Ethics Updates


Ethical Egoism

MultiMedia Resources on Ethical Egoism

Lawrence M. Hinman: Video and PowerPoint Resources

Online Surveys

A Survey of Selected Internet Resources on Ethical Egoism

A Bibliographical Survey of Ethical Egoism

Classical Sources

One of the classical sources for a statement of psychological egoism is Thomas Hobbesí Leviathan (1651); it is available on the web at gopher:// For a contemporary reinterpretation of Hobbes which partially challenges the belief that he was a psychological egoist, see Gregory S. Kavka, Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), especially Chapter Two. Bernard Gertís "Hobbes and Psychological Egoism," in Hobbes' Leviathan: Interpretation and Criticism, edited by Bernard Baumrin (Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1969), pp. 107-26, introduced the term "tautological egoism;" Gert argues against reading Hobbes solely as a psychological egoist. For a vigorous defense of Hobbesí place in English philosophy, see David Gauthier, "Thomas Hobbes: Moral Theorist," in his Moral Dealing. Contract, Ethics, and Reason (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), pp. 11-23.

Short Introductions to Egoism

There are several good, short introductions to egoism. See Kurt Baier, "Egoism," A Companion to Ethics, edited by Peter Singer (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991), pp. 197-204; Richard Campbell, "Egoism," Encyclopedia of Ethics, edited by Lawrence C. Becker (New York: Garland Publishing, 1992) Vol. I, pp. 294-297; and.Elliott Sober, "Psychological Egoism," The Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory, edited by Hugh LaFollette (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000).

Internet Resources

There are several egoism resources on the world wide web: The most extensive set of resources is to be found at the Egoist Archive ( ); the Max Stirner Web site ( ) also contains helpful resources on Max Stirner, one of the earliest German egoists; the Objectivism and Ayn Rand site ( ) contains information about Ayn Rand; LibertyOnline ( is also an excellent resource. For a continually updated list of resources on ethical egoism, see the Ethical Egoism ( page of my Ethics Updates. For an excellent assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of psychological egoism, see Hugh LaFollette, "The Truth in Psychological Egoism," (

Sociobiology and Altruism

See Edward O. Wilsonís On Human Nature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), which is directed toward a nonscientific audience, and his Sociobiology: A New Synthesis (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975), which provides a more technical statement of the issues; more recently, Robert Wrightís The Moral Animal: Why We are the Way We Are (New York Vintage Books, 1994) has furthered the case for evolutionary psychology. The literature generated by sociobiology is vast, but for two good anthologies of critical evaluations, see The Sociobiology Debate, edited by Arthur Caplan (New York: Harper and Row, 1978) and Sociobiology Examined, edited by Ashley Montagu (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980) and my own article, "The Ambiguity and Limits of a Sociobiological Ethic," International Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. XXIII, 1 (March, 1983), pp. 79-89. For a discussion of the relevance of sociobiology to egoism, see Peter Singer, The Expanding Circle (New York: New American Library, 1982) and Kavka, Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory, pp. 56 ff. For a short overview, see Alan Gibbard, "Sociobiology," A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy, edited by Robert E. Goodin and Philip Pettit (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1993), pp. 597-610.

Defense of the Possibility of Altruism

For a defense of the possibility of altruism, see Thomas Nagel, The Possibility of Altruism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970). On the rationality of altruism, see Kristen R. Monroe, Michael C. Barton, and Ute Klingemann, "Altruism and the Theory of Rational Action: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe," Ethics, Vol. 101 (October, 1990), pp. 103-122. For an overview of the psychological literature, see Dennis Krebs, "Psychological Approaches to Altruism: An Evaluation." Ethics, 92 (1982), 447-58. For a further discussion of the villagers of Le Chambon, see the chapter on Virtue Ethics below and the bibliographical essay for that chapter. Also see the essays in the issue on altruism of Social Philosophy & Policy, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Winter, 1993) and the issue on self-interest, Social Philosophy & Policy, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Winter, 1997).

Reviews on Ethical Egoism Literature

For a review of the literature on ethical egoism, see Tibor Machan, "Recent Work on Ethical Egoism," American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 1 (January, 1979), pp. 1-15. Alasdair MacIntyreís "Egoism and Altruism" in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Paul Edwards (New York: Macmillan, 1967), vol. II, pp. 462-66 contains a perceptive overview of work in this area. Also see Edward Regis, Jr., "What Is Ethical Egoism?" Ethics, Vol. 91 (October, 1980), pp. 50-62, for a careful consideration of the various meanings of ethical egoism. There are two excellent anthologies of articles on ethical egoism: David Gauthier, ed., Morality and Rational Self-interest (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970); and Ronald. D. Miloís Egoism and Altruism (Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1973). For a review and analysis of attempts to reconcile egoism and traditional accounts of morality, see Gregory S. Kavka, "The Reconciliation Project," Morality, Reason and Truth. New Essays on the Foundations of Ethics, edited by David Copp and David Zimmerman (Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Allanheld, 1984), pp. 297-319


