EgoismPsychological egoism is a reflex that every person has to orientthemselves toward their own welfare. Through this, it follows that every one ofhis (or her) voluntary actions is some good to himself.
If someone gives awaythe last piece of bread to someone else, it is because they want to look like abetter person. Due to the fact that they would give away the last piece of bread. Human nature is completely and exclusively egoistic. People are entirelyselfish and devoid of any genuine feelings of sympathy, benevolence, orsociability. They are always thinking of themselves in everything they do. Each individual is preoccupied exclusively with the gratification ofpersonal desires (felicity or happiness).
Ones success in maintaining acontinuous flow of gratification is the means of ones happiness. The object of the voluntary acts of every man is some good to himself. Whenever man renounces his right it is either in consideration for some rightreciprocally transferred to himself, or for some other good he hopes for fromthe outcome. This presents us with the old saying: Do unto others as you wouldwant them to do unto you. Social organization originates out of self interest. All society is forgain, or for glory.
It is not like we think it is—for love of our fellows. Instead it is for self preservation. It is a sort of social contract. In a stateof nature we are at war with each other and life is solitary, poor, nasty,brutish, and short. In a natural state individuals are in equal powers.
Voluntary collective organization is the most effective way for individuals toutilize their powers. Man should be allowed the right to use all means or actions to preservehimself. For every man is desirous of what is good to him, and shuns what isevil, but chiefly the chiefest of natural evil, which is death. The right tobear arms. In conclusion, I would like to say that?Psychological Egoism– This is the claim that humans by nature aremotivated only by self-interest .
Any act, no matter how altruistic it mightseem, is actually motivated by some selfish desire of the agent (e. g. , desirefor reward, avoidance of guilt, personal happiness). This is a descriptive claimabout human nature.
Since the claim is universal–all acts are motivated by selfinterest–it could be proven false by a single counterexample (Weston, rule #11). It will be difficult to find an action that the psychological egoistwill acknowledge as purely altruistic, however. There is almost always somebenefit to ourselves in any action we choose. For example, if I helped my friendout of trouble, I may feel happy afterwards. But is that happiness the motivefor my action or just a result of it? Perhaps the psychological egoist fails todistinguish the beneficial consequences of an action from the self-interestedmotivation. After all, why would it make me happy to see my friend out oftrouble if I didn’t already have some prior concern for my friend’s bestinterest? Wouldn’t that be altruism?Egoism versus altruismThe second issue I want to explore is egoism versus altruism.
Altruism holds “each man as his brother’s keeper;” in other words, weare each responsible for the health and well-being of others. Clearly, this is asimple statement of the “safety-net” theory from above. This is incompatiblewith individualism, yet many people who are basically individualists upholdaltruism as the standard of morality. What’s going on?The problem is wide-spread confusion over the meanings of “altruism”and “egoism.
”The first confusion is to confound altruism with kindness, generosity,and helping other people. Altruism demands more than kindness: it demandssacrifice. The billionaire who contributes $50,000 to a scholarship fund is notacting altruistically; altruism goes beyond simple charity. Altruism is thegrocery bagger who contributes $50,000 to the fund, foregoing his own collegeeducation so that others may go. Parents who spend a fortune to save their dyingchild are helping another person, but true altruism would demand that theparents spend their money to save ten other children, sacrificing their ownchild so that others may live.
The second confusion is to confound selfishness with brutality. Thecommon image of selfishness is the person who runs slip-shod over people inorder to achieve arbitrary desires. We are taught that “selfishness” consistsof dishonesty, theft, even bloodshed, usually for the sake of the whim of themoment. These two confusions together obscure the possibility of an ethics ofnon-sacrifice. In this ethics, each man takes responsibility for his own lifeand happiness, and lets other people do the same.
No one sacrifices himself toothers, nor sacrifices others to himself. The key word in this approach is earn:each person must earn a living, must earn the love and respect of his peers,must earn the self-esteem and the happiness that make life worth living. It’s this ethics of non-sacrifice that forms a lasting moral foundationfor individualism. It’s an egoistic ethics in that each person acts to achievehis own happiness. Yet, it’s not the brutality usually ascribed to egoism.
Indeed, by rejecting sacrifice as such, it represents a revolution in thinkingon ethics. Two asides on the topic of egoism. First, just as individualism doesn’tmean being alone, neither does non-sacrificial egoism. Admiration, friendship,love, good-will, charity, generosity: these are wonderful values that aselfishness person would want as part of his life. But these values do notrequire true sacrifice, and thus are not altruistic in the deepest sense of theword.
