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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