Ethical Egoism

Categories: EthicsPhilosophy

Ethical egoism is a doctrine under normative ethics which prescribes a moral agent to act in accordance to one’s own self-interest. It states that what one’s self-interest may in one way or another proves to have harmful, favorable or neutral effects on other people. One should also take note of the fact that ethical egoism is not synonymous to rational egoism or individualism. Rational egoism is a form of egoism who claims that it is rational to act in accordance to one’s self-interest.

The difference could mostly be seen on the fact that rational egoism does not claim that egoism is ethically imperative. There are people who criticize ethical egoism on the basis that the latter does not take other’s well-beings into consideration. There are even claims that ethical egoism makes a moral agent abstain from taking the well-being of other people into consideration when determining when an action is morally right or not. One should not fall into this line of thinking since ethical egoism does not necessitates that a person abstain from taking other people’s well-being into consideration.

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As a matter of fact ethical egoism allows a person to take other’s interest into consideration as long as the action a moral agent does is an efficient means in terms of gratifying the self-interest of the moral agent. A great contrast could be seen with ethical egoism and altruism especially since altruism believes in the notion that each individual has a responsibility or obligation of helping others obtain their self-interests.

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There are three categories under ethical egoism namely, personal ethical egoism, individual ethical egoism and lastly, universal ethical egoism.

Personal ethical egoism is the notion that only “I” should act in accordance to the motive of my own self-interest. However, personal ethical egoism did not state in accordance to what motive should other act to. It is on this basis (it does not generalize or emphasize what others would do) that personal ethical egoism is not considered as an ethical theory. Another factor why such a notion would not be universalizable or could not be considered an ethical theory is the fact that a person could not really suggest others to follow personal ethical egoism since it would go against one’s own self-interest.

Individual ethical egoism on the other hand is prescriptive in that it necessitates others in accordance or in pursuance of my own self-interest. However, this belief is also problematic and thus like personal ethical egoism, this belief is also not universalizable. Thus in a way this belief is almost synonymous to solipsism in that the said notion is not justifiable since it does not apply to only one person. This notion is also inconsistent in that it is only applicable to just one person. The problem arises from the fact that no one would really want to serve the self-interest of only one individual.

The third category under ethical egoism is universal ethical egoism. The universal ethical egoism is the least problematic of the three since it is a doctrine which pursues the belief that everyone should follow pursue only their own self-interests. However, a problem can still be relocated in this ethical egoism particularly that of the Socratic Paradox which claims that since all human beings have no knowledge of the world there is no way of my knowing what would really serve my own self-interest. Thus it is hard to determine what would really be one’s self-interest.

For one what is pleasurable for me may go against my own self-interest such as smoking or drinking. Thus, in a way the last ethical doctrine is still problematic in its own way. Personally I do not advocate nor do I believe in the doctrine of ethical egoism. First and foremost an ethical theory does not have any room for inconsistency and for incompleteness. And in this regard I do not believe that ethical egoism is itself both complete and consistent. First and foremost I believe that the said theory is contradictory in that it contradicts itself in most part.

What made me say so is the fact that it permits certain acts to be assessed as both right and wrong in the same time. Therefore, ethical egoism is inconsistent. To further elaborate my point I would make use of a hypothetical example. Say Dianne and Donna joined a beauty contest. According to ethical egoism it is only right and proper for Dianne to praise herself since it pursue her own self interest. On this basis we could say that Dianne’s action is morally right. However, it is not right or proper for Donna to praise Dianne since it would clearly go against the doctrine of ethical egoism since it does not promote Donna’s self-interest.

In this regard we could say that praising Dianne is morally wrong for ethical egoism if it is to be done by Donna. Thus this proves to be inconsistent in that while it is right for Dianne to praise herself it is not right for Donna to praise Dianne which makes the act both morally right and wrong. However, one may argue that there is no inconsistency here since the act was done by different people. Thus I will move on to my next set of objections. Let’s say in the same beauty contest I happened to be a judge. Both Dianne and Donna have equal amount of beauty, talent and the like.

Clearly whoever wins in the contest would be of no consequence for me since it would not serve my own interest in this regard who am I to choose between Dianne and Donna? Thus, in this instance one could clearly see that if a person has got to be impartial in the instance that a certain things would not serve one’s own self-interest then that particular person would be lost since ethical egoism only tells us to pursue our own interest without giving any advice on what we are supposed to do when a situation calls for our impartiality.

Thus in this regard it would suffice for me to say that the theory of ethical egoism in itself is incomplete since when a conflict between the interests of two egoists comes into question, ethical egoism gives no advice on how to solve such problem. It is true that I am no big fan of ethical egoism, but to give ethical egoism justice I admit to the fact that ethical egoism does not necessarily mean that in acting in accordance to my own self-interest it necessitates that I cause harm to other’s self-interest.

