Professor Simon Pollon
TA Brittany French
June 23, 2015
Psychological Egoism: True or false?
In the article Egoism and Moral Skepticism, James Rachels discusses and refutes two arguments in favor of psychological egoism. One of them is that human acts are only based on self-interest. Rachels refutes to this argument, which is the best argument against psychological egoism, by showing its weaknesses and using counter-evidence. He argues that human actions are not only based on their self-interest, but other motives. After reading this article, I totally agree with the author’s argument. According to the author James Rachels, psychological egoism is defined as the view that “all men are selfish in everything that they do, that is, that the only motive from which anyone ever acts is self-interest” (Rachels, 2010, p.75). However, before getting into the author’s argument, it is important to distinguish between “self-interest”, “selfish” and “unselfish”. Being “self-interest” is concerning for one’s own well-fare while “selfish” is considering for on one’s own well-being, personal profit and pleasure and ignoring others’ interests. “Unselfishness” is on the other hand, caring for others more than yourself. An unselfish person carries an act that can benefit both him/her and others. Unselfish people are willing to put the needs of others before their own needs.
In the article, supporters of psychological egoism argue that even an act is described as voluntary action, “the agent is merely doing what he most wants to do” which means that all people acts are from the motive of self-interest (Rachel, 2010, p.75). Rachels gives a hypothetical example of Smith, a man who decides to stay behind to help his friend study instead of traveling to a country that he really enjoys. Psychological egoists state that Smith forgoes his enjoyment because he likes to help his friend more than going to the country. Psychological egoists claim that it is impossible to be altruistic, and that all actions are only motivated by self-interest. If someone is helping others, it is just because he/she can achieve something or benefit from that act. However, Rachels disagrees with this argument. He opposes the claim in two ways. Firstly, he provides two classes of actions. One class of action is that not all voluntary actions are selfish, we do undesirable actions to achieve something in the end, such as going to the dentist in order to stop a toothache or working to get paid. The second class is when we feel under an obligation or a duty to do something, such as keeping a promise. In fact, people don’t voluntarily do what they most want to do. They act for its end results, and they have a sense of obligation. Rachels’s arguments are rational for people’s acts are not always selfish in nature, but they are done by multiple of motives. Further, Rachels claims that the object of desire is the key point. Helping others because you want to do it is not selfish. Psychological egoism has a misunderstanding of selfishness and unselfishness. A person acts selfishly only if that action benefits him/her and doesn’t care for other individuals’ interests. Donating money to charity because you want to is unselfish, but keeping all donated