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Psychological Egoism. Two Types of Egoism. Two types of egoism: Psychological egoism Asserts that as a matter of fact we do always act selfishly Purely descriptive Ethical egoism Maintains that we should always act selfishly Our concern here is with psychological egoism. Overview.

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psychological egoism

Psychological Egoism

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

two types of egoism
Two Types of Egoism
  • Two types of egoism:
    • Psychological egoism
      • Asserts that as a matter of fact we do always act selfishly
      • Purely descriptive
    • Ethical egoism
      • Maintains that we should always act selfishly
  • Our concern here is with psychological egoism

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

overview
Overview
  • Part One. Analyzing the psychological egoist’s claim
  • Part Two. Reconceptualizing psychological egoism

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

part one analyzing the psychological egoist s claim
Part One. Analyzing the psychological egoist’s claim
  • The psychological egoist claims that people always act selfishly or in their own self-interest.
  • One of the earlier advocates of this view was Thomas Hobbes, who saw life as “…nasty, brutish, and short.”

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

psychological egoism a common and widespread belief
Psychological Egoism:A Common and Widespread Belief
  • Folk psychology
    • There is a widespread belief that people are just out for themselves
    • Social Darwinism: everyone is just trying to survive.
  • Social sciences
    • Economics: rational agent theory
  • Foreign policy
    • Belief that other nations will always act solely in terms of self-interest

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

psychological egoism6
Psychological Egoism
  • What exactly does the psychological egoist maintain? Two possible interpretations:
    • #1: We act selfishly, or
    • #2: We act in our self-interest
  • In addition, we need to clarify:
    • Genuine or apparent self-interest? If we act out of self-interest, is it genuine self-interest or only apparent self-interest?
    • Maximizing or non-maximizing? Are we saying that we always seek to maximize self-interest, or simply that self-interest is always part of the picture
    • Exclusive or non-exclusive? Are we saying that we act only out of selfishness, or that selfishness is always one of our motives?
    • Causally determined? Are we saying that human beings are causally determined to act this way or that we choose to do so?

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

distinguishing selfishness self interest
DistinguishingSelfishness & Self-Interest
  • There is a fundamental ambiguity at the heart of psychological egoism.
    • #1: We act selfishly, or
    • #2: We act in our self-interest
  • We can distinguish these in the following way:
    • #1: A claim about our motives
    • #2: A claim about the objective consequences of our actions

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

what does it mean to be selfish
What does it mean to be selfish?
  • If we are selfish, do we only do things that are in our genuine self-interest?
    • What about the chain smoker? Is this person acting out of genuine self-interest?
    • In fact, the smoker may be acting selfishly (doing what he wants without regard to others) but not self-interestedly (doing what will ultimately benefit him).

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

what does it mean to be selfish9
What does it mean to be selfish?
  • If we are selfish, do we only do things are we believe are in our self-interest?
    • What about those who believe that sometimes they act altruistically?
    • Does anyone truly believe Mother Theresa was completely selfish?
  • Think of the actions of parents. Don’t parents sometimes act for the sake of their children, even when it is against their narrow self-interest to do so?

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

two main versions of psychological egoism
Two Main Versions of Psychological Egoism

There are two ways in which the psychological egoist's claim may be interpreted:

  • #1: We act selfishly
    • If the psychological egoist is saying that we act selfishly, then how do we explain apparently altruistic people like Mother Theresa? Two possible answers:
      • People are unconsciously selfish. But what do we mean by unconscious intentions? This devolves into a second claim.
      • People are unconsciously self-interested. Without realizing it, our actions are self-interested. This leads to interpretation #2
  • #2: We act in our self-interest
    • If the psychological egoist is saying that we act in our self-interest, then how do we explain the fact that people sometimes do self-destructive things?
    • We could draw a distinction between genuine and apparent self-interest, but:
      • It is obviously false that people in fact always act in their own genuine self-interest (the smoker)
      • If people are said to act in their apparent self-interest, this then becomes a claim about intentions (apparent to whom?), and this is then subject to all the objections about the claim that we act selfishly.

