsibility of judgment and nothing can help you escape itthat no substitute can do your thinking, as no pinch-hitter can live your life

Honesty is the recognition of the fact that the unreal is unreal and can have no value, that neither love nor fame nor cash is a value if obtained by fraudthat an attempt to gain a value by deceiving the mind of others is an act of raising your victims to a position higher than reality, where you become a pawn of their blindness, a slave of their non-thinking and their evasions, while their intelligence, their rationality, their perceptiveness become the enemies you have to dread and flee

Integrity is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake your consciousness, just as honesty is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake existencethat man is an indivisible entity, an integrated unit of two attributes: of matter and consciousness, and that he may permit no breach between body and mind, between action and thought, between his life and his convictions

Justice is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake the character of men as you cannot fake the character of nature

Productiveness isyour recognition of the fact that you choose to livethat productive work is the process by which mans consciousness controls his existence, a constant process of acquiring knowledge and shaping matter to fit ones purpose

Pride is the recognition of the fact that you are your own highest value and, like all of mans values, it has to be earned

(Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, (50th Anniversary Ed.) p. 932-934)

Of course, when Rand says you cannot fake she does not mean that its impossible to attempt to fake. She means that you cannot fake and hope to live fully as a human being. Faking puts you on a path to self-destruction. The applicability of the virtues, as with all of morality, depends on an individual making the choice to live, in some form, explicit or implicit. The alternative to the choice to live, according to Objectivism, is to slip into self-destruction. Such self-destruction may be very slow, very fast, or somewhere in between, but if one does not choose to livethat is, to pursue self-sustaining values rationally, keeping ones own life as the ultimate goal of ones actionsthe decay toward death is inevitable:

Man has been called a rational being, but rationality is a matter of choiceand the alternative his nature offers him is: rational being or suicidal animal. Man has to be manby choice; he has to hold his life as a valueby choice; he has to learn to sustain itby choice; he has to discover the values it requires and practice his virtuesby choice. A code of values accepted by choice is a code of morality.

(Ayn Rand, The Objectivist Ethics in The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 23)

Lets look at a hypothetical example to see how the Objectivist virtues are necessary means tothe achievement of values.Lets say theres a young woman who has studied Objectivism and who wants to become an architect. She attends college atanarchitectural school.

She is honest and doesnt cheat, since this would undermine her competence as an architect and expose her to the risk of being caught and discredited and/or punished. Shestudies diligently to follow through with her plans, so she exhibits integrity. She is working toward a self-supporting life as an architect, so she exemplifies productiveness.Shes ambitious in her coursework, she doesnt try to skate by with the minimum, and she doesnt apologize for her excellence to others who may resent her for making them look bad. So she demonstratespride. She doesnt try to muddle throughby imitating or copying others, or by relying on them to do all the work in group projects. So she shows independence. She selects her study partners according to their ambition and ability in the class, rather than their need for help. To the extent she can, she selects her instructors according to her best judgment of their teaching abilities. So she acts onjustice.

Now if we contrast this woman with one who exhibits the opposite qualities, it should be fairly apparent who will tend to become an architect in a sustainable way, (what we would typically call a successful architect.) Someone who lacks the above virtues may be granted the temporary illusion of success by making friends and going along with a certain social crowd. But regardless of any false esteem granted by others, the reality will be that a continually dishonest, lazy and unambitious person will not actually be a successful architect.

The Harmony of Rational Interests

Objectivism holds that there are no conflicts of interests among rational individuals. The interests of rational individuals do not consist of short-range, out-of-context desires (whims.) Rather, they consist of goals that are the result of careful thought and planning. This means that rational interests cannot be served by pursuing self-contradictory goals, or effects without the requisite causes.

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