The Problem With Ethical Egoism — Guest Post by The Cranky Professor

The Problem With Ethical Egoism — Guest Post by The Cranky Professor

Ethical egoism is the position that says that one ought to value oneself above others and that one ought to always act with the aim of benefiting oneself. Ethical egoism also holds that one should only aid or benefit others if and only if it somehow benefits oneself.

Serving oneself or one’s interests is the ultimate goal for the ethical egoist. Ethical egoism is generally regarded as a type of consequentialist moral theory where the aim is to produce good results with actions; and in the case of egoism, to produce good results for oneself. As Louis Pojman states, “ethical egoism is utilitarianism reduced to the pinpoint of the single individual ego.” ( Quoted in Philosophy: Quest For Truth, 10th Edition, p. 461.)

Ethical egoism differs from “egotism” which says that everyone should serve my interests or benefit me in some way. Ethical egoism prescribes that a person should serve his or her own interests as a top priority. Egotism would agree with that point, but it would also add that all others should serve one’s interests as well.

Ethical egoism also differs from psychological egoism which says that everyone is always motivated to serve themselves above others. Psychological egoism is a proposition about how human beings behave, whereas ethical egoism is a proposition on how people ought to behave.

Sometimes, of course, psychological egoism is used to justify ethical egoism. An egoist can argue that since people are always motivated to serve their own interests above others that we can only be obligated to serve ourselves. Since everyone necessarily serves their own interests then persons can only be obligated to serve themselves.

If ethical egoism is argued on the basis of psychological egoism then this is a baseless argument. For one, there’s no way to confirm that literally every individual in the world and throughout history always and everywhere acts out of selfishness or with self-love as the top priority. It would be impossible to prove that every person acts out of love for himself above others all the time. As far as one is concerned, psychological egoism is just as unwarranted as psychological altruism or the proposition that everyone always acts out of favoring others over oneself.

Secondly, sometimes people simply act immediately without thinking about their interests or motives. Sometimes persons spontaneously do good actions (or bad actions) without thinking about themselves or about any of the consequences of their actions. A person might, for instance, quickly help another get up after falling down on the ground without thinking how performing the good work would serve himself. Some philosophers have emphasized these cases, like JS Mill, who said that about ninety-nine percent of our good actions are done immediately without reflection or forethought. So it’s hard to interpret immediate action as being always rooted in self-centered motives when there may be no clear fore-thoughts or even intentions behind them.

Thirdly, there seem to be several cases in which persons seem to be genuinely concerned for others and not merely interested in serving themselves. For instance, there are numerous cases in which soldiers will sacrifice themselves in the battlefield and other related contexts where there appears to be real care for others and not just for oneself. On top of that, there seem to be plenty of cases where many care too much for others in terms of what other people might think of their actions or ideas or plans. I, of course, could go further on psychological egoism, but I think it’s evident that it is a very bold and quite unsubstantiated claim on human psychology.

Egoism may have a few advantages as an ethical theory. It may encourage a person to help himself or herself, fulfill certain basic obligations to oneself, and encourage one to fulfill their justified self-interests. However, many other ethical positions can encourage self-love and self-respect just the same. Nevertheless, ethical egoism has some serious problems.

For one, if a type of spiritual principle or moral code is correct and individuals are obligated to love and admire God above all beings then ethical egoism would be rendered false since egoism says that one is obligated to value oneself above others. So if a type of religious or spiritual view of morality is correct by which persons are obligated to serve a Transcendent Deity above themselves and others then ethical egoism would be false. Nonetheless, without even assuming a religious or spiritual obligation to serve the Deity, there are plenty of arguments that show that ethical egoism is false.

What is the basis for thinking that one ought to value oneself above others? How does one determine this to be the case? This is a real problem for the ethical egoist. As James Rachels, argues, ethical egoism is an “arbitrary doctrine” where it is simply given without sufficient warrant that persons are obligated to value themselves above others. There seems to be no clear way for the egoist to divide humanity between oneself and others and then senselessly favor oneself over others. Ethical egoism is just as baseless as an extreme form of ethical altruism where valuing others quite above oneself is prescribed.

