The Question of Life
“Freedom in Action” focuses on the concept of voluntarism and its role in people’s everyday life. It is essential to note that the ideas described in this chapter are closely interconnected with the theory of ethical egoism that implies framing normative ethics from the standpoint of personal interests. Therefore, the paper at hand is aimed at analyzing Savater’s insights on the voluntary choice of a person in the framework of the ethical egoism theory.
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First of all, it is essential to note that the theory of ethical egoism is widely criticized for the immoral connotations that it implies. Being normally opposed to the theory of ethical altruism, this theory is considered to be discriminating. In the meantime, it is important to note, that the theory’s key principle resides in the fact that a person is free to act by the inner desire that does not necessarily imply neglecting the desires of other people. One way or another, Savater unintentionally offered a much more consistent challenge to the relevant theory than common critics would provide.
One of the most significant aspects that Savater eliminates is the distinction between “willing” and “wanting”. Thus, the author refers to the example of a captain that is throwing cargo overboard during the storm. Savater focuses on the point that the captain performed this action willingly as it was the only way to save his life. In the meantime, he did it without wanting to as the cargo cost a lot of money (Savater, 2002). This example challenges the theory of ethical egoism. On the face of it, the theory implies that every person has a moral right to act according to his or her inner interests. However, applying this theory to the described example, it is unclear what actions a person is supposed to take in case the interests contradict, and taking a particular action essentially means failing to meet one of these interests.
Another critical problem that the author describes and that is closely connected to the theory of ethical egoism is the question of freedom. Thus, the first Savater’s (2002) definition of freedom says that it is “the capacity to act according to one’s desires” (95). From this perspective, a free person essentially becomes an ethical egoist as the principal of acting according to one’s desires is dominant for the latter.
Meanwhile, the author provides an important clarification that the theory of ethical egoism lacks. Savater offers a framework for free activity – the author suggests limiting it to the category of possibility (Savater, 2002). In other words, to be free one needs to have a relevant chance apart from having an ability itself. Applying this framework to the theory of ethical egoism is rather problematic. The category of impossibility cannot be determined for this theory as its definition would essentially imply the introduction of some moral connotations, which contradicts with the core idea of the theory. Therefore, Savater’s reflection upon the nature of freedom lets one indicate a flaw in the analyzed theory that can be defined as a lack of limitations.
Also, the chapter provides a detailed analysis of the nature of desires that constitute the core base of the theory of ethical egoism. According to Savater, what people want to do is often different from what they want to be. Moreover, they are likely to reshape their desires artificially in an attempt to reach their ideal vision of themselves (Savater, 2002). As a result, the question arises concerning the desires that should be realized according to the theory of ethical egoism. It turns out, consequently, that the theory fails to indicate the type of interests that are supposed to determine people’s activity. Whereas the theory puts forward the idea that human desires are initially positive, it is still unclear whether it implies the “desire to desire” as well.
Lastly, the most important idea that Savater develops is the question of responsibility as an essential element for the existence of any concept. Thus, Savater (2002) claims that it is “impossible to structure coexistence in any type of society” without responsibility (100). The relevant statement reveals the key flaws of the theory of ethical egoism and explains the scope of critics that appeared around it. Thus, one might conclude that the main drawback of this theory is its failure to include the concept of responsibility in its core principles. This concept would be helpful not only from the moral point of view (it would eliminate the negative social response provoked by the immoral implications) but from the practical perspective as well. The lack of the responsibility component deprives the theory of any possibility to be ever applied to practice as the limits remain unclear.
Therefore, one might conclude that the theory of ethical egoism is fairly criticized. However, the problem resides in the fact that the major part of critics focuses on the immoral side of the theory, overlooking, in such a manner, its more objective weaknesses.
Savater, F. (2002). The Questions of Life. New York, New York: Wiley.