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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 nature–one that can be put to observational testing–to 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

Egoism: Examples and Definition | Philosophy Terms

I. Definition

You may think you already know egoism; but youre probably thinking of egotismself-importance, or self-centeredness. In contrast, egoism is the philosophical view that human beings do, or should, always act for their own benefit. Both words are derived from the Latin word for I ego.

Egoism and egotism are quite different. For example, egotists often talk about themselves a lot, not listening to otherswhich makes people dislike them. In contrast, egoists might act very humbly, and pay attention to othersbecause its in their best interests to make people like them and want to treat them well. Egotism is a character trait; egoism is a philosophy.

Even so, you might think that egoists must secretly be egotistsand a lot of philosophers would agree with you. But the point is that egoism does not necessarily violate our usual notions of what is right and wrong. We will return to this questionof whether egoism implies immoralityin other sections.

In fact, some of our highest ideals in the Western worldindividual rights, freedom, and democracydepend on ideas similar to egoism. All of these philosophies depend on the idea that humans normally do or should pursue their own welfare and happiness. The problem, of course, is when your welfare conflicts with someone elsesanother point well discuss below.

But whether you think egoism is right or wrong depends a lot on what kind of egoism youre talking about. The two main kinds of egoism are quite different; descriptive egoism just claims that human being do always act for their own benefit; while normative egoism claims that we should always act for our own benefit.

The most popular variety of descriptive egoism is psychological egoism, which simply claims that whatever a human being does, the ultimate aim is self-benefit. If psychological egoism is correct, it means that even when people appear to act for others benefit, with no concern for themselveswhich is called altruismtheyre actually doing it for their own sake. It doesnt mean that anyone is necessarily trying to be deceptive, or pretending, to help others (although thats a possibility of course). Psychological egoists would say that people may act altruistically because it will be good for them in the long run, or because it makes them feel good when they do it.

There are at least two main categories of psychological egoismdesire-based and objective. The first says that humans are always doing what they desire. For example, even if you say you dont want to do your homework, you do choose to do it; you have the option to not do it, and suffer the consequences. So, you do desire to do your homeworkjust not for its own sake.

But, this kind of psychological egoism seems to be trivially true; it doesnt say why we make what choices we do.

Other kinds of psychological egoism are called objective because they claim that we are always pursuing certain objectives. Some say we always act for pleasure. Others argue that we always pursue whatever we think will bring us the most benefit.

But most philosophers have rejected psychological egoism. For one thing it is probably unprovable because it is a theory about our deepest motivationswhich are private. How could anyone prove whether you help an old lady across the street only for her sake, or because it makes you feel good about yourself? You may not be sure yourself which it is!

But that kind of example is another reason most philosophers reject psychological egoismbecause human beings really do sometimes act for the benefit of others without expecting to any reward for themselves. Altruism; well come back to this debate in section III.

Normative egoism is not about what humans do, but about what they should do. Two kinds of normative egoism are well known:

Ethical egoists may argue that you cannot know what is best for anyone but yourselfand so it is immoral to try. If you try to act in reference to other peoples interests, rather than your own, you can easily do things those people wouldnt want, mess up other peoples lives, or just violate their right to decide what happens to them, which would be immoral. Ethical egoists also might argue that human beings are dependent on one another for survival, so therefore, it is your moral obligation to take care of yourself first, so that others dont have toand so that you have the ability to take care of them. In other words, whats in your best interests is ultimately in everybodys best interests.

Which brings us to rational egoism, which assumes that we should act rationally, which is egoistically. The most famous rational egoist, the writer Ayn Rand, argued strongly against sacrificing ones own interests for others. She argued that not taking full advantage of ones own freedom is immoral because it opposes the natural fulfilment of human potential, which is the best thing for everyone in a society. For example, if I dont work as hard as possible for my own personal success, then I might fail to accomplish many things that would be good for the world.

Nevertheless, many philosophers feel that rational egoism cannot provide a basis for ethical behaviorthat it is, rather, a justification for amorality (no morality), which could be very dangerous.

In the big picture, its worth noting that egoism has been a characteristically Western philosophy since at least Aristotle. Although there were a few ancient Chinese thinkers who had egoistic ideas, in general, egoism is much harder to justify in Eastern thought, where the ego (the personal self) is an illusion that one should try to get over!

In the west, Aristotle is cited for his early contribution to egoism, in the Nicomachean Ethics, where he points out that one must act for ones own benefit in order to be a good friend, or a good citizenbecause you cant do any good for other people if youre not in good condition yourself. However, Aristotle was not really an egoist, because he believed that it was the primary value of helping others that justified helping oneself.

