Moral theories, ethics, values and psychological definitions appear to be so interwoven as to make it difficult to unravel where one begins and another ends. This essay will examine the definitions of both moral theories, their differences, fallacies, and motivation. The differences between selfishness and self- interest will be discussed, and an opinion offered as to whether either can be accepted as belonging to any ethical philosophy.
Ethical Egoism: This might be described as a doctrine in which each person ‘should’ look after their own self-interests, as that is the most valuable thing for them. It is described as follows by Moseley (2006): “The individual aims at her own greatest good” and “it is always moral to promote one’s own good, and it is never moral not to promote it.” The ‘should’ makes it a prescriptive doctrine; in its strong version, the theory holds that pursuing self-interest is the same as being moral and that a person should let nothing stop him from reaching his long-term goals - every action should lead to this. This idea is supported by Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, where she considers altruism (the opposite of egoism) to be immoral. She says in the Introduction to her book ‘The Virtue of Selfishness’ (Rand, 1964, 7)
“The attack on “selfishness” is an attack on man’s self-esteem; to surrender
one is to surrender the other.”
The weaker version admits that not everybody does this, as self-interested actions can help others. In fact, Hobbes, in ‘Leviathan’ (1651) states in his Introduction that, despite having self-serving desires due to our mechanical nature, “the wealth, and riches of all the particular members are the strengths;…” This suggests that values are around wealth and attaining our own ends, but Hobbes sees the man with these as contributing to the good of the whole society.
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