The moral theory that states that everyone should act in their own self-interest.

There are three types of ethical egoism:

  • Personal Ethical Egoism: "I'm going to do what's in my best interests." Problem: This isn't a true moral theory because it only states what one person is going to do. It doesn't apply to everyone. (and it only states what I'm going to do, not what I should do.)
  • Individual Ethical Egoism: "Everyone should act in my best self-interest." Problem: Seems ridiculous. What makes me so special?
  • Universal Ethical Egoism: "Everyone should act in their own best self-interest." Problem: Explained later in the writeup. (arguments against EE are focused on this type but most should work for Individual Egoism too.)

There are several distinctions of ethical egoism:

  • Act vs. Rule: Act Ethical Egoism says we should consider the consequences of each individual act, Rule Ethical Egoism says we should follow basic rules (don't lie, or whatever) that generally increase our self-interest.
  • Maximizing vs. Non-maximizing: Maximizing says we should always do what's in our own self-interest while the non-maximizing version says that if it's hugely beneficial to other people and only slightly detrimental to yourself you should do that instead. Altruism is allowed only when the benefits to others much outweigh the cost to your own self-interest.
  • Hedonistic vs. Rational: Hedonistic Ethical Egoism says we should seek immediate pleasure. Rational Ethical Egoism says we should look ahead and seek not just pleasure but also power, wealth, fame or whatever isn't detrimental to our self-interest. Sort of short-term vs. long term.

What's this self-interest thing I keep talking about, eh? Well there's the hedonistic self like in Hedonistic Ethical Egoism and then there's the Calculating self like in Rational Ethical Egoism.

And why, for God's sake, would anyone believe this junk?

So why doesn't everybody believe it?

  • Is it Consistent? Act in your own self-interest and tell others to act in their own? That's not in your own self-interest. Reply: Hey, who said a moral theory can't have you tell others to act immorally? Yeah it's in your self-interest to convince others to act in your self-interest, not theirs but, well...okay, maybe this is a problem, but I think not. One analogy is a game of chess: you want to win but you also want your opponent to play well.
  • Public vs. Private Morality: In our society altruism is considered good. You want people to think you're altruistic. So you gotta hide the fact that you're an ethical egoist. Reply: So what? Since when does a moral theory have to allow you to announce your belief in it?
  • Friendship: We think friendship is a good thing. Ethical Egoism precludes the possibility of friendship. Reply: Guess we were wrong about that "friendship is good" thing. You got a problem with that?
  • Morally Insensitive: People are starving and the moral thing to do is to just let them die. Ethical Egoism is contrary to our basic intuitions about morality. Because there's no empirical knowledge about morality we have to reply on our basic intuitions, and those usually tell us that murdering people in our way is not only rude, but immoral too. Reply: Good point. However, I believe our own moral intuitions contradict each other so much that no moral theory can satisfy them all.

Sources:
Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory, Second Edition by Lawrence M. Hinman -- nearly everything I know about Egoism came from this book.
Paul Albert Woodward (woodward@mail.ecu.edu) - my ethics teacher at ECU.
Me - Yup! This whole writeup was hand-typed by your's truly. Much of the stuff was expanded upon by my magnificent mind.

Selfish individuals have existed as long as anyone can remember. They have destroyed friendships, caused wars and broken hearts. Selfishness itself is defined as caring and promoting ones self to the exclusion of others. Being selfish is something people tend to look down upon.

Unfortunately, selfishness is a core part of human nature. Everyone is selfish at one point or another in their life. Many have argued that altruism is the lack of selfishness. The most selfless act has benefits for the one doing it. People are simply deluding themselves when they believe they are being altruistic.

It is very difficult to change ones nature. If people are naturally selfish, maybe we should find a way to work this into how we live. Having selfish behavior is not necessarily bad. Self-preservation is a good example of this. However, self-preservation at the expense of others is not so good.

One way to act selfish and still be a reasonable human being is to consider who your selfishness effects. Step back and consider how your actions affect others over time. When looking at the world from this view point, it is entirely possible to be extremely selfish and still leave others unaffected by your actions. You may even be able to help them. Strictly speaking, this is not the definition of selfish, as you aren't hurting others to help yourself.

One can do this by looking at the long term effect of their actions. Doing things that help others will nearly always help you later on. Helping someone in pain, at cost to yourself, may make you feel better about yourself. Sometimes, causing someone pain now will be better for them (and you) in the long term. If more people thought more selfishly given the parameter of time, then the world would be a better place. People should stop lying to themselves and work with who they are.

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