Or, as Rachels remarks, ethical egoism is a baseless view like racism. Just as the racist arbitrarily favors people of one color and ancestry over other people of different color (just like how that bogus critical race theory favors dark skinned persons over fair skinned persons without rational justification) so the egoist favors himself over others without rational basis. The egoist theory also seems to be a rather un-parsimonious doctrine as well. Instead of following a simpler, “equalist” or “impartiality principle” where one is obligated to treat everyone and including oneself as equals, egoism advances the superfluous and unjustified move of favoring oneself above other individuals.

The ethical egoist might counter all this and say that their view is justified on the grounds that egoism enables us to be truly happy. Ayn Rand, for instance, has argued that ethical egoism best explains how happiness is the ultimate goal in life and that personal happiness is best attained by following the egoist ethic. She argues that people can be excessively concerned about others and as a consequence, lose their opportunities to gain happiness for themselves. She, of course, opposed any form of altruism where others are valued over oneself.

While I disagree with most of Rand’s points, there is some truth to her contention. It’s possible that a person can sacrifice too much of their time for others at the expense of their individual happiness. For example, if one is invited to a party full of snobby people that will be predictably rude and exclude one in the conversions and activities, then going to such a party would be a big waste of time. This holds true even if going to the party produced more overall happiness or pleasure to other people in one’s accessible environment.

By the way, the party example is one of the reasons why some find utilitarianism (or certain forms of it) to be objectionable. This is because if the goal of morality, for the utilitarian, is to produce the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people, then it would seem that one can be obligated to go a party full of snobs given utilitarian reasoning. Or, at the very least, it would seem that certain hedonistic forms of utilitarianism would require one to go to a party full of snobs if the goal is to just produce the greatest amount of happiness for the greater amount of people. Ethical egoism, to its credit, avoids this sort of problem of unnecessarily sacrificing one’s time and happiness to go to a party full of snobs.

Typically the stated goal of egoism is to attain happiness and that happiness is the ultimate goal in life. Now I find the proposition that happiness is the ultimate goal in life to be questionable. For one, there seem to be more important goals in life besides happiness like virtue and integrity. Moreover, there seems to be no guarantee that living a moral life will always bring one happiness or feeling well. It also even seems possible that a person can find their happiness in doing bad or even evil actions. Let alone, there’s a problem in clearly defining what happiness is as such and how it may relate to ethics.

Nonetheless, apart from the difficulties of happiness being the ultimate goal and how it might relate to morality, let us assume for the moment that happiness is the ultimate goal in life. Would ethical egoism grant one a happy life? No. At least, ethical egoism would not make many people happy—including myself.

Ethical egoism fails to account for deep friendships or what Aristotle would call “the friendship of the good.” In a solid friendship, the friends value each other for their own sake and not merely because they benefit themselves by engaging in the friendship. In a good friendship, particularly a deep one, the friends care for each other as though they were caring for themselves. They tend to see each other as equals. The persons involved in the deep friendship may even be willing to lay down their life for each other if there came to be a dangerous circumstance.

In a good friendship, the friends tend to forget about themselves and are not focused on benefiting themselves but focus upon and benefit the other person. While things like enjoyment, helpfulness, and common interests are all part of a good friendship, a person, however, is not merely valued by how enjoyable, how helpful or useful that person is in a substantial friendship. For these reasons, experiencing a very good and deep friendship and attaining happiness from it, is impossible for someone that follows an egoist ethic.

Because egoism cannot accommodate deep friendships, many philosophers have referred to this difficulty as the “paradox of egoism.” The paradox of egoism is that in order to attain the basic goal of egoism, namely happiness, one has to give up the egoist ethic and enter into a deep friendship to attain personal happiness. Following an egoist ethic and valuing oneself above others may work out for more superficial friendships (and there are evidently different types and levels of friendship) but the consistent egoist cannot allow herself to experience happiness through a deep friendship. At the very least, the egoist cannot take every opportunity to attain a great level of happiness since good, unselfish friendships are closed off for the egoist.

Moreover, ethical egoism does not seem to be a coherent position. For one, if it is prescribed that everyone serve themselves as the top priority then how does one resolve conflicts of interests and needs? It seems that egoism results in prescribing contradictory obligations when there’s a conflict of needs and interests. For example, let us say there are two persons that are poisoned and there is only a limited amount of antidote that can save only one person from the poison. According to ethical egoism, both persons would be obligated to attain the antidote and survive while the other person is left to die from the poison.

