What do you think of selfish people

Man and the question of promoting his own benefit based on the egoism-altruism debate

Table of Contents:

- Cover sheet

- Friendship as pure profit?
- The egoism-altruism debate

- Clarification of the central terms
- Explanation of the first premise
- Explanation of the second premise
- The conclusion
- Objections to the first premise
- Can self-sacrifice be selfish?
- Objections to the second premise
- The failure of the conclusion
- Possible replicas

- Conclusion

- Bibliography


Friendship as pure profit?

Imagine the following everyday situation: two very good friends sit in a bar in the evening, for example, and toast their friendship, which has now lasted forever, with a cold bottle of beer each. Time goes by and they drink, joke and share their thoughts, experiences and feelings. Suddenly one of the faces changes and he asks his friend in a serious voice:

"Why are the two of us so good friends?" The interviewee, surprised and tipsy at the same time, answers straight away:

“Because we are good for each other.” The former nods in agreement, he would have answered similarly, but he still wants to know more about it.

“What do you mean by that?” Now the laughter disappears from the face of the interviewee; his expression also becomes more serious. He really seems to be thinking. Finally he raises his voice again, but this time much more hesitantly and with an unmistakable uncertainty:

“We both benefit from our friendship. We have a lot of fun together. I will help you with your problems and I know exactly that you will also help me in return. I know that you are there for me when there is a need. "

"That means you see our friendship as pure profit on your part and only help me so that I can help you?" Replies the former like a shot, which increases the uncertainty in the latter not insignificantly. “You egoist!” Says the questioner, empties his drink in one go, grabs his jacket, stomps away angrily and leaves his friend in the bar with the bill and full of self-doubt.

The egoism-altruism debate

One friend's reaction may seem exaggerated, but the problem they are facing is not a one-off affair. The view that friendship is only based on getting one's own benefit from it can be extended to all other areas of human activity and leads one to the question of whether everything that a person does is not only for his own benefit. This puts you in the middle of the ethical debate about the motives for action of the human being. Why does a person act as he does? Is he, deep down, always looking for his own profit, for his own well-being? Or is he an altruist who only sometimes strays from his path and acts morally reprehensible because he behaves selfishly? These questions, which many modern moral philosophers discuss and attempt to clarify, play an enormous role in normative ethics. If it should turn out that man is fundamentally an egoist, one could hardly ask him to act against his own being, which in turn would mean that moral theories such as utilitarianism, which increase the overall benefit as moral looks right, would definitely be inapplicable.[1] Since dealing with the entire egoism would go far beyond the scope of a housework, I will be content on the following pages with the argument of the expected benefit (in the original The Argument from Expected Benefit)[2], which Shafer-Landau in his work "The Fundamentals of Ethics“Presented, reconstructed, explained, discussed and criticized as one of several elements of psychological selfishness. This argument is as follows:

- Premise 1: When you act, you ultimately expect to be in a better position
- Premise 2: If one expects to be in a better position in the end of an action, then one tries to encourage self-interest
- Conclusion: When you act you try to promote self-interest.

Then I will bring the result of the pros and cons for the argument into the overall context of the egoism-altruism debate and draw a final conclusion.


Clarification of the central terms:

Before starting the reconstruction of the argument, it is first of all necessary to explain the central terms and, if necessary, to contextualize them. If, for example, the term egoism is mentioned, then this is not the conventional use of the term, which the philosopher Hans Goetz describes as follows: "The usual conception of egoism is the one on which the word" egoist "is based is used as a swear word, or at least as a condemnation of another person and his actions. “Egoist” is usually called someone who shows no consideration for others, be they relatives, work colleagues, union members or the like. In short: egoistic we scold a person who only has his own advantages and pleasures in mind. "[3] The following is instead about psychological egoism, which says that all people compulsorily and always only pursue their own interests and act out of purely selfish motives. However, this does not mean that they do not necessarily show consideration for other people. On the contrary, they need them to increase their own wellbeing. Here we have come to the next term to be clarified. Well-being is used by me in the following in its conventional variant, as the state of feeling good. (The theories about the so-called prosperity indicator are not taken into account). In this sense, self-interest is a kind of increase in one's own well-being, but this does not exclude material things such as money or property. It is of course closely related to the expected benefit, which is almost self-explanatory in this context. The expected benefit is that from which one assumes that it will be achieved in an action and which is not intended to harm one, but rather to increase one's own well-being. After these central terms have been at least briefly outlined, the first part of the actual work, the reconstruction and explanation of the argument, can begin.


[1] Russ Shafer-Landau explains the relevance of psychological egoism for normative ethics in more detail in his chapter "Does It Matter Whether Psychological Egoism Is True." Cf. Shafer-Landau, Russ: The Fundamentals of Ethics, Oxford University Press, New York, 2010, page 93.

[2] See Shafer-Landau, Russ: The Fundamentals of Ethics, Oxford University Press, New York, 2010, p. 96.

[3] Quoted from: Goetz, Hans: Ethical Egoism: Individual, Genus, Society, State, Verlag Die Blaue Eule, Essen, 1993, page 97.

End of the reading sample from 16 pages