Philosophy Topic: Psychological Egoism (1)





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Uploaded on Sep 21, 2007

From the season five episode "The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS". In it the characters debate psychological egoism.


Psychological egoism is about as dead as a philosophical theory can get. It is a good example of a bit of progress philosophers have made. "Can we act selflessly?" Turns out, the answer is: "Yes." However, arguments like Joey's for psychological egoism (i.e. that we can only act selfishly) often strike non-professionals as convincing. There are a number of fatal flaws philosophers have identified with psychological egoism. Can you tell one of the ways the position Joey is arguing for goes wrong?

Here is one site that covers some of the problems that philosophers have found with psychological egoism well:


There is an important distinction to keep in mind when watching this video (Joey is defending the first of the two):

Psychological egoism: We cannot act selflessly. Every action is selfish.

Ethical egoism: We can act selflessly, but we shouldn't. We should act selfishly.

Often people mistakenly argue for ethical egoism on the basis of psychological egoism (But Joey isn't in this clip). However, far from supporting one another, they cannot both be true. If psychological egoism is true and one cannot avoid acting selfishly, then ethical egoism cannot say we should act selfishly. After all, that would entail that we *could* act selflessly, only that we shouldn't.

Consequently, the fact that psychological egoism is false does not mean that ethical egoism is as well. In fact, if psychological egoism wasn't false, then ethical egoism would have to be.


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