Response to Ethical Egoism

One of the classes I’m taking this quarter is Phil 20, intro to moral philosophy. Of which I know nothing. The class assignments are all writing (and I’ve never done phil writing before), including several response papers to our reading. They’re not supposed to be polished, and probably don’t even have to be right, but they will certainly exist, and I figure I can put them up here. Since these are reading responses, they might not be very meaningful out of context, but I’ll post the title of the readings so that you can find it if you wish.

Response to:
Rand, Ayn. “Value Yourself.” The Moral Life, 2nd Ed. Ed. Louis Pojman. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 569-579.
“Egoism and Altruism.” The Moral Life, 2nd Ed. ED, Louis Pojman. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 580-589

As I was reading Ayn Rand’s excerpt, I was constantly having problems with some of the assumptions she makes. For example, she states there exists only a single path to happiness and survival, which, I assume she suggests, is ethical egoism. This not only seems narrow-minded, but is stated in ignorance of many happy lives people lead to old age without her method. She also states that “if you wish it, it’s evil; if others wish it, it’s good.” This also seems to misrepresent the intent of a typically altruistic person. While one might be willing to give food to a beggar, that same altruistic person might withhold money if he or she thought it would be used for drugs. Many consistently condone the desires for some things, regardless of whether it is for themselves or others. Thus, I agree with Pojman who states that Rand seems to consider only the extremes. When compared with unrestrained altruism, ethical egoism does have merit, yet this ignores the spectrum between that offers compromises.

Another issue I had with Rand’s stance, I believe, comes from a difference in how we perceive the world. I believe society is fundamentally built on the guilt that we should do good things for other people. It builds a method of enforcing reciprocity between people. When we do something good for someone else, it is because we believe it will continue the cycle of goodwill between people, while rude behavior results in ostracism. In an economic sense, parties benefit from trade purely by comparative advantages, and thus, the biggest mistake one can make is to not participate in trade at all. Similarly, ostracism and egoism will ultimately cost one in the long run. Pojman calls these being grudgers and offers an evolutionary explanation for this. While I don’t necessarily believe that our biological/evolutionary tendencies always offer, I think this one happens to be correct and represent our society well.

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