Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Rational Egoism

Egoism is often equated to selfishness. This may be an overstatement; rational egoism is to selfishness as farsightedness is to shortsightedness.

Egoism asks for the individual to maximize his self-interest. Some believe that this necessarily leads to selfishness, but this conception is false. A rational egoist must come to the conclusion that in many cases, it is not possible to improve one's position without also improving the position of others. This may be imagined as the construction of a sort of self-interested altruism, where one gives up immediate self-interest in exchange for a greater yield, accumulated over time and many agents.

It is possible to derive at a form of "golden rule" based on the concept of rational egoism; one simply asks himself, for each action, whether the benefit of performing this action outweights the downsides of having the action performed against oneself. Of course, this construction suffers from the same problems as the golden rule itself, but it is nonetheless a good guide for moral actions.

A major issue with rational egoism is the issue of observer-less actions, or secret actions. If an act cannot be observed or traced back to the agent, then it seems to behoove the agent to behave in the most selfish manner possible. Conversely, an agent is motivated to act altruistically only if he is convinced that his action is able to affect others to behave similarly. This issue is worth addressing, but it cannot be adequately contained within the space of this margin, and must hence be discussed at a later date.

No comments: