Lessons From Ethical Egoism
Updated: Mar 26
I do not follow the theory of Egoism or Altruism. I still find valuable lessons in Ethical Egoism, but there's a lot to unpack.
The theory that people only do what is in their own self-interest
Idea of only benefiting self regardless and sometimes TO hurt others
Seeking pleasure on broad-spectrum, cerebral pleasure, self-realization. NOT Hedonism.
Pleasure is the ultimate and only value
Individuals should always be unselfishly concerned with the welfare of others and produce acts that will benefit the needs and interest of others.
Ethical Egoism is a version of objectivism. One's moral judgments could be wrong if they put another person's ahead of their own.
There are three types of Ethical Egoism:
Personal Ethical Egoism
One ought to always act in such a way that always maximizes their own self-interest. There is no theory that says what is moral for other individuals, thus making this absurd.
Ex. This applies to you and ONLY you.
Individual Ethical Egoism
A moral act is one that serves the best interest of X. How will one's actions benefit X's self-interest? This theory is arrogant to assume there is no moral code after X's death. An example of this would be serving a king being the ultimate good. After said king dies there is no moral code because you can no longer serve him.
Universal Ethical Egoism
Individuals should only act in a way that furthers their own self-interest. It offers impartiality and universal appeal for the ethical theory to not be so absurd.
Ex. This applies to all individuals. We all should serve our own individual self-interest.
You can't do anything that doesn't feed into your ego, even if it wasn't for the reason of benefiting your self-interest.
Criticisms of Ethical Egoism
Condemned for being a sanctuary for cynics, scoundrels, and manipulators, (all though this presumes that humans self-interest and nature is intrinsically bad). Everything also has a moral implication and obligation.
Three Arguments in Favor of Ethical Egoism
Psychological Egoists state that unless mistaken by an action, people will always act in their own self-interest. Ethical Egoism also addresses why we do things that we know are bad for us. It is to experience immediate gratification. For example, eating an entire cake. Present you benefits from the hedonistic pleasure of indulging. Future you will pay.
Ayn Rand is a big proponent of Ethical Egoism. She argues there are two choices for agents:
1. Embrace "rational selfishness" where society will flourish. Her theory of Objectivism.
2. Embrace altruism, which will lead to the destruction of everything worthwhile in society.
If people are rational, then it follows that self-interest is fundamental, irreducible, and the source of all other values.
Values of Objectivism:
It is immoral to do something if you only do it because you feel obligated. Ethical Egoism is concerned with the motivations behind moral acts.
The world doesn't owe you anything.
Ethical Egoism on its own cannot stand. It places more importance on one than the many. How far are you willing to go?
In the Altruism v.s. Egoism argument, I don't think Altruism has a leg to stand on. I think Ethical Egoism realizes the biological imperative of people and works around it, but because humans differ so greatly, it is not wise to assume everyone's self-interest is always the greatest good.
Altruism ignores the biology of moral decision making. The idea of Altruism makes us feel good. Helping others feel good. That's why Altruism is put on a pedestal for being this great good.
In the end, I don't think either of them can stand up on their own. I think we can take valuable lessons from Ethical Egoism though.