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Egoism And Utilitarianism Free Essays Samples

John Stuart Mill Argument On Utilitarianism

There are various discussions about utilitarianism but the most discussed one is the fact that, it is held to be the view that morally right action is the action that produces the most good. This theory is better understood as a form of consequentialism whereby, right actions are better understood as a result of produced consequences. However, utilitarianism is not the same as egoism, since; utilitarianism is determined by the scope of the relevant consequences. Utilitarianism argues that one has to maximize the overall good, consider both his own good as well as the good of others. Two well-known philosophers, John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, identified the good with pleasure and also argued that we need to maximize the good. Utilitarianism is also distinguished by agent-neutrality. It emphasis that happiness is the same to everyone; my good does not differ from the good of someone else. We all have the same reason to promote the good; it is not unique to one person. The features of this approach to moral evaluation have proven to be controversial. These controversies have resulted to change in the classical version of the theory. John Stuart Mill depicts the concept of utilitarianism as a philosophical theory with regard to doing what is right and wrong and how they result in happiness and being unhappy. Mills further defines happiness as the pleasure and absence of pain. According to Mills pleasure can differ in terms of quantity and quality. Also pleasures that are very important to one should be should be weighed more heavily as opposed to the ones that are less important. Mills also stated that things such as one’s achievement of goals should be considered as part of their happiness. John argues about utilitarianism with the sole aim of supporting the value of the theory as a moral theory.

Mill stated that utilitarianism is hand in hand with the natural sentiments that originate from the social nature of people. Therefore, people would view these standards as morally binding if the society were to embrace utilitarianism. According to John the main base of morality is happiness and people always desire happiness. He supported this statement through proving that other objects of desires of people were either means to achieve happiness or include the definition of happiness. He further states that the sentiment of justice is based on utility and human rights exists solely because they are necessary for human happiness.

However, the theory of utilitarianism has been criticized for many reasons. Some of the reasons being that: the theory does not provide adequate protection for individual rights; happiness is more complex than it is depicted in the theory and not everything can be measured by the same standard. Mill stated that there is very minimal progress made in developing a set of standards of judging moral right and wrong. People have always tried to find the basis of morality but have not been successful. He agreed that it is common to have disagreement about such bases in the field of science.

Despite of this, he states that in the field of science certain truths still have meaning even if the principle behind them is not understood. However, in other fields such as ethics such truths or statements has very little validity. Unlike in science, all actions exists so as to achieve a certain end, hence, actions are determined by the ends being pursued. Basing on this statement Mill argues that one has to have a clear understating of the standard the human actions should be judged in order to understand what morality entails. Mill has argued a lot about utilitarianism with the aim of making people to better understand and appreciate the theory of utilitarianism and also prove it is a moral theory. However, according to him utilitarianism cannot be proven.

Immanuel Kant’s argument on Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals.

According to Kant, morality is based on human reason and not on the principle of utility or on the law of nature. According to Kant, reasons determine what we are supposed to do and we are free when we follow them. Good will is the one thing in the world that is undeniably good. Qualities of good fortune such as wealth and qualities of character such as intelligence can either be used for good or bad purposes. Therefore, good is good even though it does not lead to positive results.

The highest purpose of each individual are self-preservation and attainment of happiness which is driven by the organ most appropriate to hat purpose. The instinct of these purposes is well situated as opposed to the reason. A study showed that people who possessed high capacity for reasoning were less happy. This has led to refined people envying the masses as they on the other hand view reason with contempt. However, the fact is that reason servers a purpose that is higher that one’s private happiness and survival. As opposed to good for some particular purpose the aim of reason is to bring about will that is good in itself.

Duties are the specific obligations of good will. They are three general propositions about duty: one, actions are genuinely good when undertaken for the sake of duty alone; two, actions are judged according to the principle that served as their motivation and not the purpose they were meant to bring about; and lastly, duties should be undertaken out of reverence for the law. Due to the fact that motivations and circumstances cannot be brought into the consideration of moral principles the moral law cannot be specific to do or not to do a certain action. Therefore, the law of morality requires us to act in such a way that we want the motivating principle of our actions to become a universal law.