The main ideas of psychological egoism started popping up in Europe during the Reformation (17th century) such as in the writings of philosopher, Thomas Hobbes (see next section for a quote). Hobbes (and others) argued that all voluntary actions are, by definition, egoisticbecause they are voluntary. So, humans are always acting for their own sakes, whether they think so or not.

Many philosophers shared this view during the 18th century, supported by the rationalism of the time. But David Hume, in his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (Appendix IIOf Self Love), set forth some well-known arguments against it. Hume said that psychological egoism denied the reality of such important human feelings as friendship, love, compassion, and gratitude. He also argued that there was no reason to try to reduce the diversity of human motivations to one simple thing. And he pointed out, as many have, that both humans and animals have been observed to act, instinctively for others sakes.

Early normative egoism is often associated with the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche whose ideas about freedom, the will, and the superman, certainly seem to support egoism, and have been used that way, but Nietzsche himself rejected egoism because, he said, being an egoist would have the opposite of the desired effect; it would set other people against you, which is bad for your own success.

The first philosophers to consider themselves egoists were Max Stirner and Henry Sidgwick in the 19th Century. But probably the most popular and controversial spokesperson for egoism was Ayn Rand, who set forth her arguments in The Virtue of Selfishness, and in novels such as Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Adapting some of Nietzsches rhetoric, Rand focused on rational egoism as a rejection of the sacrificial ethics of Christianity; she argued that it is wrong to sacrifice ones own interests for others because it is irrational: the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action and that man must act for his own rational self-interest. Thus, to her, ethical and rational egoism go together. Her perspective owes a lot to Nietzsches rejection of traditional morality and glorification of the individual will.

Over the past 30 years or so, egoism has faced stronger opposition than before because of scientific research showing that (a) humans and animals do have altruistic instincts, (b) selfish decisions are often not in your best interests, and (c) that altruistic behavior is consistent with evolution. When we were evolving, living in small tribes, most people lived around their many relatives, so doing things for others benefitaltruismcould actually spread ones own genes!

Egoism has always been a controversial theory, and we have sketched some of its debates in the previous sectionssuch as whether it can be moral or not, and whether it needs to be.

Another challenge to egoism is whether its even logically possible. Several philosophers have pointed out that it leads to self-contradictions and irresolvable conflicts. For example, Joseph Butler writes that it may be necessary to act un-selfishly in order to receive benefits, which makes egoism self-contradictory. However, we can get around this paradox by just saying that egoism is acting for long-term benefit.

A bigger problem for psychological egoism is that some behavior just doesnt seem egoistic in any sense. Say a soldier throws himself on a grenade to prevent others from being killed. Its hard to say how that could be in the soldiers selfish interests! Hes not going to benefit from it in the long run, or even be able to enjoy the feeling of being a good person. Egoists might argue that the soldier is deceiving himself if he thinks he acted selflessly; perhaps he was sub-consciously motivated to avoid feeling guilty if he didnt sacrifice himself. But then again, feeling that kind of guilt depends on having non-egoistic motivations, doesnt it? An egoist could also argue that since the soldier made a free decision to jump on the grenade, he was, by definition, following his own desires. However, that argument seems like a cop-out; it avoids resolving the question of why the soldier did it.

The major controversy about normative (ethical or rational) egoism is, of course, whether it can be truly ethical at all, since almost all people agree that an ethical system must encourage us to act for the benefit of other human beings. The main points of debate are whether it is desirable or possible to act selflessly, and whether rational selfishness is or is not really the best thing for others. The answers to these questions depend on answers to many other questions: how interdependent are human beings? Is individual freedom more important than social stability? Is individuality an illusion? So, this debate will doubtless not soon be settled!

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. Herbert Spencer

In this argument for ethical egoism, Herbert Spencer, a 19th century British philosopher, seems to echo Aristotles original justification for some degree of egoismthat a person needs to take care of their own needs and happiness before they can take care of others. Often accused of inconsistency, Spencer was an egoist who also believed that human beings have a natural sense of empathy and should care for each other, although at the same time, he believed that altruism was a relatively recent development in humans.

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 childs], from the slavery of that attendance? David Hume

Hume, a famous opponent of psychological realism, here gives an example that demonstrates several of his arguments against egoism. Hume pointed out that human beings have certain innate non-egoist instincts, such as the compulsion of a mother to sacrifice herself for her children. And even if she does so, selfishly, in order to feel good herself, that doesnt explain why she dies of grief after her child dies.

Altruism is the opposite of egoism the motivation or practice of doing things to benefit others, without expecting any benefit for oneself. However, most of the debates about egoism and altruism are not about whether its good to benefit others or not, which almost everyone agrees on, but whether egoism or altruism are actually beneficial, or even possible.

Just as psychological egoism could be rejected on the basis that its impossible to prove peoples motivations, many philosophers have questioned whether it is possible to prove altruistic motivations either. As descriptions of human nature, egoism and altruism seem to compete on equal grounds; you can pretty much always argue that any action was really motivated by egoism or really altruism, but you cant prove it.

