ETHICAL egoism is the view that each person ought, all things considered, to do that action which is most in his over-all self-interest. Kurt Baier ar- gues against. Rational egoism (also called rational selfishness) is the principle that an action is rational if and . Baier, Kurt (). “Egoism” in A Companion to Ethics. Peter Singer (ed.), Blackwell: Oxford. Brink, D. , “Sidgwick and the Rationale for Rational Egoism,” in. Ethical egoism is the normative ethical position that moral agents ought to do what is in their .. Baier, Kurt, , “Egoism” in A Companion to Ethics, Peter Singer (ed.), Blackwell: Oxford. ISBN ; Biddle, Craig, Loving Life.

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Egoism can be a descriptive or a normative position. Psychological egoism, the most famous descriptive position, claims that each person has but one ultimate aim: Normative forms of egoism make claims about what one ought to egosim, rather than describe what one does do.

Ethical egoism claims that it is necessary and sufficient for an action to be morally right that it maximize one’s self-interest.

Rational egoism claims that it is necessary and sufficient for an action to be rational that it maximize one’s self-interest. There are two main theories. Preference or desire accounts identify self-interest with the satisfaction of one’s desires. Often, and most plausibly, these desires are restricted to self-regarding desires.

What makes a desire self-regarding is controversial, but there are clear cases and counter-cases: Objective accounts egpism self-interest with the possession of states such as virtue or knowledge that are valued independently of whether they are desired.

Hedonism, which identifies self-interest egoisn pleasure, is either a preference or an objective account, according to whether what counts as pleasure is determined by one’s desires. Psychological egoism claims that each person has but one ultimate aim: This allows for action that fails to maximize perceived self-interest, but rules out the sort of behavior psychological egoists like to target — such as altruistic behavior or motivation by thoughts of duty alone.

It allows for weakness of will, since in weakness of will cases I am still aiming at my own welfare; I am weak in that I do not act as I aim.

And it allows for aiming at things other than one’s welfare, bauer as helping others, where these things are a means to one’s welfare. Psychological egoism is supported egois our frequent observation of self-interested behavior. Apparently altruistic action is often revealed to be self-interested. And we typically motivate people by appealing to their self-interest through, for example, punishments and rewards.

A common objection to psychological egoism, made egoisj by Joseph Butler, is that I must desire things other than my own welfare in order to get welfare. Say I derive welfare from playing hockey. Unless I desired, for its own sake, to play hockey, I would not derive welfare from playing. Or say I derive welfare from helping others. Unless I desired, for its own sake, that others do well, I would not derive welfare from egoissm them.

Welfare results from my action, but cannot be the only aim of my action. The psychological egoist can concede that I must have desires for particular things, such as playing hockey.

But egooism is no need to concede that the satisfaction of these desires is not baied of my welfare.

My welfare might consist simply in the satisfaction of self-regarding desires. In the case of deriving welfare from helping others, the psychological egoist can bair concede that I would not derive welfare without desiring some particular thing, but need not agree that what I desire for its own bsier is that others do well. That I am the one who helps them may, for example, satisfy my self-regarding desire for power.

A bigger problem for psychological egoism is that some behavior does not seem to be explained by self-regarding desires. Say a soldier throws himself on a grenade to prevent others from being killed. It does not seem that the soldier is pursuing his perceived self-interest. It is plausible that, if asked, the soldier would have said that he threw himself on the grenade because he wanted to save the lives of others or because it was his duty. He would deny as ridiculous the claim that he acted in his self-interest.


The psychological egoist might reply that the soldier is lying or self-deceived. Perhaps he threw himself on the grenade because he could not bear to live with himself afterwards if he did not do so. He has a better life, in terms of welfare, by avoiding years of guilt. The main problem here is that while this is a possible account of some cases, there is no reason to think it covers all cases. Another problem is that guilt may presuppose that the soldier has a non-self-regarding desire for doing what he takes to be right.

The psychological egoist might reply that some such account must be right. After all, the soldier did what he most wanted to do, and so must have been haier his perceived self-interest.

In one sense, this is true. If self-interest is identified with the satisfaction of all of one’s preferences, then all intentional action is self-interested at least if intentional actions are always explained by citing preferences, as most believe. Psychological egoism turns egoismm to be trivially true. This would not content defenders of psychological egoism, however. They intend an empirical theory that, like other such theories, it is at least possible to refute by observation.

There is another way to show that the trivial version of psychological egoism is unsatisfactory. We ordinarily think there is a significant difference in selfishness between the soldier’s action and that of another soldier who, say, pushes someone onto the grenade to avoid being blown up himself. We think the former is acting unselfishly while the latter is acting selfishly.

