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Egoism

A Scholarly Review
GREGORY DWAYNE GILBERT JR. 4/10/2012

Egoism

Thesis Statement Egoism is a teleological theory of ethics that sets as its goal the benefit, pleasure, or greatest good of the oneself alone. It is contrasted with altruism, which is not strictly selfinterested, but includes in its goal the interests of others as well. There are at least three different ways in which the theory of egoism can be presented: Psychological Egoism This is the claim that humans by nature are motivated only by self-interest. Any act, no matter how altruistic it might seem, is actually motivated by some selfish desire of the agent (e.g., desire for reward, avoidance of guilt, personal happiness). This is a descriptive claim about human nature. Since the claim is universal--all acts are motivated by self-interest--it could be proven false by a single counterexample. It will be difficult to find an action that the psychological egoist will acknowledge as purely altruistic, however. There is almost always some benefit to ourselves in any action we choose. For example, if I helped my friend out of trouble, I may feel happy afterwards. But is that happiness the motive for my action or just a result of it? Perhaps the psychological egoist fails to distinguish the beneficial consequences of an action from the self-interested motivation. After all, why would it make me happy to see my friend out of trouble if I didn't already have some prior concern for my friend's best interest? Wouldn't that be altruism? Ethical Egoism

Egoism

This is the claim that individuals should always to act in their own best interest. It is a normative claim. If ethical egoism is true, that appears to imply that psychological egoism is false: there would be no point to saying that we ought to do what we must do by nature. But if altruism is possible, why should it be avoided? Some writers suggest we all should focus our resources on satisfying our own interests, rather than those of others. Society will then be more efficient and this will better serve the interests of all. By referring to the interests of all, however, this approach reveals itself to be a version of utilitarianism, and not genuine egoism. It is merely a theory about how best to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number. An alternative formulation of ethical egoism states that I ought to act in my own self-interest-even if this conflicts with the values and interests of others--simply because that is what I value most. It is not clear how an altruist could argue with such an individualistic ethical egoist, but it is also not clear that such an egoist should choose to argue with the altruist. Since the individualistic egoist believes that whatever serves his own interests is (morally) right, he will want everyone else to be altruistic. Otherwise they would not serve the egoist's interests! It seems that anyone who truly believed in individualistic ethical egoism could not promote the theory without inconsistency. Indeed, the self-interest of the egoist is best served by publicly claiming to be an altruist and thereby keeping everyone's good favor. Minimalist Egoism When working with certain economic or sociological models, we may frequently assume that people will act in such a way as to promote their own interests. This is not a normative claim and usually not evens a descriptive claim. Instead it is a minimalist assumption used for certain calculations. If we assume only self-interest on the part of all agents, we can determine certain

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extreme-case (e.g., maximin) outcomes for the model. Implicit in this assumption, although not always stated, is the idea that altruistic behavior on the part of the agents, although not presupposed, would yield outcomes at least as good and probably better. History of Egoism The term "egoism" was introduced into modern moral philosophy as a label for a type of ethical theory that is structurally parallel to utilitarianism. The latter theory holds that one ought to consider everyone and produce the greatest balance of good over evil; egoism, by contrast, says that each person ought to maximize their own good. Both theories are teleological, in that they hold that the right thing to do is always to produce a certain good. But the utilitarian claims that the good that one is to maximize is the universal good - the good of all human beings and perhaps all sentient creatures. The egoist, on the other hand, holds that the good one is ultimately to aim at is only one's own. This way of classifying ethical theories is due to Henry Sidgwick, who regarded the choice between utilitarianism and egoism as one of the principal problems of moral philosophy. In The Methods of Ethics (1874), Sidgwick frames the issue in terms that assume that the good is identical to pleasure (a doctrine called "hedonism"). He uses "utilitarianism" for the view that one is to maximize the amount of pleasure in the universe, and holds that the only form of egoism worth considering is hedonistic egoism. Since few philosophers now accept the identity of pleasure and the good, the terms of the debate have changed. "Egoism" is applied to any doctrine, whatever its conception of the good that advocates maximizing one's own good. Arguments for and Against Egoism

