Online Guide to Ethics and Moral Philosophy

Robert Cavalier

Philosophy Department
Carnegie Mellon

Part I History of Ethics

Preface: The Life of Socrates
Section 1: Greek Moral Philosophy
Section 2: Hellenistic and Roman Ethics
Section 3: Early Christian Ethics
Section 4: Modern Moral Philosophy
Section 5: 20th Century Analytic Moral Philosophy

Part II Concepts and Problems

Preface: Meta-ethics, Normative Ethics and Applied Ethics
Section 1: Ethical Relativism
Section 2: Ethical Egoism
Section 3: Utilitarian Theories
Section 4: Deontological Theories
Section 5: Virtue Ethics
Section 6: Liberal Rights and Communitarian Theories
Section 7: Ethics of Care
Section 8: Case-based Moral Reasoning
Section 9: Moral Pluralism

Part III Applied Ethics

Preface: The Field of Applied Ethics
Section 1: The Topic of Euthanasia
Multimedia Module: A Right to Die? The Dax Cowart Case
Section 2: The Topic of Abortion
Multimedia Module: The Issue of Abortion in America
Postscript: Conflict Resolution

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Ethical Egoism

Psychological and Ethical Egoism

As a metaethical theory of motivation, psychological egoism asserts the descriptive claim that all of our actions can be reduced to self-interest: "Whenever people do something, it is only because they think something desirable for themselves will result from it." The claim is descriptive and thus open to counterexamples, and it is broad, stating a reductionistic thesis regarding all of our actions. (Contrast psychological egoism with the psychological state of sympathy, where 'the weal and woe of the other becomes the motive for our action'.)

It is interesting to note that while egoism rests on the principles of human psychology, a number of studies in the psychology of moral development seem to suggest that 'egoism' is in fact only a first stage in actual moral development.

Ethical egoism is a normative theory that states that our actions ought to be done from the perspective of self-interest. One of the problems with this position is that it might not be in one's self-interest to have eveyone act from the perspective of self-interest. This 'state of nature' would not be desirable (in Hobbes' terms, life would be "beastly, brutal, and short") and so it might ultimately be in one's self-interest to enter into a contract with others that would place restraints upon self-interested actions.

See excerpts from the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Egoism.

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Copyright 2002 (first published 1/96)