How could one embrace ethical egoism without also embracing psychological egoism?
Ethical Egoism is an ethical theory that claims that actions are right insofar as they promote a
person's own self interest. Under this theory, if one acts out of altruism (does something solely for the
sake of another person), this action is wrong. Psychological Egoism is a theory of moral psychology
(a theory of mind with respect to actions). It claims that all of our motivations for action are reducible
to self-interest. According to this theory, although people might claim to be acting out of altruism, they
are mistaken. Their so-called 'altruism' is actually an instance of self-interest. For example, the
Psychological Egoist would interpret an act of charity as being a case of a person displaying her
personal wealth and power over others less fortunate than she is (This example can be found in
Hobbes' Leviathan— Hobbes is a psychological egoist). This act of charity can thus be reduced to an
action that promotes an agent's self-interest, and was not really done for the sake of others in need.
As you can see, these two theories are very different. Psychological Egoism, being a theory of moral
psychology, is what can be considered an 'error theory' about moral terms (moral language). While
we think that moral terms like 'charity', 'generosity' and 'altruism' are words we use to refer to actions
that consider the needs of other people, we are mistaken. Ultimately, we only consider the needs of
other people insofar as they affect our fundamental self-interest. All our actions, at heart, are
self-interested, according to this theory. Ethical Egoism is not a theory of moral psychology. It is a
theory that suggests that self-interest is a principle by which we can determine whether actions are
right or wrong. Typically, this theory suggests that since every person has one life to live, and this life
is of fundamental value, actions that do not promote this fundamental, individual good are wrong.
Moreover, trying to promote the self-interest of other people does them an injustice (is paternalistic),
since no person can live the life of any other person and know what is truly in their best self-interest.
One can be an Ethical Egoist without falling into Psychological Egoism quite easily because the
Ethical Egoist does not deny that people may be motivated by things like concern for the common
good, concern for the good of one's family, community or nation, or even pure, saintly altruism. There
can be a plurality of things that motivate our actions, but Ethical Egoism tells us that some of these
motivations might be irrational, useless or harmful. Unless we employ our understanding that
self-interest should guide our actions, we will often do the wrong thing. Unlike Psychological Egoism,
Ethical Egoism is not an error theory about the meaning of our moral terms. It may suggest (very
strongly) that altruistic actions are wrong, but it does not say that altruism is really, when looked at
deeply enough, a self-interested action. The Psychological Egoist might applaud altruistic acts, since
she believes that these actions, like ALL the rest, really express self-interest. The Ethical Egoist