Egoism and Moral Skepticism Critical Analysis No documentation required except with quotes, then give the page numbers only. Do not quote more than 2 quot

Egoism and Moral Skepticism Critical Analysis No documentation required except with quotes, then give the page numbers only.

Do not quote more than 2 quotes and no more than 3 lines per quote.Summarize the rest.

500-minimum words.MLA format. 14-font; double spaced only

. a critical analysis of James Rachel’s “Egoism and Moral Skepticism”


Paragraph 1 – Introduce the writer and the essay.Give a brief summary of the essay and where you are going with yours (a directional statement – the 3 body paragraphs will direct this).

Paragraph 2: What is the writer’s main thesis – in the overall essay, what is Rachels saying?

What is he saying about Gyges and psychological egoism?

Paragraph 3:Is Rachels saying that if a person does what he/she wants to do, that act itself “makes it a right action”?How does he illustrate that a right action is an unselfish one? If an action is right, is it right for everyone?

Paragraph 4:What is Rachels saying about actions that give pleasure?

Are they selfish ones?Does deriving pleasure (according to Rachels) not count as a motive for selfishness?Is he defending ethical egoism?

Paragraph 5:What is your response to the essay?Is it possible (according to Rachels) for a person to be “altruistic” (do unselfish acts expecting nothing in return)?

In a final sentence, after the conclusion, answer this:Are you an ethical egoist?Do you think it is possible to be otherwise?

Avoid all personal pronouns.Do not say, “In this essay, we find. . .”Leave off I, we, you, ours . . . pronouns that “pull the reader in” with you.

Do not use I, me, my, we, you, yours, ours . . . in the first 4 paragraphs.You are being impartially critical, not giving a personal response.

Do not say, “I think that. . .”It is obvious you think it; you are the writer J.

You can use I in the last paragraph (5) because you are drawing a conclusion.

Balance your first 4 paragraphs.Make the 5th one more brief than the first 4.