As normative philosophies, about what people should do, most philosophers agree that ethical behavior is behavior which is good for people in generalso you might assume that altruism should win automatically. But there are some pretty good arguments that altruistic action depends on egoist motivations; you might not help that old lady cross the street if you didnt care about feeling good about yourself. And egoists may argue that its immoral to decide whats in other peoples best interests.On the side of altruism is the universal belief that morality means being good to others and the evidence that empathy, compassion, and altruism are natural instincts.

Many popular films feature egoist villainssociopaths who pursue their own gain without regard for others. But Heath Ledgers Joker in Christopher Nolans Dark Knight goes further. Late in the movie he actually sets up a version of The Prisoners Dilemmaa scenario from game theory which philosophers have used to explore the egoism versus altruism debate. The Joker intends to prove to all that his view of human naturepsychological egoismis true. He believes that one or both boats will try to blow up the other one in order to save their own lives, according to the Jokers rulesbut they refuse to cooperate, seemingly proving that humans are not entirely egoistic. Throughout the film, the Joker represents the egoist view as he repeatedly exploits his enemies egoism. But in the end, Batman supposedly demonstrates that altruism is real by taking the fall for a politician he doesnt even likefor the good of the people of Gotham.

Both of the Star Trek films featuring Khan, Captain Kirks worst enemy, explore the consequences of egoist versus altruist views. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, we learn that Khans murderous anger towards humanity is partly a result of Captain Kirks earlier action of marooning Khan and his people on a then hospitable planetwhich later suffered an environmental disaster killing most of Khans people. This is a clear illustration of the ethical egoists claim that trying to act in others interests may be immoral. Furthermore, Kirks failure to check up on Khan on the planet suggests that Kirk was not really acting altruistically, but rather egoistically, supporting the views of psychological egoism. Meanwhile, Khan believes that he has a natural right to dominate, based on his superior intellect and strength, a view commonly associated with rational egoism and Ayn Rand. Of course in the end, Mr. Spock demonstrates altruism by sacrificing himself to save the rest of the Enterprise crew, repeating an idea clearly meant to prove that altruism is more rational than egoismthe needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

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Egoism: Examples and Definition | Philosophy Terms

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

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

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 nature–one that can be put to observational testing–to 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

Consequentialist Theories: Ethical Egoism & Utilitarianism …

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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

Egoism: Examples and Definition | Philosophy Terms

I. Definition

You may think you already know egoism; but youre probably thinking of egotismself-importance, or self-centeredness. In contrast, egoism is the philosophical view that human beings do, or should, always act for their own benefit. Both words are derived from the Latin word for I ego.

Egoism and egotism are quite different. For example, egotists often talk about themselves a lot, not listening to otherswhich makes people dislike them. In contrast, egoists might act very humbly, and pay attention to othersbecause its in their best interests to make people like them and want to treat them well. Egotism is a character trait; egoism is a philosophy.

Even so, you might think that egoists must secretly be egotistsand a lot of philosophers would agree with you. But the point is that egoism does not necessarily violate our usual notions of what is right and wrong. We will return to this questionof whether egoism implies immoralityin other sections.

In fact, some of our highest ideals in the Western worldindividual rights, freedom, and democracydepend on ideas similar to egoism. All of these philosophies depend on the idea that humans normally do or should pursue their own welfare and happiness. The problem, of course, is when your welfare conflicts with someone elsesanother point well discuss below.

But whether you think egoism is right or wrong depends a lot on what kind of egoism youre talking about. The two main kinds of egoism are quite different; descriptive egoism just claims that human being do always act for their own benefit; while normative egoism claims that we should always act for our own benefit.

The most popular variety of descriptive egoism is psychological egoism, which simply claims that whatever a human being does, the ultimate aim is self-benefit. If psychological egoism is correct, it means that even when people appear to act for others benefit, with no concern for themselveswhich is called altruismtheyre actually doing it for their own sake. It doesnt mean that anyone is necessarily trying to be deceptive, or pretending, to help others (although thats a possibility of course). Psychological egoists would say that people may act altruistically because it will be good for them in the long run, or because it makes them feel good when they do it.

There are at least two main categories of psychological egoismdesire-based and objective. The first says that humans are always doing what they desire. For example, even if you say you dont want to do your homework, you do choose to do it; you have the option to not do it, and suffer the consequences. So, you do desire to do your homeworkjust not for its own sake.

But, this kind of psychological egoism seems to be trivially true; it doesnt say why we make what choices we do.

Other kinds of psychological egoism are called objective because they claim that we are always pursuing certain objectives. Some say we always act for pleasure. Others argue that we always pursue whatever we think will bring us the most benefit.

