Ethical egoism is a normative theory that states that an individual’s actions ought to be done to maximize one’s self-interest. Ethical egoism requires that people give special treatment to themselves, that they must serve their self-interest. Egoism holds that a person should act only when the action benefits them, and they should refrain from actions when the action produces no benefits for them. When one action is wrong, the opposite of the action rationally would seem to be correct.
If helping a person would hinder your self-interest, this would therefore seem to make it morally permissible for a person to perform harm to others in situations where their self-interest will benefit from the action. But, an egoist must act by one’s eternal self-interest. Therefore they are not just individuals who believe that they should always do what they like because acting by this maxim would not always necessarily benefit the person in the long term. Thus, when we say that a person ought to do something, we are also implying is that they are capable of doing the action.
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We cannot expect people to do things that they cannot do. In the scenario of a drowning child, if one cannot swim, then one is not physically capable of saving the drowning child, and there is no sense in our saying that one ought to save the victim. Psychological egoism is not an affirmation that all people behave selfishly in consequence. I would agree that people assist others, contribute to charity or even provide an organ to somebody who will die if they don’t receive a transplant. What they are saying is that the motive behind such actions is always and ultimately selfish.
A consequence may benefit more than the egotistic individual, but the primary intention of the action is built upon the foundation of selfishness. For example, a person in a situation where they could save another person’s life may do so because everyone will admire them, or they would not be capable of living with themselves if that individual died when they could have attempted to save them. In other words, an egotistic person can perform generous acts, but they cannot act compassionately. Even when they are helping others, individuals cannot refrain from acting in a personal self-interest. Individuals can complete unselfish acts, but they cannot have unselfish desires.
Ethical egoism is concerned with the motives that people ought to have; the view acknowledges that people can choose to act altruistically but condemns such actions when they do happen. It is centred on the assertion that such a principle would produce enhanced humankind; if superior pleasure occurs to those who practice their gain, the more individuals who accomplish this, the better. Thus, actions such as theft and helping others are acceptable only because they are instrumentally virtuous, not because they have any intrinsic worth. If an individual helped others, then the individual would count on help from those who were helped.
In the act of war, one might sacrifice their life to save entire drove, seemingly placing their selfishness aside. Although the intent seems to derive from an altruistic intention, the motive may be that the individual’s death would be better than a lifetime of living with guilt or even countless other selfish incentives. Most people like thinking of themselves as generous, that they would sacrifice themselves for the greater good, even if the greater good is not a means to their satisfaction in any way.
People often misrepresent their motivations. Most will agree that there are specific actions that will produce pleasure and some that produce pain. When we know that if an action will produce pain, then it is our natural inclination not to want to do it, as when the action produces pleasure, we want to execute the task to receive the gratification. Self-preservation is the only human instinct, so ethical egoism exists in everyone. When a moment of truth comes, and an individual has their back against the wall, they will choose an action that they believe will contribute them the most significant amount of satisfaction.
The hopeful satisfaction may be derived from a multitude of motives where the only intent of the individual is to receive the satisfaction of their action. Any action deemed to be altruistic motivation would have a motive driven out of fear, acceptance, religious beliefs, and other hidden egotistical motives at some level. An egotistic person would not murder since jail, death, and social outcast does not bring about their best self-interest. The incentive behind deciding not to murder may be deemed immoral by most, but the end action still brings about a favorable outcome. Many motives produce the same consequences; the result of best self-interest could not be obtained unless one was
In the scenario of a drowning boy, egoism is a necessary evil that allows human beings to grow and thrive. It is selfishness that fuels our very existence. We recognize the need to feed and clothe ourselves. In doing so, we are using resources that someone else might need. However, our selfishness often benefits someone else. Selfishness will compel a man to court a woman, to win her affections from a rival. However, in doing so, he is working towards providing security and love for his mate (in theory). He provides safety and comfort for his children (hopefully). He ensures a new generation for his species.
The selfishness in his acts – to triumph over his rival, to begin and protect his progeny – ensure the survival of himself and his family and the survival of those on whom he depends on feeding, clothing, and sheltering them. The “greater good” will succeed for everyone if everyone pursues their self-interest. Why? Because everyone knows their own needs best, or because people are more motivated when they’re looking out for number one, or because charity is degrading to the recipient. Thus, to justify Ethical Egoism, there needs to be a characteristic that everyone has that sets them above everyone else in all situations
Ethical egoism might appear to differ a great deal in content from standard moral theories. For example, moral theories such as Kantianism, utilitarianism, and common-sense morality require that the interest of others is also a vital component of a moral One of the problems with this position is that it might not be in one’s have everyone act from the perspective of self-interest. This ‘state of nature’ would not be desirable (in Hobbes’ terms, life would be “beastly, brutal, and short”). So it might ultimately be in one’s self-interest to enter into a contract with others that would place restraints upon self-interested actions.