The boo Egoism and Moral Skepticism 359
are tempted
nith gives up
order to stay
to pass the
Given such
yake? There
ons, includ.
erest. Let us
when it means forgoing his own enjoyments, that is precisely what makes him
salf-interest. For if Smith wants to do something that will help his friend, even
unselfish. What else could unselfishness be, if not wanting to help others? Another
way to put the same point is to say that it is the object of a want that determines
whether it is selfish or not. The mere fact that I am acting on my wants does not
mean that I am acting selfishly; that depends on what it is that I want. If I want
anly my own good, and care nothing for others, then I am selfish; but if I also want
other people to be well-off and happy, and if I act on that desire, then my action is
not selfish. So much for this argument.
unselfish actions always produce a sense of self-satisfaction in the agent, and
b. The second argument for psychological egoism is this: Since so-called
since this sense of satisfaction is a pleasant state of consciousness, it follows that
than to bring about any good for others. Therefore, the action is “unselfish” only at
the point of the action is really to achieve a pleasant state of consciousness, rather
a superficial level of analysis. Smith will feel much better with himself for having
stayed to help his friend-if he had gone to the country, he would have felt terrible
about it-and that is the real point of the action. According to a well-known story,
this argument was once expressed by Abraham Lincoln:
‘s action as
crucial fact
It is merely
1, that only
e country.
oing what
he cannot
sly except
in by it.
do any-
least two
an end
stop a
y at the
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ent. But
or even
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e want.
if I do
ise. In
Mr. Lincoln once remarked to a fellow passenger on an old-time mud-coach that
all men were prompted by selfishness in doing good. His fellow-passenger was
antagonizing this position when they were passing over a corduroy bridge that
spanned a slough. As they crossed this bridge they espied an old razor-backed
sow on the bank making a terrible noise because her pigs had got into the slough
and were in danger of drowning. As the old coach began to climb the hill, Mr.
Lincoln called out, “Driver, can’t you stop just a moment?” Then Mr. Lincoln
jumped out, ran back, and lifted the little pigs out of the mud and water and
placed them on the bank. When he returned, his companion remarked: “Now,
Abe, where does selfishness come in on this little episode?” “Why, bless your soul,
Ed, that was the very essence of selfishness. I should have had no peace of mind
all day had I gone on and left that suffering old sow worrying over those pigs. I
did it to get peace of mind, don’t you see?”
This argument suffers from defects similar to the previous one. Why should
we think that merely because someone derives satisfaction from helping others
this makes him selfish? Isn’t the unselfish man precisely the one who does derive
atisfaction from helping others, while the selfish man does not? If Lincoln “got
peace of mind” from rescuing the piglets, does this show him to be selfish, or, on
the contrary, doesn’t it show him to be compassionate and good-hearted? (If a man
were truly selfish, why should it bother his conscience that others suffer-much
Les pigs?) Similarly, it is nothing more than shabby sophistry to say, because Smith
takes satisfaction in helping his friend, that he is behaving selfishly. If we say this
pidly, while thinking about something else, perhaps it will sound all right
; but
if we speak slowly, and pay attention to what we are saying, it sounds plain silly.
friend. The answer will be, it is because Smith cares for him and wants him to
Moreover, suppose we ask why Smith derives satisfaction from helping his
ve feel
o this
use he
that he
to the
in assisting him; and these concerns, as we have already seen, are the marks of
succeed. If Smith did not have these concerns, then he would take no pleasure
unselfishness, not selfishness. To put the point more generally: if we have a posi
tive attitude toward the attainment of some goal, then we may derive satisfaction
from attaining that goal. But the object of our attitude is the attainment of that goals
and we must want to attain the goal before we can find any satisfaction in it. We
do not, in other words, desire some sort of pleasurable consciousness and then
money, a new fishing boat, to be a better chess player, to get a promotion in our
try to figure out how to achieve it; rather, we desire all sorts of different things
work, etc.-and because we desire these things, we derive satisfaction from attain
ing them. And so, if someone desires the welfare and happiness of another person,
he will derive satisfaction from that; but this does not mean that this satisfaction is
the object of his desire, or that he is in any way selfish on account of it.
It is a measure of the weakness of psychological egoism that these insupport
able arguments are the ones most often advanced in its favor. Why, then, should
anyone ever have thought it a true view? Perhaps because of a desire for theoretical
simplicity: In thinking about human conduct, it would be nice if there were some
simple formula that would unite the diverse phenomena of human behavior under
a single explanatory principle, just as simple formulae in physics bring together
(b) tt
a great many apparently different phenomena. And since it is obvious that sele
regard is an overwhelmingly important factor in motivation, it is only natural to
wonder whether all motivation might not be explained in these terms. But the
answer is clearly No; while a great many human actions are motivated entirely or
in part by self-interest, only by a deliberate distortion of the facts can we say that
all conduct is so motivated. This will be clear, I think, if we correct three confu-
sions which are commonplace. The exposure of these confusions will remove the
last traces of plausibility from the psychological egoist thesis.
The first is the confusion of selfishness with self-interest. The two are clearly
not the same. If I see a physician when I am feeling poorly, I am acting in my own
interest but no one would think of calling me “selfish” on account of it. Similarly
brushing my teeth, working hard at my job, and obeying the law are all in my
self-interest but none of these are examples of selfish conduct. This is because
