Ethical and Psychological Egoism


Egoism is considered to be the global aspect in the philosophy and is thoroughly studied by all the thinkers of the world. Egoism is defined as self motivation or goal aimed at the satisfaction of one’s own needs. The theory of egoism has been examined throughout centuries because it is an integral part of human nature. People got used to act for themselves, for their own purpose and for their own interests. Thus, it is very important to give a detail description to the egoism theory and its main types and aspects.

Main body

Psychological egoism is considered to concentrate on the self-motivation and is disclosed in descriptive egoist’s theory. This type of egoism predetermines the desire to act in order to reach personal welfare. This theory is basically devoted to the research of the self-interested motives. Psychological egoism is considered to be a kind of empirical theory based on the human behavior. It provides no limitations to the human actions and explains that people usually strive for seeking their self interests in life. Psychological egoism theory states that no matter what people do and how their actions are perceived, they always direct their action on the satisfaction of their own interests.

Even if people do something noble they try to meet their personal interests by these actions. The theory of psychological egoism states that any human behavior, no matter good or bad, is considered to be selfish, because people never try to do something for others, their actions are aimed at their personal desires. It is important to stress that this theory really takes place in our life and it is impossible to prove the opposite. Every theory can be proved as it is based on some evidence and ideas. Though this theory is considered to be thoroughly examined it is rather closed; but it gives an opportunity to prove that any human action is self motivated.

The fallacy of psychological egoism lies in the fact that not all actions performed by people are aimed at self interest. It can be explained by the following:

  • People usually have some harmful habits such as worrying or smoking;
  • People got used to help each other without thinking about themselves;
  • Sometimes people act in accordance with their conscience without getting any benefits;
  • Very often actions are caused by immediate reactions and in this case people cannot follow their self interest.

Ethical egoism can be defined as normative theory which discloses the idea of self interest and morality interrelation. This type of egoism theories highlights the fact that all people should act in accordance with their personal needs and interest, though not everyone does so. This theory states that morality and self interest promotion are closely connected with each other. There are two versions of this theory.

Strong version of ethical egoism theory underlines the fact that to promote one’s good is considered to be always moral and not to promote is never moral. As to the weak version of this theory aspect it states that though to promote one’s good is regarded to be moral, not to promote it should not be considered as not moral. These two versions are contradictory enough because they present morality from different angles.

Psychological and ethical egoism theories differ a lot from each other. Psychological egoists direct their actions on the satisfaction of their own interests and getting some benefits of it. All their behavior is considered to be selfish and any actions are deeply self motivated. Analyzing ethical egoism theory it is important to stress that it is aimed at the promotion of morality; according to it all actions performed and promoted are moral. This theory says that people should act taking into account their personal interests; they should always be self motivated for them not to spend their efforts in vain.

The doctrines of motivation of egoism theories are predetermined by the notion of morality and its meaning in both theories. Some thinkers say that the doctrine of psychological egoism results in the useless of the ethical one. The motivation of the psychological egoists is considered to be private and personal, while ethical egoists’ motivation is basically aimed at the promotion in the society; it is more open and vivid. Ethical egoism theory is based on the motivational doctrine of self-interest while psychological one is focused on the doctrine of selfishness.

It should be noted that the notions “self interest” and “selfishness” are quite contrastive though they are used in both theories of egoism. “Selfishness” means that person takes advantage of everything and acts for his own needs satisfaction while “self interest” is directed to the personal interest in the action, not compulsory in the personal one. Self interest does not mean the expression of selfishness.

For example, to follow the law is never regarded to be selfishness, though it is self interest of every person. One more difference between these two notions concerns the fact that not all actions done by people are selfish and self motivated, because if, for example, a person is a smoker, he does not perform selfishness either. And at last, it is necessary to add that self interests of a person can coincide with interests of others people; in this case selfishness has nothing to do. Actions directed to help others will never be considered selfish even if one feels some rate of interest in it.


Thus, the analysis carried out showed that there are a lot of doctrines and theories of the “egoism” notion. The examination of the psychological and ethical egoism theories disclosed the main differences between them and showed the role of self interest and self motivation in the human life.


Mullenweg, Matthew. Ethics: Psychological Egoism. For Dr. Philips.

Baier, Kurt. (1990). “Egoisim” in A Companion to Ethics. Ed. Peter Singer. Blackwell: Oxford.

Rachels, James. (1995). Elements of Moral Philosophy. Mcgraw-Hill: London.