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24.00: Problems of Philosophy Prof. Sally Haslanger November 21, 2005 1. Moral Objectivism

Ethical Egoism

One of the problems philosophers have raised about Moral Objectivism is that it seems to postulate unusual “facts”: "Queerness" of moral "facts": Physical facts are relatively straightforward: we know what it is for something to have weight, mass, color, etc. But sorts of things are"moral facts"? How does one detect a moral fact? If we live in a physical universe, is there any room in it for moral facts? How we address the problem of “queerness” will depend, it seems on what sort of thing moral facts are. According to the objectivist, moral truths depend on some objective fact…but what sort of fact? Objectivists suggest a variety of different answers. Here's one: 2. DistinguishEthical Egoism and Psychological Egoism Ethical Egoism A person ought to do (and ought only to do) what is in his or her best interests over the long run. On this view, a person's only duty is to promote her own interests, to do what is to her own advantage. Of course, it will sometimes be in one's interest to help others, and then doing so is fine. But if not, there's no reason at all, from amoral perspective, for helping others. Ethical egoism must be distinguished from a different view sometimes confused with it: Psychological egoism: all human actions are motivated by selfish desires; the only thing ultimately driving human action is self-interest. The idea is that although we do sometimes desire good for others, we do so only as a means to our own happiness. There are no purelyaltruistic/benevolent actions. Are there compelling arguments supporting psychological egoism (see also J. Feinberg, "Psychological Egoism" in text, pp.547ff)? Here's one common argument: Any action I perform is prompted by my motives, my desires; and if my action is successful as intended, I will gain satisfaction. So all action is motivated by self-interest. However: • From the fact that I am alwaysmotivated by my desires, my motives, it doesn't follow that I am always motivated by selfish or self-interested desires: --what makes a desire/motive mine? The origin/source of the desire is in me. --what makes a desire/motive selfish? The object of the desire is my good. It is plausibly a tautology that I am always motivated by my desires, but the question is whether my motivating desires have aparticular content, e.g., my self-interest. The reasoning given seems to confuse voluntariness with selfishness. • Even if we always get satisfaction from an action it doesn't follow that our satisfaction was the object or goal (an airplane burns fuel in crossing the ocean, but burning fuel is not the

24.00 Lecture Notes



goal or objective or purpose of the flight.). Somethings are simply side-effects of what we do, not their object. • Not all successful actions bring us satisfaction: remember the saying: "be careful what you wish for, you may get it!". Dissatisfaction is common even when you get what you want. Return, then, to ethical egoism: Are there compelling arguments to support the idea that a person ought to do (and ought only to do) what is in his or herbest interests over the long run? 3. Arguments for Ethical Egoism Pragmatic Argument: It will work out best for everyone if everyone pursues their own selfinterest. Why? Because everyone knows their own needs best; or because people are more motivated when they're looking out for number one; or because charity is degrading to the recipient. However: Apart from the implausibility of the premise,this is not really an argument for ethical egoism at all. It suggests that we ought to behave the same way an egoist would recommend; but the ultimate source of justification is the general welfare, the betterment of everyone's condition. In other words, the view underlying this argument would answer our original question (i) by giving a list of the same actions as the egoist, but would differ on...
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