18
Feb
10

Why you should never meet an egoist

An egoist believes that the right thing to do is to help oneself. This is different than psychological egoism, which claims that — as an empirical fact — humans are only motivated by their own perceived advantage. Ethical egoism, on the other hand, claims that we should only do what will make us better off.

This is a bad position, and so its rare to find someone who believes it. But it’s even rarer to meet an egoist for another, deeper reason, which is that egoism is self defeating.

Consider. The egoist wants his life to go well, and so has reason to do things that will achieve that goal. Having friends makes ones life go well, and so the egoist will want to have friends. But, the trick is, he can’t. A friendship relation requires that one care about the friend non-instrumentally. In other words, I can pretend to act like a friend in order to do things with other people and gain enjoyment from their company, etc. etc., but I cannot genuinely experience the value of friendship. To make this point more clear, pretend your friend has become depressed. A normal friend would try to cheer this person up, simply because they are sad. The egoist on the other hand must view the situation from a much more troubling perspective. The egoist will want to cheer his friend up, only so that his friend can get back to hanging out with him and giving him enjoyment.

What this means is if someone accepts egoism, they immediately have a reason, an egoistic reason,  to try and adopt an altruistic theory of morality on which they can gain friendship. Notice, that this does not show that egoism is false. It may be true, but you still should never meet an egoist, because such a person would have a reason, again, an egoistic reason, to adopt some other moral theory (perhaps they go to a brain surgeon who deletes their egoistic character and replaces it with a belief in the value of some more altruistic moral theory).

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