selfish behavior is behavior that ignores the interests of others, in circumstances
in which their interests ought not to be ignored. This concept has a definite eval-
uative flavor; to call someone “selfish” is not just to describe his action but to con.
demn it. Thus, you would not call me selfish for eating a normal meal in normal
circumstances (although it may surely be in my self-interest); but you would call
me selfish for hoarding food while others about are starving.
The second confusion is the assumption that every action is done either from
self-interest or from other-regarding motives. Thus, the egoist concludes that if there
is no such thing as genuine altruism then all actions must be done from self-interest
But this is certainly a false dichotomy. The man
who continues to smoke cigarette
acting from self-interest, not even by his own standards-self-interest would dictate
even after learning about the connection between smoking and cancer, is surely not
Egoism and Moral Skepticism 361
ake no pleasure
re the marks of
we have a posi-
Five satisfaction
ent of that goal;
ction in it. We
ness” and then
erent things-
motion in our
2 from attain-
other person,
Eatisfaction is
examples of altruism.
that he quit smoking at once-and he is not acting altruistically either. He is, no
pleasure-seeking and acting from self-interest are very different. This is what led
doubt, smoking for the pleasure of it, but all that this shows is that undisciplined
Butler to remark that “the thing to be lamented is, not that men have so great regard
to their own good or interest in the present world, for they have not enough.”
The last two paragraphs show (a) that it is false that all actions are selfish and
noted that these two points can be made, and were, without any appeal to putative
(b) that it is false that all actions are done out of self-interest. And it should be
The third confusion is the common but false assumption that a concern for
one’s own welfare is incompatible with any genuine concern for the welfare of oth-
his own well-being, it might be thought that no one can really be concerned with
ers. Thus, since it is obvious that everyone (or very nearly everyone) does desire
including oneself and others, be well-off and happy. To be sure, it may happen on
others. But again, this is false. There is no inconsistency in desiring that everyone,
occasion that our own interests conflict with the interests of others, and in these
cases we will have to make hard choices. But even in these cases we might some-
times opt for the interests of others, especially when the others involved are our
e insupport-
hen, should
– theoretical
were some
avior under
ng together
s that self-
natural to
s. But the
entirely or
say that
ee confu-
move the
e clearly
my own
in my
e eval-
d call
family or friends. But more importantly
, not all cases are like this: sometimes we
are able to promote the welfare of others when our own interests are not involved
at all. In these cases not even the strongest self-regard need prevent us from acting
considerately toward others.
Once these confusions are cleared away, it seems to me obvious enough that
there is no reason whatever to accept psychological egoism. On the contrary, if
we simply observe people’s behavior with an open mind, we may find that a great
deal of it is motivated by self-regard, but by no means all of it; and that there is no
reason to deny that “the moral institution of life” can include a place for the virtue
of beneficence.
3. The ethical egoist would say at this point, “Of course it is possible for
people to act altruistically, and perhaps many people do act that way—but
there is no reason why they should do so. A person is under no obligation to
do anything except what is in his own interests. This is really quite a radical
doctrine. Suppose I have an urge to set fire to some public building (say, a
department store) just for the fascination of watching the spectacular blaze:
according to this view, the fact that several people might be burned to death
provides no reason whatever why I should not do it. After all, this only con-
cerns their welfare, not my own, and according to the ethical egoist the only
person I need think of is myself.
Some might deny that ethical egoism has any such monstrous consequences.
if I do that I may be caught and put into prison (unlike Gyges, I have no magic
They would point
out that it is really to my own advantage
not to set the fire-for,
live in a society in which people’s rights and interests are respected. Only in such
advantage to respect the rights and interests of others, for it is to my advantage to
see that it is to his own advantage to be kindly and considerate.
What are we
ism has been re
think that we ca
maintained cons
pathetic way: w.
would prefer ou
maximized, reg
policy of actio
as possible, th
might find it,
and acting in
his ideal, ther
he would wat
conduct for
be inconsiste
creating a w
have to be
hearing for
a society can I live a happy and secure life; so, in acting kindly toward others, 1
would merely be doing my part to create and maintain the sort of society which
it is to my advantage to have. Therefore, it is said, the egoist would not be such a
bad man; he would be as kindly and considerate as anyone else, because he would
This is a seductive line of thought, but it seems to me mistaken. Certainly it
is to everyone’s advantage (including the egoist’s) to preserve stable society where
people’s interests are generally protected. But there is no reason for the egoist to
think that merely because he will not honor the rules of the social game, decent
society will collapse. For the vast majority of people are not egoists, and there is no
reason to think that they will be converted by his example-especially if he is dis
creet and does not unduly flaunt his style of life. What this line of reasoning shows
is not that the egoist himself must act benevolently, but that he must encourage
others to do so. He must take care to conceal from public view his own self-centered
method of decision making, and urge others to act on precepts very different from
those on which he is willing to act.
The rational egoist, then, cannot advocate that egoism be universally adopted
by everyone. For he wants a world in which his own interests are maximized and
if other people adopted the egoistic policy of pursuing their own interests to the
exclusion of his interests, as he pursues his interests to the exclusion of theirs, then
such a world would be impossible. So he himself will be an egoist, but he will want
