Comparative Essay of Psychological and Ethical Egoism

A Comparative Analysis of Psychological and Ethical Egoism

            This essay is a comparative analysis of ethical egoism and psychological egoism - Comparative Essay of Psychological and Ethical Egoism introduction. In order to clearly set the direction of this paper, I would first render the meaning these two concepts. Afterwards, I would explicate the strengths and weaknesses of psychological egoism and discuss the two versions of ethical egoism. Upon doing so, this paper would present the contrasting points of both theories.

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            Psychological Egoism generally states that people are naturally selfish and would pursue their self-interest at all times. It further claims that even altruistic acts are, at the root of it, grounded on one’s pursuit of his/her own welfare (Shaver, 2002). This concept of egoism states the motivation of self-interest as a fact, as such, a person does not choose to be “egoistic,” or selfish, he/she as a human being simply is. Take for example a man’s decision to become a doctor, or to help charity, or even to help an old lady cross the street. Most of the time, the justifications a person gives for choosing to do these acts have altruistic inclinations. However, psychological egoists would contend that the motives of these acts are aimed still, at the individual who desires to perform them. A man who wants to be a doctor may want to help other people, but this can be seen as grounded too on his happiness being fulfilled when he sees that he has helped others. Giving to charity would allow an individual to experience satisfaction by being generous, it keeps him happy and feeling good about himself or the more trivial reason is he wants to be praised for his actions.

            On the other hand, ethical egoism does not say that man would inevitably be motivated by his own interests. Rather, this doctrine purports a normative stance that people ought to pursue their welfare. This is to say that when one chooses to act upon, he or she must take into utmost consideration his or her own self-interest. Scholars deem this ethical theory as a deviant to traditional moral theories which gives emphasis on impersonal moral choices and the greater good of the greater number.

            Psychological egoism founds itself on a scientific discipline that demands for empirical proof and consistency in order to be considered true. However, scholars have criticized psychological egotists for failing to take into proper account that would counter-proof their claim of inherent selfish motivation. Instead, evidence and day-to-day observations would show that that there are acts that can be considered altruistic which the psychological egotists attempt to evade by misconstruing the concept of selfishness juxtapose to self-interest. Further, counter-examples made be seen through that are committed that are contrary to the best self-interest, and actions done without much thought of one’s welfare. The lack of verifiability makes the claim of psychological egoism dubitable within the scientific community it initially launches itself from. In line with this, as a supposed empirical viewpoint, it has consequently committed a logical fallacy generally referred to as hasty generalization. It attempts to make a universal claim of individuals but fails to take into consideration the other factors that would negate its conjecture. It impulsively over-simplified the complexity of the human being, relations, and social reality (Davidson, 2006).

            It has been purported that ethical egoism has two versions, these two divisions are clearly described by Davidson (2006) who wrote:

The strong version asserts that it is always moral to endorse your own good and it is never moral not to do so. The weak version says that even though it is always moral to endorse your own good the converse is not necessarily accurate. There could be situations where it may be more important to ignore your own welfare when making a moral judgment. (Davidson, 2006)

            The strong version as we could ply tends to make a strict and universal maxim out of the pursuit for self-interest and welfare. It creates an assumption that when one follows that which would benefit him or her the most then it would consequently produce moral worth. The weak version tends to make room for exceptional cases wherein the one’s self-interest is in a most unique sense of lesser significance to that of which one is morally asked to do.

            From what I have already laid down, we could already see the divergence of psychological egoism and ethical egoism. The former, psychological egoism is a descriptive in nature. It asserts self-interest and selfishness even, as a fact, embedded in human nature. While Ethical egoism is normative, it prescribes the pursuit of self-interest as something human beings should do. One could also see the themes of determinism and free will in both concepts. This is in the sense that when psychological egoists assert their claim, they implicitly endorse that the behavior and acts of man is determined by self-interest. On the other side, ethical egoists endorses that the motivation of self-interest is a choice, the right and moral way to choose.

            Consequently, it is quite obvious that there is a difference in the motivations of both theories. Psychological egoism asserts self-interest as an inevitable motive of human nature, while ethical egoism is grounded on the motivation to do what is morally best, which is of course, one’s welfare (Davidson, 2006).

            It is often the case that issues and criticisms that arise with regards to these theories of egoism are due to the ambiguity and equivocation of the concept of self-interest and selfishness. It is important to note that one could pursue self-interest without necessarily being viewed as selfish. Psychological egoism can be criticized for its tendency to interchange the two, although a lot of its contemporaries have gone to correct such error. Ethical egoism allows us the free will to choose what’s best and grants our rationality the capacity to determine whether there is excess in our pursuit of our interests. Self-interest is something we follow, calculating our benefits in our actions in order to produce the most advantageous position for ourselves. Selfishness is when, as individuals, we lose consideration of others, to think of ourselves, and our desires alone… for me, a manifestation of unchecked vanity.


Shaver, R. (2002). Egoism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved November 7, 2007 from

Davidson, B. (2006). Ethical and Psychological Egoism: An Explanation of theories. Associated Content. Retrieved November 7, 2007 from


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