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Philosophers have sometimes tried to refute egoism by showing that it contains a contradiction or is in some way self-undermining. The best known attempt is that of G.E. Moore in Principia Ethica (1903), but he has had few followers. Instead, Sidgwick's opinion that egoism is rational is generally accepted. But even if one agrees, one may ask whether there are good reasons for choosing egoism over other alternatives. Why it must always be a mistake to sacrifice one's good for the greater good of others? If a small loss in one's wellbeing can produce great gains for others, what is wrong with accepting that loss? The egoist might at this point take refuge in psychological egoism. Although it is possible to affirm psychological egoism and reject ethical egoism - to agree that by nature we are ultimately self-seeking, and to condemn such behavior as evil - few philosophers regard this as an appealing mix of theories. For what plausibility can there be in a standard of behavior that we are incapable of achieving? The egoist may therefore respond to our question "Why should we not sacrifice our good for the sake of others?" by urging us not to impose impossible standards upon ourselves. We do not in fact make such sacrifices, and should not blame ourselves for being the way we are. The problem with this strategy is that psychological egoism has come under heavy attack in the modern period. Hobbes (1651) and Mandeville (1714) have been widely read as psychological egoists, and were criticized by such philosophers as Hutcheson (1725), Rousseau (1755) and Hume (1751), who sought to show that benevolence, pity and sympathy are as natural as self-love. Kant held (1788), against psychological egoism, that the rational recognition of moral principles can by itself motivate us and overcome self-love. Perhaps the most influential critique of psychological egoism is that of Butler (1726), who argued that by its nature self-love cannot be the only component of our motivational repertoire. He also pointed out that even if we

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feel gratification when we satisfy our desires, it cannot be inferred that such gratification is the object of those desires. The combined force of these attacks has left psychological egoism with few philosophical defenders. At this point, an important challenge to ethical egoism should be noticed: although my circumstances, history, or qualities may differ from yours in morally significant ways, and these differences may justify me in seeking my good in preference to yours, the mere fact that I am myself and not you is not by itself a morally relevant difference between us. That my good is mine does not explain why ultimately it alone should concern me. So, if my good provides me with a reason for action, why should not your good, or the good of anyone else, also provide me with a reason - so long as there are no relevant differences between us? The ideal of impartiality seems to support the conclusion that we should have at least some concern with others. In fact, egoists implicitly accept a notion of impartiality, since they say that just as my ultimate end should be my good, yours should be your good. So they must explain why they accept this minimal conception of impartiality, but nothing stronger. There is nothing morally appealing about excluding all others from one's final end; why then should one do so? The Spirituality of Egoism In spirituality, and especially non- dual, mystical and eastern meditative traditions, individual existence is often described as a kind of illusion. This "sense of doer ship" or sense of individual existence is that part, which believes it is the human being, and believes it must fight for itself in the world, is ultimately unaware and unconscious of its own true nature. The ego is often associated with mind and the sense of time, which compulsively thinks in order to be assured of its future existence, rather than simply knowing its own self and the present.

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Hindu and Vedanta traditions refer to Ego as Ahamkara (

), a Sanskrit term that

originated in Vedic philosophy over 3,000 years ago, and was later incorporated into Hindu philosophy, it is one of the tattvas, or principles of existence. Buddhist views the Ego not as a single principle, but rather aggregates of conscious energy which creates each individual's consciousness. These combinations, or "heaps," are referred to in Sanskrit as skandhas. The spiritual goal of many traditions involves the dissolving of the ego, allowing self-knowledge of one's own true nature to become experienced and enacted in the world. This is variously known as Enlightenment, Nirvana, Fana, Presence, and the "Here and Now". The German/ Canadian spiritual teacher, motivational speaker, and writer Eckhart Tolle writes about the ego in his book A New Earth. "The extent of the ego's inability to recognize itself and see what it is doing is staggering and unbelievable. To become free of the ego is not really a big job but a very small one. All you need to do is be aware of your thoughts and emotions as they happen. This is not really a 'doing' but an alert 'seeing'. In that sense, it is true that there is nothing you can do to become free of the ego. When that shift happens, which is the shift from thinking to awareness, intelligence far greater than the ego's cleverness begins to operate in your life. Emotions and even thoughts become depersonalized through awareness. Their impersonal nature is recognized. There is no longer a self in them. They are just human emotions, human thoughts. Your entire personal history, which is ultimately no more than a story, a bundle of thoughts and emotions, becomes of secondary importance and no longer occupies the forefront of your consciousness. It no longer forms the basis for your sense of identity. You are the light of Presence, the awareness that is prior to and deeper than any thoughts and emotions."