But most philosophers have rejected psychological egoism. For one thing it is probably unprovable because it is a theory about our deepest motivationswhich are private. How could anyone prove whether you help an old lady across the street only for her sake, or because it makes you feel good about yourself? You may not be sure yourself which it is!

But that kind of example is another reason most philosophers reject psychological egoismbecause human beings really do sometimes act for the benefit of others without expecting to any reward for themselves. Altruism; well come back to this debate in section III.

Normative egoism is not about what humans do, but about what they should do. Two kinds of normative egoism are well known:

Ethical egoists may argue that you cannot know what is best for anyone but yourselfand so it is immoral to try. If you try to act in reference to other peoples interests, rather than your own, you can easily do things those people wouldnt want, mess up other peoples lives, or just violate their right to decide what happens to them, which would be immoral. Ethical egoists also might argue that human beings are dependent on one another for survival, so therefore, it is your moral obligation to take care of yourself first, so that others dont have toand so that you have the ability to take care of them. In other words, whats in your best interests is ultimately in everybodys best interests.

Which brings us to rational egoism, which assumes that we should act rationally, which is egoistically. The most famous rational egoist, the writer Ayn Rand, argued strongly against sacrificing ones own interests for others. She argued that not taking full advantage of ones own freedom is immoral because it opposes the natural fulfilment of human potential, which is the best thing for everyone in a society. For example, if I dont work as hard as possible for my own personal success, then I might fail to accomplish many things that would be good for the world.

Nevertheless, many philosophers feel that rational egoism cannot provide a basis for ethical behaviorthat it is, rather, a justification for amorality (no morality), which could be very dangerous.

In the big picture, its worth noting that egoism has been a characteristically Western philosophy since at least Aristotle. Although there were a few ancient Chinese thinkers who had egoistic ideas, in general, egoism is much harder to justify in Eastern thought, where the ego (the personal self) is an illusion that one should try to get over!

In the west, Aristotle is cited for his early contribution to egoism, in the Nicomachean Ethics, where he points out that one must act for ones own benefit in order to be a good friend, or a good citizenbecause you cant do any good for other people if youre not in good condition yourself. However, Aristotle was not really an egoist, because he believed that it was the primary value of helping others that justified helping oneself.

The main ideas of psychological egoism started popping up in Europe during the Reformation (17th century) such as in the writings of philosopher, Thomas Hobbes (see next section for a quote). Hobbes (and others) argued that all voluntary actions are, by definition, egoisticbecause they are voluntary. So, humans are always acting for their own sakes, whether they think so or not.

Many philosophers shared this view during the 18th century, supported by the rationalism of the time. But David Hume, in his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (Appendix IIOf Self Love), set forth some well-known arguments against it. Hume said that psychological egoism denied the reality of such important human feelings as friendship, love, compassion, and gratitude. He also argued that there was no reason to try to reduce the diversity of human motivations to one simple thing. And he pointed out, as many have, that both humans and animals have been observed to act, instinctively for others sakes.

Early normative egoism is often associated with the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche whose ideas about freedom, the will, and the superman, certainly seem to support egoism, and have been used that way, but Nietzsche himself rejected egoism because, he said, being an egoist would have the opposite of the desired effect; it would set other people against you, which is bad for your own success.

The first philosophers to consider themselves egoists were Max Stirner and Henry Sidgwick in the 19th Century. But probably the most popular and controversial spokesperson for egoism was Ayn Rand, who set forth her arguments in The Virtue of Selfishness, and in novels such as Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Adapting some of Nietzsches rhetoric, Rand focused on rational egoism as a rejection of the sacrificial ethics of Christianity; she argued that it is wrong to sacrifice ones own interests for others because it is irrational: the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action and that man must act for his own rational self-interest. Thus, to her, ethical and rational egoism go together. Her perspective owes a lot to Nietzsches rejection of traditional morality and glorification of the individual will.

Over the past 30 years or so, egoism has faced stronger opposition than before because of scientific research showing that (a) humans and animals do have altruistic instincts, (b) selfish decisions are often not in your best interests, and (c) that altruistic behavior is consistent with evolution. When we were evolving, living in small tribes, most people lived around their many relatives, so doing things for others benefitaltruismcould actually spread ones own genes!

Egoism has always been a controversial theory, and we have sketched some of its debates in the previous sectionssuch as whether it can be moral or not, and whether it needs to be.

Another challenge to egoism is whether its even logically possible. Several philosophers have pointed out that it leads to self-contradictions and irresolvable conflicts. For example, Joseph Butler writes that it may be necessary to act un-selfishly in order to receive benefits, which makes egoism self-contradictory. However, we can get around this paradox by just saying that egoism is acting for long-term benefit.

