5: What about Me?


Is it Wrong to be Selfish?

  • Define and appropriately use important terms such as altruism, psychological egoism, and ethical egoism
  • Demonstrate knowledge of major arguments for and problems
    with ethical egoism
  • Apply ethical concepts and principles to address moral concerns

I. What Are Our Duties to Others?

Key Terms

Ethical Egoism
Psychological Egoism

  • Duty to help the starving
    • Millions die each year due to malnutrition
    • Luxuries vs. Charity
  • Inaction
    • Physical distance leads to mental distance
    • Statistics have little emotional effect
    • Lack of a “crisis” situation
  • Should we care?
    • Common sense response
    • Other people matter
    • It is better to help than hurt
    • Help should be balanced
    • Criticism: naïve

Dale Carnegie (1936)
How to Win Friends and Influence People

Every act you have ever performed since the day you were born was performed because you wanted something.

II. Ethical & Psychological Egoism

  • Differences from Ethical Egoism
    • Psychological: it is this way
    • Ethical: it ought to be this way
  • Is altruism possible?
    • Altruism on a grand scale: hiding the Jews during the Holocaust, donating millions of dollars
    • Altruism on a small scale: donating blood, visiting the elderly, doing favors
    • Psychological Egoism says we do these things to trick ourselves into believing we are selfless people
  • A. Arguments for Psychological Egoism
    • Argument: We always do what we want to do
      • Flaw: Sometimes we don’t want to do things, but we feel we ought to
      • Flaw: It matters what desire your action is based on
    • Argument: We do what makes us feel good
      • Flaw: Just because a selfish motive exists, doesn’t mean there isn’t a selfless motive as well
      • Flaw: Sometimes purely altruistic acts exist
  • B. Conclusions about Psychological Egoism
    • Human nature is complex
    • Flaws to the argument do exist
    • Keep the differences between Psychological and Ethical Egoism in mind
      • Ethical Egoism claims people ought to exclusively pursue their own self interests
      • Psychological Egoism says people do pursue their own interests
        • Difference between our nature and what we ought to do
      • Ethical Egoism doesn’t state you should avoid helping others, just that helping yourself is the primary goal
      • Ethical Egoism isn’t the uninhibited pursuit of our desires, long term goals are critical

III. Three Arguments for Ethical Egoism

  • A. The argument that altruism is self-defeating
    • It is arrogant to presume I know the desires of another
    • Altruism is intrusive
    • Altruism tells people they are an object and becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy
    • Objections to the argument
      • Whose privacy is invaded to donate money to feed starving children?
      • If the interests of society and others are important, this contradicts Ethical Egoism
  • B. The argument from Ayn Rand
    • Altruism is destructive because it leads to the denial of the value of an individual, and turns people into parasites of no value to society
    • Altruism does not value the individual
    • Objections to the argument
      • Presents an extreme version of altruism and an extreme version of Ethical Egoism
      • No room for balance
  • C. The argument that Ethical Egoism is compatible with common sense
    • Ethical Egoism is usual revisionist: common sense is wrong/Ethical Egoism is right
    • Moral laws should be followed because it’s in our best interests to do so
    • Objections to the argument
      • Moral rules in most situations are to our advantage, but not all
      • Just because something is in your best interests doesn’t mean that’s the only reason it should be done

IV. Three Arguments Against Ethical Egoism

  • A. The argument that Ethical Egoism endorses wickedness
    • Actions we find repugnant are not wrong if they are in the person’s best interests
    • Does not disprove Ethical Egoism because Ethical Egoism does not acknowledge common sense morality as a standard of judgment
  • B. The argument that Ethical Egoism is logically inconsistent
    • Kurt Baier’s Presidential Hypothesis
    • Hidden assumption that it is wrong to prevent someone from doing his duty is not valid
  • C. The argument that Ethical Egoism is arbitrary
    • Based on the Principle of Equal Treatment
    • No good reason exists that one individual should receive markedly unique treatment from the rest of the world