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by maintaining slavery?
60 Problems for Utilitarianism
Suppose I can dampen inflation by keeping
unemployment artificially high? (Philip curve says the
lower the unemployment in an economy, the higher
the rate of inflation). These actions (means) are
ordinarily viewed as immoral in spite of the good
consequences (ends) they bring about.
Utilitarians who justify an action by citing its good
consequences are accused of missing an important
part of ethics: the fact that some actions are wrong in
principle, no matter what the consequences.
Utilitarianism is the best-known variety of
Consequentialist moral theory. Utilitarians believe
that the morally right act is that which produces the
greatest balance of happiness over unhappiness. 61 Egoism
Egoism Henry Sidgwick conceived of egoism as an ethical
theory parallel to utilitarianism: the utilitarian holds that
one should maximize the good of all beings in the
universe; the egoist holds instead that the good one is
ultimately to aim at is only one’s own.
According to ethical egoism we have no duties to
anyone but ourselves. This does not mean that the
entire world ought to satisfy my interests.
Ethical egoism is a moral theory, which can be cast in
perfectly universal terms: according to ethical egoism,
every individual ought to satisfy his or her own best
Or, to put it in terms we know: every individual ought
to maximize his or her own welfare.
To Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679 his book Leviathan
1651), source of morality is the need for humans to
live together in a civilized society in order to survive.
Without law and morality, we would be in “a state of
nature”, where each person competed with others for
food, shelter, and resources.
Everyone is better off when we agree to abide by
certain principles of respect and cooperation, and
punish those who break the agreement. This is the
reason to act morally.
Hobbes’s line of thought can be made into an
argument: The only reason a person has to act
morally is to protect his or her own self-interest.
Adam Smith (1723-1790): economist
- said economy is better off when each person
pursues what’s best for him or herself only - said this
created an “invisible hand”.
He thought that if a society set up a system that
tapped into that strong self-interest and legitimized it,
that society would be more productive.
According to egoism, each individual has a goal of his
or her own (in utilitarianism we all share the same
goal). This diversity of goals may engender conflict.
goal). 64 Egoism
This is not an objection to ethical egoism, however.
When people have goals that conflict, each individual
ought, according to egoism, to maintain his or her own
goal. Ethical egoism is a consistent ethical theory, in
competition with other ethical theories.
This form of egoism (often called ‘ethical egoism’) is to
be distinguished from ‘psychological egoism’
according to which human beings seek to promote
We can see this more clearly if we define selfishness
and contrast it with self-interest, which is something
Selfishness is the pursuit of one’s self-interest at the
expense of another. Pursuits in our own interest are
not bad, they are good.
It is healthy if everyone pursues their interests.
Psychologists have pointed out the necessity of selfPsychologists
llove and self-esteem as well as the desirability of a
robust pursuit of one’s projects and dreams. After all, if
I don’t pursue my interests, who will?
That is why an action that benefits you is a good
action, and a good reason for doing something is that
it will be good for you.
Ethical egoism can approve of behavior that benefits
others, for often the best way to promote one’s good is
to form cooperative relationships.
But the egoist cannot approve of an altruistic
justification for such cooperation: altruism requires
benefiting others merely for their sake, whereas the
egoist insists that one’s ultimate goal must be solely
one’s own good.
The problem arises when the pursuit of your interests
can only be done at the expense of others.
If I can only make a sale by persuading a customer
who can’t afford the product to buy it anyway, that is
selfish behavior, and to justify it by saying it will aid me
is to justify it egoistically. A principle which necessarily
promotes selfishness is immoral.
According to egoism, you act wrongly whenever you
do not maximize your own best interests. This
means that you make a moral mistake if you sacrifice
future pleasures for inferior present ones.
And you act wrongly when, in choosing a way of life,
you destroy your health or shorten y...
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