A Study on Self-interest and Selfishness as a Human Motivation

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About this sample


Words: 725 |

Pages: 2|

4 min read

Published: Jan 15, 2019

Words: 725|Pages: 2|4 min read

Published: Jan 15, 2019

Egoism, irregardless of form, is about self. Ethical Egoism states that acting in oneâs own self-interest is moral because, according to the author and philosopher Ayn Rand, life is so esteemed that it should take precedence over everything else. Psychological Egoism, on the other hand, states that it is instinctual to act in oneâs own self interest. The difference between the two is that while Ethical Egoism involves choice, one deciding to act in oneâs own best interest, Psychological Egoism states that human beings act in oneâs own best interest out of instinct, with no choice available.

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One fallacy of Psychological Egoism stems from the inability for one to decide for oneself what is and is not in one’s own self interest. This declaration means that it is impossible for us to act against self interest. If this point were true, there would be no martyrs, doctors, policeman, firemen, etc. It would be impossible for those person to do those jobs or fill those rolls because each requires a certain amount of ignoring the instinctual urge for self preservation. A policeman would never chase a criminal as he would fear for his life. A fireman would never get near a fire in fear of getting burned. Doctors face the threat of virus and disease and martyrs give up the very life they would be set to protect, their own. Entire sections of the culture could not exist if Psychological Egoism was in fact true.

Ethical Egoism is the idea that it is always reasonable and moral to promote ones own greatest good. There are two versions of Ethical Egoism, strong and weak. The strong version states that one should always pursue ones own greatest good, and it is, in fact, irrational to not do so. The weak version claims that it is always reasonable to simply aim at ones own greatest good, it is not entirely irrational to do otherwise; in other words there will be instances in which it is reasonable to act contrary to ones greatest good.

Ethical Egoism and Psychological Egoism are similar in doctrine, but with one significant difference: choice. As mentioned earlier, Psychological Egoism disregards choice as a factor in the process of âdecision makingâ: it maintains that pursuing oneâs greatest good is purely instinctual. In contrast Ethical Egoism is about what should be pursued: one should pursue oneâs greatest good but has the choice not to. For example, it is in oneâs best interest to get out of a burning building, it is not, however, how that scenario always plays out. In the burning building example, Psychological Egoism mandates only that one leaves the building, and leave as quickly as one can, but what if that person had loved ones in the building? At that point, in almost every case, the individual in question is not going to run out of the building without at least trying to save their loved ones, placing one’s self in more danger up to and including the possible sacrifice of their own life to save the aforementioned loved ones. By comparison, Ethical Egoism not only allows for choice, but in the weak version, accommodates altruism as well.

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While Egoism is often considered synonymous with Selfishness, the truth is that egoism is more like self-interest than selfishness. Selfishness is wanting something simply for the pleasure of having it without any desire to share with anyone or anything else, whereas self-interest is about the preservation of one’s life and safety. Selfishness is best exemplified in Vlad Tepes Draculea, the man behind the myth of Dracula. He tortured and killed thousands from a selfish desire to be the best ruler in the land. It was a selfish desire for power and order that ruled his actions to torture and kill so many in such brutal ways. He then did not share any form of prosperity with his subjects but horded t all to himself. Self-interest, however, does not necessarily incorporate the element of greed: it is about a greater good for one’s self It is in oneâs best interest, for example, to obey the laws of the land. In the example of Vlad, it was in the best interest of his subjects to obey all the rules he laid out to the letter, in order to preserve their life and that of their families.

Works Cited

  1. Batson, C. D., & Powell, A. A. (2003). Altruism and prosocial behavior. In T. Millon & M. J. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of psychology (Vol. 5, pp. 463-484). Wiley.
  2. Bergner, R. M., & Wright, D. W. (2019). Egoism, altruism, and the moral sentiments. Philosophical Psychology, 32(5), 703-730. doi:10.1080/09515089.2018.1539940
  3. Brandt, R. B. (1999). Ethical egoism. In R. J. Shafer-Landau (Ed.), Ethical theory: An anthology (pp. 347-355). Wiley-Blackwell.
  4. Feinberg, J. (2013). Psychological egoism. In R. J. Shafer-Landau (Ed.), Ethical theory: An anthology (2nd ed., pp. 230-236). Wiley-Blackwell.
  5. Kant, I. (1785). Grounding for the metaphysics of morals. In L. W. Beck (Ed. & Trans.), Immanuel Kant: Critique of practical reason and other writings in moral philosophy (pp. 37-108). University of Chicago Press.
  6. Korsgaard, C. M. (1996). The sources of normativity. Cambridge University Press.
  7. Medlin, B. D. (2015). Ethical egoism and psychological dispositions: A reply to Rodebaugh. Philosophical Psychology, 28(6), 815-817. doi:10.1080/09515089.2014.934722
  8. Rachels, J., & Rachels, S. (2019). The elements of moral philosophy (9th ed.). McGraw-Hill.
  9. Rand, A. (1964). The virtue of selfishness: A new concept of egoism. Signet.
  10. Slote, M. (1982). Goods and virtues. Oxford University Press.
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A Study on Self-Interest and Selfishness as a Human Motivation. (2019, January 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from
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