Another important factor in regards of ethical egoism is the fact that by being an egoist or by acting in my own self-interest I could in a way be also promoting the interest of other people. To further my point let us say that I am born a compassionate person and it always bring me happiness to help other people. In this regard by promoting my own self-interest or by helping others since it makes me happy, I am also helping other people in the process. Another factor is the fact that this world in a way is a give and take world. In order to pursue my own interest I must also take into account other’s interest.

Say for example if I want to live a peaceful life I must see to it that I do not harm other people in the process. However, in spite of all the goods one may find in the idea of ethical egoism I still stand firm to my belief against ethical egoism. First and foremost I believe that ethical egoism is a doctrine which is not complete. Secondly, I believe that those people who adhere to ethical egoism do so in expense of restating what one means by self-interest to the point that when one says self-interest they also incorporate other’s interest into the word.

Basically, this could clearly be seen on the example I have mentioned above about not harming other people or not putting their interests at stake to insure the safeness of my own self-interests. Another thing I need to point out is that the notion of self-interest is vague and if people go on pursuing their own self-interest then the world would surely be in chaos. Take the issue of slavery as an example. Let us say that it is in my own self-interest to own slaves and to work them to death with no pay whatsoever.

By doing this there are those who would condemn my action and the others like me in order to make sure that slavery would no longer take place ever again. And since there are others like me who believes that slavery pursues our own self-interest then surely we would not give way to the abortion of slavery and thus this could lead to a war. Such is one of the troubles one may face if everyone adheres to the belief that the pursuance of one’s self-interest is the best form of ethical theory.

There are also other ethical theories such as Kantianism, utilitarianism, Christian ethics and the like which are at odds with ethical egoism. The ethical theories I have mentioned earlier is in contrast with ethical egoism in that they believe that a moral agent is necessitated by the need to take other’s well-being into consideration in determining the moral worth of an action. Utilitarianism for one would see the need for major sacrifice if it means greater benefits for other people.

However, believers of ethical egoism may argue that I could also do moral duties to other such as cooperating with other people in order to pursue my own self-interest. However, I say that such a thing would still not be sufficient to justify the position of ethical egoism since if others refuse to cooperate with egoists then there would be no longer any basis on why egoists would still cooperate with other people. His is the main difference between ethical egoism and other ethical theories. Ethical egoism is conditional in its own way whereas Kantianism, Utilitarianism and the like leaves no room for sets of conditions.

Another factor I do not like about ethical egoism is the fact that it would always choose the thing which would benefit one’s self the most. Say for example I have to choose between helping those who are experiencing famine in Africa or helping our neighborhood conduct the most extravagant feast in the year then since helping my neighborhood would cause me fame and the like, ethical egoism would require me to choose that which would benefit me most and in this regard it would be helping the neighborhood.

Thus this example would prove that ethical egoism ranks one’s interest more than the interest of the majority of people and in this way it is a little bit of on the selfish side even though I must admit that ethical egoism is not wrong in every cases there are still things within the boundary of ethical egoism which I could not bring myself to accept. If egoists makes sacrifice they are only short-term sacrifices. In this regard some egoists may claim that they could convert in other ethical principle if a situation calls for it especially if it would take the cooperation argument a little further.

However such conversion would be dangerous. Take this hypothetical example into consideration. Let us say that the world is in big trouble and the only one who could save the world is a blind man. However, that man could not save the world without the sense of sight and the only one who could give him eyesight is me. In this regard it is dangerous for me as an egoist to convert because this conversion would necessitate me to offer my eyesight which would not be serving my personal-interests at all.

This is basically some of the reasons why I could not really bring myself to accept ethical egoism. Thus, to summarize, ethical egoism is the belief that a moral agent must pursue his or her own moral interest. However the effect of one’s self-interests to other may vary from one incident to another. It could be detrimental to some people as well as it could be beneficial and neutral in its effect to some. Ethical egoism in itself is not complete since it does not provide a solution when interests of two egoists came into clash.

It also does not give an advice on what a neutral bystander would do if he is asked to choose between the two egoists. Ethical egoism is also ineffective in achieving the common good since it always put one’s self interest before the interest for other and although cooperation theorist may believe that they could solve this particular problem of an egoists I believe that it is still not the case especially since the only way for egoists to do it is by conversion which could in most way complicate the matter more.

It is on this basis that I do not adhere to the principles of ethical egoism and I guess it suffice for me to say that ethical egoism is lacking in many ways as compared to other ethical theories.


  1. Shaver, Robert. “Egoism. ” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2002.

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Ethical Egoism. (2017, Apr 14). Retrieved from

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