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egoism and self interest theories

Course Code

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Ethics Lecture
September 14, 2011
Theories of Self-Interest
Egoism and Self-Interest
Psychological egoism: humans can only act from self-regarding
motives; even if we wanted to act out the goodness of our
hearts, we can only actually act in self-regarding motives [what
is in one’s interest to do]- is a description of how we act; doesn’t
tell us what to do but rather shows that we don’t have a choice in
the matter [descriptive ethical claim]
Ethical egoism: human should only act from self-regarding
motives [normative claim].
P.E. -> E.E. [arrow means it entails; you can’t have P.E. without
having E.E.]- if you believe you can only act from self-regarding
motives, you’re not gonna go do something for someone else]
- (E.E. -> P.E.) this isn’t true
Thomas Hobbes believes in both P.E. and E.E.
Both are structural; say we only can and only ought to do what is
in our self-interest but they don’t say what our self-interest is
We can talk about what self-interest is without subscribing to
Parfit’s Three Theories of Self-interest
Hedonism: maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain; two kinds
[narrow- all pleasures are the same and all pleasures please
everyone; everyone finds the same things pleasurable and the
same things painful] but he says this is impossible and
[preference- pleasure and pain is determined by our preferences.
We may have desires that are not pleasurable]
Desire fulfillment [unrestricted-what is best for someone, is to
fulfill all their desires for whatever they are but he says this is
impossible] and [success theory- the desires have to be about
your own life; you can have a desire about your own life like your
children succeeding, even if you find out whether its fulfilled or
not, your life goes better if it is fulfilled than if its not]
Objective list theory
Preference-Hedonism vs. Success Theory
“What you don’t know can’t hurt you”- preference hedonism says
that you have to experience a pleasure for your life to go better;
has to enter your own consciousness for it to count. Success
theory says your desires count and your life is better if they are
fulfilled and can be fulfilled if you’re unbeknownst to them
“nothing bad can happen to you when you’re dead”- preference
hedonism says that you cannot feel pleasure or pain when you’re
dead. Success theory says that some of your desires may be
fulfilled or unfulfilled after you’re dead- your life in retrospect
gets better or worse after you die]
Parfit says, on both these theories, you need to consider the
alternatives- what if you would have had more fun reading King
Lear rather than going to that party
Summative perspective adds up all the pleasures and desires
and the total number tells you what would make your life go best
Challenges: grass man [he prefers to lie on the lawn and count
blades of grass; most would think that this is a waste of a man’s
life or is not most in his self-interest to count blades of grass
since he’s a mathematician. Pleasure hedonism says that he is
leading the best life because it is the most in self interest. Or the
secret sadist [how is it possible that the best life he could live is
causing other people pain?]
Subjective and Objective goods
Can we be wrong about what is in our self-interest? False
Pleasure, pain and preferences are subjective
You cannot be mistaken about what you actually find pleasurable
Something is in your self-interest because you decide that it’s
something that you want
Because doing unethical things may be pleasurable, we need an
additional list