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Ethical Egoism

Hmmm, I would best possibly describe them as ethical donkies. hahaha and anyway, Ethical egoism contrasts with ethical altruism, which holds that moral agents have an obligation to help and serve others.This is the claim that individuals should always to act in their own best interest. It is a normative claim. If ethical egoism is true, that appears to imply that psychological egoism is false: there would be no point to saying that we ought to do what we must do by nature.

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

An alternative formulation of ethical egoism states that I ought to act in my own self-interest–even if this conflicts with the values and interests of others–simply because that is what I value most. It is not clear how an altruist could argue with such an individualistic ethical egoist, but it is also not clear that such an egoist should choose to argue with the altruist. Since the individualistic egoist believes that whatever serves his own interests is (morally) right, he will want everyone else to be altruistic. Otherwise they would not serve the egoist’s interests! It seems that anyone who truly believed in individualistic ethical egoism could not promote the theory without inconsistency. Indeed, the self-interest of the egoist is best served by publicly claiming to be an altruist and thereby keeping everyone’s good favor.

Ethical egoism is opposed not only by altruist philosophers; it is also at odds with the majority of religion. Most religions hold that ethical egoism is the product of a lack of genuine spirituality and shows an individual’s submersion in greed. Religious egoism is a derivative of egoism, whereby religion is used to validate one’s self-interest.

In The Moral Point of View, Kurt Baier objects that ethical egoism provides no moral basis for the resolution of conflicts of interest, which, in his opinion, form the only vindication for a moral code. Were this an ideal world, one in which interests and purposes never jarred, its inhabitants would have no need of a specified set of ethics, according to Baier. This, however, is not an “ideal world.” Baier believes that ethical egoism fails to provide the moral guidance and arbitration that it necessitates. Far from resolving conflicts of interest, claimed Baier, ethical egoism all too often spawns them. To this, as Rachels has shown, the ethical egoist may object that he cannot admit a construct of morality whose aim is merely to forestall conflicts of interest. “On his view,” he writes, “the moralist is not like a courtroom judge, who resolves disputes. Instead, he is like the Commissioner of Boxing, who urges each fighter to do his best.”

Baiers is also part of a team of philosophers who hold that ethical egoism is paradoxical, implying that to do what is in one’s best interests can be both wrong and right in ethical terms. Although a successful pursuit of self-interest may be viewed as a moral victory, it could also be dubbed immoral if it prevents another person from executing what is in his best interests. Again, however, the ethical egoists have responded by assuming the guise of the Commissioner of Boxing. His philosophy precludes empathy for the interests of others, so forestalling them is perfectly acceptable. “Regardless of whether we think this is a correct view,” adds Rachels, “it is, at the very least, a consistent view, and so this attempt to convict the egoist of self-contradiction fails.”

Finally, it has been averred that ethical egoism is no better than bigotry in that, like racism, it divides people into two types — themselves and others — and discriminates against one type on the basis of some arbitrary disparity. This, to Rachels’s mind, is probably the best objection to ethical egoism, for it provides the soundest reason why the interests of others ought to concern the interests of the self. “What,” he asks, “is the difference between myself and others that justifies placing myself in this special category? Am I more intelligent? Do I enjoy my life more? Are my accomplishments greater? Do I have needs or abilities that are so different from the needs and abilities of others?What is it that makes me so special? Failing an answer, it turns out that Ethical Egoism is an arbitrary doctrine, in the same way that racism is arbitrary. We should care about the interests of other people for the very same reason we care about our own interests; for their needs and desires are comparable to our own.”

It has been observed, however, that the very act of eating (especially, when there are others starving in the world) is such an act of self-interested discrimination. Egoists such as Rand who readily acknowledge the (conditional) value of others to an individual, and who readily endorse empathy for others, have argued the exact reverse from Rachels, that it is altruism which discriminates: “If the sensation of eating a cake is a value, then why is it an immoral indulgence in your stomach, but a moral goal for you to achieve in the stomach of others?”It is, thus, altruism which is the arbitrary position, according to Rand.

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