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What Is Psychological Egoism?

https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-psychological-egoism-3573379

thoughtco.com

What Is Psychological Egoism?
Summary and critique of the view that all our actions are self-interested

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Psychological egoism

Psychological egoism

It is the theory that all our actions are motivated by self-interest.

The view is endorsed by philosophers such as Tomas Hobbes and Friedrich Nietzsche.

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The self-interested action

A self-interested action is one that is motivated to serve your own interest. You drink water because you have an interest in quenching your own thirst. You show up for work because you have an interest in being paid.

Psychological egoists think they can explain actions that do not seem self-interested. A motorist who stops to help someone who has broken down may believe that they too may need help one day.

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Objections to psychological egoism

The most obvious objection to psychological egoism is that there are numerous clear examples of people putting others' interests before their own.

Although psychological egoists think they can explain seemingly virtuous actions, their theory rests on a false account of human motivation. The fact that someone feels virtuous after performing a good deed may be true, but it is often just a side effect of their action. They didn't necessarily do it in order to get those feelings.

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Selfish vs. selfless action

  • A selfish action sacrifices someone else's interests for their own. For example, grabbing the last slice of cake.
  • An unselfish action is where you place another person's interests ahead of your own. For example, you offer someone the last piece of cake, even though you'd like it for yourself. If you get satisfaction out of helping others, that sort of desire is unselfish.

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Why psychological egoism is appealing

  • It satisfies our preference for simplicity. In science, we favour theories that explain several phenomena by showing them to all be controlled by the same force. Newton's theory of gravity gives one principle to explain a falling apple.
  • It offers a seemingly cynical view of human nature. It appeals to our concern not to be naive.

To the critics, the theory is too simple. Being hard-headed is not a virtue if it means ignoring contrary evidence. Most of us have a natural concern for others, perhaps because we are social beings by nature.

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Mindset and self-image in interpersonal conflicts

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