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Egoism: Ethical and Psychological Egoism Essay

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Updated: Oct 5th, 2021

In ethics, egoism is a theory that states that the end and motive of conduct is the promotion of one’s own interest and not the interest of others. Egoism is subdivided into several theories including the Ethical Egoism and Psychological Egoism but all of the forms of egoism require explication of “self-interest” or “well-being”.

Psychological egoism’s claim is that a person has one ultimate aim and it is her own welfare. This kind of egoism that allows for an action that failed to maximize the perceived self-interest but rules behaviors such as altruistic behavior or the motivation by thoughts of duty. This would allow one to aim at things other than her own welfare while these things are also means to her own welfare.

The psychological egoism as an empirical theory has committed the fallacy of hasty generalization or what we also call as converse accident (Psychological Egoism, 2007). The fallacy hasty generalization is the fallacy of considering an exceptional case and making a generalization that fits them alone (Philosophy 103, 2004). This is like stereotyping, when a person sees a child who just had tantrums then he would conclude that all children have tantrums.

Ethical egoism’s claim is that to maximize one’s self interest, it is necessary and sufficient for an action to be morally right (Shaver, 2002). This is also a prescriptive or normative doctrine wherein a person is expected to seek an end with his own welfare and the only thing which is important to that individual is his own welfare (Psychological Egoism, 2007). This can also be defined as an action or decision made that answers the person’s best self-interest. If this actions or decisions made have harmed or benefit others then this is not incidental but an expression of our need and desire to do altruistic acts and the actions that we did are not as base or purely self-interest.

Ethical egoism has a strong and weak version. The strong version states that it is moral to endorse one’s own good and it is not moral if you do not endorse your own good. The weak version states that it is always a moral thing to do if you endorse your own good and the converse is not necessarily accurate and that there are certain situations that one may find it more important to ignore his own welfare in making moral judgments (Davison, 2006).

The difference between the two egoisms is that Psychological egoism is a belief that humans are selfish and always act out of their own self-interest and the result would then be happiness while ethical egoism is the belief that people should act only in their own interests (Maccarelli, 2006).

Another difference is that psychological egoism somewhat takes an extreme stance on how our thinking works. It states that all actions of humans are selfish that no matter how altruistic our actions are, it is still not altruistic. On the other hand, ethical egoism believes in actions are based on one’s own self-interest and one’s action should be based around it. Instead of putting emphasis on the good of others it emphasizes only the good one’s self (Lain 2006).

The two egoisms also differ in their doctrine of motivation. Psychological egoism’s doctrine of motivation lies in one’s motivation for doing something. Meaning the action was done to gratify oneself. In the doctrine of motivation in ethical egoism rests in the belief that morality and self interest are rooted in the same thing and implies that by pursuing what one wants he can be both moral and happy while the psychological egoism believes you cannot achieve both of these by doing an action.

Self-interest and selfishness are two different things. Actions done because of self interest are not specifically selfish actions. Just because you want to do something does not necessarily mean you are selfish. It depends on the motives. If your motive to help the poor is to avoid guilt, then it is selfish because this is a self-interested action, but if your motive is to help the poor because you really want to help, then this is not selfish. A selfish action is done just to benefit oneself. The actions are purposely done to be able to gain something from it. The person does things because of not other reason than one’s self. Thus selfishness depends on the person’s motive upon doing the action. Selfishness would denote the precedence given in thought or deed to the self and an opposite of altruism. Self-interest on the other hand is the driving force or the motivation why the action is being done. It is what determines if the action is selfish or not.

Ethical and psychological egoisms may both deal with the human beings way of thinking, but they have their difference and it is up to us as to which theory we would believe is right as how we view life.


Shaver, R. (2002). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web.

(2006).Philosophy.lander.edu. Web.

Davison, B. (2006). Ethical and Psychological Egoism:An Explanation of Theories. Web.

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