Second, I question if brutality, the form of selfishness usuallyascribed to egoism, is actually in one’s self-interest in practice. Whim worship,dishonesty, theft, exploitation: I would argue that the truly selfish manrejects these, for he knows that happiness and self-esteem can’t be stolen atthe cost of others: they must be earned through hard work. If altruism is so bad, and altruism is based on mysticism, then what isRand’s alternative, and what does it have to do with reason? For her own ethics,Rand started at the very beginning: why do you need ethics anyway, she asks,what is it for? Her answer to this question can be analyzed in two parts. First, Rand said that values ought to be objective facts about reality. She noted that life is conditional, and that it requires a specific course ofaction to maintain. She concluded that something can be good or bad only to aliving organism acting to survive: the good furthers life, the bad hinders it.
Second, Rand noted that humans, unlike other animals, need to discover theirvalues. Consider the life of a squirrel: collect nuts, hibernate, eat nuts,repeat. Not very exciting. Animals just repeat a built-in cycle of action overand over. The drama of human life is that people have to decide what action totake, and their decisions have real, long-range consequences. How do you decide? Reason.
Values are objective facts about reality, andyour means for knowing reality is reason. Reason is the fundamental valuebecause it’s your means of discovering your other values. What do you do withreason? In large part, produce the goods needed to survive. Unlike animals thatsimply take what they need from the environment, humans produce what they need. But, as Francis Bacon once said in a quote Rand was fond of repeating: “nature,to be commanded, must be obeyed.
” Through reasoning, people can come tounderstand and harness the forces of nature. So reason and production are the primary values of the Objectivistethics. Rand summed it up this way:Man’s mind is his basic tool of survival. Life is given to him, survivalis not. His body is given to him, its sustenance is not.
His mind is given tohim, its content is not. To remain alive, he must act, and before he can act hemust know the nature and purpose of his action. He cannot obtain his foodwithout knowledge of food and of the way to obtain it. He cannot dig a ditch-orbuild a cyclotron-without a knowledge of his aim and of the means to achieve it. To remain alive, he must think.
But to think is an act of choice. . . . Reason does not work automatically;thinking is not a mechanical process; the connections of logic are not made byinstinct.
The function of your stomach, lungs or heart is automatic; thefunction of your mind is not. In any hour and issue of your life, you are freeto think or to evade that effort. But you are not free to escape from yournature, from the fact that reason is your means of survival-so that for you, whoare human being, the question “to be or not to be” is the question “to thinkor not to think. ”You need ethics because you need values to survive, and you can onlydiscover those values through a volitional process of reason.
Ethics, to Rand,was “a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions-the choices andactions which determine the purpose and the course of his life. ”Given that Rand held that values are rooted in the individual’s struggleto survive, egoism follows naturally. As an ethical theory, egoism holds thatthe primary beneficiary of an action should be the actor. The primary goal ofeach individual should be to act to achieve personal happiness. The happiness offamily and friends are important to the egoist, but only in so far as it givespleasure in return.
Being around a bunch of happy, mentally healthy people is areal joy; being around a bunch of complainers isn’t. That selfishness implies acting for your own sake is usually understood;often misunderstood, however, is that this does not reveal which actions are, infact, in your self interest. Rand rejected the view that lying to, stealing from,and subjugating others is acting “selfishly;” she held that these activitiesin fact are not values-that they do not lead to a happy life. Rand listed a number of important values-productivity, honesty, pride-that make up the good life.
An important one in understanding that selfishnessdoes not involve preying on others is independence. Independence has two aspects. The first is mental: you must think foryourself, you must come to your own conclusions, and you must follow thoseconclusions into action. You must never subordinate your own grasp of reality toanything: society, peers, tradition, authority.
Howard Roark, the hero of TheFountainhead, is the symbol of this. The second aspect of independence is existential: you must embrace thelaw of causality in your own life. You must take responsibility for your actions,which means: you must take the responsibility for achieving your own life andfor all the actions you take in doing so. This is a two-way street: you getcredit for the good you do and get to keep the benefits, and you get blamed forthe bad and are expected to accept the consequences. It is this noble concept of independence-the man who thinks for himselfand acts for himself and holds himself accountable for what he does-that Randheld as the truly selfish life.
A final point about Rand’s egoism is that it rejects the need forsacrifice. Traditionally we’ve been given the choice of living for others (whichis altruism) or expecting others to live for us (which is called“selfishness”). Rand identified a third alternative: let each man live for hisown sake, neither “sacrificing himself to others nor others to himself.” Randheld that if (and only if) people act morally and selfishly as she defined it,there is a harmony of interests among men that makes peace, benevolence, and,ultimately, general prosperity possible.Philosophy Essays