Greed & Altruism

Am I my Brother's Keeper?

Lesson Objectives

Understand our drive toward selfishness and the Ethical Egoist framework

Appreciate some of the contemporary moral issues of wealth inequality

Appreciate how wealth inequality affects democracy and political choice

Understand the teleological and deontological criticisms of Ethical Egoism

Understand Altruism and some of the ethical questions it raises

Appreciate how some philosophers are trying to be more effective altruists

Key Terms

Psychological Egoism

Ethical Egoism

Moral Motivation


Effective Altruism

Ethical Egoism

I know right from wrong by how the results will serve me.

Psychological Egoism

• Moral philosophy sometimes turns to the self  (Lt. ego)

• Psychological Egoism: it is human nature to be selfish (cf. Hobbes)

• Hobbes: We only help others to trick ourselves into believing we are "good"

Ethical Egoism

Ethical Egoism: it's not only our nature, but our RIGHT to be selfish!

• Ethical Egoists claim selflessness is actually harmful to society

• Ethical Egoism isn’t uninhibited pursuit of our desires, long term goals critical

     • You can help others, but helping yourself must be the primary goal

     • Egoists: The "fiction of giving" allows us to feel good about ourselves

The Classic Egoist Position

• Greed is Good. Pure selflessness is either misguided or impossible.

• Giving to others intrudes on their privacy and objectifies people

• Giving to others denies the value of the individual

     • Ayn Rand claims the selflessness taught in the Bible is

     destructive to Western Civilization. (2 min vid)

• The Ethical Egoist fundamentally claims that if we each compete at our best, then we are good and rightfully earn whatever we have.

"Every act you have ever performed since the day you were born was performed because you wanted something."

          - Dale Carnegie (1936) How to Win Friends and Influence People