Essay on Psychological Egoism

604 Words Feb 15th, 2011 3 Pages
Psychological egoism is the view that people are always selfish. When was the last time you did a good deed? Did you do it for its own sake, or for your own? The egoist says that all of us are necessarily self-regarding. I shall argue that this view is incorrect.

First we should ask, what kind of claim is this? Is it an a priori claim, or a generalization from experience? If it were the latter, we could never conclusively prove it: we could never show that necessarily all actions are selfish. So it must be a priori. But no a priori claim could be substantive: a priori truths are all analytic (that is, the predicate is contained in the subject). So if this claim were analytic, it would become trivial. (It is worth noting that
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This is called psychological altruism. The altruist points to phenomena such as love that seem to show that people can be genuinely other-regarding.

What will the egoist say? The egoist has to admit that there seem to be acts of selflessness, such as the soldier who jumps on a grenade to save his comrades. Here Washburn’s egoist appeals to re-interpretation: there is always a competing story the egoist can give that makes the act turn out to be selfish. Perhaps the soldier wanted to avoid the pain of living on as a coward, or wanted to become a hero and bring glory to himself and his family.

Yes, perhaps. But it’s not enough simply to present such a story: one must also give some reason to suppose that it is true in the case at hand. Since egoism is an a priori claim, as we have seen, it supposes that in every case such a story will be not just available but justified by the evidence. But this is totally implausible. The egoist’s ‘just-so’ stories are just so much hot air.

We need not leave matters like this, however. For we can grant the egoist his ability to reinterpret all acts as selfish. What, then, becomes of the claim that we are always selfish? It has thereby become immune to empirical refutation or empirical tests of any kind. But as Popper has shown, this only drains egoism of

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