Definition: egoism (from the Latin ego – I) is a vital position according to which the satisfaction of a person’s interest is regarded as the highest good and accordingly one should strive only to the maximum satisfaction of one’s personal interest, perhaps even ignoring and violating the interests of others or the common interest. Egoism is the opposite of altruism. Unlike the latter, it is not a definite, normatively reflected, moral position; egoism is the product of an ethical-philosophical generalization of the description of real morals and how ethical doctrine is the result of a secondary reconstruction concerning this generalization. Only in the ethical-philosophical and moralistic criticism of egoistic mores and characters, egoism was generalized to a certain normative and behavioral model.
Egoism manifests itself in a situation of conflict of interest, where satisfaction of personal interest occurs at the expense of the interest of another person. In this regard, it should be distinguished from self-love, i.e. a natural sense of self-preservation and goodwill towards oneself. Egoism is also sometimes called self-conceit or complacency, in which self-righteousness can, in fact, be carried out at the expense of others. Egoistic behavior should also be distinguished from actions pursuing a particular interest: in the latter, general goals can also be represented. Egoism is wrongly confused with individualism.
J.Rouls identifies three types of egoism, which can be designated as:
- dictatorial egoism: “everyone must serve my interests”;
- egoism of one’s exclusiveness: “Everyone must follow moral principles, except me if this is unprofitable for me”;
- anarchic, or general, egoism: “it is permissible for all to pursue their own interests as they please”.
The first two formulas contradict the fundamental moral requirements – the golden rule of morality and the commandment of love. The third formula can be recognized as morally credible, but with a certain modification of the second part: “… if they do not violate the interests of others.” In this form, it fits perfectly into the moral norm “do not harm.” In the history of philosophy, the real role of egoism as a social quality is reflected in the teachings, which deduce from it the whole variety of social life (sophists, Hobbes, utilitarianism, Stirner, Chernyshevsky). In the new European public thought, the concept of egoism of the rational has been developed, which has gradually been transformed into a special form of utilitarianism. The ethical-philosophical inconsistency of rational egoistic doctrines from different ideological and theoretical positions was substantiated by Kant, Kierkegaard, Marx. As the discussions around the so-called dilemma of a prisoner, a reasonably egoistic behavioral setting cannot be implemented consistently. In a peculiar form, the rational-egotistical scheme of morality is reproduced in sociobiology, in particular in the concept of “mutual altruism”, according to which altruistic behavior is part of the individual’s interest.
Theories of rational egoism reflected that peculiarity of relations mediated by commodity-money economy, which consists in the fact that an autonomous and sovereign individual can satisfy his private interest only as a subject of activity or possessor of goods and services that satisfy the interests of other individuals; in other words, only by entering into a relationship of mutual use, which, due to the equality of forces or the relevant legal provisions, objectively limits selfish willfulness. As shown by Hobbes, Mandeville, A. Smith, egoismis an essential motive of economic and political activity, an important factor in public life.
The restriction of egoism is possible by imposing on the selfish individual responsibilities and assuming the corresponding obligations. However, the latter may contradict egoism as a personal position – obligations are accepted by the egoist only if they meet his interests. But in this case, first, others are a means to achieve its goals; secondly, not an obligation, and personal interest continues to be the basis of his actions, and if his interest demands, the egoist will be ready to act oppositely. If it is a matter of increasing the personal good, then the virtue and correctness of the act turn out to be dependent on the utilitarian understood rationality of behavior. The fundamental normative restriction of egoism is provided by the basic moral requirements and values, which (regardless of differences in cultural and regional traditions) are essentially directed precisely against egoism. However, in addition to these substantial imperative values, morality also has formal features (differently singled out, for example, by Kant, Moore, and Rawls), which exclude egoism.