Rachels: Egoism and Moral Scepticism

Rachels: Egoism and Moral Scepticism
Descriptive: describe ethical/moral behavior
- (Is)
Normative: describe how we OUGHT to act
- (Ought, Should)
Hume’s Fork: There’s no theoretical way to get from an “Is” to an “Ought”
“Ought” implies “Can” :  if you should do something (x), that means it’s possible for
that thing to be done.
Psychological Egoism: (p11) Descriptive: All actions ARE self-interested; every action
we do is motivated by self-interest
Two Arguments in Favor Of it
- A) Regardless of what we say our reasons for action are, the fact of the
matter is that we always do what we want to do. (Smith eg on p 12)
o REJECTS This 2 Ways
 I) Assumes that people only do what they want to do. There at
least 2 cases where people do things they don’t want to do.
 We do undesirable actions all the time in order to
achieve desirable ends. (Like the dentist)
 When we feel we have made obligations to do
something (Keeping a promise).
 2) Acting on my desires doesn’t necessarily mean that the
action is selfish. We need to look at the object of our desires.
Acting exclusively on my interests is selfish, but acting in a
way (that I want to act) that also promotes the interest of
others is not selfish. (Intention)
- B) Unselfish actions only superficially appear to be unselfish. We really do
unselfish action because of the great feelings we get from doing such things.
Therefore, such actions are really selfish. (Lincoln example 13)
o RECJTION: Feeling good feelings from doing action doesn’t mean
that you do the action for selfish reasons. Instead, it means that
you’re the kind of person who is motivated by helping others.
 If PE is, as R’s as shown, obviously so bad, then why do people think it’s a legitimate
Reason: 3 Confusions
- 1) Selfishness v. Self-interest
o Self-interest : acting in your own interests.
o Selfishness: Acting on your interests in such a way that you ignore the
interests of others in circumstance where their interests should NOT
be ignored
- 2) Action are done EITHER from S-interest OR Other-regarding interests
o Not True: We do lots of things that are neither in our interest nor in the
interest of others (Smoking)
(Not all actions are selfish and not all actions are done from self-interest. R has done
this without appeal to altruism)
3) Concern for you well-being is incompatible with concern for the well-being
of others
o Also False: We can promote the interests of others and our own
interests at the same time. There’s no necessary inconsistency there.
Ethical Egoism : (Normative) (11)  All actions OUGHT to be self-interested.
Regardless of how we do act, we are under no obligation to act in any way except in
ways that promote our own interests.
Shows a Problem with what EE may require
- Does this mean that I could (that I SHOULD) burn down a building if I got
pleasure from doing it?
Give the EE response
- NO! You need to have more foresight. What’s really in your interest is to
have a society that’s law abiding. This will ensure your protection, and that’s
integral to your interests.
o It’s to your own advantage to be “good” since that will serve your
interests in the long run.
Rachels Refutes the Response
- Well… Obviously we want a stable society, but a few law breakers won’t
undermine the social fabric. What the EE really needs to do is convince
others to act for long term stability, while at the same time the EE acts on his
or her interests. EE pretends to be a do-gooder, while really being
completely self-interested.
Problem of Universality
- Generally, all ethical theories should apply equally to everyone. If each
egoist wants to public endorse altruism while privately endorsing egoism, it
seems like EE fails the universality requirement.
- Rachels offers a solution to this. There’s no logical inconsistency if we frame
the egoist’s ideal world as one where his or her interests are promoted by
o There is a very high chance that it’s practically impossible.
In the End: PE is blatantly False. EE has some problems, but seems to at least be