Psychological Egoism states that each person pursues his or her self interest alone. Rachels states that it is not a theory of ethics but rather a theory of human psychology. Psychological Egoism has extreme consequences for human morality. If Psychological Egoism were true, then our entire society would consist of selfish individuals only interested in their own welfare; it would be pointless to talk about what people ought to do. Ethical Egoism in contrast claims that each person ought to pursue his or her own self-interest exclusively (Rachels 70). The main difference between the two is that Psychological Egoism makes a claim about the way things are, and Ethical Egoism makes a claim about how things ought to be. Psychological Egoism involves aspects of human nature, whereas Ethical Egoism involves morality.
One argument for Psychological Egoism is that we always do what we most want to do. Regardless of whether or not someone is acting unselfish or self-interested, they act in a way that is most like what they want to do. Let us consider an act of benevolence. If someone was to perform this act of kindness, they would be doing it out of their own desire. Thus, this makes the act self-interested. It can be concluded that this can be said about any act of kindness. So, Psychological Egoism must be true. A flaw in this argument is that sometimes we do things not because we want to but when we feel we ought to do them. We may have a strong desire to break a promise, but we do not because we feel obligated to keep it. This shows that what we want most is to break the promise, but we keep it anyways, thus the argument is flawed. A second flaw is that when you act out of desire, you are not always acting in self-interest. To assess if something is self-interested, we have to know what kind of desire the issue is based on. If your actions are based on helping someone else, then you are acting altruistically, not self-interested.
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