Ethical egoism would object to such altruistic actions because it is indeed illogical. Such a selfless duty implies a standard of value that is detrimental to us, and a moral or ethical theory that directs us to act to our detriment requires a dubious moral standard of value. Even religious doctrines, which usually stress some form of self-sacrifice, do not claim to be harmful to their followers. Ethical egoism resolves the conflict between self-serving and other-directed actions by saying that we should only act in our own self-interest.
A useful approach to explain ethical egoism can be found by asking two questions – first, “What is the goal of moral conduct?” from which follows: “What is the basic standard of moral conduct?” According to ethical egoism, the first one can be answered as “one’s life” and the second “enlightened self-interest.” The first answer is such because it comes from a basic moral choice that everyone must make – that is to live or die. If we answer, “to die,” then no further morality is necessary, as death prevents the ability to make any other choices. If we answer, “to live” however, we must confront reality.
Without getting into any specific doctrine of ethical egoism, we can say that in order to live, we must act in a way that furthers our own survival, and reality is such that acting in our enlightened self-interest is the only action that will lead to that goal because to act in the interest of others while neglecting our interests will lead to our demise. Perhaps the most convincing aspect of ethical egoism is that it answers a necessary question in a necessary way — that is, we must decide whether to live or die, and we must choose to take care of our lives if we choose to live. Its primary goal is “life” and its standard of value is “does this action lead to my self-interest?”
A possible objection is to act how “one’s life” is a better standard of value than “the public good,” “society,” “the children,” “virtue,” or “the ten commandments.” The reply is that self-interest comes from a choice we have to make -that is to live or to die. There is nothing natural or automatic about any of these other choices, but self-interest comes from a choice we must consciously or unconsciously make and act (or not act) on in order to live. Another objection is to ask why there can only be one standard – why “society” or “everyone’s utility” cannot be additional values.
The reply is that while these can be consequential duties, they must serve only as an end to self-interest because once again, there is nothing inherent about them. A similar reply can be applied to all sorts of societal duty theories -that is those that put forth a doctrine of some sort of a debt to society. The entire notion of paying back debts is not inherently good in itself but comes from the idea that it is in one’s self-interest to fulfill obligations.
Objectivism. From this theory, the ideas that Ayn Rand presents follow naturally. She argues for a form of strong egoism -that is, rational selfishness, and discredits the idea of an involuntary debt to society or other individuals. There are several responses to objections typically raised to her philosophy that can further clarify her positions. The most common argument raised is to dispute rationality and reason as the step in between self-interest and morality. It is argued that right acts can be determined by some other means such as intuition, feelings, religion, socials mores and perhaps even mystical revelations such as the Ten Commandments as revealed by God.
In particular, intuition and feelings are often claimed to be equally valid means of determining morality. While it is true that we are often able to make an immediate moral judgment without resorting to logic, Objectivism would hold that emotion are simple immediate reactions based on the values and judgments we hold. As such, they may be imitated from society or arrived at independently, but they must be the result of a rational choice.
Another common argument against Objectivism holds that there does not have to be only one goal of moral conduct, that self-interest may be supplement by altruism or concern for others to some degree. The response to this is that there is no intrinsic basis for a moral claim held by other individuals against each other. If one tried to argue that altruism is to one’s benefit, then that would no longer be altruism, and all similar selfless forms of concern for the common good face the same dilemma. Any involuntary form of obligation to society lacks a self-interested justification, and that obligation which is viewed as beneficial to oneself, is by definition, no longer altruism.
Finally, there is the claim that Objectivism confuses the goal or moral conduct and the standard of moral conduct — that is, while the self (one’s life) can be a goal, self-interest or reason may not necessarily be the appropriate means to that goal. The response here is that a moral goal of “life” requires a standard of rational self-interest to achieve it. For example, suppose that charitable woman on the street hesitated for a second before giving money to the beggar, and asked herself – “What the goal of my actions? She might answer -“my life”.
She would then ask herself — “How can I judge my actions to determine if they are compatible with my value of life?” The answer then is “reason” as it is the only true method available to evaluate potential actions. Finally, the woman would reach the conclusion that those actions which with the reason she evaluates to be most beneficial to her self-interest are right, and those against it her self-interest, are wrong. This chain of thinking presents a coherent argument for the Objectivist view of morality and ethics.