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Ethical Egosim

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thewonder
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Ethical Egosim

Post by thewonder » June 29th, 2019, 5:10 pm

I am of the opinion that Ethical Egoism is resultant in an aporia of human relations that falls back upon the trappings of Game Theory. When all thought is strategic and actions are guided by rational self-interest, the world becomes deprived of trust. Such a position is solipsistic in that it denies that others exist. Does anyone care to defend Ethical Egoism or know of any good deconstructions of the theory?

Thomyum2
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Re: Ethical Egosim

Post by Thomyum2 » June 30th, 2019, 1:49 pm

I tend to share your opinion here, but interestingly I have spent a good deal of time around people (many of whose opinions I respect) who are sincere advocates for a society guided by rational self-interest, so I have some sense of how this is defensible.

I've found that the principle that often underlies what you're describing here is not of egoism itself, but rather of freedom - i.e. freedom from coercion - and not the denial that others exist, but rather the belief that others are equal and as such, equally entitled to pursue their own self interest, whatever that might be and whether or not it necessarily agrees with my own concept of what self interest is (so long as it does not involve coercing me). I've found that many people who advocate rational self-interest are in fact caring toward others, act charitably and support their communities (and believe that in doing so they are actually at the same time acting in their own interest), but also believe that it should not be anyone else's choice or judgment that should require this, nor should they impose their own values on others.

So when I look at it, I think it's less about egoism than it is a about respecting everyone's freedom to make one's own choice and to pursue one's own values. At the same time, however, I do think this way of thinking does perhaps lead to a superficial and overly simplistic way of looking at the world in general, and at ethics and politics in particular. Pursued in a single-minded way and without some counterbalancing philosophy about one's relationship and responsibility to others, I do think could unintentionally lead to a downside such as you describe. So I guess the critical question one would have to ask to would be what exactly constitutes the 'Ethical' in 'Ethical Egoism'?

There's a lot more that can be discussed about this - I'll be interested to follow this and hear what others have to say.

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chewybrian
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Re: Ethical Egosim

Post by chewybrian » June 30th, 2019, 7:25 pm

If I understand correctly, I think I agree with you, but I will try to play devil's advocate.

I will start by trying to define and differentiate psychological egoism, which I understand to be the position that sane people are only able to act in their own rational self-interest. I don't quite agree, but that case is easily made. You simply assume that it is not rational to exchange 10 dollars for 5, or 10 minutes for 5, or for nothing. So, if you are rational, you would not act only because you thought someone else would benefit. Anything that is claimed to be a self-sacrifice just needs to be understood as acting for your own perceived benefit. For example, if you help the poor, you (allegedly) enjoy the prestige or the good feeling you get from doing it more than you think you would enjoy the time or effort or cash or other resources you gave up.

If you think psychological egoism holds, then there should be no need for worrying about ethical egoism, any more than I should tell you it is the right thing for you to continue to allow your kidneys to perform their functions.

So, I think the argument for ethical egoism perhaps begins with the idea that psychological egoism holds most of the way, 90% or so. In other words, people are able to act beyond their own self-interest. But, this is a weak motivator, while self-interest motivates strongly. Anarchy (self-interest with no limits) is clearly not in the interests of the whole, but waiting for people to try to help each other would not get us far if you buy the 90/10 rule.

In this mindset, it makes sense to create a 'bumper bowling' environment, allowing or perhaps even requiring people to work for themselves with some monitoring and rules, offering strong incentives for working in your self-interest, and enough deterrents to make them think twice about smashing their neighbor's skull for his lunch money. There seems to be an implied assumption that wealth is always a good thing, possibly the ultimate good, or that money can buy happiness. If we have enough confidence in such assumptions and in this capitalist system, then a case could be made that working for yourself is the right thing to do. You don't have to worry about trusting the other guy to look out for you because he cares about you, but because it is in his own best interest not to harm you or cheat you. He will be forced to help you, or someone at least, in order to help himself, within the rules of the system.

Your best interests would be served by working at something at which you are skilled, for which there is a great demand. You would earn the most for yourself this way, but could not avoid creating the most possible value for the rest of society along the way. If you choose instead to go to work at the soup kitchen all day, you would allow others to perpetuate their own inefficiency, incompetence, or laziness instead of forcing them to work to survive. So, you would not really be helping them or society, and could be depriving us of the potential benefits of their efforts. Further, you would deprive society of the benefit of your skill as a surgeon or a maker of call phone covers with rhinestones or whatever you do well that others want the most.

