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Posted on October 11th, 2012, by

Ethical Egoism is an influential philosophical movement, which, though, provokes numerous debates among philosophers. The views on ethical egoism differ consistently, from the total support of this philosophical movement to its total rejection and severe criticism. In such a context, it is important to focus on both strengths and weaknesses of ethical egoism. In this respect, it should be said that ethical egoism has both strengths and weaknesses but the view on this philosophical movement is mainly defined by the attitude of a person to self-interest, which is the key concept for ethical egoism. In fact, those philosophers who consider self-interest of individual prior to all other interests naturally support ethical egoism, while those who consider self-interest secondary tend to criticize ethical egoism.

Basically, the concept of ethical egoism stands on the ground that moral agents ought to do what is in their own self-interest. In such a way, the concept of self-interest plays a crucial role for ethical egoism. At the same time, it is important to distinguish three types of ethical egoism, which are as follows: personal ethical egoism, individual ethical egoism, and universal ethical egoism. Personal ethical egoism is the belief that only an individual should act from the motive of self-interest, nothing is stated about what motives others should act from.

Individual ethical egoism is the prescriptive doctrine that all persons should serve an individual’s self-interest. Finally, universal ethical egoism is the universal doctrine that all persons should pursue their interests exclusively. Therefore, in a broader sense, the concept of ethical egoism comprises three types of egoism which implies the focus of an individual on his or her own interests, and, what is more all people should serve interests of the individual. At this point, the inner controversy can be found in the concept of ethical egoism and its types since when all individuals pursue their own interests, it is virtually impossible that they will serve interests of other people. In such a context, any interaction between people becomes practically impossible because of their concern with self-interests and indifference to interests of other people.

Nevertheless, supporters of the concept of ethical egoism argue that this philosophical concept has its strengths. In this respect, the concept of ethical egoism is based on the concept of self-interest which is always present in the life of people. Proponents of ethical egoism argue that people always pursue their own interests, while to pursue interests of others is to be officious. Instead, people should mind their own business and focus on their interests, regardless of interests of other people. Furthermore, altruism denies individual value and, therefore, altruism, as the concept antagonistic to the concept of ethical egoism, is destructive both to society and its individual components, viewing life merely as a thing to be sacrificed. In other words, ethical egoism makes human life or, to put it more precisely, individual existence purposeful as an individual cannot live for others solely but primarily he or she lives for him- or herself. Finally, all of commonly-accepted moral duties, from doing no harm unto others to speaking always the truth to keeping promises, are rooted in one fundamental principle of self-interest. What is meant here is the fact that the principle of self-interest is the major moving force which motivates and defines human actions, moral values and behavior. The supporters of ethical egoism lay emphasis on the overwhelming impact of self-interest on moral agents. At this point, it is hardly possible to disagree with the central concept of ethical egoism since self-interest cannot be denied pointblank it is always present in human life affecting behavior of people and their moral views. On the other hand it is obvious that ethical egoism exaggerates the significance of self-interest and ignores other interests, which may be important for human behavior and moral values.

In such a context, it is quite natural that ethical egoism has a number of critics who argue that ethical egoism is irrelevant and too narrow to be a reliable philosophical concept. In this respect, it is possible to distinguish several arguments against ethical egoism. Firstly, ethical egoism is contradictory because it allows one and the same act to be evaluated as both right and wrong. In such a way, ethical egoism is inconsistent and the entire theory may be viewed as erroneous. Secondly, specialists argue that ethical egoism is committed to giving inconsistent advice. In fact, it is impossible to follow the advice to pursue one’s own interests solely, ignoring interests of other or paying no attention to other people. In a situation, people would be concerned entirely with their own interests with no room for altruism and mutual interests of people, because of which individuals should sacrifice, at least, partially their own self-interests for the well-being of others.

Basically, there are certain interpersonal decisions which have to be made that transcend the egoist’s point of view. In such a way, ethical egoism leads to self-denial because the existence of interpersonal relations inevitably involves the intersection of interpersonal interests which cannot be ignored as the concept of ethical egoism implies. Instead, people should take into consideration interests of others that brings in certain element of altruism in human relationships, while the concept of altruism is antagonistic in regard to the concept of egoism.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the development of the concept of ethical egoism was based on the increasing impact of individualism in the society. The increasing individualism naturally contributed to the development of the concept of egoism as the central concept of the western culture, which actually laid the foundation to the concept of ethical egoism. At the same time, ethical egoism extended the conventional concept of egoism as self-interests of an individual and three forms of ethical egoism were defined: personal, individual and universal ethical egoism. All of the forms of ethical egoism imply that self-interest is crucial for all people.

However, the emphasis on self-interests turns out to be a serious drawback of ethical egoism since self-interests of an individual are exaggerated to the extent that there remains no room for interests other but self-interests. In this respect, ethical egoism can be juxtaposed to ethical egoism. In the case of ethical egoism, there is no room for altruism that is apparently quite a controversial position since people interact constantly and their interests cannot fail but intersect. Hence, to meet one’s own interests it is necessary to sacrifice self-interests, at least partially, to balance social relations and life at large.

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