Intro to Philosophy, Heter, Handout on Psychological Egoism
Psychological Egoism (PE): “[T]he view that all men are selfish in everything they do, that is, that
the only motive from which anyone ever acts is self-interest.” (Rachels, 158)
Altruism: Unselfish concern for the welfare of others.
James Rachels rejects Psychological Egoism. He believes that people can act altruistically.
First Argument For Psychological Egoism (p. 159, Rachels rejects this argument)
1. If a person acts voluntarily, then she is doing what she most wants to do.
2. If a person does what she most wants to do, then she is selfish.
3. Therefore, all voluntary acts are selfish.
P1 is false. Two counterexamples: (a) means to an end; (b) obligations. (Definition of
counterexample: a specific example which disproves a generalization.)
P2 is false. Doing what one wants ≠ selfishness.
Second Argument for Psychological Egoism, Lincoln Example (p. 160, Rachels rejects this
1. If I help other people, then I will feel a sense of satisfaction.
2. If I get satisfaction out of my action, then the purpose of my action must be to gain
3. Gaining personal satisfaction is selfish.
4. Therefore, helping other people is selfish.
P3 is false. “Isn’t the unselfish man precisely the one who does derive satisfaction from
helping others, while the selfish man does not?” (160)
Heter: P2 is also false. Satisfaction can be incidental. (See p. 161, 1st full ¶)