Re: Ethics

Daniel Fabulich (daniel.fabulich@yale.edu)
Fri, 26 Jun 1998 20:24:27 -0400 (EDT)


On Fri, 26 Jun 1998, Bryan Moss wrote:

> But, in egoism wouldn't the correct question be,
> "if *I* were an Egoist would *I* be better off?
> Again, it seems you are judging egoism by the
> standards of utilitarianism.

When we say that a particular ethical theory is right, it seems to follow
(IMO) that this does not apply to any particular person; if egoism is
correct, then it is correct for everyone. Correctly stated, this is the
generalization principle: That if an ethical theory it is right for me,
it is also right for you. If it is rational for me to act only in my
self-interest, then it is rational for you to do the same.

Now, from an egoistic standpoint, it is NOT good for me if everyone acts
egoistically. I conclude that if I believe that egoism is correct, then
egoism is bad for me. Since egoism demands that we reject anything that
is bad for us, egoism seems to demand that we reject itself.

> What I'm failing to see is how generalisation can
> be justified *without* utilitarianism. It is the
> idea of fitting ethics to that which you already
> believe, that I find irrational.

Do you disagree with the axiom that if an ethical theory is true then it
is right for everyone? It seems self-evident to me.

An ethical theory is right if and only if it is right for everyone.
According to egoism, egoism is not right for everyone. According to
egoism, egoism is wrong.

> If generalisation is detrimental to the egoist,
> then the egoist should insure that others do the
> wrong thing. That does not seem logically
> inconsistent. Wouldn't this make it the most
> rational choice?

Not really, because it would be "rational" for everyone else to do the
same thing, which would leave everyone worse off; a theory of
rationality which demands sub-optimal consequences is fundamentally
fishy, IMO.

When we adopt egoism, we find ourselves in a kind of a prisoner's dilemma
with the rest of the world: while it may seem better for us to act for
ourselves, it is quite bad for us if everyone does.

> Would this apply to the immortalist? Surely you
> can make no such assumption when faced with the
> possibility of eternal life.

This is why that point was arguable.

> The problem is, I see no rational reason to accept
> the generalisation principle.

It is simple: if an ethical theory is right, then it is right for
everyone. Egoism is not right for everyone by its own standards;
therefore, when we presume egoism is right, we must conclude that it is
wrong.