Egoism is broken down into four main groups: Psychological egoism, Normative egoism, Ethical egoism, and Rational egoism. Egoism in general values the desires of the individual the most, and this is most important to the individual only if the desires match what is in one’s own best interest. Psychological egoism is more centered upon the individual’s unconscious impulse to always behave in one’s own self-interest, and is more of a law than a theory because it must always hold true, and if it does every other theory falls apart. Psychological egoism, is defined as an unconscious goal to maintain one’s own welfare.
Stated more clearly, the individual can only act in his or her own self-interest, and the individual has no conscious choice in the matter. (Moseley) So the ethical solution to any moral problem, in the end, would be only what is best for one-self, even if what’s in one’s best interest is not a desirable outcome, or promotes happiness. An extreme example which illustrates my point quite well would be as follows: if you are holding a serial killer at the edge of a twenty-story balcony, and you are the only two people there, and your grip is the only thing keeping this killer from plummeting to his death, would you let go?
The morally right thing to do would most likely be to prevent the loss of a life, simultaneously also preventing yourself from possibly being charged with murder. But, the main point to take into consideration is that the choice one ultimately makes will have been decided upon the instant the circumstance is provided. While, the other forms of egoism at least take some mental calculations. Ethical egoism, for example, incorporates what is morally right to do while still keeping in mind one’s own self-interest. Moseley)
This means that outside influences and expectations will influence the way one acts, while still keeping oneself as the main priority. Back to the previous example, the life of a killer is in your hands, but killing anyone in the eyes of society is not good. But, if this killer was making an attempt on your life, then society would claim that you should have the right to defend yourself. It would be in your best interest to prevent any further attempts on your life, also, preventing a killer from killing anyone else would be a plus.
Psychological egoism would have one act in a way so as to preserve one’s own life, and would not take into account any other details. Normative egoism, on the other hand, would have rules on how to interpret every single situation based on what would be the best outcome for the individual. Normative egoism describes more of what one ought to do, rather than describing what one is actually doing. (Moseley) In other words, normative egoism describes more of a behavior more than it is describing an action that one should adhere to.
Psychological egoism would conflict with this theory on the grounds that what one is doing would be what one ought to do because of the fact that all actions have one underlying goal—self-preservation. Ayn Rand was one of the biggest believers in preservation of life—one’s own life—as her student, Leonard Peikoff, describes in his interpretations of Ayn Rand’s work: “The objectivist position can be indicated in three words. The ultimate value is life. The primary virtue is rationality. The proper beneficiary is oneself” (Peikoff 206).
Ayn Rand was a big supporter in rational egoism as she believed that everyone should always act rationally while keeping their own happiness in mind. Of course, life would hold the greatest value because without life there would be no self-preservation. Now, back to why Normative egoism is distinct from the other forms of egoism. When it comes back to the scenario of you holding that killer at the brim of death. Normative ethics would dictate that you ought to do what is in your best interest because you are an egoist.
But, there may be more than one solution which could benefit the individual, and happiness does not have to be the end goal. If letting the killer fall to his death would be the best option for you then it should be what you do. But, one’s own morals, and/or societal influences may sway which solution is preferred. One might even consider guilt to be a motivator in not taking a life. Mercy is a strange enigma that sometimes slithers into one’s mind when it should not. Overall, a Normative egoist would be influenced by other factors besides one’s own welfare, but might come to the dame conclusion as the other forms of egoism.
Ethical egoism would probably value any life higher than the absence of life. Besides, a killer can rot in a cell for the rest of his life, while you will not carry the burden of death. Rational egoism would disagree with Normative egoism on whether the killer should live, especially if he was attempting to kill you. Rational egoism claims that reason and one’s own self-interest are in accordance with one another. (Moseley) There is a stress on one’s own self-interest because egoism is centered only on the individual who follows this theory.
To clarify this more fully I will be using the definition of reason as described by Ayn Rand, a provocative proponent of rational egoism and objectivism: “the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses” (Rand 20). I believe reason, in this application, is synonymous with one’s consciousness. The consciousness being the part of us which absorbs our surroundings, and attempts to make sense of it—I say attempt because the mind is not always objective, and sometimes can be fooled. So in this context, rationality is logic is reason.
So, any problem we are faced with will be dealt with using our reason, which is shaped by our experiences, and is partial to the individual’s self-interest. Rational egoism is similar to Ethical egoism, but examines one’s actions based on what is rationally right or wrong while still maximizing one’s own self-interest. (Moseley) I agree that sometimes it is beneficial to act in a certain way to benefit oneself. But, in today’s society, being selfish is not always praised. For example, on the subject of marijuana, it is illegal in many states in the US.
But this drug is still legal in some areas, and there does not seem to be chaos in the locations where marijuana is legal. But, while some people enjoy using marijuana as a recreational drug, there are politicians and people in the general population who do not like the idea of a “drug” being made legal. Since egoism is partial, the people who do not like the legalization of marijuana should get their way, but so should the people who want the legalization of marijuana. When it comes to certain situations each of these forms of egoism will react differently.
For example, I kicked a hole in the wall one time when I lost control over my emotions. I told the truth not only because it was the right thing to do, but because I felt my own welfare would be preserved. Psychological egoism would claim that I reacted unconsciously because the only person I should worry about is myself. But, lying would have also correlated with my own self-interest. Normative egoism would say that I should tell the truth because it is the right thing to do: it does not matter that I did tell the truth, but I could have told a lie and still gotten away unscathed.
I believe I acted more in accordance with ethical egoism because I reacted in a morally right way, but still prioritized myself. The rational solution for the situation would most likely correspond with the right thing to do, but that is not always the case because one can act irrationally, according to others, but behave in their own self-interest. Though, telling the truth in this situation would be both the rational and ethical solution. Ultimately, I was impulsive in my confession as I was in kicking a hole in the wall. I did take into account the consequences of either telling the truth or lying, but in the end I blurted the truth out.
Back to egoism as a whole: Egoism deals mainly about actions that are in the individual’s best interest, while taking into consideration that not every consequence will lead to the individual’s happiness. I believe that every individual always has his or her own self-interest in the back recess of one’s mind. Which is why, ultimately, psychological egoism is the most true of all of the egoisms. Our unconsciousness is a mysterious collection of our experiences, but it is what makes our choices before we even realize there is one, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.