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Ethical egoism is the normative ethical position that moral agents ought to act in their own self-interest. It differs from psychological egoism, which claims that people can only act in their self-interest. Ethical egoism also differs from rational egoism, which holds that it is rational to act in one's self-interest.Ethical egoism holds, therefore, that actions whose consequences will benefit the doer can be considered ethical in this sense.
Ethical egoism contrasts with ethical altruism, which holds that moral agents have an obligation to help others. Egoism and altruism both contrast with ethical utilitarianism, which holds that a moral agent should treat one's self (also known as the subject) with no higher regard than one has for others (as egoism does, by elevating self-interests and "the self" to a status not granted to others). But it also holds that one is not obligated to sacrifice one's own interests (as altruism does) to help others' interests, so long as one's own interests (i.e. one's own desires or well-being) are substantially equivalent to the others' interests and well-being, but he has the choice to do so. Egoism, utilitarianism, and altruism are all forms of consequentialism, but egoism and altruism contrast with utilitarianism, in that egoism and altruism are both agent-focused forms of consequentialism (i.e. subject-focused or subjective). However, utilitarianism is held to be agent-neutral (i.e. objective and impartial): it does not treat the subject's (i.e. the self's, i.e. the moral "agent's") own interests as being more or less important than the interests, desires, or well-being of others.
Ethical egoism does not, however, require moral agents to harm the interests and well-being of others when making moral deliberation; e.g. what is in an agent's self-interest may be incidentally detrimental, beneficial, or neutral in its effect on others. Individualism allows for others' interest and well-being to be disregarded or not, as long as what is chosen is efficacious in satisfying the self-interest of the agent. Nor does ethical egoism necessarily entail that, in pursuing self-interest, one ought always to do what one wants to do; e.g. in the long term, the fulfillment of short-term desires may prove detrimental to the self. Fleeting pleasure, then, takes a back seat to protracted eudaimonia. In the words of James Rachels, "Ethical egoism ... endorses selfishness, but it doesn't endorse foolishness."
Ethical egoism is often used as the philosophical basis for support of right-libertarianism and individualist anarchism.These are political positions based partly on a belief that individuals should not coercively prevent others from exercising freedom of action.
Ethical egoism can be broadly divided into three categories: individual, personal, and universal. An individual ethical egoist would hold that all people should do whatever benefits "my" (the individual's)self-interest; a personal ethical egoist would hold that they should act in their self-interest, but would make no claims about what anyone else ought to do; a universal ethical egoist would argue that everyone should act in ways that are in their self-interest.
Ethical egoism was introduced by the philosopher Henry Sidgwick in his book The Methods of Ethics , written in 1874. Sidgwick compared egoism to the philosophy of utilitarianism, writing that whereas utilitarianism sought to maximize overall pleasure, egoism focused only on maximizing individual pleasure.
Philosophers before Sidgwick have also retroactively been identified as ethical egoists. One ancient example is the philosophy of Yang Zhu (4th century BC), Yangism, who views wei wo, or "everything for myself", as the only virtue necessary for self-cultivation.Ancient Greek philosophers like Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics were exponents of virtue ethics, and "did not accept the formal principle that whatever the good is, we should seek only our own good, or prefer it to the good of others." However, the beliefs of the Cyrenaics have been referred to as a "form of egoistic hedonism", and while some refer to Epicurus' hedonism as a form of virtue ethics, others argue his ethics are more properly described as ethical egoism.
Philosopher James Rachels, in an essay that takes as its title the theory's name, outlines the three arguments most commonly touted in its favor:
It has been argued that extreme ethical egoism is self-defeating. Faced with a situation of limited resources, egoists would consume as much of the resource as they could, making the overall situation worse for everybody. Egoists may respond that if the situation becomes worse for everybody, that would include the egoist, so it is not, in fact, in their rational self-interest to take things to such extremes.However, the (unregulated) tragedy of the commons and the (one off) prisoner's dilemma are cases in which, on the one hand, it is rational for an individual to seek to take as much as possible even though that makes things worse for everybody, and on the other hand, those cases are not self-refuting since that behaviour remains rational even though it is ultimately self-defeating, i.e. self-defeating does not imply self-refuting. Egoists might respond that a tragedy of the commons, however, assumes some degree of public land. That is, a commons forbidding homesteading requires regulation. Thus, an argument against the tragedy of the commons, in this belief system, is fundamentally an argument for private property rights and the system that recognizes both property rights and rational self-interest—capitalism. More generally, egoists might say that an increasing respect for individual rights uniquely allows for increasing wealth creation and increasing usable resources despite a fixed amount of raw materials (e.g. the West pre-1776 versus post-1776, East versus West Germany, Hong Kong versus mainland China, North versus South Korea, etc.).
It is not clear how to apply a private ownership model to many examples of "Commons", however. Examples include large fisheries, the atmosphere and the ocean.