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The mystic G.I. Gurdjieff, as well as the self-described neo Gnostic writer and teacher of occultism Samael Aun Weor, posits that the ego is inherently constituted by many "I's": "One of man's important mistakes," he [Gurdjieff] said, "one which must be remembered, is his illusion in regard to his I. "Man such as we know him, the 'man machine,' the man who cannot 'do,' and with whom and through whom everything 'happens,' cannot have a permanent and single I. His I changes as quickly as his thoughts, feelings, and moods, and he makes a profound mistake in considering himself always one and the same person; in reality he is always a different person, not the one he was a moment ago. "I am going to read a newspaper," says the "I" of intellect. "To heck with reading," exclaims the "I" of movement, "I prefer to ride my bicycle." "Forget it," shouts a third ego in disagreement, "I'd rather eat; I'm hungry.(It must be noted, however, that the ultimate aim of the Gurdjieff work was not the cessation of the sense of individuality, but the process of making individuality out of oneself.) Weor used the terms "Being" (equivalent in meaning to Atman in Hinduism]) and "ego." drawing the distinction that the two states possible are that of Being, which is "transparent, crystal-clear, impersonal, real, and true," and that of the "I," which is "a collective of psychic Aggregates that personify Defects, whose only reason to exist is ignorance." He characterized this distinction:" Superior and inferior Is are a division of one organism itself. The superior I and the inferior I are both the I; they are the whole ego. The Intimate, the Real Being, is not the I. The Intimate transcends any type of I. He is beyond any type of I. The Intimate is the Being. The Being is the reality. He is what is not temporal; He is the Divine. The I had a beginning and inevitably will have an end, since everything that has a beginning will have an

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end. The Being, the Intimate, did not have a beginning, and so He will not have an end. He is what He is. He is what has always been and what always will be. Adi Da Samraj, spiritual teacher, writer, and artist, describes the ego as an activity of self-contraction: The ego is an activity, not an entity. The ego is the activity of avoidance, the avoidance of relationship. The root of all suffering is called the ego, as if it were a thing, an entity. But the same ego is actually the activity of self-contractionin countless forms, endured unconsciously. The unconsciousness is the keynot the acts of concentration themselves (which are more or less functional). Apart from present-time conscious self-understanding, the selfcontracted state is presumed to be the inevitable condition of life. That unconscious selfcontraction creates separation, which manifests as identification (or the sense of separate self). The root of True Spirituality is not some kind of activity, such as desire, that seeks to get you to the Super-Object. The genuine Spiritual process that I Offer to you requires the radical understanding of the entire process of egoic motivation. That process requires the observation, understanding, and transcending of the root of egoic motivationwhich is the activity of selfcontraction, of separation. Therefore, what has traditionally been called the ego is rightly understood to be an activity. And radical self-understanding is the direct seeing of the fundamental (and always present) activity that is suffering, ignorance, distraction, motivation, and dilemma. When that activity is most perfectly understood, then there is Spontaneous and Unqualified Realization of That Which had previously been excluded from consciousness awarenessThat Which Is Always Already The Case.

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References 1. Butler, J. (1726) Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel, Sermons I, II, III, XI, XII; repr. in S. Darwall (ed.) Five Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel and A Dissertation Upon the Nature of Virtue, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1983, esp. Sermon XI.(Argues that self-love cannot be the only human motivation.) 2. Gauthier, D. (ed.) (1970) Morality and Rational Self-Interest, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.(Selections by historical figures, contemporary essays and a bibliography.) 3. Hobbes, T. (1651) Leviathan, ed. E. Curley, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1994, part I, chaps 6-16.(Often read as a work of psychological egoism.) 4. Hume, D. (1751) An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, ed. J.B. Schneewind, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1983, sections 5, 9. (Seeks to show the naturalness of sympathy.) 5. Kant, I. (1788) Critique of Practical Reason, trans. L.W. Beck, New York: Macmillan, 1993, 36-8. (Argues that recognition of moral principles can overcome self-love.) 6. Nagel, T. (1970) The Possibility of Altruism, Oxford: Clarendon Press. (A difficult but widely discussed attack on egoism.) 7. Plato (c.380-367 BC) Republic, trans. A.D. Lindsay, revised by T.H. Irwin, London: Dent, 1992.(The most elaborate attempt to show that it is in ones interest to be just.) 8. Sidgwick, H. (1874) The Methods of Ethics, London: Macmillan; 7th edn, 1907. (Argues for the plausibility of both egoism and utilitarianism.)

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9. Samael Aun Weor, The Revolution of the Dialectic, Thelema Press, 2003, (1960) 10. Jiddu Krishnamurti, The Ending of Time, HarperSanFrancisco, 1985 11 12 13 14 . Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Oriental Mythology .Tolle, A New Earth, pp.117118. .P.D Ouspensky, In Search for the Miraculous .Samael Aun Weor, Revolutionary Psychology, Thelema Press, 2005 (1974)

15 .Samael Aun Weor, The False Sentiment of the I 16. Samael Aun Weor (1974), The Secret Doctrine of Anahuac 17. Samael Aun Weor, The Elimination of Satans Tail 18. Samraj, Adi Da. (2005). "My 'Bright' Word" (pp. 7677, p. 82). Dawn Horse Press. ISBN 1-57097-205-2