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2 Tutorials that teach Applying Egoism
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Applying Egoism

Applying Egoism

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Determine how an egoist would view a given situation.

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Source: Image of Socrates, Creative Commons,

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Hello. I'm Glen. And this ethics tutorial is on the topic of applying egoism. Let's look at a concept to keep in mind as we go through this tutorial, and then look at the content for this tutorial.

In this tutorial, we are going to focus on several examples of intuitive, counterintuitive, and ambiguous results that come from applying egoism. And then we're going to get a general sense of an ethical stance on a couple of contemporary ethical issues that come from egoism.

And after looking at those, we'll see that if we tend to favor our results from these examples that we will probably be also in favor of an egoistic ethical stance. But if they don't seem to make sense for us, then we probably will end up rejecting egoism as a normative ethical theory to be used primarily by us. Again, it will be up to you to see which ones you prefer.

All right. Let's look at applying egoism so we can see intuitive, counterintuitive and ambiguous results. And let's remember that for egoism, we are acting upon self-interest. So in each case, the verdict is the result of focusing on self-interest, selfishness, what is in my interest, what I really want and so forth. So intuitive, widely accepted results of egoism could be the following. It's intuitive that I should maintain personal hygiene. This is in my self-interest, and it seems to be rather widespread, and most people would agree upon this.

It is intuitive that it's OK for an individual, let's say, for you to consume alcohol in a moderate and responsible manner. This is widely acceptive and therefore intuitive. It's in my interest, I might want to do it, I may like it, and therefore we all can see that it is intuitive.

Counterintuitive examples, those that would be widely rejected because of egoism, because they go against one's self-interest, would be one-- if I'm running a gas station and suddenly there's a shortage on fuel, if I drastically raise my prices and engage in what's called price gouging, that would not be in my self-interest. Even though it might be, right, because it would be in my self-interest in terms of getting more money, but it's counterintuitive because it would ruin my reputation, no one would like me, and then when gas prices returned to normal, people wouldn't come back.

Another counterintuitive example could be with hoarding food. Now superficially, this definitely could be seen as being in my self-interest because it is to my benefit to have a lot of food around. However, if I hoard food to the point of not allowing any others to have food or taking food away from someone else or using up the resources, then certainly, I am acting selfishly and I will be seen as a selfish person, and it is not in my interest to do that. So the end result is definitely counterintuitive, though the motivation is out of self-interest.

Ambiguous results also follow from some situations when we operate from an egoistic point of view. These could be like it's in my interest to eat something delicious, let's say, frozen custard. I like frozen custard a lot. But doing it every day would be against my self-interest because then I would have weight gain, and my cholesterol would shoot up, and probably there would be other health issues that would arise. So simultaneously, it's in my interest and it's against my interests, that means it's ambiguous.

Another example would be taking a nap in the afternoon. I might be tired, but I might also be at work in the office. And so, even though it feels great to take a nap, it could result in being reprimanded by my supervisor because I'm falling asleep in my office. So sometimes acting out of self-interests leads to results that are both good and bad towards me at the same time.

Now let's look at three specific contemporary ethical issues and see how egoism plays out in each of these, such that it will give us a general sense, a general ethical verdict, rather than something necessarily too specific. This is where we want to look at how would egoism handle this sort of situation when we operate under self-interest.

So let's look at the topic of whistleblowing at work. I, as an employee, may feel it necessary out of maintaining safety for everyone at work to do a little whistleblowing. But, I, acting out of my personal self-interest, am worried about my job. So if I think that being a whistleblower is going to jeopardize my job, then chances are I might not do it.

Even if harm comes to others, it might be in my best interest not to have that additional harm of losing my job come to me. Because then if I lose my income, maybe there's others I need to support that won't get the support, and other bad things could happen. So it's not necessarily clear what egoism would dictate, but a general ethical verdict would be my self-interest comes first. Chances are, I might not do that whistleblowing.

On the topic of whether or not we should continue mining fossil fuels, let's say I come from a family of coal miners. Well, then probably for many reasons, it's in my interest as a member of my family, considering heritage and location and so forth, to support the mining of fossil fuels. It is in my interest socially, culturally, familially-- that's a hard word to pronounce-- to do those things and to support the continued mining of fossil fuels.

And then on the topic of animal rights, let's say I work for Tyson Foods, and I operate an industrial chicken farm supplying chickens for Tyson. Well, in order to keep my business going, I want to do things that are in my self-interest, and therefore, it's not in my interest, as a business person supplying chickens for Tyson, to consider animals to have rights. If all those chickens suddenly have rights, my job, my livelihood, my income could be affected, and affected detrimentally. And that is a position that egotists want to avoid. I want to do what's in my interests and not to my detriment.

So now looking at all of these, we see that, well, given these three examples, if we generally side towards the egoistic result, then we probably favor egoism as a normative theory that we could follow. If we think that the egoistic results are ones that we don't necessarily agree with, then we probably reject egoism as our primary ethical stance and will probably try and find a different one. The choice is always up to us in all of these cases. Remember, in here, we are-- normative theories, we are dealing with theories. You can pick and choose.

In this tutorial, we have focused on applying egoism, and we've seen how examples play out in terms of intuitive, counterintuitive, and ambiguous results of that application. And then we saw how egoism provides a general stance, a general ethical verdict on some contemporary ethical issues.