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Commitments of Egoism

Commitments of Egoism

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Given a situation, identify the commitments of egoism

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Source: Image of Socrates, Creative Commons, TABLE BY GLENN KUEHN

Video Transcription

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Hi. I'm Glen. And in this ethics tutorial, we will be looking at some of the commitments that come along with the theory of egoism. Let's look at a couple of things to keep in mind, and then the content for this tutorial.

In this tutorial, under the commitments of egoism, we will see how it plays out in terms of actions that are permissible and impermissible and then obligatory, neutral, and supererogatory. And then we're going to look at a situated example, possible actions that would be applicable in that example, and how egoism will play out with those actions in terms of evaluation.

So when considering the commitments of egoism, we remember that we are guided to evaluate actions according to egoism as being right or wrong based upon self-interest. My interest comes first, and for you, your interest comes first. We also realize, we want to keep in the background, that even though this sounds so selfish, it is, of course, in my interest to cooperate with other people and get along with other people.

Because it's my life to participate in the world with other people, and same with you, and everyone else. So even though it might seem inherently selfish, it is, nevertheless, in my selfish, self-centered interest to be nice. So we have that in the background. Now let's look at a couple of possible actions and see how they play out.

Permissible actions are those that are not detrimental to me, to the individual. So regular exercise-- non-impact, easy exercise, maybe on an elliptical-- that's permissible. It's not causing me any harm. Impermissible actions would be those that are causing me harm or could cause me harm. An extreme example of this would be suicide. Certainly that would be detrimental to me and to my self interest.

An obligatory action based upon self interest would be doing something that is required for me to flourish or for you to flourish, which means to do extremely well. So maintaining personal good health in all respects is obligatory if I am to flourish. I have to sleep well, eat well, maintain good hygiene, and so forth, take care of myself.

Neutral actions for the egoist are neither detrimental nor beneficial. It could go either way. I need to sleep, and I could go to bed at 10:00, I could go to bed at 0:15, I could go to bed at 11:00. It really doesn't make much of a difference. It's neither detrimental nor beneficial to me whether I go to bed 15 minutes early or 15 minutes late.

And then supererogatory-- this is our difficult category. It would need to be beneficial, not detrimental, but also above and beyond what is called for. So in terms of egoism, it's not clear what this might be. It would have to be some sort of super-sized self-interest. I don't know.

I mean, if exercise is good, then maybe running a marathon would be supererogatory. But running a marathon might be detrimental because that's a long way, and it could do damage to your knees and feet. So it's not clear. There might be examples, but they're hard to come by some sort of supererogatory action in terms of egoism.

For our situated example, let's look at the following table of actions and see how the general situation can be addressed by egoism. So here's the situation. You're selling your car, and as an egoist, you are basing the evaluation on actions on things that benefit me. In general, of course, I want to get the most money I can. I do want to get rid of the car, and I want to maintain my good reputation and other things.

So as we look at this table, we can see that, in some cells, we can have some definite answers which are clear. In some, they may be questionable, and then there's other ones where we just don't know. And that's OK. Not all theories are going to be entirely clear in every single possible circumstance.

So let's just look at a couple. Let's say advertising your car, that's an action that comes from this particular situation. A permissible action regarding advertising would be to advertise it on Craigslist. A neutral way would be to put a for sale signing in your car. It's neither helpful nor harmful, I mean it could go either way. And impermissible way, a way that would be harmful to me, would be to advertise my car on a porn site. That would be entirely inappropriate, and it could hurt my reputation. So that would be impermissible.

When we discuss the condition, we can see that it would be obligatory to answer questions honestly about the car's condition and its history. It would be impermissible to lie about the history. And it would be impermissible, because that, again, could hurt my reputation, and a bad reputation as a liar would not be in my interest.

So we can see how different things play out. And in all of these cases for possible actions, there's nothing clearly supererogatory in terms of evaluation. So this is how egoism could be used to address the various actions regarding this particular situation.

And so in this tutorial we have looked at some of the basic commitments of egoism as they play out in actions that are permissible and impermissible, and also obligatory, neutral, and possibly supererogatory. And we have also seen in that last context, that finding supererogatory examples of egoism is difficult. And then we looked at a situated example where egoism could evaluate a range of actions regarding a specific context.