12 Oct 2022


Arguments For and Against Ethical Egoism

Format: APA

Academic level: Master’s

Paper type: Research Paper

Words: 1153

Pages: 4

Downloads: 0

Ethical egoism is the notion that an individual should act to maximize their own interests. It thus advocates for the pursuit of individual interest exclusively. At its very core, it holds that human beings have no natural obligation or duty to others. This ethical approach is often contrasted with psychological egoism that holds that people naturally pursue their own interests. The major distinction, therefore, is that ethical egoism is a normative theory (Nussbaum, 2003) . Regardless of our behavior, ethical egoism states that we have no moral duty except that of advancing our interests. It stands as one of the most controversial moral philosophies partly because it contradicts most conventional moral beliefs. Ethical egoism, though different from other moral theories such as utilitarianism, ethical altruism, and Psychological egoism, falls within the same school of consequentialism (Annas, 2008) . 

It is important to lay out the specific claims of ethical egoism before looking at its various arguments. First, the theory does not claim that an individual should advance their interests alongside those of others. The radical position of this theory is that only individual interests ought to be promoted. In different words, the duties and obligations of the individual are only to self-interest. Second, the theory does not recommend avoidance of actions that benefit others. If the pursuit of individual interests happens to coincide or advance the interest of others, then the theory has no problem with the good accruing to them. Conversely, it may be the case that aiding others is a means of benefiting oneself. Ethical egoism in no way forbids these actions and in practice may demand of them. It only asserts that the rightfulness of that action is not derived from the benefits accrued to others. The action was made right by the fact that it was in pursuit of individual interest. Lastly, the theory does not say that one ought to pursue what is pleasurable and rewarding in the short run but inimical in the short run. In fact, it would decry such an approach. Instead, ethical egoism advocates for actions serving long term interests and avoidance of short sighted acts despite the pleasure they bring. In the words of the philosopher James Rachels, ‘it endorses selfishness but doesn’t endorse foolishness (Joyce, 2006) . 

It’s time to jumpstart your paper!

Delegate your assignment to our experts and they will do the rest.

Get custom essay

Arguments in Favor of Ethical Egoism 

Most assessments of ethical egoism have sought to oppose. Most supporters of the theory have probably thought of it as being self-evident thus deserving no arguments. It is, however, worthwhile to mention the major arguments used to support the theory. First, it is argued that an individual is the best judge of his own interests. While one has intimate knowledge of his desires, outsiders can only, at best, speculate on those interests. The individual is thus the most well equipped to pursue those interests. In other words, if we attempt to pursue the interests of individuals on their behalf, we are more likely going to do them a disservice. Secondly, presuming the interests of others is not just intrusive but also insulting. It violates the privacy of their business and degrades them by robbing them of the capacity to make such determinations. The theory thus presumes a degree of competence and self-worth on the part of the individual. Put briefly, it is self-defeating to look out for others. If our interest is to promote the interests of others, then we should start by minding our private concerns. The obvious attack on this view is that certain acts, such as donating to an impoverished and starving lot, is unlikely to lead to demean or intrude. If anything, it is going to be welcome (Joyce, 2006) . 

The deeper flaw in this logic is that it is self-contradictory; if an egoist is not concerned about anyone else other than self, then there is no basis for claiming that egoism serves the broader interests of society by its non-interference. 

Third, ethical egoism, posited by Ayn Rand, is the only philosophy that recognizes and respects individual integrity. Altruism, thought Rand, was destructive for its denial and sacrifice of the individual (Annas, 2008) . 

The last and perhaps the more formidable argument for ethical egoism is that it helps question conventional wisdom and morality. By pursuing individual interests, unhinged by unnecessary moral rules, the individual helps set different social standards. One way of looking at this is the reciprocity that accompanies the individual action in an egotistical society. Cautious that poor decisions will affect their long term interests, individuals act in a good manner relative to others. Therefore, societies governed by ethical egoism may, on the basis of this logic, perform better than those that profess altruism. 

