Moral Philosophy On Egoism: Psychological Egoism and Psychological Hedonism MAD Lecture Notes

c. d.

All right actions are intentional actions. One’s own interests, which is to say, one’s own happiness, is the only ultimate end of every intentional action.

Psychological Egoism
“These small beginnings of motion, within the body of man, before they appear walking, speaking, striking, and other visible actions, are commonly called ENDEAVOR. This endeavor, when it is toward something which causes it, is called APPETITE, or DESIRE . . . And when the endeavor is fromward something, it is generally called AVERSION . . . that which men desire, they are also said to LOVE: and to HATE those things for which they have aversion. So that desire and love are the same thing.” – Hobbes

Critique of the Doctrine of Psychological Egoism (DPE)

5. 6.

PAE lies heavily on the doctrine of psychological egoism. DPE would be plausible if all it meant were that:

1. 2.

Egoism takes happiness to be the ultimate end of all right action. The chief doctrine of Hobbes’ theory is that the motive of every of every intentional action is at bottom the same: the desire to promote one’s own interests. This is the doctrine of psychological egoism [PE]. PE advances this doctrine as the basic truth about human nature and so a fundamental law of human psychology: every human motive is reducible to a self-interested desire. Primary Argument for Egoism [PAE]1:

D1: a person’s intentional actions always sprang from motives supplies by his own interests.

7. 8.

If we accept D1, PAE would not be as convincing. A person typically has interests in many things and people besides himself. These interests focus his thoughts and feelings on people and things other than himself, and accordingly the motives that they supply are motives to act for the sake of those people and things and not for his own sake. Consequently, the ultimate end of the intentional actions that spring from these motives need not be his own happiness.

3.

4.

9.
a. That the motive of every intentional action is at bottom the desire to promote one’s own interests (doctrine of psychological egoism)

M b. If the basic motive of every intentional action is the same, then the end provided by that motive is the ultimate end of every intentional action. SI Figure A2

IA

UE

It follows from a and b that one’s own interests, which is to say, one’s own happiness, is the ultimate end of every intentional action.

10.

If DPE came to no more than D1, one could not infer from it that the ultimate end of every intentional action is the actor’s own happiness. Without this inference PAE breaks down.

1

See Hobbes, 91-92.

2

SI – Self Interest, M – Motive, IA – Intentional Action, UE – Ultimate End

11.

It would thus appear that DPE, to be strong enough to support PAE, must be understood to mean something more than D1, it must also imply:

“And for this cause we call pleasure the beginning and end of the blessed life. For we recognize pleasure as the first good innate in us, and from pleasure we begin every act of choice and avoidance, and to pleasure we return again, using the feeling as the standard by which we judge every good.” – Epicurus

D1a: none of the motives a person’s interests supply him with has force independently of the motive to promote his own happiness.

“Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do as well as to determine what we shall do” - Bentham

M2

1.
M3 IA M1 = UE UE

The chief doctrine of Psychological Hedonism (PH) is that the motive of every intentional action is at bottom either a desire for pleasure or an aversion to pain. Alternative Argument for Egoism (AAE)4:

2.
SI M1 M4

a.

The motive of every intentional action is at bottom either a desire for pleasure or an aversion to pain. (Doctrine of Psychological Hedonism) If the basic motive of every intentional action is the same, then the end provided by that motive is the ultimate end of every intentional action.

Figure B3

b.

12.

Problem with D1a: It seems implausible to deny that we have interests that supply us with motives whose force is independent of the motive to promote our own happiness. PAE is caught in a bind: if DPE is understood in a way that makes it strong enough to support the proposition that the ultimate end of every intentional action is the actor’s own happiness, then it is rendered implausible, and consequently the argument fizzles out from a faulty premise. If instead the doctrine is understood in a way that makes it plausible, then it is rendered too weak to support this proposition, and consequently the argument breaks down at its first inference.

13.

It follows from a and b that the ultimate end of every intentional action is to experience pleasure or escape from pain.

c. d.

All right actions are intentional actions. An act is right if the actor could not obtain, by some other action, more of what he is pursuing or less of what he is trying to escape and if nothing else besides what he is pursuing or the absence of what he is trying to escape from is an ultimate end of his intentional actions. (Requirement of Economic Reason) The ultimate end of every right action is to experience pleasure or escape from pain.

14.

Psychological Hedonism

e.

3

M1 – Motive to promote his/her own happiness, M2 … M4 – Other motives supplied by his /her interests.

4

See Epicurus, 42-43.

upon his own interest or happiness. The other, though quite distinct from reason are as much a part of human nature.” - Butler

4.