The term ethical egoism has been applied retroactively to philosophers such as Bernard de Mandeville and to many other materialists of his generation, although none of them declared themselves to be egoists. Note that materialism does not necessarily imply egoism, as indicated by Karl Marx, and the many other materialists who espoused forms of collectivism. It has been argued that ethical egoism can lend itself to individualist anarchism such as that of Benjamin Tucker, or the combined anarcho-communism and egoism of Emma Goldman, both of whom were proponents of many egoist ideas put forward by Max Stirner. In this context, egoism is another way of describing the sense that the common good should be enjoyed by all. However, most notable anarchists in history have been less radical, retaining altruism and a sense of the importance of the individual that is appreciable but does not go as far as egoism. Recent trends to greater appreciation of egoism within anarchism tend to come from less classical directions such as post-left anarchy or Situationism (e.g. Raoul Vaneigem). Egoism has also been referenced by anarcho-capitalists, such as Murray Rothbard.
Philosopher Max Stirner, in his book The Ego and Its Own , was the first philosopher to call himself an egoist, though his writing makes clear that he desired not a new idea of morality (ethical egoism), but rather a rejection of morality (amoralism), as a nonexistent and limiting "spook"; for this, Stirner has been described as the first individualist anarchist. Other philosophers, such as Thomas Hobbes and David Gauthier, have argued that the conflicts which arise when people each pursue their own ends can be resolved for the best of each individual only if they all voluntarily forgo some of their aims—that is, one's self-interest is often best pursued by allowing others to pursue their self-interest as well so that liberty is equal among individuals. Sacrificing one's short-term self-interest to maximize one's long-term self-interest is one form of "rational self-interest" which is the idea behind most philosophers' advocacy of ethical egoism. Egoists have also argued that one's actual interests are not immediately obvious, and that the pursuit of self-interest involves more than merely the acquisition of some good, but the maximizing of one's chances of survival and/or happiness.
Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche suggested that egoistic or "life-affirming" behavior stimulates jealousy or "ressentiment" in others, and that this is the psychological motive for the altruism in Christianity. Sociologist Helmut Schoeck similarly considered envy the motive of collective efforts by society to reduce the disproportionate gains of successful individuals through moral or legal constraints, with altruism being primary among these.In addition, Nietzsche (in Beyond Good and Evil ) and Alasdair MacIntyre (in After Virtue ) have pointed out that the ancient Greeks did not associate morality with altruism in the way that post-Christian Western civilization has done. Aristotle's view is that we have duties to ourselves as well as to other people (e.g. friends) and to the polis as a whole. The same is true for Thomas Aquinas, Christian Wolff and Immanuel Kant, who claim that there are duties to ourselves as Aristotle did, although it has been argued that, for Aristotle, the duty to one's self is primary.
Ayn Rand argued that there is a positive harmony of interests among free, rational humans, such that no moral agent can rationally coerce another person consistently with his own long-term self-interest. Rand argued that other people are an enormous value to an individual's well-being (through education, trade and affection), but also that this value could be fully realized only under conditions of political and economic freedom. According to Rand, voluntary trade alone can assure that human interaction is mutually beneficial.Rand's student, Leonard Peikoff has argued that the identification of one's interests itself is impossible absent the use of principles, and that self-interest cannot be consistently pursued absent a consistent adherence to certain ethical principles. Recently, Rand's position has also been defended by such writers as Tara Smith, Tibor Machan, Allan Gotthelf, David Kelley, Douglas Rasmussen, Nathaniel Branden, Harry Binswanger, Andrew Bernstein, and Craig Biddle.
Philosopher David L. Norton identified himself an "ethical individualist", and, like Rand, saw a harmony between an individual's fidelity to his own self-actualization, or "personal destiny", and the achievement of society's well being.
Consequentialism is the class of normative ethical theories holding that the consequences of one's conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of that conduct. Thus, from a consequentialist standpoint, a morally right act is one that will produce a good outcome, or consequence.
Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. The field of ethics, along with aesthetics, concerns matters of value, and thus comprises the branch of philosophy called axiology.
Egoism is an ethical theory that treats self-interest as the foundation of morality.
Individualism is the moral stance, political philosophy, ideology, or social outlook that emphasizes the moral worth of the individual. Individualists promote the exercise of one's goals and desires and so value independence and self-reliance and advocate that interests of the individual should achieve precedence over the state or a social group, while opposing external interference upon one's own interests by society or institutions such as the government. Individualism is often defined in contrast to totalitarianism, collectivism, and more corporate social forms.
Normative ethics is the study of ethical action. It is the branch of philosophical ethics that investigates the set of questions that arise when considering how one ought to act, morally speaking.
