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Advantages and Shortcomings of Egoism

Advantages and Shortcomings of Egoism

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Identify the intuitiveness, advantages, and shortcomings of egoism

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Source: Image of Socrates, Creative Commons,

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Hello. I'm Glen. And this is the ethics tutorial on advantages and shortcomings for egoism. Let's keep in mind the definition of egoism and look at the content for this tutorial.

In this tutorial, we're going to first look at a couple of quick review topics for egoism so we have that all in our mind as we proceed forward, and then we're going to look at both intuitive and counterintuitive results of egoism.

Let's look at a couple of review topics that we need to have in the back of our minds as we proceed forward. Let's remember that what comes naturally is what we lean towards and what we most often do. And acting out of self-interest is something that is primarily in this category. Normally, I think and act out of my self-interest without even trying, and therefore, it provides a natural basis for ethics. However, it does also seem natural that caring for others is something that happens without me trying to do it. We are social beings.

Also, striving for individual excellence often helps a society progress and grow. And sometimes acting out of the interest of the group, providing for the interest of the group and the well-being of the group, can impede social progress. Because when we place the group's goodness first, sometimes that favors immediate comfort over long-term benefit.

Three, self-determined ethics is generally more successful. And by self-determined we mean, that's something I figure out for myself, and I act upon a rule or a law or I'm disciplined because I want to be. Because I figured it out, and I want to behave in a certain way. I'd rather do that than be told what to do. Because if I'm told what to do, chances are there will be a little bit of rebellion in me that will want to act out.

And then finally, egoism does seem to promote the doing of bad things, things that cause harm, so long as it is seen by me to be in my self-interest, and I don't get caught-- polluting, stealing, lying, littering-- all of these things might be in my immediate self-interest because they benefit me in terms of ease, comfort, manipulation, getting what I want, and all of those are self-interested in their origin. However, they do seem to cause more harm than good over the long-term, when we consider that there are, in fact, other people in the world who also have interests.

Egoism does have both intuitive and counterintuitive results. Intuitive again, means something that makes sense, and in this case, makes sense for individuals. And counterintuitive is something that just generally does not make sense for individuals. An intuitive result of egoism could be that it's in my interest to avoid pain. That simply makes sense, and that could be both in the short-term and long-term. I don't want to stub my toe, so I'm careful about how I walk.

I also want to avoid pain over the long-term, in terms of illness and disease and so forth, and so I need to visit a physician regularly so I can know my medical condition and make wise judgments regarding how I live my life, my lifestyle. That may involve short-term pain of getting a shot or something that's otherwise uncomfortable. However, that is weighed by me in terms of the long-term benefits. So it's just intuitive that I avoid pain and do things that can promote a healthy lifestyle.

Now a counterintuitive result of egoism would be that, for an individual, it's I want stuff like money, right, so I can buy things. And as long as I don't get caught, it could easily be seen as it's in my self-interest to steal money from my friends. But that doesn't seem right. That doesn't seem to make sense, because even if they don't know about it, I may cause a natural discomfort in me. I certainly wouldn't want other people to steal from me, so if I apply egoism strictly in this manner, it seems like I'm creating a double standard, and that doesn't seem right. So egoism does have both the intuitive and counterintuitive results.

Another possible shortcoming of egoism is that, since it is a relativistic position and an individualistic relativistic position-- therefore, good is determined from the point of view of the individual. This means it also falls prey to the relativist problems of other theories where we cannot judge another's actions by the ethical standards that we hold If we stick to relativism, we can't do that. So this creates difficulties sometimes.

Let me give an example where the inability to judge others from our perspective leads to what we consider to be counterintuitive results. Given egoism where I and others all act out of our own individual self-interest, I can't fault someone else for spanking their child, if I don't think that spanking is a good thing to do or it's ethically good. That parent is, if they're an egoist, acting out of their self-interest, and they believe they are acting rightly when they punish the child in that manner.

I, as an ethical egoist, operating from a relativist perspective cannot question that. I cannot judge them for it because there is no outside position. There is no third party observer with a different judgment that applies to all of us. No. Each of our positions hold firm.

And if we stick to egoism, we stick to relativism, and if we do that, we can't judge others by our own values. So that is another shortcoming of egoism that we need to take seriously. It doesn't completely disavow egoism, it doesn't dismiss it, but it's something that we have to keep in mind when we explore this position.

In summary, in this tutorial, we have reviewed some of the main issues that occur with egoism. And we have also looked at both intuitive and counterintuitive results that come from taking egoism seriously.

Notes on “Advantages and Shortcomings of Egoism”

(00:00 – 00:26) Introduction and Things to Keep in Mind

(00:27 – 00:46) Content of Tutorial

(00:47 – 03:09) Review of Egoism

(03:10 – 05:15) Intuitive and Counterintuitive Results of Egoism

(05:16 – 07:19) Can’t Judge Others

(07:20 – 07:39) Summary