Ethical Egoism and Capitalism

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Ethical Egoism and Capitalism

Ethical egoism, in general, is suggestive that every individual would act according to his or her own interests. According to the proponents of ethical egoism, every individual or any group will always be pushed to promote one’s own personal interests regardless of how others would view their decisions. However, a personal interest is viewed as a long-term commitment based on the ideas presented by the proponents of ethical egoism. Here, personal interest does not only cover the basic wants of an individual, but rather the needs of an individual which will benefit the individual or the groups for a longer period (“Ethical Egoism,” 2007).

On the other hand, capitalism is an economic worldview that promotes the accumulation of capital for a long-term period. Capitalism as an economic thought is largely individualistic, and is most of the time focused on the individual who plays as the main player in all capitalist endeavors. As such, the proponents of capitalism greatly believe that every individual or group of individuals is always in pursuit of attaining their goals and interests (Hooker, 1996). Ethical egoism and capitalism, though are two different world perspectives have a distinct connection.

In some ways, ethical egoism has widely influenced the growth and the process at which capitalism works. Both ideas are centered on pursuing and fulfilling the individual’s personal interests. And as such, the tenets of ethical egoism have become one of the most motivating factors in the capitalist world. Epicurus had his own idea involving ethical egoism. Epicurus defined self interest based on the pleasure that fulfillment of such self-interest can give. According to Epicurus, pleasure is only attained whenever the idea of pain is quickly vanquished. Hence, one must be ultimately with his or herself in order to become happy and fulfilled.

And as such, he added that to live in a pleasant way, individuals must adjust to life in a prudent and honest way (Epicurus, 2002, 278). In accordance to this, Epicurus also added that individuals, while fulfilling their needs and self-interests must also learn to become self sufficient, stable and not reliant on chances, and must be complete (“Ethical Egoism,” 2007). These characteristics suggest that an individual, while being self sufficient, must only focus on the immediate and basic needs rather than giving up to the pleasures and unnecessary wants.

As such, if people have become lured to unneeded pleasure, their desires will not be fulfilled and satiated, and will only cause pain and discontent amongst the people. While Epicurus suggested that the ultimate test for pleasure is the elimination of all causes of pain, he also concluded that reason and virtue are two of the most important factors in attaining happiness. As such, rational choices must be made in order to be fulfilled. Any wrong and irrational choice committed will cause discontent and unrest to the people, thus should be avoided (Younkins, “Epicurus on Freedom and Happiness,” 2007)

Capitalism, on the other hand, is also founded on almost the same tenets. Capitalism is also geared towards achieving fulfillment which can be attained through the accumulation of capital goods, which capitalist entrepreneurs desire. Like how each tenet of ethical egoism is defined, the proponents of capitalism also strongly believe that a capitalist is always in search of satisfaction and fulfillment, which can only be achieved if his or her self-interests are being quenched.

Like ethical egoists, capitalists are also focused on the attainment of individual satisfaction. And as such, every single capitalist puts a lot of effort into giving an assurance that each of his own capitalist endeavors is being realized and put into effect. Profit, as the main goal of the capitalists, is the counterpart of “pleasure” for an ethical egoist. While in ethical egoism, pleasure is only attained by eliminating sources of pain and discontent, profit is being considered as the main source of motivation and happiness for capitalists.

In this light, profit is obtained by capitalists through the sheer use of intellect, competitive skills, and thorough reasoning in order to equip themselves in a tough competition among other and fellow capitalists. In addition to this, another character that links capitalism with ethical egoism, is the distinctive pursuit of morality behind the two ideologies. While ethical egoism greatly regards moral and righteousness for the attainment of their goals, in the capitalist perspective, capitalism is an avenue wherein moral is an imperative towards the creation of social system that will help realize the goals of a capitalist.

Capitalism, hence is a system that encourages the practice of enhancing self-determination and giving priority to moral agencies for the system to function well (Younkins, 2007). Capitalism is also based establishing a rigid set of moral values. Capitalism is a system that operates on a strictly governed set of institutions that ensures that each move and actions are always watched. And in order to maintain the balance amongst the players in the system, every action made can be open to reward or sanctions.

In addition to this, self-interests within a capitalist system are attained by valuing the balance between the needs and material gains. And as such, every value system and social norms are always honored in within the capitalist arena (Cilliers, 2008, pp. 30-31). In a way, the quench for self-interest and pursuit for material wealth are always related within the economic system. Pursuing any kind of self-interest and wishing to attain material wealth are always tied to the economic order, and such, the goal and the means must be properly coordinated.

The capitalist system works in hand with the ideals of the ethical egoism in such a way that, both ideologies will suggest that in any kind of self-interest, one must always be able to determine the more prioritized aspect of the individual’s well-being. In both the underlying tenets in capitalism and ethical egoism, self-interest plays a huge role. Both of the ideologies suggest that, self-interest is one thing that should always be satiated by any individual. Failure to attain this will make human beings discontented for their lives, and such will always push to gain more.

While in ethical egoism, the individual’s pursuit is directed towards eliminating his or her source of pain in order to attain pleasure; in capitalism, the individual’s self-interest is directed in gaining profit which he or she can attain by eliminating competition or by triumphantly overcoming any kind of competition that comes in his or her way. However, there are certain limitations that must be taken consideration in this pursuit of either self-interest or profit. As stated in ethical egoism, an individual must know how to control his or her pleasures.

The excess of wanting too much material wealth will eventually establish discontent, unhappiness and pain on the individual. This goes the same in capitalism – every individual must learn how to control his or pursuit of gaining more profit that how it is supposed to work. If an individual or the whole society believes that they deserve more than what is rightful for them, the society will be in chaos. And as such, the people will become rather more dissatisfied, and order will be more oblivious to the minds of the people.

The parallelism of the tenets between ethical egoism and capitalism shows the distinct comparison and similarity of the ideas contributing to both ideologies, with self-interest at the core of ethical egoism and capitalism. In essence, self-interest is what drives both ethical egoism and capitalist to achieve its purpose. Ethical egoism shares its influence with capitalism in such a way that ethical egoism shows that there is something that an individual wishes to attain. Alongside these wants and needs, an individual is ought to follow certain measures in order to fulfill his or purpose.

And most importantly, there should always be limits to what an individual should wish to have. Excessively wanting something, in within either the tenets of ethical egoism and capitalism, will always be detrimental to the status of every individual or in any society.


Cilliers, J. (2008). Global Capitalism – Local Values. St. Gallen Symposium. Switzerland: University of St. Gallen. Epicurus. “Principle Doctrines. ” Classics of Political and Moral Philosophy. Ed. Steven M. Cahn. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. “Ethical Egoism. ” (2007).

Center for Ethical Deliberation. Retrieved October 2, 2008, from http://www. mcb. unco. edu/ced/perspectives/egoism. cfm Hooker, R. (1996). Capitalism. The European Enlightenment. Retrieved October 2, 2008, from http://www. wsu. edu/~dee/GLOSSARY/CAPITAL. HTM Younkins, E. W. (2007). Epicurus on Freedom and Happiness. La Quebecois Libre. Retrieved October 2, 2008, from http://www. quebecoislibre. org/07/071111-4. htm Younkins, E. W. (2007). Capitalism: The Only Moral Social System. La Quebecois Libre. Retrieved October 3, 2008, from http://www. quebecoislibre. org/07/071111-4. htm


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