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Is the consistent application of egoism as a moral code problematic?

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(My thread was directly inspired by this incredibly thought-provoking discussion from a few years back. If you're not familiar with it, then I would recommend that you at least skim through the thread as a way to familiarize yourself and to provide you with a little bit of context. I will highlight a few key points which grabbed my own attention the most.) 

In The Virtue of Selfishness, Miss Rand wrote the following: 

"Since all values have to be gained and/or kept by men's actions, any breach between actor and beneficiary necessitates an injustice: the sacrifice of some men to others, of the actors to the nonactors, of the moral to the immoral. Nothing could ever justify such a breach, and no one ever has. ... The Objectivist ethics holds that the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action" The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 9-10 

To me (and evidently to others as well), this immediately brought up a wide array of follow-up questions. I have chosen to narrow it down to a total of four different questions: 

  • Must the actor be the sole beneficiary of an action?
  • Must the actor's personal gain be the exclusive motivator for taking an action?
  • Can the desired gain of both actor and beneficiary serve as a morally proper motivator for taking an action?
  • Can the actor's personal gain be only a secondary consideration before taking an action?

To me, it's clear that the answer to the first question must surely be in the negative to an Objectivist since any other answer would essentially negate the idea that the interests of rational men do not clash. If I take an action where I am truly the sole beneficiary, then I must be dealing with someone irrational (e.g., an enemy or a crook). Upon reflection, I think the answer to the second question must also be in the negative, although here I do experience some doubt. As a concrete example, let's say that I want to buy a gift for my partner. It would not be my own personal gain that would serve as the exclusive motivator in regards to bringing the action (i.e., the purchasing of the gift) to fruition unless you want to get somewhat convoluted and say something to the effect of "I will selfishly enjoy seeing the joy which the gift will bring to my partner and this is the sole reason why I would buy the gift". Now, I don't necessarily dispute that this kind of reasoning would constitute an element of my own motivation, but would you honestly say that it provides the picture in its entirety? Think for yourself, engage in introspection. Speaking for myself, I would say no. I find the idea shallow and limiting. Therefore, I would answer the third question in the affirmative. I think it's perfectly rational and non-altruistic to act for the gain of yourself (the actor) as well as the gain of the beneficiary provided that said beneficiary is an objective value or a victim of injustice. The fourth follow-up question is undoubtedly the trickiest one for me to answer satisfactorily. Through introspection, it is evident that I do take actions where my personal gain is at best indirect (e.g., experiencing a sense of delight from seeing the person I care about light up as a result of something I did), but I would not say that this is altruism. However, the relevant question is whether or not such actions are consistent with pure, unabashed egoism. And this will provide a suitable bridge to the next point.

In merjet's thread, there were a few posts which revolved around whether or not one can say that any action which is non-altruistic is morally justifiable (i.e., in a person's rational self-interest). Notice the shift in emphasis in going from egoistic to merely non-altruistic. "Egoistic" implies a positive, whereas "non-altruistic" instead implies the absence of self-sacrifice. It seems to me that the first question which needs to be addressed is whether or not "non-altruistic" actions can even be conceptualized as belonging to a coherent category to begin with or if they should just be grouped together with egoistic actions. Fundamentally, I think it comes down to how broad your conception of egoism is. How you respond to the four follow-up questions that i provided could possibly be an indicator of that. 

What do you all think?

Postscript: Do excuse me if my thread comes across as rather jumbled and all over the place. I tried to make it as clear and concise as possible to the reader while simultaneously incorporating all the main issues which grabbed my attention from merjet's thread. Perhaps it was somewhat unnecessary to create an entirely separate thread when his thread still exists but ultimately I chose to carve out a space where my own personal reflections could hopefully be adequately addressed. 




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