A bigger problem for psychological egoism is that some behavior just doesnt seem egoistic in any sense. Say a soldier throws himself on a grenade to prevent others from being killed. Its hard to say how that could be in the soldiers selfish interests! Hes not going to benefit from it in the long run, or even be able to enjoy the feeling of being a good person. Egoists might argue that the soldier is deceiving himself if he thinks he acted selflessly; perhaps he was sub-consciously motivated to avoid feeling guilty if he didnt sacrifice himself. But then again, feeling that kind of guilt depends on having non-egoistic motivations, doesnt it? An egoist could also argue that since the soldier made a free decision to jump on the grenade, he was, by definition, following his own desires. However, that argument seems like a cop-out; it avoids resolving the question of why the soldier did it.

The major controversy about normative (ethical or rational) egoism is, of course, whether it can be truly ethical at all, since almost all people agree that an ethical system must encourage us to act for the benefit of other human beings. The main points of debate are whether it is desirable or possible to act selflessly, and whether rational selfishness is or is not really the best thing for others. The answers to these questions depend on answers to many other questions: how interdependent are human beings? Is individual freedom more important than social stability? Is individuality an illusion? So, this debate will doubtless not soon be settled!

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. Herbert Spencer

In this argument for ethical egoism, Herbert Spencer, a 19th century British philosopher, seems to echo Aristotles original justification for some degree of egoismthat a person needs to take care of their own needs and happiness before they can take care of others. Often accused of inconsistency, Spencer was an egoist who also believed that human beings have a natural sense of empathy and should care for each other, although at the same time, he believed that altruism was a relatively recent development in humans.

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 childs], from the slavery of that attendance? David Hume

Hume, a famous opponent of psychological realism, here gives an example that demonstrates several of his arguments against egoism. Hume pointed out that human beings have certain innate non-egoist instincts, such as the compulsion of a mother to sacrifice herself for her children. And even if she does so, selfishly, in order to feel good herself, that doesnt explain why she dies of grief after her child dies.

Altruism is the opposite of egoism the motivation or practice of doing things to benefit others, without expecting any benefit for oneself. However, most of the debates about egoism and altruism are not about whether its good to benefit others or not, which almost everyone agrees on, but whether egoism or altruism are actually beneficial, or even possible.

Just as psychological egoism could be rejected on the basis that its impossible to prove peoples motivations, many philosophers have questioned whether it is possible to prove altruistic motivations either. As descriptions of human nature, egoism and altruism seem to compete on equal grounds; you can pretty much always argue that any action was really motivated by egoism or really altruism, but you cant prove it.

As normative philosophies, about what people should do, most philosophers agree that ethical behavior is behavior which is good for people in generalso you might assume that altruism should win automatically. But there are some pretty good arguments that altruistic action depends on egoist motivations; you might not help that old lady cross the street if you didnt care about feeling good about yourself. And egoists may argue that its immoral to decide whats in other peoples best interests.On the side of altruism is the universal belief that morality means being good to others and the evidence that empathy, compassion, and altruism are natural instincts.

Many popular films feature egoist villainssociopaths who pursue their own gain without regard for others. But Heath Ledgers Joker in Christopher Nolans Dark Knight goes further. Late in the movie he actually sets up a version of The Prisoners Dilemmaa scenario from game theory which philosophers have used to explore the egoism versus altruism debate. The Joker intends to prove to all that his view of human naturepsychological egoismis true. He believes that one or both boats will try to blow up the other one in order to save their own lives, according to the Jokers rulesbut they refuse to cooperate, seemingly proving that humans are not entirely egoistic. Throughout the film, the Joker represents the egoist view as he repeatedly exploits his enemies egoism. But in the end, Batman supposedly demonstrates that altruism is real by taking the fall for a politician he doesnt even likefor the good of the people of Gotham.

Both of the Star Trek films featuring Khan, Captain Kirks worst enemy, explore the consequences of egoist versus altruist views. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, we learn that Khans murderous anger towards humanity is partly a result of Captain Kirks earlier action of marooning Khan and his people on a then hospitable planetwhich later suffered an environmental disaster killing most of Khans people. This is a clear illustration of the ethical egoists claim that trying to act in others interests may be immoral. Furthermore, Kirks failure to check up on Khan on the planet suggests that Kirk was not really acting altruistically, but rather egoistically, supporting the views of psychological egoism. Meanwhile, Khan believes that he has a natural right to dominate, based on his superior intellect and strength, a view commonly associated with rational egoism and Ayn Rand. Of course in the end, Mr. Spock demonstrates altruism by sacrificing himself to save the rest of the Enterprise crew, repeating an idea clearly meant to prove that altruism is more rational than egoismthe needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

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Egoism: Examples and Definition | Philosophy Terms

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

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 nature–one that can be put to observational testing–to 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

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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Consequentialist Theories: Ethical Egoism & Utilitarianism …

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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

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 nature–one that can be put to observational testing–to 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

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

What are the strengths and weaknesses of ethical egoism?

