Egoism is a philosophical position. If a person considers themselves egoists, they hold the belief that it is morally right for them and for anyone else to act in a selfish manner, putting personal interests first. Ethical egoism therefore, is a sub-category of egoism. Here, ethical egoists believe that people and their actions must be driven by self-interests only, and selfishness. In this case, selfishness means that a person puts their happiness as a priority over other people’s happiness and interests. Strict ethical egoists consider self-promotion as a virtue, and view altruism as immoral. On the other hand, the weaker ethical egoists consider self-promotion to be moral, but think that sometimes it is immoral to self-promote. Nonetheless, ethical egoism supports selfishness, including putting one’s self-interests first.
Ethical egoism differs with psychological egoism and rational egoism. In psychological egoism, it is believed that people act naturally act in their own self-interest. Rational egoists on the other hand, hold the belief that it is morally right to act rationally in one’s self-interests. Ethical egoism does not conform to the beliefs held in altruism and utilitarianism. While altruism holds that moral agents have the responsibility of meeting the needs of other people, ethical egoism puts one’s needs as a priority, and not the needs of other people. On the other hand, ethical utilitarianism posits that a person should have high regard for others more than themselves. However, by prioritizing the self-interests of an individual, ethical egoism makes a person have more regard for themselves, than for other people, therefore, contrasting ethical utilitarianism. Although ethical egoism expects one to put their own self-interests first, it does not require the moral agent to harm other people’s interests, in the course of their moral deliberation. This is because, a person’s self-interests either might influence other people positively or negatively, and sometimes might have no effect at all to other people. In addition, ethical egoists encourage moral agents to be more concerned with pursuing those self-interests that are not detrimental to oneself or other people. This is because of the fact that some personal interests have the capability of making one realize short-term pleasure, but might turn out to be harmful in the end. Therefore, ethical egoists have argued that moral agents in ethical egoism should embrace selfishness and not foolishness (Hinman 107).
In the nineteenth century, the philosopher, Max Stirner, was among the first proponents of ethical egoism, as a philosophical framework. Additionally, Hobbes Thomas also argued for ethical egoism, but at one point, he also argued that it was not possible for one to follow their long-term self-interests wholly, as this would results in a kind of inconsistency. He believed that part of pursuing one’s self-interests includes giving other people the opportunity to also pursue their long-term self-interests. According to Hobbes, this would require one to give up some of their long-term self-interests for the sake of others. Therefore, according to him, it is not possible for one to completely pursue their own self-interests alone, disregarding the other people. From Hobbes’ point of view, ethical egoism contains some elements of altruism, considering the fact that sometimes, some self-interest requires one to adopt some forms of altruistic principles (Hinman 121).
In order to evaluate the theory of ethical egoism, it is important to also consider how applicable it is in different real life situations. Ethical egoists put themselves first in all situations. They also look for ways of their personal benefits from every situation presented to them. These do not value sacrifices in life; that no one should sacrifice for another person, and so should no one sacrifice anything for them. The argument behind this is that, sacrifices portray the person sacrificing as weaker and the one being sacrificed for, as a better person. This theory posits that people act in self-interest, which is to a higher degree is right. This also holds that people’s actions are motivated by personal welfare. This is agreeable, as today, most people act in their self-interests and their personal interests motivate their actions. However, this theory does not impose its position on people, as it holds that people should act selfishly, and in their own self-interest. This does not say people must act selfishly. Therefore, it is upon the moral agent to choose which philosophical framework works right for them, depending on their personal principles, beliefs, and convictions (Geirsson and Holmgren 31).
Ethical egoism has weaknesses and strengths. The proponents of this theory actually base on what they regard as strong points of this theory. On the other hand, those against this theory have criticized it, basing on what they view as its weaknesses. Ethical egoism, from a personal perspective, has major flaws. By encouraging selfishness and self-promotion, this theory does not put moral duties into consideration. It does not look beyond personal happiness, which is the main goal for the moral agent. If a theory does not consider moral duties of its moral agents, this shows that this it lacks a moral framework to discourage some of the evils in society. In this case, one might kill another in pursuit of their self-interest, yet this theory does not categorically argue against this. Additionally, one might watch as another dies, but be reluctant to help, if that does not fulfil their self-interest. Therefore, to a greater extent, this theory could be justifying some of the societal evils, as long as they lead to the achievement of one’s self-interests. Other people’s self-interests also count. No single theory should argue against these. However, since ethical egoism does not put these into consideration, this theory lacks moral standards (Geirsson and Holmgren 40).
On the positive, this theory is easy to follow. This is because of the fact that it does not put many demands and restrictions on the moral agent. The moral agent only has to stick to selfishness, and only pursue their happiness, and nothing more. This is true because, if one compares ethical egoism with other theories in the philosophical context, one realizes that other theories put moral and ethical demands on the moral agents. For instance, in utilitarianism, the moral agents are charged with doing good for other people. Their actions must be motivated by wanting to meet other people’s needs. Ethical egoism on the other hand, has the moral agent to act as they wish, and gives them vast freedom of choice, as long as they embrace selfishness. Although this counts, it does not contribute to societal good. Generally, the theory of ethical egoism is implausible. Its proponents value and prioritize self-interests at the expense of the inclusion of other people (Hinman 125).
Conclusively, if all the above mentioned are taken into account, one realizes that the development of ethical egoism theory was influenced by the rising levels of individuality in society. The aspect of individuality has been core to Western culture, thus laying the foundation for development of ethical egoism as a philosophical framework. In ethical egoism, self-interest is core and regarded as valuable to all people. However, the concept of self-interest in this theory makes the theory implausible, since this concept is exaggerated, leaving no room for other interests in the society. It offers no room for altruism, therefore, making it lack a moral framework. This therefore, is quite controversial, since at a particular point in people’s social interactions and relationships, people always need to sacrifice their self-interests for the interests of others, for balancing social relations.
Geirsson, Heimir, and Holmgren, Margaret. “Ethical Theory, second edition: A Concise
Anthology.” New Jersey: Broadview Press, 2010. Print.
Hinman, Lawrence. “Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory.” New York: Cengage
Learning, 2011. Print.
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