Chapter Five: Teleological Theories : Egoism
Section 1. What is it?

 It ought to be made clear that "egoism" refers to two different types of theories. One theory is a psychological theory, and the other is an ethical theory. These are not the same, and ought not be confused with each other.

What is a psychological theory?
This is not that easy to answer, because there is no single definition that adequately captures everything that different ethical theories do. But there are a family of related things that psychological theories do.

Mood disorders:

depression (both long term and short term, both with mania and without mania); bi-polar disorder

Cognitive disorders:

delirium, dementia; multi-infarc dementia; aphasia; agnosia

Anxiety related disorders:

adjustment disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder; panic disorder; post-traumatic stress disorder; phobias

Substance disorders:

alcohol, various other drugs and substances.

Personality disorders:

histrionic, dependent personality disorder; paranoia; schizoid personality disorder; schizotypal disorder

Psychological egoism is a theory which is presumed (by its advocates) to be a scientific theory. It is not a theory about what people ought to do, or about what we should do. It is not about values, or about obligations. It does not say that selfishness is good, or bad, or a virtue, or a vice. It does not condemn it, nor does it praise it. Psychological egoists simply state how, in their opinion, all humans actually behave.

Ethical egoism is entirely different on the above issues. It does not remain neutral on the issue of self-interest. It suggests that human behavior ought to be motivated in a particular way. Ethical egoists do not pretend to be speaking as scientists -- they are recommending a certain type of response.

From the perspective of the psychological egoist, all people do act in a certain way -- selfishly; from the perspective of the ethical egoist, all people should act in a certain way -- out of self-interest.


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Copyright Stephen O Sullivan and Philip A. Pecorino  2002. All Rights reserved.

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