To begin with, recall that Egoism is a relativist theory of ethics that maintains that right and wrong are relative to self-interest.
Like any theory of ethics, this can help you evaluate actions. If you were to use this theory, then you would evaluate actions according to what best contributes to your self-interest.
In the next section we will look at the various ways an egoist can evaluate actions. But before doing so, let’s remind ourselves of the terms that ethical theorists use to evaluate actions.
For an egoist, something is permissible if it does not go against the interests of the individual. This might lead you to think that a true egoist can only ever do things for themselves, and never do things for others. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. That’s because doing things for others could actually work in your favor.
In the long run you might get more benefit from social cooperation than from isolating yourself from others. Such a beneficial cooperation would thus be an example of a permissible action for the egoist.
For an egoist, something is impermissible if it goes against the interests of the individual.
Now we will look at how an egoist would evaluate actions as either neutral, obligatory, or supererogatory. First of all, let’s take the example of lying to find out what is obligatory for the egoist.
Of course, if it was likely that you would get caught, then you could lose your job. In that case, it wouldn’t be obligatory because being unemployed is against your interests.
For an egoist, a neutral action is one that neither works in favor of your interests, nor goes against them.
When it comes to supererogatory actions, it isn’t clear how the egoist will respond. If they say it’s your duty to act in your own interests, what would it mean to do something over and above your duty? Perhaps it would mean an obsessive pursuit of self-interest, to the point where you force yourself to ignore any sympathy you may have for other people.
This could run into difficulties though. For instance, if pursuing self-interest is obligatory, why shouldn’t obsessive pursuit of self-interest be obligatory anyway? It seems that the egoist must answer that it is obligatory, thus getting rid of supererogatory actions.
Now that you have seen how ethical evaluations can be based on self-interest, you can think about using this in a specific situation. Consider the example below and think about how you would evaluate each action if you were an egoist.
The actions would have been evaluated in the following way:
Source: Star of Life image, Public Domain, http://bit.ly/2bzszmR