Again, I don't really buy all that, but I think that is what Pat Buchanan or someone along those lines might argue. I think there is a little truth to both sides, but that real acts of self-sacrifice are out there, and are some of the best examples of who we can be if we get our heads out of our other ends. I do think virtue is its own reward, but I would like to see how and why someone else might believe, or make the case that it is.
"If determinism holds, then past events have conspired to cause me to hold this view--it is out of my control. Either I am right about free will, or it is not my fault that I am wrong."

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James Radcliffe
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Re: Ethical Egosim

Post by James Radcliffe » July 1st, 2019, 2:26 am

thewonder wrote:
June 29th, 2019, 5:10 pm
I am of the opinion that Ethical Egoism is resultant in an aporia of human relations that falls back upon the trappings of Game Theory. When all thought is strategic and actions are guided by rational self-interest, the world becomes deprived of trust. Such a position is solipsistic in that it denies that others exist. Does anyone care to defend Ethical Egoism or know of any good deconstructions of the theory?
I am willing to defend ethical egoism.

This is how I define it:

Ethical egoism is the belief that a person should act in the way that they think will make them most happy, given their available options.*

*-This happiness may or may not be based on the happiness of others.


I don't see how ethical egoism, by this definition, leads to any of the things listed by OP.

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h_k_s
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Re: Ethical Egosim

Post by h_k_s » July 2nd, 2019, 10:03 am

You guys (as it were) seem to be taking a tiny slice of Aristotle's "magnanimous man" and focusing on the pride element a bit too much.

As Aristotle pointed out, as long as you are magnanimous then it is ok to be proud and self confident.

I would not take it too far however -- the pride part.

Thomyum2
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Re: Ethical Egosim

Post by Thomyum2 » July 2nd, 2019, 10:12 am

James Radcliffe wrote:
July 1st, 2019, 2:26 am
I am willing to defend ethical egoism.

This is how I define it:

Ethical egoism is the belief that a person should act in the way that they think will make them most happy, given their available options.*

*-This happiness may or may not be based on the happiness of others.


I don't see how ethical egoism, by this definition, leads to any of the things listed by OP.
I'm familiar with this approach to the idea, but to me it presents a circular reasoning. My happiness may be based on the happiness of others, but that only works when the happiness of others aligns with my own. Surely there are times where one chooses to subordinate one's own happiness to another's out of an ethical sense that has nothing to do with happiness? I know that people will say that if another person's happiness is more important to me than my own, then by definition I am acting in my own interest and for the fulfillment of my own happiness. But I think that sidesteps the ethical question and it doesn't really help me in those situations where I'm faced with a difficult choice between two competing options of serving the self versus serving the other. To refer back to my original post, I think the ethical value of this approach is one of allowing each individual the freedom of making that choice by whatever standards that person chooses to use - it's not in the elevation of pursuing one's own happiness in and of itself.

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James Radcliffe
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Re: Ethical Egosim

Post by James Radcliffe » July 4th, 2019, 1:17 am

I'm familiar with this approach to the idea, but to me it presents a circular reasoning. My happiness may be based on the happiness of others, but that only works when the happiness of others aligns with my own. Surely there are times where one chooses to subordinate one's own happiness to another's out of an ethical sense that has nothing to do with happiness? I know that people will say that if another person's happiness is more important to me than my own, then by definition I am acting in my own interest and for the fulfillment of my own happiness. But I think that sidesteps the ethical question and it doesn't really help me in those situations where I'm faced with a difficult choice between two competing options of serving the self versus serving the other.
If I understand you rightly, you're saying that although ethical egoism may be technically right, it's not very useful when it comes to solving difficult ethical problems. If that's what you're saying, then we agree. Ethical egoism, in my opinion, does not solve any particular ethical problem anyone may have. It only provides the right fundamental framework under which all further ethicizing can take place.

And what you said about freedom. I don't know about other ethical egoists, but for me personally, I find ethical egoism particualrly fulfilling because (aside from the fact that I think it is the only true ethical foundation) I feel that I am largely NOT free. Both people and things greatly limit both what I can think and what I can do, I think, and ethical egoism gives me both a humbling as well as an encouraging perspective from which to deal with this realization, I think.

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