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The Paradox of Egoism

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  • Pages: 3
  • Word count: 590
  • Category: Egoism

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According to Lousis Pojman, “the paradox of egoism is that in order to reach the goal of egoism, one must give up egoism and become (to some extent) an altruist.” Pojman arrived at this conclusion considering deep friendships and loving relationships. A true friendship must be altruistically motivated. However, egoists focus on themselves and put themselves before everyone else. In order to have a successful relationship, egoist must wish well to his friend for his friend’s sake, not as a means to his own happiness. Psychological egoism, then, serves as a natural springboard for moral skepticism. In effect, how can one speak of egoism when egoism requires unselfishness? For there is no unselfishness. How can one think of duty or of the beauty of true friendship when a sacrificial act is a pure illusion? How can one raise questions about various bases of human choice when there is in fact only one basis on which choices are ever made:  egoists only do, and can only do, what they want? This paper argues that everything egoist does he does because of his human nature. In some sense egoist can not become altruist.

Main Body

What the psychological egoist declares is that men do not behave otherwise than in terms of what they believe their own best interests. It is natural and unavoidable, they say, that men should seek their own welfare. The ultimate motives of egoist should be selfish. Unselfish behavior simply does not exist. This view is called “psychological egoism” rather than just plain “egoism” in order to distinguish it from another egoistic category. The other form of egoism, called as “ethical egoism,” states that the individual ought to act according to his own interests. Ethical egoism rests on the belief that altruism (contrary to egoism) is so all-consuming that it has as a necessary consequence the virtual inability to lead a meaningful, fruitful, and independent life.

Ethical egoism precludes the possibility of “true” friendship. By above definitions, helping a friend must be egoistically motivated. For example, egoist can act in order to increase his friend’s welfare, even at great personal cost and without obvious reward. Yet, this helping is still egoistic because it is motivated by an initial self-interest concern for happiness. This means that altruistic disposition helping a friend seems to be false.

Consider another example. If a friend’s distress caused egoist’s distress. Egoist decided to stay up all night providing comfort to the friend in order to reduce his own distress. This motivation is egoistic. True, egoist tried to be a “true” friend and sought to make his friend feel better. However, that was not his ultimate goal. It was only instrumental in allowing egoist to reach the ultimate goal of feeling better himself. Similarly, if egoist helped his friend in order to avoid feelings of guilt, then his motivation was egoistic.


Egoism does not state that men should consider themselves first; but that men do consider themselves first. The proposed definitions of psychological and ethical egoism are faithful to the spirit of the egoism-altruism debate. An issue in this debate is whether human motivation for acting is ever, to any degree, directed toward the highest goal of increasing the other person’s happiness. However, there are no real alternatives for egoistic individuals whose actions are determined by allegedly selfish forces within their own natures. If I am incapable to select any but the largest slice of cake, table morals would seem to be useless for me.

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