But here’s the problem. According to egoism, I would have an obligation to serve my well-being while at the same time someone else has an obligation to prevent me from attaining my obligation to gain health and get the antidote for himself. Likewise, the other, according to egoism, would have a duty to attain the antidote while I would have an obligation to prevent him from restoring his health. In other words, ethical egoism entails that a person can be obligated to support himself while others may have an obligation to prevent him from attaining well-being and happiness. But if I have an obligation to be happy and healthy then how can someone else have an obligation to suppress my duty to be happy and healthy?

Egoism gives us no explanation. It’s quite a paradox within the position itself considering that it entails that it is possible to have a moral obligation to attain happiness and well-being while, at the same time, another person can have a moral obligation to prevent one from attaining their ultimate goal in life. At any rate, ethical egoism gives us no account of how to resolve differing interests and needs when they clash among individuals since it prescribes that everyone always serve themselves above others. This is known as the “conflicting interests” or “inconsistent outcomes” argument against egoism.

There is also the “publicity objection” to ethical egoism. The objection goes, if one is obligated to serve their own interests primarily then why have a duty to make ethical egoism public? Why promote ethical egoism to others? Oddly enough, egoism is often promoted not merely because it supposedly serves oneself but also for utilitarian reasons; that egoism supposedly creates more benefits or happiness in society by having everyone acting by egoist principles. We see this in Ayn Rand’s defense of ethical egoism.

But why promote ethical egoism if it is true? It would be better for the egoist to keep his or her morality a secret. It would work better for the egoist, for instance, if everyone else was an ethical altruist or had a moral system that values others more than oneself. Surely, the egoist can use the altruist motives of others better to serve himself than a society that consistently follows egoism. In the poison/antidote example, the egoist, of course, would prefer the other person in need of help, to give him the antidote and be cured of the poison. So ethical egoism has the odd implication that the theory itself should not be publicized.

Moreover, there’s an even deeper problem for ethical egoism relating to the “publicity objection.” If it would serve the egoist better to keep their ethic a secret then why even prescribe that everyone else in the world should serve themselves above others? Why not just opt for an even more radically solipsistic morality like egotism where it is only prescribed that one serve oneself and that all others ought to serve oneself? Ethical egoism says that one ought to value oneself the most and do actions for oneself as the primary object. But if that’s the case, then why even bother trying to universalize this proposition to everyone? If the egoist says that there’s no reason make his egoist ethic public then it seems that his views would collapse to egotism or the view that one should serve himself above others and that all others should serve him as well. Of course, egotism would have its own related problems, one of them being that it’s begging the question of which individual should be served by everyone. Nonetheless, making the theory public seems to be a real problem for the ethical egoist.

Finally, there’s the “counter-intuitive” objection to egoism. Why do persons always have to act in ways to benefit themselves? Let alone, why do persons ought to always value themselves as the top priority? To borrow some examples from Louis Pojman, if I have an opportunity to save all of Africa and Europe from immediate destruction by pushing a button then I should not push that button unless it somehow benefits me according to ethical egoism. Also if I were to pollute and damage the environment and harm others in the process while gaining a great deal of money and comfort for myself, this doesn’t seem to be wrong according to ethical egoism. This is because all I need to be concerned about, according to egoism, is my own well-being and happiness and if I can attain happiness at the expense of others then nothing would be wrong given the egoist ethic.

Moreover, why would it be wrong to voluntarily give one’s life for others to live? How would egoism account for self-sacrifice? If there are two people that need an antidote after being poisoned and there is just enough medicine to cure only one person then why would it be wrong for me to voluntarily forfeit my need to be cured and allow the other person to have the antidote? Ethical egoism doesn’t seem to be able to permit self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice would certainly be one way to the avoid the conflict of interests and needs paradox that egoism is saddled with as such.

In conclusion, I don’t find ethical egoism to be a sound position in ethics. While it may have some truth to it in that we are obligated to respect ourselves and pursue our general interests, egoism, however, presents an unbalanced view of the self and how one should relate to others in action. And undermines its own credentials by creating unnecessary paradoxes involving conflicts of needs and making ethical propositions public. On top of all that, ethical egoism seems to prevent people from attaining their full potential towards happiness which is certainly one the important goals in life. Overall, I believe that it’s better to live a balanced approach between self-love and love for others where one values oneself about the same as valuing others. One ought to avoid both extremes of over-valuing oneself at the expense of others or over-valuing others at the unjust expense of oneself.

