Good Psychological Egoism Essay Example

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Actions, Theory, People, God, Ethics, Bachelor's Degree, Welfare, Philosophy

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/11/02

Evaluation of decisions and their consequences is problematic. Agents most often try to make the best decisions, but before that they must figure out what a good decision is. Normative ethic theories can help determine if decisions are good or bad as they can provide criteria for evaluating choices. Enclosing the many normative theories that exist, there are two broad categories separated by how they evaluate the rightness or wrongness of an action: the consequentialist theories, which establish that an action can be judged based on its consequences; and the non-consequentialist theories, which base the rightness or wrongness of an action in other elements other than their consequences . This work will compare and contrast two specific normative ethical theories located on each side of the normative continuum to establish clear delimitations between them. The theories chosen for this work are psychological egoism and theological voluntarism.

Egoism is a descriptive position that states that the ultimate goal of a person is his or her own welfare. There can be disagreement on what is considered to be a person´s welfare. For example, some might say that a person´s welfare is restricted to self-regarding interests and desires. A person who only seeks his or her own pleasures, achieve virtuousness or knowledge, can be said to be a self-regarding egoist. Others may claim that a desire for the welfare of others might be a way to pursue one´s own interests. For example, there are times when people decide to help others or show altruistic traits. But they might be actually calculating that aiming at the welfare of others might ultimately bring about their own welfare . This is the case of sports teams. A player might want recognition and satisfaction for winning games, but he would not be able to do it alone. So he decides to help all the players with their training, and might even help design strategies that might help other individuals shine as players. It may seem altruistic, but he is actually helping himself achieve his personal goals.
Although many might find that this approach can be regarded as bad or antisocial, some authors claim that it is the only way a society can prosper. Adam Smith, for example, argued that benevolence is not what makes a society wealthier, but the effort put by brewers and butcherers to pursue their own interests .

Theological Voluntarism

Ethical non-consequentialist theories do not evaluate the results of actions. The criteria for deciding that an action is good or bad is what happens before the action is taken.
Theological voluntarism is an example of a moral compass not guided by the evaluation of consequences. Under this theory, actions are deemed good only if they comply with the will of god . Defenders of this theory state that all actions, and restrains, have a foundation in god´s will. Thus, people normally refrain from stealing and murdering, or feel compelled to help each other because there is a supreme practical authority .
Some of this theory´s appeal come from the fact that many of the normative moral concepts developed simultaneously with theological concepts. Through history, many of the prescriptions that allow a society to thrive in relative peace, had their origin in theistic or religious beliefs.
However, there are problems with this approach to normative ethics. For instance, there are commands given in many religious books, allegedly holding the word of a deity, that are not seen as morally correct by today´s standards. If people were guided only by what god has said, then they would be able to commit contradictory actions, such as stoning or enslaving people, and would affirm that they are actually following a deity´s command. Sadly, the worst crimes in history have been committed by a form of this argument.
One other objection some people have against this view is the problem with free will. If it is presumed that good people are only following a deity´s command, then they cannot be considered to be free. They are actually not able to do otherwise, and cannot be held responsible for their actions. One solution to this might be to hold that actions are ultimately judged by God. Thus one action is good or bad only if god regards it as such. However, this poses a new problem, it completely takes away the moral guidance and people would not have any objective criteria to make informed decisions.
The third most common objection to theological voluntarism is that if people commit good actions only because they fear being judged and punished by a supreme omnipresent being, they are not being genuinely good. Their actions would be ultimately driven by fear and not by a genuine interest of performing good deeds.

Contrasting the Two Theories

Personally, I´d rather say that consequentialism offers a better explanation for human behavior. The only problem I see is that some people seem to follow a selfish consequentialist code of conduct, and some others like to perform selfless actions that benefit others. This introduces some doubt regarding what counts as self-interest. What I believe is that people realize that they are better off by helping others. Maybe they look for non-material rewards such as recognition, or they are planning on being repaid someday in the future. If this is true, then everyone is ultimately acting selfishly.
The problem arises when there seem to be actions that cannot be fully explained by consequentialists. For example, a soldier who sees a grenade that is about to explode decides to throw himself at it in order to save his comrades. It might be said that he is pursuing his own preferences because he wants his comrades to continue fighting or he loves them so much that he would rather die than live a life of guilt . But it does not sound convincing. Deontological non-consequentialist theories might offer better explanations for this kind of behavior: maybe the soldier would throw himself on top of a grenade for a greater ideal or sense of duty regardless of the consequences that it would bring to his own wellbeing. Or maybe he felt that god would deem his sacrifice a good deed, although he might be expecting a reward in the afterlife.

My Personal Moral Compass

I truly believe there are ideals that are worth defending, such as that of liberty and the principle of non-aggression. This might locate my moral compass into the deontological realm as I constantly pursue these ideals and defend them. I believe that no one should be ever deprived of his or her liberty or property, and there is nothing that excuses the initiation of violence. Some might argue that there are instances where by doing a little bad, we can achieve a greater good. For example, maybe a society should take away the property of a few people in order to guarantee the freedom of others. If I followed my principles to the ultimate consequences, and prevented society from performing such an action, I would be actually helping a few oppressors take away the liberty of others. But I just assume that it will never come to that.
However, I do not find that following my ideals contradicts my belief that I should pursue my self-interests. In fact, I do believe that if I defend liberty and non-aggression, I would be actually helping the whole society, and it would ultimately bring prosperity to me and my beloved ones. In this respect, I find that maybe Adam Smith was right.


Murphy, M. (2014, December 21). Theological Voluntarism. Retrieved from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Shaver, R. (2014, December 21). Egoism. Retrieved from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Sinnott-Armstrong, W. (2014, March 21). Consequentialism. Retrieved from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Smith, A. (1993). The Wealth of Nations. New York: Oxford University Press.

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