The Sui Dynasty, founded by Sui Wendi, or Yang Jian, held its capital at Luoyang. Despite having a short lifetime, the Sui Dynasty accomplished many things. The Grand Canal was extended north from Hangzhou across the Yangzi to Yangzhou and then northwest to the region of Louyang. The internal administration also improved during this time, which is evident by several things; the building of granaries around the capitals, the fortification of the Great Wall along the northern borders, the reconstruction of the two capitals near the Yellow River, and building of another capital in Yangchow. Confucianism also began to regain popularity, as the nobles gained importance. The Sui rulers were interested in expanding their borders and, along with their public works projects, they began costly military campaigns. They were largely successful with their efforts at territorial expansion into the south. However, to the north, in Korea, they did not achieve much. They attacked Korea four times, and each time were met with defeat. These defeats in Korea led to an attack by the Khan of the eastern Turks who surrounded the emperor. Independent governments arose and for five years, China was again split into smaller states.

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What are the strengths and weaknesses of ethical egoism?

Egoism: Examples and Definition | Philosophy Terms

I. Definition

You may think you already know egoism; but youre probably thinking of egotismself-importance, or self-centeredness. In contrast, egoism is the philosophical view that human beings do, or should, always act for their own benefit. Both words are derived from the Latin word for I ego.

Egoism and egotism are quite different. For example, egotists often talk about themselves a lot, not listening to otherswhich makes people dislike them. In contrast, egoists might act very humbly, and pay attention to othersbecause its in their best interests to make people like them and want to treat them well. Egotism is a character trait; egoism is a philosophy.

Even so, you might think that egoists must secretly be egotistsand a lot of philosophers would agree with you. But the point is that egoism does not necessarily violate our usual notions of what is right and wrong. We will return to this questionof whether egoism implies immoralityin other sections.

In fact, some of our highest ideals in the Western worldindividual rights, freedom, and democracydepend on ideas similar to egoism. All of these philosophies depend on the idea that humans normally do or should pursue their own welfare and happiness. The problem, of course, is when your welfare conflicts with someone elsesanother point well discuss below.

But whether you think egoism is right or wrong depends a lot on what kind of egoism youre talking about. The two main kinds of egoism are quite different; descriptive egoism just claims that human being do always act for their own benefit; while normative egoism claims that we should always act for our own benefit.

The most popular variety of descriptive egoism is psychological egoism, which simply claims that whatever a human being does, the ultimate aim is self-benefit. If psychological egoism is correct, it means that even when people appear to act for others benefit, with no concern for themselveswhich is called altruismtheyre actually doing it for their own sake. It doesnt mean that anyone is necessarily trying to be deceptive, or pretending, to help others (although thats a possibility of course). Psychological egoists would say that people may act altruistically because it will be good for them in the long run, or because it makes them feel good when they do it.

There are at least two main categories of psychological egoismdesire-based and objective. The first says that humans are always doing what they desire. For example, even if you say you dont want to do your homework, you do choose to do it; you have the option to not do it, and suffer the consequences. So, you do desire to do your homeworkjust not for its own sake.

But, this kind of psychological egoism seems to be trivially true; it doesnt say why we make what choices we do.

Other kinds of psychological egoism are called objective because they claim that we are always pursuing certain objectives. Some say we always act for pleasure. Others argue that we always pursue whatever we think will bring us the most benefit.

But most philosophers have rejected psychological egoism. For one thing it is probably unprovable because it is a theory about our deepest motivationswhich are private. How could anyone prove whether you help an old lady across the street only for her sake, or because it makes you feel good about yourself? You may not be sure yourself which it is!

But that kind of example is another reason most philosophers reject psychological egoismbecause human beings really do sometimes act for the benefit of others without expecting to any reward for themselves. Altruism; well come back to this debate in section III.

Normative egoism is not about what humans do, but about what they should do. Two kinds of normative egoism are well known:

Ethical egoists may argue that you cannot know what is best for anyone but yourselfand so it is immoral to try. If you try to act in reference to other peoples interests, rather than your own, you can easily do things those people wouldnt want, mess up other peoples lives, or just violate their right to decide what happens to them, which would be immoral. Ethical egoists also might argue that human beings are dependent on one another for survival, so therefore, it is your moral obligation to take care of yourself first, so that others dont have toand so that you have the ability to take care of them. In other words, whats in your best interests is ultimately in everybodys best interests.