Some might think that ethical egoism is something that is widespread in our culture or nation. I would say it’s a minority view. However, I think we have more of an egotist or “entitlement mentality” problem throughout the culture rather an ethical egoist one, which is worse. At least with Ayn Rand, there is this notion that one ought to advance oneself and be self-sufficient and not totally rely on others to accomplish things in life.

The entitlement egotist mentality, however, basically holds that ‘the world owes me whatever I want, however I want, whenever I want it.’ Or, as the economist Thomas Sowell adequately describes this mentality, as the notion that “other people are bound to provide you with what you don’t provide for yourself.” Often times, the entitlement mentality is also coupled with the idea that one is somehow a ‘permanent victim’ in life. And since the egocentric person perceives himself as an entrapped victim in life that he also perceives himself as being owed by others whatever he wants at the time.

The entitlement-egotist perspective is a very bad approach on life. This mentality makes it impossible for a person to be (consistently) just or fair towards others and develop good friendships because a person cannot treat others with justice if he is only concerned about his desires and emotions over others and feels entitled to get whatever he wants even at the expense of others.

Moreover, egotism makes it impossible for a person, oddly enough, to build self-respecting virtues like diligence and self-sufficiency because of how the entitled, selfish person is constantly expecting others to provide things he wants from them rather than making the effort to accomplish things for himself. Perhaps this entitlement mentality explains why several people prefer socialism or communism because of how big government appears to feed into this notion that personal desires are always “rights” or “entitlements” like “free college” or whatever socialist nonsense that sounds good but ends in failure.

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  1. John B()

    Luke 14:12

    And he said to him also that had invited him: When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, nor thy kinsmen, nor thy neighbours who are rich; lest perhaps they also invite thee again, and a recompense be made to thee.

  2. Sheri

    “Also if I were to pollute and damage the environment and harm others in the process while gaining a great deal of money and comfort for myself, this doesn’t seem to be wrong according to ethical egoism.” That describes 90% of the rich, evil billionaires out there that pillage the land, poison third world countries and the lie about caring. Sadly, the idiots of America buy into this rot and encourage the destruction.

    “The entitlement-egotist perspective is a very bad approach on life.” From the point of view of the fools that enable that view, sure. If humans would stop treating people like toddlers, which is what the entitlement-egotist perspective is, the problem would go away.

    “Perhaps this entitlement mentality explains why several people prefer socialism or communism because of how big government appears to feed into this notion that personal desires are always “rights” or “entitlements” like “free college” or whatever socialist nonsense that sounds good but ends in failure.” Or, as noted above, we are a society of toddlers fighting over whatever we can get our hands on. Entitlement is the behavior of a three-year-old and we have millions out there that are destroying society.

    There is an assumption that dying for someone is the ultimate selfless act. I disagree. The people left behind are those that deal with the death and the consequences. LIVING for someone is far more noble. Death is easy.

  3. GP

    I have yet to see a form of utilitarianism that isn’t objectionable. The whole system is built on unstable ground.

  4. DAV

    That describes 90% of the rich, evil billionaires out there that pillage the land, poison third world countries and the lie about caring. Sadly, the idiots of America buy into this rot and encourage the destruction.

    Yet we are better off because of those “evil” billionaires. They got rich by producing what others wanted or needed. They did it to get rich. Capitalism works through self-interest.

    Tesla failed in his quest for free electric distribution because there is no personal return of effort in producing it.

    If you think what these “evil” billionaires are producing is overall bad for everyone then don’t buy what they are producing. I guarantee if there’s no money it they will stop.

  5. Johnno

    Sounds like most corps and US embassies.

    The LGBT flags and advertising are only for areas where it is already established as safe ans good. And also to cover up all the Me-too-ing and employee abuse occurring behind the scenes at most liberal-staffed corps. The conservatives were either never hired, fired, or are keeping their heads low as much as possible.

    Something could be written on all that corporate egoism.

  6. Johnno

    Well evil billionaires for the most part with few exceptions make their wealth through compound interest investment based on the idea of infinite growth so a company keeps reinvesting the money to make more money. The corporation keeps it from being taxed so they leave it there to grow until time comes to pull it out, and by then it is significantly larger.