Among the major critiques of ethical egoism are Christine Korsgaard, "The Myth of Egoism," The Lindley Lectures (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1999); C. D. Broad, "Egoism as a Theory of Human Motives," reprinted in Egoism and Altruism, edited by Ronald Milo (Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1973), pp. 88-100;. David Gauthier, "Morality and Advantage," Philosophical Review, Vol. 76 (1967), pp. 460-75, reprinted in his Morality and Rational Self-interest; and his "The Impossibility of Rational Egoism," The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 71 (1974), pp. 439-56 and his "The Incompleat Egoist," in his Moral Dealing: Contract, Ethics, and Reason (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), pp. 234-73; James Rachels, "Two Arguments Against Ethical Egoism," Philosophia, Vol. 4 (1974), pp. 297-314; Brian Medlin, "Ultimate Principles and Ethical Egoism," Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 35 (1978), pp. 111-18; Warren Quinn, "Egoism as an Ethical System," Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 71 (1974), pp. 456-72; Kurt Baier, The Moral Point of View (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1958), and his "Ethical Egoism and Interpersonal Compatibility," Philosophical Studies, Vol. 24 (1973), pp. 357-68; and Richard Brandt, "Rationality, Egoism, and Morality," Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 69 (1972), pp. 681-97. For an excellent collection of critical essays on self-interest from a wide range of disciplines, see Beyond Self-interest, edited by Jane J. Mansbridge (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990).

Jesse Kalinís articles provide a tightly-argued defense of the ethical egoistís position. See his "On Ethical Egoism," American Philosophical Quarterly Monograph 1 (1969), pp. 26-41;. "Two Kinds of Moral Reasoning," Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 5 (1975), pp. 323-56; and "In Defense of Egoism," in Morality and Rational Self-interest, edited by David Gauthier (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice Hall, 1970). The game metaphor in Kalinís argument is discussed in Sidney Trivus, "On Playing the Game," The Personalist, Vol. 59 (1978), pp. 82-84. Edward. Regis, Jr., "Ethical Egoism and Moral Responsibility," American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 16 (1979), pp. 45-52, defends a version of nonmaximizing ethical egoism that escapes some of the standard criticisms that ethical egoism permits behavior that commonsense morality would prohibit. More recently, see the defense of ethical egoism in John Van Ingen, Why Be Moral? The Egoistic Challenge (New York: Lang, 1994).

Much of the discussion of ethical egoism has appeared in a journal called The Personalist (which is now published under the name Pacific Philosophical Quarterly); see the articles by Emmons, (1969); Brandon (1970); Emmons (1971); Skorpen (1969); Murphy (1971); Nozick (1971); Hospers (1973); Den Uyl (1975); Dwyer (1975); Carlson (1976); Burrill (1976); Sanders (1976); Benditt (1976); Sanders (1977).

Moral Sensitivity

On the issue of ethical egoism and moral sensitivity, see Anthony Duff, "Psychopathy and Moral Understanding," American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 14 (1977), pp. 189-200; Chong Kim Chong, "Ethical Egoism and the Moral Point of View," Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. 26 (1992), pp. 23-36; and Daniel Putnam, "Egoism and Virtue," ibid. For general comments on the issue of moral sensitivity, see Larry May, "Insensitivity and Moral Responsibility," Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. 26 (1992), pp. 7-22 For a consideration of egoism and friendship, see R. D. Ashmore, Jr., "Friendship and the Problem of Egoism," The Thomist, Vol. 41 (1977), pp. 105-30. On the role of altruism in friendship, see Lawrence A. Blum, Friendship, Altruism, and Morality (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980) and Jeffrey Blustein, Care and Commitment (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991). For an argument that the dichotomous categories of altruism and self-interest do not fit friendship, see John Hardwig, "In Search of an Ethic of Interpersonal Relations," Person to Person, edited by George Graham and Hugh LaFollette (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989), pp. 63-81.

Ethical Egoism and Libertarianism

Much contemporary work about ethical egoism is inspired by libertarianism. Ayn Randís novels, such as Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, provide a powerful literary expression of the ethical egoistís standpoint; her explicit statement of the egoistís standpoint is to be found in her The Virtue of Selfishness (New York: Signet, 1964). For a libertarian approach that is particularly sensitive to the issue of egoism and rights, see Eric Mack, "How to Derive Ethical Egoism," The Personalist, Vol. 52 (1971), pp. 735-43; "Egoism and Rights," The Personalist, Vol. 54 (1973), pp. 5-33; .and "Egoism and Rights Revisited," The Personalist, Vol. 58 (1977), pp. 282-88. Also see Tibor Machan, Individuals and Their Rights (LaSalle, Illinois: Open Court, 1989).


The quotation from Ayn Rand at the beginning of this chapter comes from her novel Atlas Shrugged, pp. 984, 993. The citation from Kavka is from his Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory, p. 66.

Discussion Questions
  1. What is the most selfish act you can imagine? Why is it the most selfish one? If you found the act morally objectionable, what specifically was objectionable about it?
  2. In his "Fable of the Bees," Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733) argues, perhaps in jest, that "private vices" produce "publick benefits." Can you think of a situation in which this works? If so, is it exceptional, or can we make it the rule?
  3. Is self-preservation a moral imperative or just a fact? Are there situations in which self-preservation is not the highest value? Is it selfish to prefer (saving) one's own life to that of others? From an evolutionary standpoint, is "survival of the fittest" selfish or selfless?
  4. Is "enlightened self-interest" a contradiction in terms, or is it really the basis for all action?
  5. Egoism and Friendship. Do you have any friends or acquaintances who act like ethical egoists? Does this present any special problems or issues in your relationship with them? Can an ethical egoist be a good friend? Why or why not? If you like, please join our Ethics Updates on-line discussion of "Egoism and Friendship" at
  6. Have you ever read any of the novels of Ayn Rand? If so, what was your reaction? What, if anything, appealed to you in her characters? What, if anything, did you dislike about her characters? How does her fiction fit in with the theory of ethical egoism?