Psychological and Ethical Egoism

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1 Psychological and Ethical Egoism Wrapping up Error Theory Psychological Egoism v. Ethical Egoism Ought implies can, the is/ought fallacy Arguments for and against Psychological Egoism Ethical Egoism Arguments for and against Ethical Egoism PET For Next Time: Listen to Bernard Williams Interview on Subjectivism

2 Error Theory (review) Mackie offered two main arguments in favor of an error theory of moral discourse The first: The Argument from Relativity If moral facts were objective and mind-independent we should not see as much fundamental and intractable disagreements among ethicists as we do The second: The Argument from Queerness Moral properties are unlike any other properties in nature. We do not have any good reason to think they exist and do not have any explanation for our being able to sense them

3 Responses to Error Theory Mackie s Queerness argument has two components: A negative claim A positive claim Some philosophers attack Mackie s negative claim by arguing that moral properties are, for example, not necessarily intrinsically action guiding and hence are perfectly natural properties (they are called Externalists ) Others, including the ethical egoist, will take issue with Mackie s characterization of morality as social cooperation

4 Responses (cont) Mackie s argument only criticizes mind-independent theories of moral properties where those properties are intrinsically action guiding AND non-reductive Many moral theorists (Utilitarians, Egoists, Relativists) believe they have good explanations for the categorical, prescriptive, and action guiding guiding features of moral language These theorists, including the ethical egoist, would be immune from Mackie s specific criticism

5 Rachels on: Psychological & Ethical Egoism Psychological Egoism is a descriptive empirical claim about human motivation Ethical Egoism is a normative (i.e. moral) claim about rightaction James Rachels argues that both versions of egoism are false Before we say more we should review two fairly common moral principles

6 Two Moral Intuitions: Ought Implies Can; the Is/Ought Fallacy The Moral Principle of Ought Implies Can: A moral theory cannot require us to act in ways that are (physically or psychologically) impossible for us If a theory does require the impossible then this is a reason to reject the theory The Is/Ought Fallacy Descriptive premises tell us how the world is Normative/moral premises tell us how the world ought to be It is impossible to derive or conclude a normative claim from purely descriptive premises

7 Psychological Egoism Psychological Egoism is a descriptive, empirical, claim about human moral motivations The psychological egoist claims that all human actions are ultimately motivated out of a desire to advance self-interest Psychological egoism, if true, implies that Altruistic actions are impossible Altruism: behavior motivated by a concern for the interests of others If Altruism is impossible then any moral theory that commends or requires altruistic behavior is false

8 The Reinterpretation Argument Psychological Egoists claim that apparently altruistic actions can be re-interpreted to reveal the egoistic motives behind them The image to the right, for example, is of a lone student putting himself at risk in a protest in 1989 at Tiananmen Square in Beijing This looks like altruism

9 A Problem The Re-interpretation Argument does not, Rachels argues, show that Psychological Egoism is true only that it is possible We would need to be able to do more than merely find a self-interested reason why someone might have acted In order to prove that psychological egoism is true we would need to show that we always act out of self-interested motives

10 The Argument from Desire When we act we always act on one of our own desires If we act on our desires then we are doing what we want If we always do what we want to do then we do not act altruistically :. If we never act altruistically then psychological egoism is true

11 A Problem Rachels notices three problems with the argument from desire We do not always do what we want We sometimes experience very real conflicts between our obligations and what we really would like to do What makes an action selfish is not that it is the result of a desire but instead that the desire is about our own benefit PE needs to show that we always act out of selfish desires We sometimes consciously act on a desire that we know is not in our self-interest (i.e. smoking)

12 Ethical Egoism The Ethical Egoist, unlike the Psychological Egoist, is not making an empirical claim The Ethical Egoist instead is making a moral claim: the right thing to do is always that which serves to advance our own interest and nobody else s interest This means that the ethical egoist cannot be refuted by showing that altruistic actions exist It also means that the truth of ethical egoism is distinct from the truth of psychological egoism

13 Ethical Egoism (2) The Ethical Egoist is NOT saying: That we should always do whatever we want That we should never help or cooperate with others That altruism is impossible What the ethical egoist argues is that we should only act on those desires that genuinely advance our actual selfinterest. If our self-interest happens to coincide with the interests of others then we are morally obligated to help them

14 Egoism as Commonplace Morality Rachels considers three different arguments in favor of Ethical Egoism The final argument attempts to justify ethical egoism by explaining commonsense morality (everyday morality) as deriving from ethical egoism Murder, for example, should be avoided by everyone because it is in all of our individual interests to live in a society where bodily integrity is respected Ethical Egoism, therefore, can explain why we have the moral norms we do: they are good for me

15 The Principle of Equal Treatment Rachels argues that Ethical Egoism is also false by an appeal to reflective equilibrium He argues that Ethical Egoism violates a fundamental moral intuition: The Principle of Equal Treatment (PET) PET: We can justify treating people differently only if we can show that there is some factual difference between them that is relevant to justifying the difference in treatment

16 The Argument Against Ethical Egoism Rachels argues that many of the most egregiously unjust institutions all violated PET Slavery, Apartheid, Sexism, etc Assigning persons different moral rights is only justifiable if there are morally relevant differences between them but there are no morally relevant differences between persons of different races, sexes, genders, etc Similarly, Egoism would require that we point to a morally relevant difference between ourselves and others Rachels argues that there aren t any non-question begging differences

17 For Next Time Work on the Very Short Paper assignment Listen to Williams interview on Subjectivism

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