    It is sound in theory, but then the trouble starts where instead of starting new things, corps end up buying everything and that is how you end up with monopolies and control over speech, medicine, finance, food etc becomes concentrated in the hands of a few and then controlled. Or they seek to buy back stocks with loans to artificially increase their value, and save bucks by outsourcing jobs to foreign workshops and laying off the locals, and cutting costs is also good for raising the price of your stock, which thoretically could be cheaper for the consumer, but is usually just to cut expenditures and Nike and Apple will laugh all the way to the bank with their overpriced brand named goods.

    So there is a limit and at some point things should be broken up and the filthy rich should be prevented from getting more rich to the point where they are essentially the government and the judge and jury. This is distinct from just stealing the wealth they already earned, which is theft.

    Most rich lately aren’t engaging in creating or producing anything. They are playing with spreadsheets for short term gain at the cost of long term interests of the company itself. The government would be doing something, but many of them are invested in it too. The cronies are running the show. So we don’t have capitalism nor subsidiarity controls. Just am economy and market as mathematically and scientifically and morally bunk as covidism.

  7. Uncle Mike

    Ayn Rand? Really? She’s the “problem”?

    We got mass hysteria panicdemic Great Reset terrorists rising kiddie prop rotting schools burning forests sinking cities general decay and decadence and you libby lefty looter losers are still trying to stick the blame on conservatives?

    Who is your favorite non-ethical non-egoist? Pol Pot? Joe Stalin? Kim Rocket Man? Mousey Dung? What non-ethical non-egoist country would you like morally bankrupt selfish capitalist America to emulate? Afghanistan? Venezuela?

    It’s Trump’s fault, right? Thank Beelzebub we got non-ethical non-egoist Joe Commie to replace him. Now we can altruistically jab needles into children and babies and shoot ’em up with spike worm nanobot factories. Dirty little selfish egoists deserve it. To quote Traitor Joe,”This is not about freedom or personal choice.” The Goobermunch should off the billionaires and their spreadsheets, too …

  8. Joey Zamboni

    What we desperately need – *Servant Leadership* as espoused by Jesus…

    What we get – *Leaders of Servants*…

  9. GP

    Uncle Mike
    Did you know? There is more than one flavor of error. The failures and atrocities of Communism do not make Ayn Rand right, since there are more than 2 options to choose from.

  10. Stephen Rasey

    I find a great deal to disagree with this piece. I don’t have time to enumerate all my objections.

    But a first principle is that the author, i believe, and completely lost sight of the difference between a 1) egoist, and 2) ETHICAL egoist.

    An egoist would be close to an anarchist. An egoist would not be detered from theft; wouldn’t respect the property rights of others. An egoist WOULD want to keep it a secret. An egoist would think nothing of spoiling the environment of others.

    An ethical egoist, however, is concerned about how other like minded ethical egoists would act in a scociety. An ethical egoist respects property rights because other ethical egoists shoud respect his. In this way, an ethical egoist would want to SPREAD THE GOSPEL, not keep it a secret. An ethical egoist would be environmentally friendly because that egoist wouldn’t want to swim in the sewage of others.

    The whole paragraph on friendship is completely upsidedown. A Good Friendship is an asset. In a free exchange, an ethical egoist would trade one asset for another if the trade was favorable in the short and long run. So long as people do not take advantage of others, their mutual happiness can grow. It is not a zero sum game. “Pay it forward” is to an ethical egoist not just a gift, but a trade of goodwill and friendship, as well as the ethical obligation of the recipient TO carry it on.

  11. Brad

    @Stephen Rasey — An anarchist is more likely to be an ethical egoist… Unless of course you are talking about the atheists that show up to “Protests” in Seattle.

  12. Sheri

    DAV: Sure, some of them helped America, but Dorsey, Zuckerberg, Soros—all EVIL and completely detrimental to society. Plus, we could have a lengthy discussion on whether their greed, though it produced goods, etc, damaged society far more than any good it did. Yes, some helped push us forward, but the railroad abused Chinese and Irish, cattlemen murdered their competition, the gold rush was an environmental nightmare. How can one actually say this is in any way ethical or desirable? Some INHERITED their wealth or MARRIED it. I wonder if you think Xi is great for America because he uses slave labor to produce cheap products for the buyers here. (Note: I am NOT on social media, write a blog against the evil wind tyrants that produce nothing but money for themselves, etc. I do not support these people. I rank as one of the worst consumers out there and I wear the label proudly.)