The observation that the object of a desire cannot be the pleasure one gets from the satisfaction of that desire is the key to a powerful criticism of psychological hedonism that Joseph Butler first made in his sermons on human nature.5 Butler used this observation to support a distinction he drew between (a) the general desire for one’s own happiness, what he called self-love, and (b) particular desires for food, clothing, riches, the welfare of one’s children, the good opinion of one’s fellows, and so forth, which he identified as particular appetites and passions. Because the satisfaction of one’s particular desires is essential to happiness, Butler argued, self-love involves self-reflection: a person who seeks happiness necessarily reflects on how best to satisfy her particular desires. The pleasures of such satisfaction are the concerns of self-love; the most felicitous combination of them over a whole life is its object. Happiness consists, in large part, of the pleasures that arise from the satisfaction of one’s particular desires, and those desires are satisfied when one gets the things one desires. The desire for happiness is self love. Its object is the pleasure that comes from satisfying one’s particular desires.

5. 3. Difference between PAE and AAE:

a.

PAE moves quickly from the third premise to its conclusion thanks to a simplification, equating the pursuit of one’s interests with the pursuit of happiness. This simplification masks a serious problem: it masks the ambiguity in DPE that, once detected, exposes the argument as having either a faulty premise or an unsound inference. For AAE no corresponding simplification occurs, to equate the pursuit of pleasure with the pursuit of happiness is clearly problematic. While the ultimate end of every right action is either pleasure or freedom from pain, it is not pleasure no matter what how much pain one ends up having to forgo. The person who immerses himself in immediate pleasures heedless of future, deleterious consequences to his health and well-being is not acting rightly. AAE then includes an additional premise whose point is to deny that such imprudent and self-indulgent actions are right actions (premise d).

6.

b.

7.

c.

8.

d.

9.

e.

10. The objects of particular desires are various, but in no case can the object of a particular desire be the pleasure one gets from its satisfaction, for such satisfaction presupposes a distinct object.

f.

11. If DPH were true, then the object of every particular

desire would have to be the experience of a sensory pleasure (or the absence of sensory pain). But to restrict the objects of particular desires in this way appears arbitrary.

Critique of the Doctrine of Psychological Hedonism (DPH) Parallels with the earlier Criticism of DPE
“The principle we call self-love never seeks anything external for the sake of the thing, but only as a means of happiness or good: particular affections rest in the external things themselves. One belongs to man as a reasonable creature reflecting
5

See Butler, 122-123.

12. The critique of DPE similarly showed, by distinguishing between

a person’s interest in his own happiness and his interest in people and things outside himself, that DPE is implausible when it is understood to be strong enough to support the proposition that the ultimate end of every intentional action is one’s own happiness.

20. The most plausible theories of human psychology affirm such diversity and, in consequence, affirm the possibility of more than one ultimate end of intentional action. 21. Since each of these ends can be regarded as a candidate for the highest good, a direct argument for egoism must present reasons for regarding one’s happiness as more desirable or worth pursuing than any of these other ends. 22. It cannot, that is, consistently with the assumption of the fundamental diversity of human motives, preclude these other ends from even being considered on the grounds that at bottom the ultimate end of every intentional action is the same. 23. It must make the case for its always being right to act on self-love and never right to suppress self-love in the interest of acting on some other motive that conflicts with it. 24. The prevalence of self-love in human life and the difficulty of seeing a person’s preferring the satisfaction of his own interests to the satisfaction of others; as unreasonable make clear why a person’s own happiness is a leading candidate for the highest good and may also suggest how such an argument will go.

13. On this understanding, the doctrine implies that none of the many external interests a person has, such as his interests in his family and friends, supplies him with a motive whose force is independent of the motive to promote his own happiness. 14. To deny that any of these interests supply such a motive is like denying that any of a person’s particular desires has as its object something other than the experience of pleasure of the absence of pain. The denials in both cases are implausible. 15. This parallel suggests that the relation between a person’s particular desires and his general desire for his own happiness, his self-love from which Butler drew his criticism is a good model for understanding the relation between a person’s external interests and his interest in his own happiness, his self- interest. 16. Accordingly, the satisfaction of a person’s external interests contributes importantly to his happiness, and his self-interest is thus partly an interest in the satisfaction of these external interests. The motives they supply can therefore be understood as distinct from the motive of self-interest. 17. Attempts by defenders of psychological egoism to show the contrary, that the motivational force of the former must derive in every case from that of the latter, invariably fail. 18. The implausibility of psychological egoism, like the implausibility of psychological hedonism, can be traced, then to a dubious view of the relation between the desire for happiness and the desires and interests whose satisfaction is essential to happiness.

References:

Butler, Selections from Sermons i-iii and xi and the Preface Deigh, Cambridge Introductions to Philosophy: An Introduction to Ethics Epicurus, Selections from the letters to Herodotus and To Menoeceus, the Principal Doctrines, and the Fragments Hobbes, Selections from the Leviathan, Chapters vi, xii-xv, and xxix-xxx, and Philosophical Rudiments, Chapter i

The Challenge for Egoists

19. The lesson in these criticisms is that no argument for egoism is likely to succeed if its premises deny the fundamental diversity of human motives.

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