Objectivism is a philosophical system developed by Russian-American writer Ayn Rand. Rand first expressed Objectivism in her fiction, most notably The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), and later in non-fiction essays and books. Leonard Peikoff, a professional philosopher and Rand's designated intellectual heir, later gave it a more formal structure. Rand described Objectivism as "the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute". Peikoff characterizes Objectivism as a "closed system" that is not subject to change.
This Index of ethics articles puts articles relevant to well-known ethical debates and decisions in one place - including practical problems long known in philosophy, and the more abstract subjects in law, politics, and some professions and sciences. It lists also those core concepts essential to understanding ethics as applied in various religions, some movements derived from religions, and religions discussed as if they were a theory of ethics making no special claim to divine status.
Selfishness is being concerned excessively or exclusively, for oneself or one's own advantage, pleasure, or welfare, regardless of others.
Self-interest generally refers to a focus on the needs or desires (interests) of one's self. Most times, actions that display self-interest are often performed without conscious knowing. A number of philosophical, psychological, and economic theories examine the role of self-interest in motivating human action.
Enlightened self-interest is a philosophy in ethics which states that persons who act to further the interests of others, ultimately serve their own self-interest.
Tibor Richard Machan was a Hungarian-American philosopher. A professor emeritus in the department of philosophy at Auburn University, Machan held the R. C. Hoiles Chair of Business Ethics and Free Enterprise at the Argyros School of Business & Economics at Chapman University in Orange, California until 31 December 2014.
The Randian hero is a ubiquitous figure in the fiction of 20th-century novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, most famously in the figures of The Fountainhead's Howard Roark and Atlas Shrugged's John Galt. Rand's self-declared purpose in writing fiction was to project an "ideal man"—a man who perseveres to achieve his values, and only his values.
Rational egoism is the principle that an action is rational if and only if it maximizes one's self-interest. The view is a normative form of egoism. It is distinct from psychological egoism and ethical egoism.
The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism is a 1964 collection of essays by the philosopher Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden. Most of the essays originally appeared in The Objectivist Newsletter. The book covers ethical issues from the perspective of Rand's Objectivist philosophy. Some of its themes include the identification and validation of egoism as a rational code of ethics, the destructiveness of altruism, and the nature of a proper government.
Altruism is an ethical doctrine that holds that the moral value of an individual's actions depend solely on the impact on other individuals, regardless of the consequences on the individual itself. James Fieser states the altruist dictum as: "An action is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable to everyone except the agent." Auguste Comte's version of altruism calls for living for the sake of others. One who holds to either of these ethics is known as an "altruist."
Kantian ethics refers to a deontological ethical theory ascribed to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. The theory, developed as a result of Enlightenment rationalism, is based on the view that the only intrinsically good thing is a good will; an action can only be good if its maxim—the principle behind it—is duty to the moral law. Central to Kant's construction of the moral law is the categorical imperative, which acts on all people, regardless of their interests or desires. Kant formulated the categorical imperative in various ways. His principle of universalizability requires that, for an action to be permissible, it must be possible to apply it to all people without a contradiction occurring. If a contradiction occurs the act violates Aristotle's "Non-contradiction" concept which states that just actions cannot lead to contradictions. Kant's formulation of humanity, the second section of the Categorical Imperative, states that as an end in itself humans are required never to treat others merely as a means to an end, but always, additionally, as ends in themselves. The formulation of autonomy concludes that rational agents are bound to the moral law by their own will, while Kant's concept of the Kingdom of Ends requires that people act as if the principles of their actions establish a law for a hypothetical kingdom. Kant also distinguished between perfect and imperfect duties. A perfect duty, such as the duty not to lie, always holds true; an imperfect duty, such as the duty to give to charity, can be made flexible and applied in particular time and place.
Rule egoism is the doctrine under which an individual evaluates the optimal set of rules according to whether conformity to those rules bring the most benefit to himself. An action, therefore, is right if it promotes his welfare at least as well as any alternative rule available to him. It is associated with foundational egoism, which maintains that normative factors must be grounded in consideration of the agent's well-being - something that rule egoism does but in a way that avoids factoral egoism.
The Methods of Ethics is a book on ethics first published in 1874 by the English philosopher Henry Sidgwick. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy indicates that The Methods of Ethics "in many ways marked the culmination of the classical utilitarian tradition." Noted moral and political philosopher John Rawls, writing in the Forward to the Hackett reprint of the 7th edition, says Methods of Ethics "is the clearest and most accessible formulation of ... 'the classical utilitarian doctrine'". Contemporary utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer has said that the Methods "is simply the best book on ethics ever written."
Ethics is the branch of philosophy that examines right and wrong moral behavior, moral concepts and moral language. Various ethical theories pose various answers to the question "What is the greatest good?" and elaborate a complete set of proper behaviors for individuals and groups. Ethical theories are closely related to forms of life in various social orders.
How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time is a 2008 book by Iain King. It sets out a history of moral philosophy and presents new ideas in ethics, which have been described as quasi-utilitarianism.