Differences between ethical egoism and psychological egoism - Essay Example

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Psychological egoism states that we are always motivated by self-interest, the desire to maximize the benefits we can get in the form of wealth, happiness, and so on. If one example can be found to refute this, then psychological egoism as a theory that applies to all will be false by way of the fallacy of hasty generalization. …
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Differences between ethical egoism and psychological egoism
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Ethical and Psychological Egoism Ethical egoism is the theory that it is right to act out of self-interest. It refers to the rightness or wrongnessof our actions and concludes that if we act out of self-interest, we are doing the right thing, and if we act not out of self-interest like, for example, helping others without regard for our self-interest, we are not acting rightly. Psychological egoism is the theory that all of us perform actions always motivated by self-interest. This is a generalized description of what motivates human beings to act - self-interest - and proposes that this is true for everyone: all of us act out of self-interest, and even those who seem not to are, deep inside, motivated by self-interest. Psychological egoism is one of the premises of ethical egoism: if all are motivated by self-interest, then acting out of self-interest must be right. LaFave (2004) shows how this results in the breakdown of traditional ethical systems.
Fallacy of psychological egoism
Psychological egoism states that we are always motivated by self-interest, the desire to maximize the benefits we can get in the form of wealth, happiness, and so on. If one example can be found to refute this, then psychological egoism as a theory that applies to all will be false by way of the fallacy of hasty generalization.
As Baier (1991, p. 200) states, "this is clearly a fallacy, for the interests of different individuals or classes may, and under certain conditions (of which the scarcity of necessities is the most obvious), do conflict. Then the interest of one is the detriment of the other."
In other words, sharing a good, performing a thoughtless or mindless act, smoking, eating too much, or even the fact of doing an act that is not in our short-term self-interest even if it is proven to be for our long-term self-interest, all common and observable forms of behavior, would not be possible because in each case one's self-interest is not maximized. As Rachels (2001) stated, "humans are not always selfish" Because some of us are not selfish, then not everyone acts out of self-interest.
Strong and the weak versions of ethical egoism
According to Baier (1991, p. 201), strong ethical egoism means it is right to act for one's own good and not doing so would be wrong, while weak ethical egoism is the notion that although it is right to act for one's own good, not doing so would not be necessarily wrong. This distinction explains the apparently altruistic and unethical (at least to egoists) behavior of those who help others, since the strong version of ethical egoism makes it wrong to do so. There are several examples in real life of people who, while seemingly acting for one's own good, act without thinking solely of one's own self-interest, like soldiers who fight a war to help preserve the lives of their loved ones back home.
Differences between ethical egoism and psychological egoism
Ethical egoism is a prescriptive generalization that tells us how we should act so that we do the right thing (we ought to act out of self-interest), while psychological egoism is a descriptive generalization that tells us why we do things (we are all motivated by self-interest) (Rachels, 2001). While ethical egoism treats the matter of right or wrong behavior - it is right to be selfish and (as strong ethical egoism states) wrong not to do so, although maybe not all the time (weak ethical egoism) - psychological egoism states self-interest as the principle of all actions at all times. As we see, ethical egoism allows for self-sacrifice, while psychological egoism treats an act of sacrifice not as a contradiction of its own argument but, rather, as an act in keeping with one's own long-term self-interest.
Contrast the doctrines of motivation for each theory
The doctrine of motivation in ethical egoism is the desire to do right and to avoid doing wrong. But what is the right thing Since the main principle of egoism is looking after one's own self-interest, being motivated by the desire to do what is right according to ethical egoism means to act with one's own interest in mind. Motivation in psychological egoism is thinking of one's own self-interest, an inescapable fact admitting of no exception. All of us, according to psychological egoists, think of nothing but ourselves.
Brief discussion on the difference between selfishness and self-interest
I think the difference between the two is that not all self-interested acts are selfish, because some acts done out of self-interest may also be done for others and are therefore, by definition, not selfish (Rachels, 2001). Self-interest refers to the motivation, while the selfishness or unselfishness of the act refers to the intention of disregarding the self-interest of another. Self-interested actions like eating and sleeping that begin and end in the self, are selfish if these are done without consideration for the self-interest of another, for example if one eats all the food on the table. We are selfish if our intention is only our own good, and only the self benefits without minding others with their own self-interest in mind.
Unselfish self-interested actions, like teaching a child or helping another, may have one's own self-interest as a motivation, but since it benefits another person then it is not selfish. Acting out of self-interest is not incompatible with acting in a way that satisfies the self-interest of another, but acting selfishly necessarily means going against the self-interest of another.
Baier, K. (1991). Egoism. In P. Singer (Ed.), A Companion to Ethics, (pp. 197-204). Oxford: Blackwell. Cited in Pecorino, P. A. (2000). Teleological Theories. Retrieved December 9, 2005, from ETEXTS/INTRO_TEXT/Chapter%208%20Ethics/Teleological_Theories.htm.
LaFave, S. (2004). Psychological Egoism and Ethical Egoism. Retrieved December 8, 2005, from
Rachels, J. (2001). Humans Are Not Always Selfish. Retrieved December 8, 2005, from Read More
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