    Johnno: Agreed.

    GP: True. There is nothing that says Ayn Rand had to be right, nor that Communists had to right. There can be parts of each, IF the parts are carefully chosen.

  13. Uncle Mike

    “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” — Ayn Rand

    AR was a free-spirited self-actualized highly successful author and philosopher whose Objectivism is deeper than “ethical egoism”. She was a very social being who cared about others but was not swayed by the phony “compassion” of collectivists — whom she rightly called “looters”.

    Slavery is inflicting “altruism” on others. Go jab somebody else. My life, my choice.

  14. philemon

    There’s a tautological sense in which, to the extent we act from an interest, we act from an interest that is ours. In that sense, the most altruistic person is acting from their interests, but their own interest is for the general welfare. Calling the altruist an ethical egoist because they act from their own interests is misleading, however. The egoist, as generally understood, is someone who acts from a narrow definition of their own interests and will pursue that interest against the general good when there’s a conflict. Such an egoist is, from the standpoint of an ethical altruist, acting from a restricted and impoverished will. More generally, the more the egoist contracts the scope of their interest, the more they are likely to come into conflict with the general interest, and the more likely they will face sanctions from the wider community for their conduct, if only to be treated as someone not to be trusted. Moreover, solely seeking a narrow self interest obstructs enjoyment of goods that are available to someone who does act, at least opportunely, for the good of friends and the wider community.

    So it is certainly possible to be an ethical egoist, but only at the expense of adopting interests that fall short of the best life we can live, which requires acting harmoniously with our community, or of forgoing communal life altogether.

    Also the epistemological barriers to utilitarianism are insurmountable.

  15. Uncle Mike

    AR was prescient. She foresaw our current social collapse. Her works may be science fiction, but like many good SciFi authors, her visions came true.

    The idea of a self-directed life may be unattractive to most. Better to go along to get along, kowtow to the communal interests, avoid conflict and social sanctions, be a good citizen, don’t make waves, don’t upset apple carts, don’t question authority, accept the expert paradigms, etc.

    The idea of the rugged individual who carves his or her own path may be no more than a literary theme and in reality is anathema to the commune. Harmony is preferred, dissonance must be cancelled, censored, ignored and/or punished.

    But somewhere down deep, even the average sheeple yearns for freedom. And rarely, some brave or desperate soul breaks the chains, sheds the shackles of conformity, rises on hind legs and shines brightly, if only for a brief moment. Many may cower in fear, but secretly you admire the hero.

    AR’s contention was that free men and women are necessary for a just and successful society. She was hugely correct. Their current absence proves her point.

  16. Shecky R

    Yada, yada, yada… serve up the bisque (as it were).

  17. GP

    Uncle Mike
    “Objectivism is deeper than “ethical egoism””
    In what sense? If you mean that it takes positions on more than simply ethics, I agree. But when only the subject of ethics is considered I fail to see the difference between an objectivist and an ethical egoist.
    Furthermore I would not consider the ideal hero an objectivist. Consider St. Joan of Arc, who most certainly broke the shackles of conformity and shone upon the world for only too brief a moment. Was she motivated by self-interest? Certainly not, or she would have asked for a more fitting reward for her excellent deeds. No, she was motivated by something higher, her love for her country and even more importantly, her love of God.

  18. Johnno

    Much like we have THE SCIENCE ™, we also have THE ECONOMY ™.

    The Illusion Of Getting Rich While Producing Nothing

    Of all the mass delusions running rampant in the culture, none is more spectacularly delusional than the conviction that we can all get fabulously rich from speculation while producing nothing. The key characteristic of speculation is that it produces nothing: it doesn’t generate any new goods or services, boost productivity or increase the functionality of real-world essentials.

    Like all mass delusions, the greater the disconnect from reality, the greater the appeal. Mass delusions gain their escape velocity by leaving any ties to real-world limitations behind, and by igniting the most powerful booster to human euphoric confidence known, greed.

