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MIT OpenCourseWare http://ocw.mit.edu 24.120 Moral Psychology Spring 2009 For information about citing these materials or our Terms of Use, visit: http://ocw.mit.edu/terms .
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24.120 MORAL PSYCHOLOGY RICHARD HOLTON II Egoism: Empirical and Quasi-Empirical Issues The upshot of the last session is that we can make some sense of the idea of psychological egoism. But we haven’t yet seen a good a priori argument that it’s true. Are there a posteriori arguments? Two oft- mentioned possibilities: (1) arguments from unconscious motives; Freud etc. (2) an arguments from evolutionary biology. Unconscious motives Even for Freud it is unclear that the unconscious motives are really egoistic. Contemporary psychology recognizes plenty of unconscious motives. But they are not obviously egoistic. In fact most are too domain specific for notions of egoism and altruism to have much application. Moreover, the more we insist on the importance of unconscious motives, the more skeptical we should be that we can tell by introspection that they are not altruistic. Evolutionary Arguments There is an argument for thinking that altruists must do worse compared to egoists, and so must in time be eliminated from the population. Assume that egoism and altruism are inherited. (Disregard mutation). We can accept that groups containing more altruists will do better than groups containing fewer, and so will benefit at the cost of those groups. Nonetheless there is an argument that the egoists will do better than the altruists within those groups, and so in time will squeeze them out: Suppose that altruism benefits the whole population, at a cost to those who practice it. Accept for
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