Metaethical Problems for Ethical Egoism, Reconsidered

Until recently it has been conventional to assume that ethical egoism is "ethical" is name, alone, and that no account that considers one's own interests as the standard of moral obligation could count as seriously "ethical." In recent years, however, philosophers have shown increasing respect for more sophisticated forms of ethical egoism which attempt to define self-interest in enriched terms characterizing self-interest as human flourishing in both material and psychological dimensions. But philosophers are still skeptical that any conception of self-interest could underpin ethical theory. This paper considers recent arguments by Richard Joyce, who is willing to concede enriched conceptions of self-interest, but who claims that egoism cannot support appropriate counterfactual conditionals about morality, or inferential uses of ordinary moral thinking. I argue that ethical egoism can satisfy each of Joyce's desiderata for morality, provided that it is taken to involve the very notion of enriched self-interest that Joyce is elsewhere willing to consider. In showing that egoism can count as a moral theory, I show, in effect, that Joyce's arguments for error theory about morality are really arguments for error theory about agent-neutral, non-egoistic morality.
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