There are several theories about the
principle of the GOOD that would serve human decision making in reaching a
conclusion as to what is the morally correct thing to do. One
approach or group of theories is known as being Teleological.
In this approach to ethics it is the consequence of the act that is
the basis for determining its worth.
One of the most basic of consequences is the impact on people and
one of the most basic of all values for determining whether something is
good or not is the pleasure that it brings to someone.
Some think that emotional and physical PLEASURE is the ONLY basis
for determining what is GOOD
Theories of the GOOD based on pleasure are termed HEDONISM
There are two popular theories of the GOOD based on pleasure.
One is based on pleasure to one self.
The other is based on the pleasure that results for all
humans in the world. UTILITARIANISM.
This section will focus on EGOISM.
There are five types of Egoism the focus here is on the last:
Rational Egoism: Rational egoism is concerned with reasonable
- Common-sense Egoism: According to this view, egoism is a vice.
It involves putting one’s own concerns over those of others. One’s
behavior is egoistic if it involves putting one’s own interests over
those of others to an immoderate degree.
- Psychological Egoism
- Argument For: Human agents always, at least on a deep-down
level, are all egoists insofar as our behavior, explainable in terms
of our beliefs and desires, is always aimed at what we believe is our
greatest good (Baier, 1991, p. 203).
- Objection: The psychological egoist confuses egoistic desires
with motivation. An agent may act contrary to his desires and what is
in his own best interest. People often act in ways that they know are
detrimental to their well being. Moreover, what one most wants may not
be in their own self-interest (e.g., giving money to Amnesty
International rather than buying a new CD). MacKinnon adds that,
"Even if it were shown that we often act for the sake of
our own interest, this is not enough to prove that psychological
egoism is true. According to this theory, we must show that people always
act to promote their own interests" (p. 23). If we can find only
one counterexample to psychological egoism, then it is not true.
- Egoism as a Means to the Common Good
According to the economist, Adam Smith, when
entrepreneurs are unimpeded by legal or self-imposed moral
constraint to protect the good of others, they are able to promote
their own good and, as a result, provide the most efficient means of
promoting the good of others (Baier, 1991, p. 201; see MacKinnon, p.
24). Such a view leads to the doctrine that, "if each pursues
her own interest as she conceives of it, then the interest of
everyone is promoted" (Baier, 1991, p. 200).
- Argument For:
- Objection: Apart from positing an "invisible hand"
guiding the market processes, the common-good egoist makes the
fallacy, ascribed to J.S. Mill, that if each person promotes her own
interest, then everyone else’s interests are thereby promoted.
"Clearly, this is a fallacy, for the interests of different
individuals or classes may, and under certain conditions (of which
the scarcity of necessities is the most obvious), do conflict. Then
the interest of one is the detriment of the other" (Baier,
1991, p. 200).
It is always rational to aim at
one’s own greatest good, and never rational not to do so (Baier,
1991, p. 201).
Weak Rational Egoism: It is always rational to aim at one’s
own greatest good, but not necessarily never rational not to do so (Baier,
1991, p. 201).
Argument For: When doing something does not prima facie appear
to be in our interest, our doing said act requires that we justify our
action by showing that it is in our interest, thereby justifying our
Objection: Such an approach to justifying actions in our own
interest may be abused if we do not have criteria established to
determine what the interests of agents amount to. If such criteria are
established, such actions may be reasonable so long as they do not
result in conflicts between agents. In such cases, creative middle
ways are called for.
Ethical Egoism: Coupled with ethical rationalism—"the
doctrine that if a moral requirement or recommendation is to be sound or
acceptable, complying with it must be in accordance with
reason"—rational egoism implies ethical egoism (Baier, 1991, p.
- Strong Rational Egoism:
It is always right to aim at one’s
own greatest good, and never right not to do so (Baier, 1991, p. 201).
Weak Ethical Egoism: It is always right to aim at one’s own
greatest good, but not necessarily never right not to do so (Baier,
1991, p. 201).
Argument For: If we accept rational egoism, and if we accept
ethical rationalism, then we must accept ethical egoism. This is the
case because if acting in one’s own self-interest is reasonable,
then it is a moral requirement that one acts in one’s own
Objection: Ethical egoism is incompatible with ethical
conflict-regulation. Consider the following example from Kurt Baier,
regarding the problem over whether it would be morally wrong for me to
kill my grandfather so that he will be unable to change his will and
disinherit me (1991, p. 202):
- Strong Ethical Egoism:
Assuming that my killing him will be in my best interest but
detrimental to my grandfather, while refraining from killing him will be
to my detriment but in my grandfather’s interest, then if ethical
conflict-regulation is sound, there can be a sound moral guideline
regulating this conflict (presumably by forbidding this killing). But
then ethical egoism cannot be sound, for it precludes the
interpersonally authoritative regulation of interpersonal conflicts of
interest, since such a regulation implies that conduct contrary to
one’s interest is sometimes morally required of one, and
conduct in one’s best interest is sometimes morally forbidden to one.
Thus, ethical egoism is incompatible with ethical conflict-regulation.
References: Baier, Kurt. 1991 "Egoism" in a
Companion to Ethics. (ed. P. Singer) Oxford: Blackwell,
A famous Egoist was Thomas Hobbes
Ethical Egoism and EGOISTS
Literature on Egoism-links to sites
An action is morally right if and only if it is to the advantage of
the person doing it.
ARGUMENTS FOR ETHICAL EGOISM
1. An altruistic moral theory that demands
total self-sacrifice is degrading to the moral agent.
Objection: This is a false dilemma: there are
many non-egoistic moral theories that do not demand total self-sacrifice.
2. Everyone is better off if each pursues his
or her self-interest.
Objection: (a) This probably is not true in
practice; and (b) True egoism isn't concerned with what will make everyone
ARGUMENTS AGAINST ETHICAL EGOISM
Provides no moral basis for
solving conflicts between people.
Obligates each person to
prevent others from doing the right thing.
Has the same logical basis
The egoist cannot advise others to be egoists because it works
against the first egoists interest.
No one person can expect the entire world’s population to act in
such a way as to produce the most benefit (pleasure) for that one person.
The Truth in Psychological Egosim by
So although we all know people who attempt to live their lives as
egoists, they are not generally well liked.
Being so totally focused on the self is not likely to make someone
many friends. Egoists can but
friends but most people avoid egoists as they are thought to be
EGOISM is not the basis for the moral foundation needed for social
There are other options.
turn to next section