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Lecture 10

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Julia Nefsky

Lecture 10 – Feb. 11 Psychological Egoism “The doctrine that the only thing anyone is capable of desiring or pursuing ultimately (as an end in itself) is his own self-interest.” (Feinberg, p.80) Psychological Egoism and Morality A standard assumption: ought implies can If that’s right, psychological egoism poses a challenge to morality: • If it is humanly impossible to do anything other than what you think is in your own self-interest, then it doesn’t make sense to say that you ought to do anything else Argument 2 You get pleasure from it, so it’s selfish P1) whenever one gets what one us trying to achieve in acting, one feels pleasure Therefore, C) whenever one acts, one is really pursuing one’s own pleasure Critique of the argument: • First: is the premise true? o It does not seem so o Getting what one is trying to achieve is no guarantee that one will experience pleasure (p. 82) • Second: does the conclusion from the premise? o “Pleasure may well be the usual accompaniment of all actions in which the agent gets what he wants; but to infer from this that what the agent always wants is his own pleasure is lie arguing […] that because an ocean liner constantly consumes coal on its trans-Atlantic passage that therefore the purpose of its voyage is to consume coal.” (p. 83) • C does not follow from P1 – Even if it’s true that pleasure always occurs when one gets what one wants, this does not imply that what one wanted was one’s own pleasure An Argument against Psychological Egoism “Not only is the presence of pleasure (satisfaction) as by-product of an action no proof that the action was selfish; in some special cases it provides rather conclusive proof that the action was unselfish.” (p. 83) The Lincoln Example Passenger: “Now Abe, where does selfishness come in on this little episode?” Lincoln: “That was the very essence of selfishness. I should have had no peace of mind all day had I gone on and left that suffering old sow worrying over those pigs. I did it to get peace of mind, don’t you see?” (p.83) • Contrary to what Lincoln is saying, the fact that Lincoln would only have had peace of mind if the piglets were safe seems to show that Lincoln cared about something other than his own well-being In some cases we cannot explain the pleasure derived from acting unless we suppose that the agent has a prior concern for the benefit of others. Argument 3: Self-Deception We sometimes deceive ourselves about our own motives: • We convince ourselves that we are being altruistic when really we are only acting because we want praise, or we want to feel good about ourselves… Isn’t it plausible that we are always deceiving ourselves whenever we think we think we have unselfish motives? Critique of Argument 3 • Such a “sweeping generalization requires considerable empirical evidence.” (p. 84) o While sometimes there is evidence of self-deception, frequently there isn’t • Think of people who have risked their lives to save others • Think of people who just help others on a day-to-day basis o Why should we think that such seemingly altruistic acts are always only performed in order to get a benefit for oneself? Apparent Counterexamples to Psychological Egoism Cases in which people seem to be helping other people out of a genuine concern for those other people, rather than for some self-interested
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