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Ethical Egoism versus Ethical Altruism

  1. Feb 22, 2005 #1
    [SOLVED] Ethical Egoism versus Ethical Altruism

    Ethical egoism states that we ought to do what is best for us, that it is not only our right, but our duty to look after our own interests first. Ethical altruism is the opposite, and states that we should look after the interests of others ahead of ours. If the society had to choose one of these two extremes, with which do you think we'd be better off?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 22, 2005 #2
    Irrelevant question; like asking if a computer should be designed with RAM or with a hard drive, if you had to choose one of the two extremes.
  4. Feb 22, 2005 #3
    More specifically, ethical altruism would lead to a more content society that would have a strong status quo, without a lot of room for "fringe elements." It would be majority overrules everything. Ethical egoism would lead to a lot of strife and change. They are not the only alternatives, however.
  5. Feb 23, 2005 #4
    And that is how?

    What are the others?
  6. Feb 23, 2005 #5
    Well, my personal favorite at the moment is the ethic of existential free will.

    In ethical altruism, everyone does the greatest good for the greatest number. All revolutions cause a lot of harm to many people before they cause any good; hence, no revolutions in ethical altruism.

    In ethical egoism there is no such restriction, and people would constantly try to start revolutions whenever they thought they could, in order to make things better for themselves.
  7. Feb 23, 2005 #6


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    Altruism is about acting for the interest of others. Doing the greatest good for the greatest number is utilitarianism. Also, one can argue that an advanced egoistic society would form social contracts in order to secure their interests universally. And a somehow peaceful altruistic society could be helping each other survive and secure their interests. Both will involve conflict - always existent when there is a will of finite power (ie. any finitely powerful human) and/or at least 2 differient wills exist (ie. there are at least 2 people who would eventually have conflicting desires).

    What is the standard of reference of which we consider a society is better off? Since no objective standards exist (if there were one, we would have nothing to discuss), the question is dependent on what we choose to define as "better off".
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2005
  8. Feb 23, 2005 #7
    Utilitarianism is just a form of altruism which defines "good" as "happiness." Also, altruism is not about making the _society_ better off, but about making _people_ better off.

    In ethical egoism or ethical altruism, there is no great reason to abide by contracts. Whenever it is expedient, members of such systems will ignore any contract. And no one will form contracts unless the other person is likely to agree to them; so contracts would not be used. People would simply work together when their goals coincided and not do so when their goals diverged or interfered.
  9. Feb 23, 2005 #8


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    *sigh* re-read my post.

    Also, don't falsely state that I wrote, "altruism is about making the society better off". You wrote that yourself.
  10. Feb 23, 2005 #9
    No, you did:
  11. Feb 24, 2005 #10


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    What are you talking about?

    The 2nd quote from me clearly does not state anything about altruism making society better off. You seriously need to rethink about what I wrote down.
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2005
  12. Feb 24, 2005 #11
    You're right, it doesn't state anything explicitly, but given the context what else did you intend it to mean?
  13. Feb 24, 2005 #12


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    I never intended to mean more than what the actual words say. You have only misinterpreted the context - regardless.

    -The person I was addressing had no reference point of which to call a society is better off. Commonly held beliefs like economic prosperity, lack of wars might be considered an objective standard - but it is not. Some of those may just be created or picked up beliefs, or they might be instinctively avoided or sought after - but they is no "actual" standard for a better off country (except maybe power), they are just standards we ourselves have chosen to live with. Therefore, the result of whether egoism or altruism will make a society better off, is dependent on what we have chosen to be defined our standards of good and bad (better or worse off).
  14. Feb 24, 2005 #13
    Ah yes, I see you were referring back to Icebreaker's original question. However in the original question he made no reference to society; he said "we." Since you made your statement about society right after your statement about altruism, without any transition, I had assumed they were related. Now, care to continue the discussion?
  15. Feb 24, 2005 #14


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    Why not take the middle ground? Balance your own needs and desires with the needs and desires of others. Of course, if push comes to shove, I always get first priority, but that's hardly systematic and more of a practical decision than an ethical decision.
  16. Feb 26, 2005 #15


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    Even if we assume the existence of moral phenomena *note assumption*, it still does not mean that your form of the middle ground is correct. We would still have to choose the right moral theory. The question is still in the front of the troubles: which moral system "should" actually be done? Stating your one form of the middle ground is vague at best, and does not account for the numerous actions we have to set a value for and how they compare with other values, etc.

    However, if it is not a matter of ethics, then taking the middle ground is not forced on anyone, and is simply another choice you can take.