Kant argues about the grounding for the metaphysics of morals in two sections. In the first section he states that good without qualification and unconditionally good are different. He also differentiate on the things that are good but only under certain conditions. They are many things that belong in the second category, things are good only because of its consequences, since it is those consequences that determine on its being good and even all but one is good in itself. Kant stated that good will is the only thing that is good without qualifications. He further claims that goodwill is the only thing that we can imagine is good without qualifications and everything else is good with qualifications. According to him, goodwill serves as a condition of the value of everything else, something can be good only if it is compatible with good will.

In the second section, unlike in the first section where Kant stated that identifying and articulating our concept of duty, whereby one does his duty with the fact that it his duty and not because he is expecting some advantage or feels like it. We all have experienced this concept, however, Kant argues that the concept itself is not one we get from experience. According to him it is a prior concept and not a posteriori one. He argued that we came to acquire the concept of duty not through first experience of duty or extracting our concepts from those instances. Basing on his argument, he observed that the demands of morality are unconditional which apply to all rational beings and has no room for expectations. According to him the experiences we might have do not determine by themselves any such demands. He also states that to use examples as examples of someone else acting morally we would have the concept so as to determine the appropriateness of the cases.

My stand on the two arguments

Both philosophers have presented their arguments about morality and happiness in depth. However, they differ in one or two things in the arguments. Immanuel Kant argues that human reason what that determines morality, since, reasons are the sole determinants of what we are supposed to do or not do. He stated that we are free as long as we follow our reasoning and also good will is determine by values. On the other hand John Stuart Mill stated that for one to achieve total happiness and maximize on good he should consider his and others good, since, good is the same for everyone. He also stated that actions results to both right and wrong.

Personally I consider both theories because they both have something to offer in the aim of making us to better understand the concept of happiness, good will and morality. Looking at Kant he argues that we should follow our reasoning since they will ensure we achieve total happiness and on the other hand Mill argues that our actions are the ones that determine our happiness. However, I see both our actions and reasoning determine our happiness and good will. They both have a major role in determining our morality and happiness. This is because one cannot execute his reasoning without an action and he also cannot act without reasoning. One determines the other and in order to achieve effective results they should work hand in hand despite of the philosophers’ arguments. Therefore, we should consider them both and in length apply the both in order to achieve morality, happiness and good will.

For other forms of egoism, see Egoism.

Ethical egoism is the normative ethical position that moral agents ought to do what is in their own self-interest. It differs from psychological egoism, which claims that people can only act in their self-interest. Ethical egoism also differs from rational egoism, which holds that it is rational to act in one's self-interest.[1] Ethical egoism holds, therefore, that actions whose consequences will benefit the doer can be considered ethical in this sense.

Ethical egoism contrasts with ethical altruism, which holds that moral agents have an obligation to help others. Egoism and altruism both contrast with ethical utilitarianism, which holds that a moral agent should treat one's self (also known as the subject) with no higher regard than one has for others (as egoism does, by elevating self-interests and "the self" to a status not granted to others). But it also holds that one should not (as altruism does) sacrifice one's own interests to help others' interests, so long as one's own interests (i.e. one's own desires or well-being) are substantially equivalent to the others' interests and well-being. Egoism, utilitarianism, and altruism are all forms of consequentialism, but egoism and altruism contrast with utilitarianism, in that egoism and altruism are both agent-focused forms of consequentialism (i.e. subject-focused or subjective). However, utilitarianism is held to be agent-neutral (i.e. objective and impartial): it does not treat the subject's (i.e. the self's, i.e. the moral "agent's") own interests as being more or less important than the interests, desires, or well-being of others.

Ethical egoism does not, however, require moral agents to harm the interests and well-being of others when making moral deliberation; e.g. what is in an agent's self-interest may be incidentally detrimental, beneficial, or neutral in its effect on others. Individualism allows for others' interest and well-being to be disregarded or not, as long as what is chosen is efficacious in satisfying the self-interest of the agent. Nor does ethical egoism necessarily entail that, in pursuing self-interest, one ought always to do what one wants to do; e.g. in the long term, the fulfillment of short-term desires may prove detrimental to the self. Fleeting pleasure, then, takes a back seat to protracted eudaimonia. In the words of James Rachels, "Ethical egoism ... endorses selfishness, but it doesn't endorse foolishness."[2]

Ethical egoism is often used as the philosophical basis for support of right-libertarianism and individualist anarchism.[3] These are political positions based partly on a belief that individuals should not coercively prevent others from exercising freedom of action.