According to the trivial version of psychological egoism, both soldiers are equally selfish, since both are doing what they most desire. The psychological egoist egoizm handle apparent cases of self-sacrifice, not by adopting the trivial version, but rather by claiming that facts about the self-interest of the agent explain all behavior.

Perhaps as infants we have only self-regarding desires; we come to desire other things, such as doing our duty, by learning that these other things satisfy our self-regarding desires; in time, we pursue the other things for their own sakes. Even if geoism picture of development is true, however, it does not defend psychological egoism, since it admits that we sometimes ultimately aim at things other than our welfare.

An account of the origins of our non-self-regarding desires does not show that they are really self-regarding. The soldier’s desire is to save others, not increase his own welfare, even if he would not have desired to save others unless saving others was, in the past, connected to increasing his welfare.

The psychological egoist must argue that we do not come to pursue things other than our welfare for their own sakes. In principle, it seems possible to show this ehoism showing that non-self-regarding desires do not continue for long once their connection to our welfare is broken.

However, evidence for this dependence claim has not been forthcoming.

Indeed, when examining the empirical evidence, two sorts of approach have been used to argue against psychological egoism. First, Daniel Batson and colleagues found that increased empathy leads to increased helping behaviour.

One hypothesis is altrustic: There are many competing egoistic hypotheses. Empathy might cause an unpleasant experience that subjects believe they can stop by helping; or subjects might think failing to help in cases of high empathy is more likely to lead to punishment by others, or that helping here baierr more likely to be rewarded by others; or subjects might think this about self-administered punishment or reward.

In an ingenious series of experiments, Batson compared the egoistic hypotheses, one by one, against the altruistic bsier.


Philosophical Disquisitions: Egoism by Kurt Baier (Part 1)

He found that the altruistic hypothesis always made superior predictions. Against the unpleasant experience hypothesis, Batson found that giving high-empathy subjects easy ways of stopping the experience other than by helping did not reduce helping.

Against the punishment by others hypothesis, Batson found that letting high-empathy subjects believe that their behaviour would be secret did not reduce helping. Against the self-administered reward hypothesis, Batson found that the mood of high-empathy subjects depended on whether they believed that help was needed, whether or not they could do the helping, rather than on whether they helped and so could self-reward.

Against the self-administered punishment hypothesis, Batson found that making high-empathy subjects believe they would feel less guilt from not helping by letting them believe that few others had volunteered to help did not reduce helping.

One might quibble with some of the details. Perhaps subjects did not believe that the easy ways of stopping the painful experience Batson provided, such as leaving the viewing room, would stop it. For an account of an experiment done in reply, favouring Batson, see Stich, Doris and Roedderas well as Batson — Perhaps a Batson-proof egoistic hypothesis could be offered: But on the whole, Batson’s experiments are very bad news for psychological egoism.

Ethical egoism

For further discussion of Batson, see May a and Slote Second, Elliot Sober and David Wilson argue that evolutionary theory supports altruism.

Parental care egoiam be explained on egoistic grounds: Parental care might also be explained on altruistic grounds: Lastly, parental care might be explained by a combination of these mechanisms.

Sober and Wilson argue that more reliable care would be provided by the altruistic or combination mechanisms. Given the importance of parental care, this is a reason for thinking that natural selection would have favoured one eoism these mechanisms. The egoistic mechanism is less reliable for several reasons: This argument has drawbacks.

Kurt Baier, Egoism – PhilPapers

Natural selection does not always provide back-up mechanisms Baker have but one liver. Natural selection sometimes has my desires caused by affect that is produced naier a belief rather than directly by the belief my desire to run away from danger is often caused by my fear, rather than by the mere belief that there is danger.

Egoiam in these cases, as in the case of the imperfectly correlated pain and bodily injury, there seems usually to be enough affect. The altruistic hypothesis also has some of the same problems: Indeed, without an estimate of how strong this desire is, there is no reason to think the egoistic hypothesis is less reliable. It may have more points at which it can go wrong, but produce more care than a direct but weak altruistic mechanism.

For many of these worries, and others, see Stich, Doris and Roedder Even if evolutionary arguments can be met, however, wgoism egoism faces the problems noted earlier.

Bair egoism is not troubled by the soldier counter-example, since it allows exceptions; it is not trivial; and it seems empirically plausible. For other weakened positions, see LaFollette and Mercer There are possibilities other than maximization. One might, for example, claim that one ought to achieve a certain level of welfare, but that there is no requirement to achieve more. Ethical egoism might also apply to things other than acts, such as rules or character traits.

Since these variants are uncommon, and the arguments for and against them are largely the same as those concerning the standard version, we set them aside. One issue concerns how much ethical egoism differs in content from standard moral theories. It might appear that egoismm differs a great deal.