Ethical egoism


Background to ethical egoism

  • it is a normative ethic, meaning it attempts to give moral agents a guide to what is right and what is wrong)
  • it states that moral agents, when faced with a moral dilemma, ought to do what is in their own self-interest 
  • for example, do what is best for them 
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How ethical egoism works

  • an ethical egoist believes if an action creates a beneficial outcome fro the moral agent then this can be considered ethically good 
  • Julia Driver states that 'ethical egoism ... holds that all actions ought to be motivated by self-interest'
  • the only obligation an ethical egoist has is to themselves and any action that upholds this principle is deemed acceptable 
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Contrast with altruism

  • altruism holds that moral agents have an obligation to help others 
  • it states that a moral agent should always try to positively impact other individuals, regardless of the outcomes for the moral agent 
  • however, an ethical egoist would consider altruistic actions as egoistic in nature as it can count as self gain
  • Richard Norman states 'in caring for other people, i do so because i think it will make my own life happier'
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Psychological egoism

  • psychological egoism is the view that humans are always motivated by self-interest
  • therefore, ethical egoism is the ideal normative ethic to follow because it supports our natural psychological state 
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Long term interests

  • ethical egoism does not necessarily always entail the moral agent pursuing short term self-interests, the fufilment of short term interests can be detrimental to the long term self
  • e.g. skiving a lesson at school can be detrimental
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Max Stirner

  • A german philosopher who wrote 'the ego and its own'
  • he agrees that self-interest should be the root cause of an individuals actions 
  • he states ' I am everything to myself and i do everything on my account'
  • he says we are all unique so we act in our own self-interest and the attempt to satify the needs of others restricts this 
  • to recognise our uniqueness we must recognise our enslavement to moral obligations, particularly religious ones (divine command theory)
  • without acting in our own self-interest we are sacraficing our free will
  • Max rejects the view that ethical egoism is selfish as he says material gain ia 'one-sided , narrow egoism' that enslaves the moral agent 
  • the 'union of egoists' is stirners alternative way of organising modern society in 3 principles; equality, mutal self-interest, free agreement 
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Challenges to EE

  • Destruction of community ethos = it could dimish a community working together because moral agents will focus on themselves and ignore the communities needs 
  • social injustice= it encourages the the pursuit of their own self-interest which could lead to other individuals suffering (poverty)
  • ethical egoism as a form of bigotry= a bigot is a prejudiced person that tend to believe their group is superior and divide society into groups, ethical egoism also does this as it divides people into 'me' and 'everyone else' 
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