Ethical egoism can be broadly divided into three categories: individual, personal, and universal. An individual ethical egoist would hold that all people should do whatever benefits "my" (the individual) self-interest; a personal ethical egoist would hold that he or she should act in his or her self-interest, but would make no claims about what anyone else ought to do; a universal ethical egoist would argue that everyone should act in ways that are in their self-interest.[4][5]


Ethical egoism was introduced by the philosopher Henry Sidgwick in his book The Methods of Ethics, written in 1874. Sidgwick compared egoism to the philosophy of utilitarianism, writing that whereas utilitarianism sought to maximize overall pleasure, egoism focused only on maximizing individual pleasure.[6]

Philosophers before Sidgwick have also retroactively been identified as ethical egoists. One ancient example is the philosophy of Yang Zhu (4th century BC), Yangism, who views wei wo, or "everything for myself", as the only virtue necessary for self-cultivation.[7] Ancient Greek philosophers like Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics were exponents of virtue ethics, and "did not accept the formal principle that whatever the good is, we should seek only our own good, or prefer it to the good of others."[6] However, the beliefs of the Cyrenaics have been referred to as a "form of egoistic hedonism",[8] and while some refer to Epicurus' hedonism as a form of virtue ethics, others argue his ethics are more properly described as ethical egoism.[9]


Philosopher James Rachels, in an essay that takes as its title the theory's name, outlines the three arguments most commonly touted in its favor:[10]

  • "The first argument," writes Rachels, "has several variations, each suggesting the same general point:[11]
    • "Each of us is intimately familiar with our own individual wants and needs. Moreover, each of us is uniquely placed to pursue those wants and needs effectively. At the same time, we know the desires and needs of others only imperfectly, and we are not well situated to pursue them. Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that if we set out to be 'our brother's keeper,' we would often bungle the job and end up doing more mischief than good."[2]
    • To give charity to someone is to degrade him, implying as it does that he is reliant on such munificence and quite unable to look out for himself. "That," reckons Rachels, "is why the recipients of 'charity' are so often resentful rather than appreciative."[12]
  • Altruism, ultimately, denies an individual's value and is therefore destructive both to society and its individual components, viewing life merely as a thing to be sacrificed. Philosopher Ayn Rand is quoted as writing that, "[i]f a man accepts the ethics of altruism, his first concern is not how to live his life but how to sacrifice it."[13] Moreover, "[t]he basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification for his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue or value." Rather, she writes, "[t]he purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live."[14]
  • All of our commonly accepted moral duties, from doing no harm unto others to speaking always the truth to keeping promises, are rooted in the one fundamental principle of self-interest.
  • It has been observed, however, that the very act of eating (especially, when there are others starving in the world) is such an act of self-interested discrimination. Ethical egoists such as Rand who readily acknowledge the (conditional) value of others to an individual, and who readily endorse empathy for others, have argued the exact reverse from Rachels, that it is altruism which discriminates: "If the sensation of eating a cake is a value, then why is it an immoral indulgence in your stomach, but a moral goal for you to achieve in the stomach of others?"[15] It is therefore altruism which is an arbitrary position, according to Rand.

Notable proponents[edit]

The term ethical egoism has been applied retroactively to philosophers such as Bernard de Mandeville and to many other materialists of his generation, although none of them declared themselves to be egoists. Note that materialism does not necessarily imply egoism, as indicated by Karl Marx, and the many other materialists who espoused forms of collectivism. It has been argued that ethical egoism can lend itself to individualist anarchism such as that of Benjamin Tucker, or the combined anarcho-communism and egoism of Emma Goldman, both of whom were proponents of many egoist ideas put forward by Max Stirner. In this context, egoism is another way of describing the sense that the common good should be enjoyed by all. However, most notable anarchists in history have been less radical, retaining altruism and a sense of the importance of the individual that is appreciable but does not go as far as egoism. Recent trends to greater appreciation of egoism within anarchism tend to come from less classical directions such as post-left anarchy or Situationism (e.g. Raoul Vaneigem). Egoism has also been referenced by anarcho-capitalists, such as Murray Rothbard.