    Lost in the mania of easy wealth from speculative trading is the absence of any value creation in the rotation-churn of moving bets from one table to the latest hot game: in flipping houses sight unseen, no functionality was added to the house. In transferring bets on one cryptocurrency to another or from one meme stock to another, no value to the economy or society was created.

    In the mass delusion that near-infinite wealth can be generated without producing anything, creating value has no value: the delusion is that I can get rich producing nothing but speculative gains, and then I can buy all the stuff somebody else is making.

    The fantasy powering the speculative frenzy is once I get rich, I’ll stop working and live off my wealth. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how everyone can get rich via unproductive speculation, quit their jobs and then live off the productive work of somebody else who failed to get rich off speculation.

    Maybe that’s why all the container ships are lined up at Long Beach, waiting to unload the goodies made in China for American speculators to buy. This is what happens when the incentive structure of the economy decays so that being productive has little upside (i.e., working is for chumps) while speculating is all upside (get rich quickly and easily).

    Everyone knows great empires became great by transferring their critical supply chains to competing nations, living it up on borrowed/printed money, exploiting the highest bidder wins regulatory/governance system and incentivizing speculation while pushing wage earners into debt-and-tax servitude. Bone up on your history, Bucko; all great nations got there by quitting boring, tiresome productive work to speculate on illusions of value with borrowed money.

    How much do you want to bet that the economic growth, like projected covid deaths, is also built on models?

  19. Bobcat

    So far, about only utilitarian reasons have been offered for egoism here and not much how it’s supposed to benefit the individual. Why be so concerned about society or other people if the stated goal of egoism is to just benefit oneself? Again, why even make this proposition public?

    Here’s another example of how ethical egoism works following the logical and practical implications of it. Consider the classic “prisoner’s dilemma” or thought experiment. There are different versions of this scenario but this will illustrate the point nonetheless.

    Larry and Mary are spies and they get caught by the law enforcement. And they realize somehow they have these imprisonment options. If both Mary and Larry remain silent then they will only get 6 months of imprisonment. If both confess they are spies then they will both get 5 years in jail. If, however, one of them confesses and the other remains silent then the person that confesses being a spy will be let free while the other person that remains silent will get 8 years in jail.

    Now if Larry is an ethical egoist, then his most desirable option would be for him to confess that he’s a spy under interrogation while Mary remains silent since he would be set free. So suppose Larry and Mary both agree to remain silent to only get 6 months in jail for themselves. If Larry knows that Mary will keep her end of the agreement then his best option, by egoist principles, is to break the agreement and confess being a spy and be set free while Mary gets 8 years of imprisonment. Why? The object of egoism is to just benefit oneself and to maximize benefits, pleasure, convenience or happiness for oneself – and only benefit others if it somehow benefits oneself. Larry doesn’t have to benefit Mary at all in this situation to get his best option for himself. And if one says that Larry should keep his agreement and that both ought to opt for only 6 months in jail then there seems to be a standard being followed here beyond egoism.

    And, no, communism is not an example of rulers being overly concerned about others. Quite far from it, communist oligarchs and dictators are persons without a conscience that want a monopoly of the capital and resources to serve only themselves and their control.

  20. Joy

    Ethical egoism is the position that says that one ought to value oneself above others and that one ought to always act with the aim of benefiting oneself. Ethical egoism also holds that one should only aid or benefit others if and only if it somehow benefits oneself.

    The definition there and below implies that both ‘types’ of ‘egoist’ (not egotist, they’re different again)…fall into the same group and are indistinguishable.
    The first sentence is the definition of an egoist
    The ethical egoist category is a subset of the egoist which is being used to explain, it seems, that egoists are always acting for their own interests!
    There are not two categories if that is the definition. The latter ‘ethical egoist’ definition implies motive for action, where the former is absent the motive detail

  21. philemon

    There’s only one definition of egoist offered, with a qualification allowing the egoist to consider others’ interests, but as subordinate to their own interests.

  22. mike heim

    Great essay–unfortunately Cranky Professor explains our world today–and the reason why so few people have true friendships. Our god is self. I want what I want and to hell with anyone who gets in my way.

  23. philemon

    I think Cranky Professor was arguing that ethical egoism was incoherent, but I think the argument for that thesis is itself incoherent. People can be quite egoistic, but it’s hardly a distinctive characteristic of the world today. O tempora, o mores!

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