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									Ethical Egoism
Philosophy 4 (Summer 2012)
Ethical Egoism
 In Book II of Plato’s Republic, Socrates and
  Glaucon are discussing the nature and
  origin of justice.
 By ‘justice’, Glaucon means laws like ‘Do
  not steal’ and ‘Do not murder’.
Nature and Origin of Justice
   According to Glaucon, the origin of justice is as
    follows:
         They say that to do injustice is naturally good and
         to suffer injustice bad, but that the badness of
         suffering it so far exceeds the goodness of doing
         it that those who have done and suffered injustice
         and tasted both, but who lack the power to do it
         and avoid suffering it, decide that it is profitable
         to come to an agreement with each other neither
         to do injustice nor to suffer it. As a result, they
         begin to make laws and covenants, and what the
         law commands they call lawful and just.
Nature and Origin of Justice
   Glaucon is claiming that being unjust (e.g.
    stealing) is beneficial for the one doing
    such actions, but harmful to the victims.

Nature and Origin of Justice
   Glaucon continues:
       The best is to do injustice without paying the
       penalty; the worst is to suffer it without
       being able to take revenge. Justice is a mean
       between these two extremes. People value it
       not as a good but because they are too
       weak to do injustice with impunity. Someone
       who has the power to do this, however, and
       is a true man wouldn’t make an agreement
       with anyone not to do injustice in order not
       to suffer it. For him that would be madness.
Nature and Origin of Justice
The Ring of Gyges
 The story is that a shepherd discovered a ring
  that had the power to make him invisible:
      If he turned the setting inward, he became
      invisible; if he turned it outward, he became visible
      again.
 And guess what he did when he discovered this:
      When he realized this, he at once arranged to
      become one of the messengers sent to report to
      the king. And when he arrived there, he seduced
      the king’s wife, attacked the king with her help,
      killed him, and took over the kingdom.
Psychological Egoism
   In fact, it does not matter if the person is
    just or unjust. If you have this ring, you will
    be unjust because doing so is most beneficial
    for you:
        Now, no one, it seems, would be so
        incorruptible that he would stay on the path
        of justice or stay away from other people’s
        property…. Rather his actions would be in
        no way different from those of an unjust
        person and both would follow the same
        path.
Psychological Egoism
   What Glaucon is suggesting is
    psychological egoism,



   Altruism, then, is impossible; any time we
    think we are acting altruistically, we are in
    fact acting out of self-interest.
Psychological Egoism
   Psychological egoism is a descriptive claim
    about the way humans are, not a moral
    theory about what humans should do.
Ought Implies Can
   The idea motivating this line of thought is
    that any claim that one ought to do some
    action implies that one can do that action.
The Implications of Egoism
Argument
 1) If psychological egoism is true, then we
  cannot be altruistic.
 2) If we cannot be altruistic, then it
  cannot be our duty to be altruistic.
 3) Therefore, if psychological egoism is
  true, then it cannot be our duty to be
  altruistic.
 4) Psychological egoism is true.
 5) Therefore, it cannot be our duty to be
  altruistic.
Arguments for Psychological Egoism
   Argument #1:
    ◦ 1) If an action is done voluntarily, then the
      agent is merely doing what he wants most to
      do.
    ◦ 2) If the agent is merely doing what he wants
      most to do, then he is acting in his own self-
      interest.
    ◦ 3) Therefore, if an action is done voluntarily,
      then the agent is acting in his own self-
      interest.
Arguments for Psychological Egoism
   Objections to Argument #1:
    ◦ Premise 1) is false.
      We often act voluntarily without doing what we
       most wanted to do; in other words, we do it
       voluntarily but begrudgingly.
Arguments for Psychological Egoism
   Objections to Argument #1:
    ◦ Premise 2) is false.
      Even if I were doing what I wanted to most, does
       not mean that I am acting selfishly.
Arguments for Psychological Egoism
   Argument #2:
    ◦ 1) All so-called unselfish actions produce a sense of
      self-satisfaction in the agent that is a pleasant state of
      consciousness.
    ◦ 2) If the agent receives a pleasant state of
      consciousness from an action, then the ultimate end
      or purpose of doing the action is to gain that pleasant
      state.
    ◦ 3) Therefore, the ultimate purpose of all these so-
      called unselfish actions is to receive a pleasant state
      of consciousness.
    ◦ 4) Doing an action to receive a pleasant state of
      consciousness is selfish.
    ◦ 5) Therefore, all so-called unselfish actions are selfish.
Arguments for Psychological Egoism
   Objection to Argument #2: Premise 2) is
    false.
    ◦ There is a difference between the reason we
      do an action and the by-products of that
      action.
General Confusions in Arguments
for Ethical Egoism
   For one, our desires and reasons for
    acting are complex; in many cases, we
    have many, often conflicting, desires and
    reasons for acting in the way we do.
General Confusions in Arguments
for Ethical Egoism
   Also, there is a difference between self-
    interest and selfishness.




   Selfishness is to act in a way that ignores the
    interest of others in circumstances in which
    their interests ought not to be ignored.
Ethical Egoism
   But Glaucon is making an even stronger
    claim than psychological egoism:
        No one believes justice to be a good when it
        is kept private…. Indeed, every man believes
        that injustice is far more profitable to
        himself than justice. And any exponent of
        this argument will say he’s right, for
        someone who didn’t want to do injustice,
        given this sort of opportunity, and who didn’t
        touch other people’s property would be
        thought wretched and stupid by everyone
        aware of the situation….
Ethical Egoism
   The claim here is not a descriptive one; it
    is not a claim that we do in fact always act
    in self-interest.
Ethical Egoism
   Ethical egoism states that actions are right
    just because they maximize self-interest
    (and actions are wrong just because they
    do not maximize self-interest).




   As Glaucon put it, failing to act in self-
    interest is, in Glaucon’s words, “wretched
    and stupid”.
Argument for Ethical Egoism
1)   If you are morally required to do
     something, then you have good reason
     to do it.
2)   If there is good reason for you to do
     something, then doing it must make you
     better off.
3)   Therefore, if you are morally required to
     do something, then doing it must make
     you better off.
Objection to Argument for Ethical
Egoism
   Premise 2) seems false.
    ◦ Don’t we have good reasons for doing
      something that doesn’t benefit us?
Problems for Ethical Egoism
   Egoism Violates Core Moral Beliefs
    ◦ If egoism is correct, then anytime that killing,
      raping, torturing, or humiliating others
      promotes your self-interest, you not only are
      allowed to do such acts, but also have a duty
      to do so.
    ◦ Moreover, we can simply ignore the interests
      of others.
    ◦ Such conclusions go strongly against our core
      moral beliefs.
Problems for Ethical Egoism
   Egoism Arbitrarily Makes My Interests All-
    Important
    ◦ We think it is permissible to give ourselves
      some priority over others.




    ◦ But why should we do so? Is there some
      relevant difference between us and others?

								
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