Philosopher Max Stirner, in his book The Ego and Its Own, was the first philosopher to call himself an egoist, though his writing makes clear that he desired not a new idea of morality (ethical egoism), but rather a rejection of morality (amoralism), as a nonexistent and limiting "spook"; for this, Stirner has been described as the first individualist anarchist. Other philosophers, such as Thomas Hobbes and David Gauthier, have argued that the conflicts which arise when people each pursue their own ends can be resolved for the best of each individual only if they all voluntarily forgo some of their aims—that is, one's self-interest is often best pursued by allowing others to pursue their self-interest as well so that liberty is equal among individuals. Sacrificing one's short-term self-interest to maximize one's long-term self-interest is one form of "rational self-interest" which is the idea behind most philosophers' advocacy of ethical egoism. Egoists have also argued that one's actual interests are not immediately obvious, and that the pursuit of self-interest involves more than merely the acquisition of some good, but the maximizing of one's chances of survival and/or happiness.

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche suggested that egoistic or "life-affirming" behavior stimulates jealousy or "ressentiment" in others, and that this is the psychological motive for the altruism in Christianity. Sociologist Helmut Schoeck similarly considered envy the motive of collective efforts by society to reduce the disproportionate gains of successful individuals through moral or legal constraints, with altruism being primary among these.[16] In addition, Nietzsche (in Beyond Good and Evil) and Alasdair MacIntyre (in After Virtue) have pointed out that the ancient Greeks did not associate morality with altruism in the way that post-Christian Western civilization has done. Aristotle's view is that we have duties to ourselves as well as to other people (e.g. friends) and to the polis as a whole. The same is true for Thomas Aquinas, Christian Wolff and Immanuel Kant, who claim that there are duties to ourselves as Aristotle did, although it has been argued that, for Aristotle, the duty to one's self is primary.[17]

Ayn Rand argued that there is a positive harmony of interests among free, rational humans, such that no moral agent can rationally coerce another person consistently with his own long-term self-interest. Rand argued that other people are an enormous value to an individual's well-being (through education, trade and affection), but also that this value could be fully realized only under conditions of political and economic freedom. According to Rand, voluntary trade alone can assure that human interaction is mutually beneficial.[18] Rand's student, Leonard Peikoff has argued that the identification of one's interests itself is impossible absent the use of principles, and that self-interest cannot be consistently pursued absent a consistent adherence to certain ethical principles.[19] Recently, Rand's position has also been defended by such writers as Tara Smith, Tibor Machan, Allan Gotthelf, David Kelley, Douglas Rasmussen, Nathaniel Branden, Harry Binswanger, Andrew Bernstein, and Craig Biddle.

Philosopher David L. Norton identified himself an "ethical individualist", and, like Rand, saw a harmony between an individual's fidelity to his own self-actualization, or "personal destiny", and the achievement of society's well being.[20]

See also[edit]



  • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics.
  • Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics.
  • Evans, Matthew (2004). "Can Epicureans be friends?". Ancient Philosophy. 24: 407–24. 
  • Baier, Kurt, 1990, "Egoism" in A Companion to Ethics, Peter Singer (ed.), Blackwell: Oxford. ISBN 978-0-631-18785-1
  • Biddle, Craig, Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It, 2002, Glen Allen.
  • Branden, Nathaniel, The Psychology of Self-Esteem, 1969, Nash.
  • Hobbes, Thomas, 1968, Leviathan, C. B. Macpherson (ed.), Harmondsworth: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-043195-7
  • Machan, Tibor, Classical Individualism: The Supreme Importance of Each Human Being, 1998, Routledge.
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich, 1886, Beyond Good and Evil.
  • Norton, David, Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism, 1976, Princeton University Press.
  • Paul, E. & F. Miller & J. Paul (1997). Self-Interest. Cambridge University Press
  • Peikoff, Leonard, "Why Should One Act on Principle?," The Objectivist Forum, 1988.
  • Rachels, James. "Ethical Egoism." In Reason & Responsibility: Readings in Some Basic Problems of Philosophy, edited by Joel Feinberg and Russ Shafer-Landau, 532–40. California: Thomson Wadsworth, 2008. ISBN 978-0-495-50069-8.
  • Rand, Ayn, Atlas Shrugged, 1957, Random House.
  • Rand, Ayn, 1964, The Virtue of Selfishness. Signet. ISBN 978-0-451-16393-6
  • Rosenstand, Nina. 2000. 'Chapter 3: Myself or Others?'. In The Moral of the Story. (3rd Edition). Mountain View, Calif: Mayfield Publishing: 127–67. ISBN 978-0-07-296335-9
  • Schoeck, Helmut, Der Neid. Eine Theorie der Gesellschaft (Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour), 1966, 1st English ed. 1969.
  • Smith, Tara, Viable Values: A Study of Life as the Root and Reward of Morality, 2000, Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-8476-9760-6.
  • Smith, Tara, The Virtuous Egoist: Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics, 2006, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-86050-4.
  • Waller, Bruce, N. 2005. "Egoism." In Consider Ethics: Theory, Readings, and Contemporary Issues. New York: Pearson Longman: 79–83. ISBN 978-0-321-20280-2

External links[edit]

  1. ^Sanders, Steven M. "Is egoism morally defensible?" Philosophia. Springer Netherlands. Volume 18, Numbers 2–3 / July 1988
  2. ^ abRachels 2008, p. 534.
  3. ^Ridgely, D.A. (August 24, 2008). "Selfishness, Egoism and Altruistic Libertarianism". Archived from the original on December 2, 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-24. 
  4. ^Waller (2005), p. 81.
  5. ^Waller (2005), p. 83.
  6. ^ abFloridi, Luciano; Craig, Edward. "Egoism and Altruism". Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Taylor & Francis. pp. 246–47. ISBN 9780415187091. 
  7. ^Senghaas, Dieter (2002). The clash within civilizations: coming to terms with cultural conflicts. Psychology Press. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-415-26228-6. 
  8. ^Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Cyrenaics
  9. ^Evans, Matthew (2004). "Can Epicureans be friends?". Ancient Philosophy. 24: 407–24. 
  10. ^He notes, however, that "the theory is asserted more often than it is argued for. Many of its supporters apparently think its truth is self-evident, so that arguments are not needed." (Rachels 2008, p. 534.)
  11. ^That is, that regarding and pursuing the interests of others is a self-defeating policy. Rachels quotes Alexander Pope in support of this: "Thus God and nature formed the general frame/And bade self-love and social be the same."
  12. ^Rachels 2008, p. 534, where it is pointed out that, in the strictest egoistic terms, this is an inconsequential argument. Ethical egoism does not bother itself with how others receive charity, irrespective of how degraded it makes them feel. The same reasoning applies to the previous two bullets, which use self-interest as a means to the end of beneficence, rather than for its own purposes, as the theory would dictate.
  13. ^Rachels 2008, p. 535, where this argument is attributed to Ayn Rand, "a writer little heeded by professional philosophers but who nevertheless was enormously popular on college campuses in the 1960s and 1970s".
  14. ^Rand, Ayn, "Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World," Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 74; Atlas Shrugged, 1957, Random House, p. 1014; "Faith and Force," p. 74.
  15. ^Rand, Ayn, Atlas Shrugged, 1957, Random House.
  16. ^Schoeck, Helmut, Der Neid. Eine Theorie der Gesellschaft (Envy. A Theory of Social Behaviour), 1966, 1st English ed. 1969.
  17. ^Wheeler, Jack, "Rand and Aristotle," in Den Uyl and Rasmussen, The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand, 1986.
  18. ^Rand, Ayn, The Virtue of Selfishness (1964).
  19. ^Peikoff, Leonard, "Why Should One Act on Principle?," The Objectivist Forum, 1988, originally delivered at the Ford Hall Forum.
  20. ^Norton, David, Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism, 1976, Princeton University Press.