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Egoism and altruism

Price, Anthony W. (2008) Egoism and altruism. Organon (Poland) 37 , pp. 71-79. ISSN 0078-6500.

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Abstract

The old problem of egoism versus altruism often arises in this form: ‘Of course I have reason to pursue my own interests – but why should I respect the interests of others?’ We then seem to face a tension that everyone must wish everyone else to overlook. It must be a task of morality to try to divert us from the narrow path of self-interest along which reason points us.1 Two modes of response have the advantage of familiarity. One can try to make out that being moral is an investment that pays good dividends. As an edifying slogan proclaims from the cornice of Leeds Town Hall, ‘Honesty is the Best Policy.’ But this line of thought has two disadvantages: it tends to disingenuousness (‘It will pay you to be good’ probably means ‘It will pay us’); and to be effective as a motivation for morality it needs to be self-effacing, to play its role and then disappear, like a kingmaker after making a king. For it is possible to act morally, but not be moral, out of selfinterest; 2 and acting morally without being moral is not so likely to serve one’s self-interest, for it is less gratifying and harder to keep up. Alternatively one can preach, quite eloquently maybe, on the side of morality; to which one sensitive reaction is nausea. Here I shall try out two ways of dissolving, or defusing, the problem. The first, which I find in Plato, allows that what one has reason to pursue is one’s own interests or good, but denies that this implies a merely selfish concern for morality, once what counts as ‘one’s own good’ is taken less myopically. The second, which I owe to Richard Wollheim, concedes one a special kind of concern for one’s own interests, narrowly conceived, but allows one other kinds of concern as well, none enjoying a monopoly of ‘reason’. I find both lines very interesting; I now think that the second is closer to reality.

Item Type: Article
School or Research Centre: Birkbeck Schools and Research Centres > School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy > Philosophy
Depositing User: Administrator
Date Deposited: 24 Nov 2010 14:06
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2013 12:19
URI: http://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/2745

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