Ethical Theory: Ethical Egoism Essay Example

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1665 Words
Date:  2022-06-19

Description of the Theory

In strict terms, ethical egoism is more of a normative theory of actions rather than an ethical theory. Nonetheless, the same exhibits elements that give it an air of a moral theory. Egoism states that altruistic acts are unethical for an egoist. As a normative theory, egoism makes us strive to accomplish our goals best. Egoism focuses only on our self-interest and not on others. Egoism could make us act in bad ways to achieve our goals. Egoism disregards the ethics and interests of others. Of note, there are two strands of egoism namely ethical egoism and psychological egoism. As mentioned above, ethical egoism is mainly prescriptive while the descriptive nature of psychological egoism allows it to be used in describing the primary facts regarding human nature.

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The arguments in support of ethical egoism include the statement that to promote overall good, all the individuals in the society should pursue self-interest. The discussion features in Bernard Mandeville's (1670-1733) famous poem and The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. Smith suggests that when individuals autonomously seek the fulfillment of their insatiable wants they unwilling to benefit the entire society (Bloomfield 24). The idea rests on the assumptions that the people have a clear understanding of their interest; consequently, they are motivated to work towards attaining personal benefit.

It is important to note that ethical egoism exists in an imaginary create world inhibited by one individual. Therefore, it is possible to enhance molarity by the pursuit of self-interest since the things that are good for the agent are considered appropriate for the agent's interests. Debatably, it is impossible to find an occasion whereby the agent prefers to seek individual interest in benefit of another morality. The latter is only possible when there is a production of a new ethical system that increases an individual's predisposition to favor the imaginary self.

Additionally, the argument that a sacrifice of individual interests for the good of others repudiates the ultimate value of personal life to an individual. The objectivist theory of Ayn Rand rejects collectivism by appealing to ethical egoism (Bloomfield 121). A bitter critic of altruism, Rand is against the Judeo-Christian moral tradition which consists of socialism and tolerance and emphasis on the ethics of altruism. Altruism refers to preferring the interests of other people over personal interests. It is important to note that altruism is regarded highly in the society. However, altruism promotes charity which does not encourage social justice (Bloomfield 26). Rand argues that no one in the community has the right to demand the other to make sacrifices for their sake. Therefore, Rand makes a case for ethical egoism by asserting that the highest ideals of life require one to dedicate their intellect and resources to personal growth rather than charity.

Equally significant, there are three types of ethical egoism namely; personal, individual, and universal. The personal ethical egoism is the assumption that only an individual should act to purpose self-interest. Therefore, ethical egoism is not regarded as a theory as it is not inclusive of other people. It is also essential to note that personal ethical egoism cannot be recommended to other people as it will be against an individual's interest. On the other hand, individual ethical egoism is an authoritarian principle that all the people should self-interest of an egoist. It is critical to observe that the belief cannot be universalized as it only applies to a one person. Lastly, universal ethical egoism is a familiar principle that all individuals should seek personal interests entirely. The doctrine applies Socratic paradox questioning that human beings cannot truly understand their benefits if they lack a clear understanding of the world.

Defense against the Ethical Theory

Ethical egoism is a weak and incorrect doctrine. It is essential to note that besides promoting one's good, the act is not necessarily moral. Additionally, there are conditions when - preceding self-interest is considered a moral action. Individuals may identify their interest wrong thus contributing to the commission of immoral act. For instance, an individual may prefer to spend all the day drinking and engaging in other leisure activities at the expense of providing for their families. It is also imperative to note that even if a single person dominates the world, the Kantian duties apply (Van Ackeren and Sticker 75-76). Duties are the actions that are compulsory to execute regardless of any self-gain or loss as dictated by reason. The deontologist introduces a moral sphere referred to impartial duties that are mandatory to pursue.

Notwithstanding, ethical egoism does not offer a solution to the challenges arising from conflicting self-interest. It is important to note that a majority of ethical issues in the society involve a conflict of interest (Bloomfield 78). For instance, a manufacturer wants to dispose of its waste into the river while the individuals living downstream are against the idea. Ethical egoism only suggests both parties should pursue their interest. The theory does not indicate a resolution for the conflict of interest. Therefore, the two parties will be in constant fights since both of them are seeking to satisfy their wants regardless of the impact of their action on the other party.

