Egoism Why Should I Be Moral Essay
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Philosophy essay 1 Why Should I be Moral?
A moral person is one that is 'concerned impartially with the interests of everyone affected by what he or she does' (Rachels, p14). But why be so? Why not be an egoist, considering and pursuing only your own interests? By way of first discussing the arguments in favour of egoism, I hope to demonstrate its shortcomings. Ultimately, however, the question 'why be moral' will be shown to be one without a satisfying answer. This is because of the problematic nature of the question itself; it seems that either / or: either we contend that an individual should be moral because it ultimately benefits them to be so – and in that case the answer defeats itself, since we cease to be interested in the needs of others but only our own – or else we are forced to assert that we should be moral simply for self-standing reasons. In any case, it is to the reasons against being moral that this essay now turns.
In Plato's 'The Republic', Glaucon argues that "wherever either person [just or unjust] thinks he can do injustice without impunity, he does it." (Plato, 360 C) This is because while an individual naturally benefits from the just and moral behavior of others, he does not directly benefit from being moral himself. According to Glaucon's argument, therefore, the only reason why we are just is because we are too weak or incompetent to get away with being unjust. If we had the power to be unjust without others doing the same to us in return, we would do so, lying, stealing and exploiting others to better our own position – to do otherwise would be irrational. What distinguishes the just from the unjust is therefore not their moral sensibilities, but simply the extent to which they believe they can successfully act unjustly without repercussions.
Glaucon's claim, however, rests on the assumption that it is only rational to consider one's own interests – a belief known as rational egoism (RE). Such a view doesn't preclude consideration for others, but would argue that it is only rational to do so in order to ultimately further one's own interests. (I.E – I generally tell the truth to better my chances of others telling the truth to me, but if I thought I could get away with lying and would benefit from it, then it would be rational in such instances to lie).
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