Arguments Against Ethical Egoism 

Some philosophers have argued that ethical egoism major flaw is its failure to offer solutions in cases of conflict. One reason we have moral rules that ethical egoism eschews is to help mediate conflicts in society. If society were devoid of these conflicts, then we would not require the guidance of the morals. To this end, ethical egoism only serves to exacerbate social conflicts. Of course, an egoist may argue that ethical egoism engenders social order by restricting, opposing or competing individuals to specific means for fear that use of undesirable means will attract the opponent to employ similar techniques thus jeopardizing his long term interests (Nussbaum, 2003) . 

An equally serious charge against ethical egoism is that of logical inconsistency. That what an individual pursues as part of personal interest may at the same time be against the interests of that individual is the height of internal contradictions. The more forceful argument has to do with the moral basis of ethical egoism that morality has to do not with the individual but with others. In simple terms, morality states relative to other people. This theory immediate consequence is the division of the world between the individual and others. The other moral argument is that while it is true that individuals are best suited to know themselves and their interests, it is also true that human beings share a degree of similarity, both in essence and in needs (Annas, 2008) . Also, ethical egoism tends to put a premium on the interest of individuals suggesting such differences as in abilities, intelligence, and other qualifications. It could thus form a basis for such practices like racism, segregation and other forms of discrimination. The moral argument is that ethical egoism assigns more importance to the interests of one group arbitrarily; there is no general difference between individuals and other people. The greatest moral indictment against ethical egoism is the idea that individuals should care about the interests of others for the same reasons that they care about their own (Joyce, 2006) . 

Ethical egoism manifests itself in the criminal justice system in multiple ways. The obvious instance is when judicial officers fail to recuse themselves in cases where there is a conflict of interest so as to advance particular interests. Another instance is when police officers are on the payroll of cartels and interest groups in a bid to make more money. A less obvious case is when a police officer is in a potentially dangerous situation such as being confronted by criminal guns and has to decide whether to fire a mortal shot or risk his or her life. Such dilemmas are a case of ethical egoism in full display (Nussbaum, 2003) . 


A brief conceptualization of ethical egoism has been offered in the foregoing discussions. Various perspectives by philosophers on this question have been offered. In doing so, the nuances of ethical egoism have been brought to the fore and critiques critically examined. In the end, application of this theory in everyday life has been presented. 


Annas, J. (2008). Virtue ethics and the charge of egoism. NewYork: Oxford University Press. 

Joyce, R. (2006). The Evolution of Morality. Cambridge: The MIT Press. 

Nussbaum, M. (2003). Upheavals of thought: The intelligence of emotions. New York: Cambridge University Press. 

Cite this page

Select style:


StudyBounty. (2023, September 14). Arguments For and Against Ethical Egoism.


Related essays

We post free essay examples for college on a regular basis. Stay in the know!

17 Sep 2023

Personal Leadership Philosophy

Personal Leadership Philosophy _ Introduction_ My college professor once told me that, “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” The above quote by C.S Lewis...

Words: 1773

Pages: 7

Views: 372

17 Sep 2023

Social Contract Theory: Moral and Political Obligations

Social Contract Theory Social Contract theory is a theory which says that one's moral and political obligations rely on an agreement, the contract existing among them in society. Some people hold a belief that we...

Words: 332

Pages: 1

Views: 436

17 Sep 2023

The Tenets of Logical Positivism

Logical positivist has been known to always been known to deny the dependability of metaphysics and traditional philosophy thus arguing that all most of the problems found in philosophy are meaningless and without...

Words: 287

Pages: 1

Views: 72

17 Sep 2023

Moral Behaviour Is Necessary For Happiness

Introduction Ethics is a broad field within the larger field of moral philosophy that aims at distinguishing between good and bad. It sets the standard by which people in a society should behave towards each...

Words: 1940

Pages: 7

Views: 141

17 Sep 2023

Social Contract Theories of Hobbles and Rousseau

The social contract theory is based on the context that in the beginning, human beings coexisted in a system that was nature-driven. The society was at least less oppressive, and policy-oriented legal regimes were...

Words: 816

Pages: 3

Views: 72

17 Sep 2023

Applying Six-Step Model to the Personal Problem

Since I was born until today, my life has been full of decision-making and problem-solving as I attempt to come out with the best solutions. However, sometimes, I realize that most decisions I made are affecting me...

Words: 1428

Pages: 5

Views: 102


Running out of time?

Entrust your assignment to proficient writers and receive TOP-quality paper before the deadline is over.