Which brings us to rational egoism, which assumes that we should act rationally, which is egoistically. The most famous rational egoist, the writer Ayn Rand, argued strongly against sacrificing ones own interests for others. She argued that not taking full advantage of ones own freedom is immoral because it opposes the natural fulfilment of human potential, which is the best thing for everyone in a society. For example, if I dont work as hard as possible for my own personal success, then I might fail to accomplish many things that would be good for the world.

Nevertheless, many philosophers feel that rational egoism cannot provide a basis for ethical behaviorthat it is, rather, a justification for amorality (no morality), which could be very dangerous.

In the big picture, its worth noting that egoism has been a characteristically Western philosophy since at least Aristotle. Although there were a few ancient Chinese thinkers who had egoistic ideas, in general, egoism is much harder to justify in Eastern thought, where the ego (the personal self) is an illusion that one should try to get over!

In the west, Aristotle is cited for his early contribution to egoism, in the Nicomachean Ethics, where he points out that one must act for ones own benefit in order to be a good friend, or a good citizenbecause you cant do any good for other people if youre not in good condition yourself. However, Aristotle was not really an egoist, because he believed that it was the primary value of helping others that justified helping oneself.

The main ideas of psychological egoism started popping up in Europe during the Reformation (17th century) such as in the writings of philosopher, Thomas Hobbes (see next section for a quote). Hobbes (and others) argued that all voluntary actions are, by definition, egoisticbecause they are voluntary. So, humans are always acting for their own sakes, whether they think so or not.

Many philosophers shared this view during the 18th century, supported by the rationalism of the time. But David Hume, in his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (Appendix IIOf Self Love), set forth some well-known arguments against it. Hume said that psychological egoism denied the reality of such important human feelings as friendship, love, compassion, and gratitude. He also argued that there was no reason to try to reduce the diversity of human motivations to one simple thing. And he pointed out, as many have, that both humans and animals have been observed to act, instinctively for others sakes.

Early normative egoism is often associated with the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche whose ideas about freedom, the will, and the superman, certainly seem to support egoism, and have been used that way, but Nietzsche himself rejected egoism because, he said, being an egoist would have the opposite of the desired effect; it would set other people against you, which is bad for your own success.

The first philosophers to consider themselves egoists were Max Stirner and Henry Sidgwick in the 19th Century. But probably the most popular and controversial spokesperson for egoism was Ayn Rand, who set forth her arguments in The Virtue of Selfishness, and in novels such as Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Adapting some of Nietzsches rhetoric, Rand focused on rational egoism as a rejection of the sacrificial ethics of Christianity; she argued that it is wrong to sacrifice ones own interests for others because it is irrational: the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action and that man must act for his own rational self-interest. Thus, to her, ethical and rational egoism go together. Her perspective owes a lot to Nietzsches rejection of traditional morality and glorification of the individual will.

Over the past 30 years or so, egoism has faced stronger opposition than before because of scientific research showing that (a) humans and animals do have altruistic instincts, (b) selfish decisions are often not in your best interests, and (c) that altruistic behavior is consistent with evolution. When we were evolving, living in small tribes, most people lived around their many relatives, so doing things for others benefitaltruismcould actually spread ones own genes!

Egoism has always been a controversial theory, and we have sketched some of its debates in the previous sectionssuch as whether it can be moral or not, and whether it needs to be.

Another challenge to egoism is whether its even logically possible. Several philosophers have pointed out that it leads to self-contradictions and irresolvable conflicts. For example, Joseph Butler writes that it may be necessary to act un-selfishly in order to receive benefits, which makes egoism self-contradictory. However, we can get around this paradox by just saying that egoism is acting for long-term benefit.

A bigger problem for psychological egoism is that some behavior just doesnt seem egoistic in any sense. Say a soldier throws himself on a grenade to prevent others from being killed. Its hard to say how that could be in the soldiers selfish interests! Hes not going to benefit from it in the long run, or even be able to enjoy the feeling of being a good person. Egoists might argue that the soldier is deceiving himself if he thinks he acted selflessly; perhaps he was sub-consciously motivated to avoid feeling guilty if he didnt sacrifice himself. But then again, feeling that kind of guilt depends on having non-egoistic motivations, doesnt it? An egoist could also argue that since the soldier made a free decision to jump on the grenade, he was, by definition, following his own desires. However, that argument seems like a cop-out; it avoids resolving the question of why the soldier did it.

The major controversy about normative (ethical or rational) egoism is, of course, whether it can be truly ethical at all, since almost all people agree that an ethical system must encourage us to act for the benefit of other human beings. The main points of debate are whether it is desirable or possible to act selflessly, and whether rational selfishness is or is not really the best thing for others. The answers to these questions depend on answers to many other questions: how interdependent are human beings? Is individual freedom more important than social stability? Is individuality an illusion? So, this debate will doubtless not soon be settled!

