The reading for today in my moral philosophy class was again on Ethical Egoism, though from a different author. Specifically,
Rachels, James, “Ch. 21: Ethical Egoism,” Ethical Theory: An Anthology, Russ Shafer-Landau ED., Blackwell Publishing, 2007. 213-220
Early in the excerpt, James Rachels makes the distinction between Psychological Egoism (which I will lazily abbreviate as PE) and Ethical Egoism (EE), which sounds very similar to me to the difference between positive and normative economics. While he focuses on EE, I think the arguments he makes can be more broadly applied to PE, if with a different target. I find PE much more compelling because I believe it sufficiently explains modern morality.
In order for it to work, I’m establishing the third argument for EE (reciprocality) as the basis for this perspective. When considering the differences between the more extreme strands of EE and conventional morality, the establishment and importance of society divides these beliefs. Society, which was constructed by people, largely seeks to raise the standard for all members equally. Moreover, I believe that it is roughly equal because humans are more driven by negative reinforcement (threats) than positive reinforcement (rewards). We very much value what we have. So reciprocality seems to work because it can either perpetuate beneficial or harmful cycles.
Rachels points out two weaknesses of this perspective on EE, both of which I think substantiate how our society works. First, he notes “as a general rule it is to one’s own advantage to avoid harming others.” This naturally happens in the real world, and we call them unsolved crimes. Solved crimes are generally cases of short-sightedness on one’s self-interests. Second, he points out that there could be more reasons for actions than self-interest. This is very true in today’s ethics, as an important role of society is instilling guilt in people. This has to be a move of self-interest, as guilt drives other individuals to be more altruistic, benefitting the guilters.