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James Rachels: Egoism and Moral Scepticism

Posted in Uncategorized by yeyeobillo on February 28, 2009

Book Review Sub- Chapter 1 of Chapter 1: James Rachels: Egoism and Moral Scepticism

The Contemporary Moral Problems

Amazon Link: n/a

Quote: “Our ordinary thinking about morality is full of assumptions that we almost never question. We assume for example, that we have an obligation to consider the welfare to other people when we decide what actions to perform or rules to obey”

What is morality? Morality basically knows what is right and wrong. Morality is always applied when people performs things and when people interacts to other people. Without morality people can never justify if what he is doing can be accepted, appreciated and understood by other. Based on the quotation I have copied from the book, it is stated that people before performing or deciding for things they always consider the welfare of others. They always take into consideration if people will benefit from it. But is this really egoism or is there more beyond this?

My Learning expectation

Actually I really don’t know what to expect since I don’t know anything about the book all I know is that it is a requirement given to us by my professor in IT-ethics, Mr. Pajo. What I expect to learn is what the book is about. What it consist of and why is it relevant to us. Maybe in the succeeding chapters I may be able to draw my expectations since I already know a bit of it after reading the first chapter.


This part of the first chapter talks about the egoism of people. How people use egoism and what is really the motive of it. First of all what is egoism? Based on my research on Wikipedia Ethical egoism is the normative ethical position that moral agents ought only to do what is in their own self-interest. It differs from psychological egoism, in that the last-mentioned claims that people do only act in their self-interest. Ethical egoism also differs from rational egoism (which holds that it is rational to act in one’s self-interest) and individualism, neither of which claims that acting in one’s self-interest is necessarily right. Ethical egoism is not, however, necessarily opposed to either of these latter philosophies.

Now what we know the basics of egoism, right after I have read the subchapter, I realized that sometimes there are many egoistic person. Egoism is an attitude wherein people performs and decides things that would first benefit others but the main reason is if they will benefit from it.

What I have learned:

I have learned and realized that sometimes I am an egoistic person. Sometimes I make decisions and figure out if it will first benefit myself then the others. As a conclusion, I believe that egoism is somehow a bad attitude. If a person would make decisions sometimes we have to set aside our benefits. Sometime we should learn to prioritize others before ourselves.

5 Questions

1. What is ethical egoism?

2. What is moral scepticism?

3. Who is James Rachels?

4. Do you believe in egoism?

5. Do you think egoism is bad?

Review Questions:

1. Explain the legend of Gyges. What questions about morality are raised from the story?

According to the legend, Gyges of Lydia was a shepherd in the service of King Candaules of Lydia. After an earthquake, a cave was revealed in a mountainside where Gyges was feeding his flock. Entering the cave, Gyges discovered that it was in fact the tomb of an enthroned corpse who wore a golden ring, which Gyges pocketed.

2. Distinguish between psychological and ethical egoism.

Psychological Egoism is where men are always viewed on self interest which would benefit them, on the onther hand, ethical egoism means that people are for self interest yet they don’t care what will benefit them.

3. Rachels discusses two arguments for psychological egoism. What are these arguments, and how does he reply to them?

The one is “the agents merely doing what he most wants to do”. People does things that they want yet will not benefit them or others positively. The other is, unselfish actions always produce a sense of self-satisfaction in the agent. It means that when a person does actions, it will always be self satisfying since they only think about their selves.

4. What three commonplace confusions does Rachels detect in the thesis of psychological egoism?

First, is the confusion of selfishness with self interest. The second one is confusion of the assumption that every action is done either from self-interest or from other-regarding motives. And the third confusion is the common but false asssumption that a concern for ones’s own welfare is incompatible with any genuine concern for the welfare of others.

5. State the argument for saying that ethical egoism is inconsistent. Why does Rachels accept the argument?

This brings us to perhaps the most popular “refutation” of ethical egoism current among philosopher writers the arument that ethical egoism is at the bottom of inconsistent because it cannot be universalized. Rachels thinks that this would be unwarranted because he can show how ethical egoism can be maintained consistently.

6. According to Rachels, why shouldn’t we hurt others, and why we should help others? How can egoist reply?

Even though Rachels prove this, it is right and moral to help and be disciplined.

Discussion Questions:

1. Has Rachels answered the questions raised by Glaucon, namely, “Why be moral?” If so, what exactly his answer?

Yes, she explained psychological and ethical egoism.

2. Are genuine egoist rare, as Rachels claims? Is it a fact that most people care about others, even people they don’t know?

Very rare. People nowadays are very much controlled of their attitudes that only thinks about their own satisfaction.

3. Suppose we define ethical altruism as the view that one should always act for the benefit of others and never in one’s own self-interest. Is such a view immoral or not?

For me, it is not immoral yet it is impossible. No one would act only for others.


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