Additionally, ethical egoism is against the impartiality doctrine. The primary assumptions that a majority of the moral philosophers make is that people should not discriminate against others on subjective grounds like sexual orientation, ethnic origin, race, sex, and religion. The doctrine suggests that individuals should differentiate themselves from others and everyone and offer oneself a preferential treatment (Vaughn 78-79). It is also crucial to observe that the principle contradicts the fundamental principle of morality. The theory is against the golden rule that appears in Christianity, Islam, and other religious that suggests that human beings should treat others the way they would prefer to be addressed. Additionally, the principle is against the primary tenet of Immanuel Kant that people should not perform are if all the people surrounding them behave similarly.

Although ethical egoism advocates for self-interest, it has elements of altruism as illustrated by the Hobbesian state of nature. According to Hobbes, self-interest would lead to anarchy in the sense that selfish motives would propel individuals to violence in the act of defending life and property. In disregard of selfish self-interest, ethical egoism pushes people to act on rational self-interest. In this light, rational self-interest causes people to collectively surrender the monopoly of violence to the state in exchange for protection of liberties and ownership of property (Fletcher 85). The resolution of anarchy in the Hobbesian state of nature resonates with the Lockean concept of government where individuals contract with the state to live under a social contract where persons can freely pursue actions that promote their self-interests. As a result, self-interest, as informed by ethical egoism, serves as a basis for collective action that encourages self-preservation and personal progress. Therefore, selfishness is a necessary element for civilization and democratic governance in the sense that individuals enter into a social contract that provides an enabling ground for self-interest.

It is telling that utility undergirds both ethical egoism and utilitarianism. In Taking Egoism Seriously, Keith Burgess-Jackson observes that "is the view that the right thing to do is to maximize one's own utility" (Burgess-Jackson, 532) while utilitarianism calls for impartiality in the maximization of utility. For instance, if an individual is an egoist that person seeks to not only maximize their good but to do so in a manner that promotes a eudaimonic life (Salmieri 3-5). It is also essential to note that ethical egoism is self-contradictory. In this case, an example will suffice to show the contradictory nature of ethical egoism. Self-interest demands that a person take actions that maximize personal utility (Salmieri 6). Here, having a friend is right because friendship contributes to mutual growth. However, the association may require an egoist to make sacrifices that benefit the friend but leave the egoist in a worse off position. As such, an egoist may be conflicted about entering into a friendship that may cause harm to his or her welfare hence the contention that ethical egoism is paradoxical.

Another prism through which ethical egoism can be understood is through congruence with morality. Both self-interest and morality approach actions as norms rather than ought claims. Here, self-interest aligns with societal norms that require an individual to act in a manner that is beneficial to the body or affairs of a person (Fletcher 86). While it may be argued that prevailing sociopolitical climate may affect societal values thus bringing a condition where self-interest is not in line with moral norms, it is essential to understand that self-interests are not fixed. Therefore, self-interest is contextual and, in most cases, will always align with societal norms on morality hence self-interest promotes the preservation and development of societal values.


In examining the relationship between morality and self-interest, this essay has illustrated that self-interest, as influenced by ethical egoism, is compatible with societal morality. While morality is a system of social norms, the normativity of selfishness contributes to the formation of social values as shown by the social contract where rational self-interest requires individuals to live under a government that provides an enabling climate for the pursuit of life and liberty. At the same time, the essay has provided an overview of how self-interest promotes eudaimonic life and overall self-fulfillment through the satisfaction of desires. Overall, it is the view of this paper that egoistical norms align with ethical normativity and that there is a correlation between ethical egoism and moral norms.

Works Cited

Bloomfield, Paul. Morality and Self-interest. Oxford University Press, 2007.

Burgess-Jackson, Keith. "Taking egoism seriously." Ethical theory and moral practice 16.3 (2013): 529-542.

Fletcher, Natalie. "Ethical Selves: A Sketch for a Theory of Relational Authenticity." Journal of Philosophy of Life 3.1 (2013): 83-96.

Salmieri, Gregory. "Aristotle on Selfishness? understanding the iconoclasm of Nicomachean Ethics ix 8." Ancient Philosophy 34.1 (2014): 101-120.

Van Ackeren, Marcel, and Martin Sticker. "Kant and Moral Demandingness." Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 18.1 (2015): 75-89.

Vaughn, Lewis. Doing ethics: Moral reasoning and contemporary issues. WW Norton & Company, 2015.

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Ethical Theory: Ethical Egoism Essay Example. (2022, Jun 19). Retrieved from

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