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. Herbert Spencer

In this argument for ethical egoism, Herbert Spencer, a 19th century British philosopher, seems to echo Aristotles original justification for some degree of egoismthat a person needs to take care of their own needs and happiness before they can take care of others. Often accused of inconsistency, Spencer was an egoist who also believed that human beings have a natural sense of empathy and should care for each other, although at the same time, he believed that altruism was a relatively recent development in humans.

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 childs], from the slavery of that attendance? David Hume

Hume, a famous opponent of psychological realism, here gives an example that demonstrates several of his arguments against egoism. Hume pointed out that human beings have certain innate non-egoist instincts, such as the compulsion of a mother to sacrifice herself for her children. And even if she does so, selfishly, in order to feel good herself, that doesnt explain why she dies of grief after her child dies.

Altruism is the opposite of egoism the motivation or practice of doing things to benefit others, without expecting any benefit for oneself. However, most of the debates about egoism and altruism are not about whether its good to benefit others or not, which almost everyone agrees on, but whether egoism or altruism are actually beneficial, or even possible.

Just as psychological egoism could be rejected on the basis that its impossible to prove peoples motivations, many philosophers have questioned whether it is possible to prove altruistic motivations either. As descriptions of human nature, egoism and altruism seem to compete on equal grounds; you can pretty much always argue that any action was really motivated by egoism or really altruism, but you cant prove it.

As normative philosophies, about what people should do, most philosophers agree that ethical behavior is behavior which is good for people in generalso you might assume that altruism should win automatically. But there are some pretty good arguments that altruistic action depends on egoist motivations; you might not help that old lady cross the street if you didnt care about feeling good about yourself. And egoists may argue that its immoral to decide whats in other peoples best interests.On the side of altruism is the universal belief that morality means being good to others and the evidence that empathy, compassion, and altruism are natural instincts.

Many popular films feature egoist villainssociopaths who pursue their own gain without regard for others. But Heath Ledgers Joker in Christopher Nolans Dark Knight goes further. Late in the movie he actually sets up a version of The Prisoners Dilemmaa scenario from game theory which philosophers have used to explore the egoism versus altruism debate. The Joker intends to prove to all that his view of human naturepsychological egoismis true. He believes that one or both boats will try to blow up the other one in order to save their own lives, according to the Jokers rulesbut they refuse to cooperate, seemingly proving that humans are not entirely egoistic. Throughout the film, the Joker represents the egoist view as he repeatedly exploits his enemies egoism. But in the end, Batman supposedly demonstrates that altruism is real by taking the fall for a politician he doesnt even likefor the good of the people of Gotham.

Both of the Star Trek films featuring Khan, Captain Kirks worst enemy, explore the consequences of egoist versus altruist views. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, we learn that Khans murderous anger towards humanity is partly a result of Captain Kirks earlier action of marooning Khan and his people on a then hospitable planetwhich later suffered an environmental disaster killing most of Khans people. This is a clear illustration of the ethical egoists claim that trying to act in others interests may be immoral. Furthermore, Kirks failure to check up on Khan on the planet suggests that Kirk was not really acting altruistically, but rather egoistically, supporting the views of psychological egoism. Meanwhile, Khan believes that he has a natural right to dominate, based on his superior intellect and strength, a view commonly associated with rational egoism and Ayn Rand. Of course in the end, Mr. Spock demonstrates altruism by sacrificing himself to save the rest of the Enterprise crew, repeating an idea clearly meant to prove that altruism is more rational than egoismthe needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

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Egoism: Examples and Definition | Philosophy Terms

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 nature–one that can be put to observational testing–to 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

See the rest here:

Egoism | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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

Continued here:

Psychological Egoism vs Ethical Egoism | Flow Psychology

What are the strengths and weaknesses of ethical egoism?

The Sui Dynasty, founded by Sui Wendi, or Yang Jian, held its capital at Luoyang. Despite having a short lifetime, the Sui Dynasty accomplished many things. The Grand Canal was extended north from Hangzhou across the Yangzi to Yangzhou and then northwest to the region of Louyang. The internal administration also improved during this time, which is evident by several things; the building of granaries around the capitals, the fortification of the Great Wall along the northern borders, the reconstruction of the two capitals near the Yellow River, and building of another capital in Yangchow. Confucianism also began to regain popularity, as the nobles gained importance. The Sui rulers were interested in expanding their borders and, along with their public works projects, they began costly military campaigns. They were largely successful with their efforts at territorial expansion into the south. However, to the north, in Korea, they did not achieve much. They attacked Korea four times, and each time were met with defeat. These defeats in Korea led to an attack by the Khan of the eastern Turks who surrounded the emperor. Independent governments arose and for five years, China was again split into smaller states.

Originally posted here:

What are the strengths and weaknesses of ethical egoism?


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