    P.S. Your form of the middle ground seems very close to most egoists' view. Most people are not so willing to completely forego the interests of others (for my own peace of mind, the guilt from conscience as developed by indoctrination, etc), and will help others - but still primarily living to one's interests. And it has served many of the world for quite a while.
  17. Feb 26, 2005 #16


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    Yes, you are right society = us in this case.

    To continue the discussion,

    Although I tend to agree more with Nietzsche than existentialist "eX" philosophy, both are useful and 'truthful to our newer needs' theories that concern ourselves with focusing and understanding free will and individual choice (eX and nietz are not in the same boat, no matter how many philosophers want to believe them to be.)

    Regardless, eX, in it's notions of personal freedom and the choice of his/her own actions is to be commended for not throwing away responsibility or consequence. But it has the deeply rooted problem that although people will look to themselves to make their own choices and decide mainly for the good of themselves and still think of those around them, there would be many choices made that would be destructive or chaotic to the people, society or even the country of which those people live in. As such, it can never be a workable style for people interested in living in a country that is not war-torn or anarchy-overrun. Since there are no "correct" or "moral" principles in eX, nihilistic tendencies in many people will obviously become rampant which involves anti-life responses: suicide, decline/degradation and especially anarchy (the notion that anything is permissible without morality or God).

    Thus, there's this about eX: it may not be good for 'us' as a society or group (ie. herd). People who follow existentialism can be very dangerous for 'us' as a group or society (lack of unity, anarchy, constant gang wars and attempted revolutions, etc), even though it has some of the most liberating ideas about life & existence.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2005
  18. Feb 26, 2005 #17
    I don't see existentialism as the abandonment of morality, but as the choice of one's own morality. If someone wants to be selfish and evil he is going to find ways to do that no matter what his belief system is. History has many examples. I see existentialism as the lifting of a burden; you need not be slave to any purpose, you are free to act. When you constrain your thoughts by a purpose, you can restrict yourself from seeing clearly what might be best. It's like a chess game. Choosing a single strategy and sticking to it no matter what is a weak, overly-rigid way to play. You must use your brain at every step; your goals may change at every turn. Of course, it is not exactly like a chess game because there is no winning or losing, but purposelessness sets the mind free. Like Sun Tzu said, become formless.

    A defined purpose is always unnatural. When you decide you must structure your life around a particular purpose, you are acting against your nature.
  19. Feb 26, 2005 #18


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    A key idea in existentialism is that you choose what you decide to do, such that morality is no longer keeping your freedom down. You are right, it is about relieving the burden of any morality, and freedom to act, but that is why you must also understand that it believes that morality does not exist. You could in fact CHOOSE to believe in a morality - it is your freedom, but in reality, only our personal choices and actions are involved. Choosing your own morality would just be a choice, but what eX is trying to tell you is that even YOUR morality is not telling you what to do. You simply chose to follow certain rules of thinking. But one of the greatest impacts of eX is that it does away with morality, so that you can stop being limited by any moralities, even your own. It is about acting and choosing and being responsible for those consequence of said actions. eX is trying to show you that there are no moral rules, only ones that you have chosen to limit yourself by choosing a morality of your own, or choosing to follow someone else's morality.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2005
  20. Feb 26, 2005 #19
    You could adopt a morality system under existentialism but it seems contrary to the spirit of it. But it doesn't mean you should try to be numb to others' misery; that would be a false imposition too.
  21. Feb 27, 2005 #20


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    Yes, it is good that you finally see what existentialism was meant to be about. You can choose to have a morality, but that choice would involve freely choosing to limit your own freedom.
    Existentialist philosophy NEVER imposes being numb to other people's misery. That is only a commonly held myth about existentialism. However, it would not be odd to find that existentialists would be more likely to be numb about people's misery. But note that the eX philosophy never advocates that - eX only advocates freedom of choice and definition.
    NEVER take commonly held beliefs or "summaries" about certain philosophies at face value and conclude that they are absolutely truthful to the philosophy in question. If you do that, you forego listening to the actual words of the creator, and listen to the words of what could be a foolish translator or student - otherwise known as misinterpreters (I would know, I have misinterpreted many philosophies myself).

    Just remember that while eX and some modern philosophies are truthful - they are dangerous, and have unknown consequences. One must be careful to keep in mind the real reasons one chooses to do philosophy in the first place. By following your instincts while keeping a logical, adaptable and imaginative mind, one will rarely be lead astray by lofty ideals and false assumptions.
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2005
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