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PP110 Lecture Notes - Psychological Egoism, Egotism, Selfishness

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Ashwani Peetush

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Psychological Egoism
Descriptive/empirical theory about human nature (the way things are why people behave in a
particular way mind): People only ever act for the sake of their own interests; they are selfish
o The evidence
The strategy of re-interpreting motives (not a definitive argument)
Ex. psychological egoists consider all good works done by the person
will have personal gain Jane works as a hospital (his motivation is a
good reference for med school)
All actions human beings take are done through personal interest
People do not need to agree with you
Thomas Hobbes: claimed that the real motivation to give to a starving
child is you are showing the society that you are more capable than
others (ex. Bill Gates help those in need for personal gain)
o Claims that sympathy is caused by fear of action happening to
self (ex. you are afraid that your friend’s injury could have
happened to you instead)
Not a conclusive method of showing the true reason for your behaviour
this only shows the re-interpretation of motivation
The view that people are really selfish/ self-interested their nature is always selfish (What’s in
it for me? we can’t be anything but selfish)
o How is this a problem for morality and ethics?
Their capabilities are not the same as what they ought to do
The arguments
1. In both selfish and unselfish acts, people are simply doing what they most want to do.
o Ex. Jane who gives to charity is acting as selfishly as John, who is a billionaire, and keeps
every penny for himself
o Objection: it is the object what one wants that determines whether she is selfish or not.
The simple fact that I am acting on my wants does not mean that I am acting selfishly. It
is human nature that we do what we want to do. We have desires and beliefs on taking
such action, therefore we act.
o Selfishness: when one acts based on only self-interests and ignoring the interests of
those that need to be considered
Based on what we want
When you should have paid attention, you didn’t pay attention
2. So called “unselfish” acts produce a sense of satisfaction. And, that is their real motive.
o Ex. Jane feels amazing when helping others. In fact, she would feel terrible if she did not
help. So, unselfish acts are unselfish at a superficial level only
o Objection: the object of your desire is the happiness of the person you help. It is
inaccurate to say that your “feeling good” is your desire.
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