others to be altruists.
This brings us to what is perhaps the most popular “refutation” of ethical
egoism current among philosophical writers–the argument that ethical egoism
is at bottom inconsistent because it cannot be universalized. The argument goes
like this:
To say that any action or policy of action is right (or that it ought to be adopted)
entails that it is right for anyone in the same sort of circumstances. I cannot, for
example, say that it is right for me to lie to you, and yet object when you lie to me
(provided, of course, that the circumstances are the same). I cannot hold that it is
all right for me to drink your beer and then complain when you drink mine. This
is just the requirement that we be consistent in our evaluations; it is a requirement
of logic. Now it is said that ethical egoism cannot meet this requirement because,
as we have already seen, the egoist would not want others to act in the same way
that he acts. Moreover, suppose he did advocate the universal adoption of egoistic
policies: he would be saying to Peter, “You ought to pursue your own interests even
if it means destroying Paul”; and he would be saying to Paul, “You ought to pursue
your own interests even if it means destroying Peter.” The attitudes expressed in
these two recommendations seem clearly inconsistent-he is urging the advance
ment of Peter’s interests at one moment, and countenancing their defeat at the
next. Therefore, the argument goes, there is no way to maintain the doctrine of
ethical egoism as a consistent view about how we ought to act. We will fall into
inconsistency whenever we try.
himself pre
from the eg
essary mea
this, there
one thing
end, we m
case. The
in the eth
Is th
that he h
is somet
ple wo
the w
Egoism and Moral Skepticism 363
ward others, I
society which
not be such a
ause he would
over all others; it would be a world in which his own interests were
would prefer
n. Certainly it
society where
the egoist to
game, decent
nd there is no
lly if he is dis-
soning shows
1st encourage
Hifferent from
-sally adopted
aximized; and
terests to the
of theirs, then
the will want
What are we to make of this argument? Are we to conclude that ethical ego-
ism has been refuted? Such a conclusion, I think, would be unwarranted; for I
maintained consistently. We need only to interpret the egoist’s position in a sym-
think that we can show, contrary to this argument, how ethical egoism can be
pathetic way: we should say that he has in mind a certain kind of world which he
maximized, regardless of the effects on the other people. The egoist’s primary
policy of action, then, would be to act in such a way as to bring about, as nearly
as possible, this sort of world. Regardless of however morally reprehensible we
might find it, there is nothing inconsistent in someone’s adopting this as his ideal
and acting in a way calculated to bring it about. And if someone did adopt this as
his ideal, then he would not advocate universal egoism; as we have already seen,
he would want other people to be altruists. So, if he advocates any principles of
conduct for the general public, they will be altruistic principles. This could not
be inconsistent; on the contrary, it would be perfectly consistent with his goal of
creating a world in which his own interests are maximized. To be sure, he would
have to be deceitful; in order to secure the good will of others, and a favorable
hearing for his exhortations to altruism, he would have to pretend that he was
himself prepared to accept altruistic principles. But again, that would be all right;
from the egoist’s point of view, this would merely be a matter of adopting the nec-
essary means to the achievement of his goal—and while we might not approve of
this, there is nothing inconsistent about it. Again, it might be said, “He advocates
one thing, but does another. Surely that’s inconsistent.” But it is not; for what he
advocates and what he does are both calculated as means to an end (the same
end, we might note); and as such, he is doing what is rationally required in each
case. Therefore, contrary to the previous argument, there is nothing inconsistent
in the ethical egoist’s view. He cannot be refuted by the claim that he contradicts
Is there, then, no way to refute the ethical egoist? If by “refute” we mean show
that he has made some logical error, the answer is that there is not. However, there
is something more that can be said. The egoist challenge to our ordinary moral
convictions amounts to a demand for an explanation of why we should adopt
certain policies of action, namely, policies in which the good of others is given
importance. We can give an answer to this demand, albeit an indirect one. The
on” of ethical
hical egoism
gument goes
be adopted)
I cannot, for
you lie to me
hold that it is
k mine. This
nent because,
he same way
on of egoistic
reason one ought not to do actions that would hurt other people is other peo-
ple would be hurt. The reason one ought to do actions that would benefit other
nterests even
ght to pursue
expressed in
che advance-
defeat at the
doctrine of
will fall into
people is other people would be benefited. This may at first seem like a piece of
philosophical sleight-of-hand, but it is not. The point is that the welfare of human
sake of something else. Therefore, when further reasons are demanded for valuing
beings is something that most of us value for its own sake, and not merely for the
the welfare of human beings, we cannot point to anything further to satisfy this
demand. It is not that we have no reason for pursuing these policies, but that our
reason is that these policies are for the good of human beings.
attitudes should be valued, and we can organize many evaluations of how persama
In addition to being a practice, care is also a value. Caring persons and
are interrelated around a constellation of moral considerations associated with care
or its absence. For instance, we can ask of a relation whether it is trusting and me
ally considerate or hostile and vindictive. We can ask if persons are attentive and
responsive to each other’s needs or indifferent and self-absorbed. Care is not the
same as benevolence, in my view, since it is more the characterization of a social
relation than the description of an individual disposition, and social relations are
not reducible to individual states, Caring relations ought to be cultivated, between
relations are often reciprocal over time if not at given times. The values of caring
persons in t…
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