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

psychological egoism as an unfalsifiable hypothesis
Psychological Egoism as an Unfalsifiable Hypothesis
  • Is psychological egoism an unfalsifiable hypothesis?
    • Karl Popper first formulated this notion to distinguish science from non-science
    • Apparently very powerful
    • Actually not empirical: no counter-instances

Karl Popper (1902-1994)

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

motives and consequences
Motives and Consequences
  • Psychological egoists, as we have seen in the preceding analysis, often confuse motives and consequences
  • The fact that we may get something back as a result of a particular action does not entail that we did the action in order to get something back.
    • We may experience great rewards in love, but that doesn’t mean we do it solely or even primarily in order to obtain those rewards.

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

further ambiguities
Further Ambiguities
  • Ambiguity #1: Do we act exclusively out of selfishness?
    • Exclusive vs. Non-exclusive psychological egoism.
    • If we act selfishly all the time, how could we prove this?
    • If we act selfishly only part of the time, this is true but uninteresting
    • What counts as counter-evidence?
  • Ambiguity #2: Do we act to maximize self-interest or simply to increase it?
    • Maximizing vs. Non-maximizing psychological egoism.
    • Maximizing psychological egoism seems interesting but false
    • Non-maximizing psychological egoism may be true but uninteresting.
  • Ambiguity #3: Are we causally determined to act this way or do we choose to do so?
    • If this is a causal claim, it is presumably about consequences. Yet this causal claim (that in fact people always act [solely] in ways that promote their self-interest) seems empirically false.
    • If this is not a causal claim, then it implies that people freely choose to act this way. But how do we explain the counter-evidence of people’s claims about their own intentions and motivations?
  • Ambiguity #4: Is there really such a sharp division between self-interest and the interests of others, especially the interests of those we love?
    • Psychological egoism is founded on an Enlightenment view of the autonomy self.
    • In reality, this strict separation is misleading, as we will now see.

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

part two re conceptualizing psychological egoism
Part Two. Re-conceptualizing Psychological Egoism
  • Psychological egoism rests on ambiguities and false dichotomies, as we have seen.
  • We need to re-conceptualize this area to understand what is true and what is false in psychological egoism.

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

re conceptualizing psychological egoism 1
Re-conceptualizing Psychological Egoism, 1

The standard view of human motivation embedded in discussions of psychological egoism sees egoism and altruism as opposite poles of a single scale:

Human Motivation

Egoism

Altruism

The premise is that an increase in egoism automatically results in a decrease in altruism, and vice versa.

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

re conceptualizing psychological egoism 2

High

Altruism

Low Egoism

Re-conceptualizing Psychological Egoism, 2

Instead of seeing this one a single scale, we can see egoism and altruism as two independent axes:

Conceptualizing the issue in this way allows some actions to be done both for the sake of others and for one’s own sake, and avoids falling into a false dichotomy between altruism and egoism.

However, an additional distinction remains to be draw.

4

1

High

Egoism

3

2

Low

Altruism

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

re conceptualizing psychological egoism 3
Re-conceptualizing Psychological Egoism, 3

In addition to having two independent axes, we must distinguish between the intentions of actions and their consequences. Thus we get two graphs:

Consequences

Intentions

Strongly intended to help others

High beneficial To others

4

1

4

1

Not intended to benefit self

Strongly intended to benefit self

Highly harmful to self

Highly beneficial to self

3

2

3

2

Highly harmful to others

Strongly intended to harm others

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

re conceptualizing psychological egoism 4
Re-conceptualizing Psychological Egoism, 4

This double grid suggests that any given action can be ranked according to both:

  • Intentions
  • Consequences

And that, for each of these two issues, each act can be ranked along two independent axes, concern/consequences for self and concern/consequences for other.

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

conclusion
Conclusion
  • Given the preceding grid for understand human behavior, we can see that psychological egoism gains its apparent plausibility by trading on ambiguities (selfishness vs. self-interest) and false dichotomies (self-interest vs. altruism).
  • As we have seen, we can accept psychological egoism as a partial truth and see recognize that there is more to human behavior than selfishness.

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman