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Chapter 5, ethical egoism, discussion questions:

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When thinking about ethical egoism it is important to remember that it states the only duty we have is to our self-interest, or your only moral directive is to promote your own self-interest as best as you can. Keep the ‘only’ part in mind!

  1. If psychological egoism is false, then does this mean that ethical egoism is false or vice-versa?
    1. In other words, are these theories connected? If so, how? If not, how not?


  1. Why might someone find either psychological egoism or ethical egoism appealing?
    1. What, if any, benefits are there to believing in these theories?
    2. Why do you agree or disagree with ethical egoism?


  1. Does psychological egoism pose any threats to moral philosophy?
    1. If so, what are they?


  1. Does ethical egoism or psychological egoism tell you to do whatever you want?


  1. What is altruism?
    1. Are there different types of altruism?
      1. If yes, then try to write down several different types.
    2. Is it necessary for something to be altruistic that I don’t gain anything from the action?
      1. If yes, why? If no, why not?
    3. Could we explain altruism in biological terms?
      1. For example, why I am disposed to be altruistic to my family and close friends?
  1. Do ethical egoists present a false dichotomy in arguing you are either altruistic or egoistic? Can one be both at the same time?


  1. Do you think the operation of a selfish moral theory can promote good actions and good outcomes?
    1. Can a theory that states, “be selfish and do what is in your best interest” produce what we could call common ideas of good action or good consequences?
    2. Could a theory like this produce a just society?
  1. Take the follow case into consideration:

Imagine you know it is in your self-interest to kill someone for a huge life insurance payout. You absolutely know you could get away with it (for the sake of this example we don’t need to know how).

  1. For the ethical egoist would this be the right thing to do?
  2. In your moral opinion, is it morally permissible to kill this innocent person for money?
    1. If you think it is wrong to kill this innocent person, why do you think it is wrong and why does this differ from the answer the egoist gives us.

Gibbs' reflective cycle in nursing

  1. For an ethical egoist should someone be praised for throwing themselves on a grenade to save others?
    1. Why or why not? How might the egoist try to explain someone doing this?


  1. What is the argument from arbitrariness against ethical egoism?
    1. What is the Principle of Equal Treatment? Try to formulate it in your own words.
      1. How is this used to show ethical egoism is unacceptable?
        1. Can we think of a way for ethical egoism to answer the question set forth by the Principle of Equal Treatment?
          1. “What is the difference between me and everyone else that justifies placing myself in this special category?” (Elements pp. 81), or why should my interests be places above those of others?
          2. If you think your interests should be above others, then in your own words why do you think this?


  1. To what extent can a thoroughly self-interested person, a person who faithfully follows ethical egoism, be a good person? By “good person” I mean what commonsense morality would typically call a morally good/virtuous person.
    1. In other words, can self-interest consistently lead to acceptable moral behavior?
      1. Can selfishness in the form of ethical egoism lead someone to cultivate what we would call moral virtue or virtues of character?


  1. What is the major problem with Ayn Rand’s argument for ethical egoism?
    1. What fallacy does it commit?
    2. The argument can be found on page 74 of the
      1. Are there any implied premises going on in Rand’s argument?
      2. Is Rand characterizing other views charitably?


  1. 55% of you answered the questions “Morality is just a convenient term for self-interest” with disagree or strongly disagree. It seems that many of you from the beginning have thought morality is more than the ethical egoist tells us it is.
    1. If you can, try and remember some of the reasons you answered this questions the way you did.
    2. Did this chapter reinforce your previous beliefs about morality, or did it change them? How did it either reinforce or change your beliefs?


  1. One problem an egoist might have is this question, ‘why should someone sacrifice a present pleasure or a greater payoff in the future?’ Another way to get at this same point is what is it about delayed gratification or bigger payoffs later that make them better than pleasures we can have in the here and now?
    1. Why might this sort of questions be a problem for egoism?
    2. How might an egoist try to best answer this questions?



Comment on this idea (comment should be lest then 150 words)

Ethical Egoism does not tell you to do whatever you want. It tells you that you ought to pursue whatever your own interest exclusively. Psychological Egoism, on the other hand, asserts that each person does act in their own self-interest exclusively. These egoisms are somewhat different as psychological egoism makes a claim about human nature, and ethical egoism makes a claim about morality. But they are similar in the thinking that someone should/ought to do what they want and only want the want. Obviously, both of these arguments are flawed as the commonplace argument is that you should promote your own interests in addition to the interest of others.

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