Re: Ethics

Daniel Fabulich (
Thu, 16 Jul 1998 20:17:41 -0400 (EDT)

On Thu, 16 Jul 1998, Lee Daniel Crocker wrote:

> > If you can't think of at least fifty other ways in which you
> > could hurt people for your own gain, you're just not thinking
> > hard enough.
> A fair criticism, perhaps, but I still think the naive arguments
> against egoism aren't thinking hard enough or long-term enough
> in many cases: most of the arguments just blindly assume that
> if one commits a crime and is not caught, then there are no
> negative consequences to that act. That's just not true. There
> are consequences to living your life with a set of principles,
> and consequences to violating those principles, and not just to
> one's self-esteem or confidence in those principles, but in the
> real world.

Obviously you will experience SOME negative consequences, but egoism (like all other utility-oriented consequentialist ethical systems) states that negative consequences are OK, so long as they are outweighed by positive consequences. The choice which results in the greatest net gain for you (no matter how much you lose and later recover) is the best, according to egoism.

> Theft, for example, _always_ has the long-term consequence of
> allocating the resources of society inefficiently in the long
> run, which eventually impacts my potential for wealth. Even if
> I silently embezzled a few dollars from some billion-dollar
> corporation who never notices, that's a few dollars that they
> did not use their proven acumen to invest; perhaps a small
> project that didn't get funded that may have created a small
> product that I might have used to gain more wealth than the
> dollars I stole.

In this example, though that money isn't going to filter back into the economy like it would have otherwise, you have to weigh that against the utility you would get from having a billion dollars all to yourself. Your argument only works if you would make more than a billion dollars worth in utility by not stealing the billion; I strongly doubt that this is true. When someone else invests money wisely, you only make back a fraction of what they invested and reaped; had you taken the money for yourself, you would still have made a profit, despite the fact that some fraction of it will no longer be able to filter its way into your pocket through legitimate means.

Stealing is definitely profitable, and to the extent that it is (and no further) egoism demands that we steal.

> Any physical act of force is the same: even if I am never
> punished for the act, I have prevented someone from using the
> full potential of their will to do things that may benefit me
> in the long run. Every human being is a potential trader, and
> _any_ act I do to any human being affects their potential for
> future trade with me, so I have still never found any example
> of a crime without consequences. The arguments so far shown
> against egoism simply assume the existence of such a crime
> without proof.

Again, I don't need a crime WITHOUT consequences, just a crime that has more and better positive consequences than negative.

In this example, suppose that you were enslaving your victim. Sure, you'll never have the opportunity to trade freely with your victim again, but if you're doing it right, you're making much more off of this person by enslaving them than you ever could have by trading freely. The pie which you both would have shared has decreased in size thanks to your coercion, but you have gained more pie than you have lost; and that, for egoism, makes all the difference.