Thesis: Without a distinct framework, ethical egoism fails as a moral theory to assist moral decision making because it endorses the animalistic nature of humanity, fails to provide a viable solution to a conflict of interest, and is proved to be an evolutionary unstable moral strategy. Outline: Ethical egoism claims that all our actions can be reduced to self-interest. This is a controversial moral theory which sometimes can be detrimental.
Without a well-defined framework of the nature of self-interest, ethical egoism enlarges the animalistic nature of humanity in which can result in unfavorable consequences. Ethical egoism also fails to provide a solution when a conflict of interest arises. By only acting out of one’s self interest, ethical egoism also deems to be an evolutionary unstable moral theory. Ethical Egoism As a Moral Theory Identifying fundamental principles about ethics and morality has always been a major concern across humanity as a whole.
Many are familiar with statements like those of ‘common sense morality’ and utilitarianism, but perhaps among the most controversial of these statements is ethical egoism. Ethical egoism is a normative theory on how we ought to behave, that we have no moral duty except to do what is best for ourselves. It advocates morality based on self-interest. In Rachels’ Ethical Egoism, the author proposes different arguments in favor and against ethical egoism as a moral theory but only come to a conclusion that ethical egoism is “unacceptably arbitrary” and fails to treat everyone equally.
Without a distinct framework, ethical egoism fails as a moral theory to assist moral decision making because it endorses the animalistic nature of humanity, fails to provide a viable solution to a conflict of interest, and is proved to be an evolutionary unstable moral strategy. Ethical egoism does not provide a moral basis for the nature of self-interest or solving conflicts between people. An ethical theory should set forth a ground such that it can constitute for a principle of morality. We should be able to agree that this theory of ethics is moral and has moral principles.
However, in the case of ethical egoism, it advocates that all men ought to act from their self-interest but does not clearly state the nature of the ‘self-interest’. For all we know, when one acts out of his/her self-interest, it can very well be something that is morally incorrect. Does the theory still hold when a rapist raped a girl and think it is in his best interest to kill the girl so he won’t get caught? On a certain level, ethical egoism does not only fail to take into account the nature of ‘self-interest’ but also endorse wrong-doings and mischievousness.
In Haidt’s The Felicity of Virtue, the author claims that philosophers like Plato and Kant believe that human beings have a dual nature: part animal and part rational. The animal part follows the law of nature where there is “no morality” and only causality whereas the rational part “respect rules of conduct, and so people can be judged morally for the degree to which they respect the right rules” (Haidt, 162). This animal nature illustrates exactly how ethical egoism can endorse selfishness because ethical egoism resides on the animalistic human nature and does not recommend the rational part of human beings.
Without a solid ground for moral basis and taking account into rational nature of morality, ethical theory fails to constitute as a moral theory. Ethical theory fails to provide a solution when there is a conflict of interest. A moral theory is a system which we determine the right and wrong conduct, and how we ought to behave in a certain way, however, ethical egoism doesn’t fulfill its duty as a moral theory. Ethical egoism claims that all our actions can be reduced to self-interest and acting against it is immoral.
On a larger level, ethical egoism is subjective and in a way somewhat solipsistic. It doesn’t contemplate other’s feelings but our own. If my neighbor is abusing their child everyday, but the act itself does not affect me or do me any harm or good, so according to ethical egoism, it is not in my best interest to interfere. The theory is stated such that each man believes everyone should act out of their best interest, however; it might not be in one’s self interest to have everyone act from the perspective of their self-interests.
In fact, Plato used the example of Gyges’ Ring to illustrate that when “one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust, for any men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice” (Plato, 547). If a starving child and a naughty child both find a candy on the street, it is in both their interest to fight for the candy because eating the candy make them both happy. In this case, who should have the candy?
Philosopher Plato’s brother, Glaucon actually hypothesized that egotistic power seeking might be the ‘ideal state of existence’ but quickly refuted because others might seek the same power, “which would interfere with our freedom and cause a state of chaos in which no one was likely to have any desire fulfilled” (Plato, 545). Plato eventually concludes that we should choose the life of the just even though maybe unfortunate because it is the moral thing to do. Without providing a fundamental principle of what is “the right thing to do”, ethical egoism fails to provide a solution when there is a conflict of interest.
Ethical egoism is an “evolutionary unstable strategy” according to the Law of Jungles. Ethical egoism proposes that each person ought always to pursue his or her own self-interest exclusively. This idea of self-interest based morality is very much similar to the “Cheats” mentioned in J. L Mackie’s The Law of Jungles. The author claims that if the population only consists of cheats and suckers, then the Cheats will eventually wipe out the Suckers because Cheats only receive grooming but not vice versa out of their own interest. However, if put together with Grudgers, the Cheats will eventually die out because they are evolutionary unstable.
Mackie claims in his piece that “this strategy is not only evolutionarily stable within a population, it is also viable for a population as a whole” (Mackie, 563). It can be mirrored in our case of ethical egoism that in the modern society, if one acts as a Cheat and acts only out of his or her own best interest, it might lead to unfavorable consequences. By supporting only individual’s self interest, ethical egoism does not serve as an evolutionary stable moral theory. Ethical Egoism has always served as controversial for its advocacy of a self-interest based morality.
Many statements disagree with it such as the virtue hypothesis states when “morality is reduced to the opposite of self-interest”, acting against your self-interest is in your self-interest (Haidt, 164). Although ethical egoism accounts for our selfish and animalistic nature, it fails to provide a framework of the nature of self-interest and what is the right thing to do when a conflict of interest arises. Ethical egoism also proves to be an evolutionary unstable strategy when put in the evolutionary prospective. Without a viable framework, ethical egoism does not constitute as a moral theory.
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