About this topic
Summary Psychological egoism is the thesis that all of our (intentional) actions are ultimately motivated by what we take to be in our own self-interest. This is distinct from ethical egoism, which makes a similar claim that is normative rather than merely descriptive. Many treat altruism as a motivational state that is ultimately other-regarding. (This is importantly different from more technical uses of the term, such as the merely behavioral sense often used in evolutionary theory.) Psychological altruism is the main opposing view, stating that some of our actions are ultimately motivated by genuine altruism (ultimately other-regarding motivations). Importantly, the motivations here must be ultimate or intrinsic. Psychological egoists admit that we can desire to help another, but they will maintain that this is merely instrumental to an ultimate desire that is self-interested. Such a theory is important to ethics in part because it can potentially lead to challenging morality: If altruism is psychologically impossible, then it can't be our duty to be altruistic.
Key works Egoism was a dominant topic among the British Moralists. The selections from Hobbes, Shaftesbury, Mandeville, Hutcheson, Butler, Hume, Smith, and Bentham in Raphael 1991 are key. However, Butler 1726 (esp. Sermon XI) is one of the most important. Broad 1949 provides a more recent starting point, reflecting the popular view that Butler thoroughly "killed" egoism. In fact, most philosophers seem to think the theory has been long dead. Yet Sober & Wilson 1998 (esp. Ch. 9) argue that this is too fast, although evolutionary theory can better resolve the debate (Ch. 10). 
Introductions Feinberg 1978 provides a classic, but increasingly dated, summary. More recent overviews are in May 2011 and Shaver 2008, which include discussion of empirical work on egoism. For a more detailed review of the empirical literature, see Stich et al 2010.
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221 found
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  1. added 2018-08-11
    Précis of Regard for Reason in the Moral Mind.Joshua May - forthcoming - Behavioral and Brain Sciences:1-20.
    Regard for Reason in the Moral Mind argues that a careful examination of the scientific literature reveals a foundational role for reasoning in moral thought and action. Grounding moral psychology in reason then paves the way for a defense of moral knowledge and virtue against a variety of empirical challenges, such as debunking arguments and situationist critiques. The book attempts to provide a corrective to current trends in moral psychology, which celebrate emotion over reason and generate pessimism about the psychological (...)
  2. added 2018-04-28
    Francis Hutcheson and John Clarke on Desire and Self-Interest.John J. Tilley - 2019 - The European Legacy 24 (1): 1-24.
    Among the most animating debates in eighteenth-century British ethics was the debate over psychological egoism, the view that our most basic desires are self-interested. An important episode in that debate, less well known than it should be, was the exchange between Francis Hutcheson and John Clarke of Hull. In the early editions of his Inquiry into Virtue, Hutcheson argued ingeniously against psychological egoism; in his Foundation of Morality, Clarke argued ingeniously against Hutcheson’s arguments. Later, Hutcheson attempted new arguments against psychological (...)
  3. added 2018-02-17
    Ruling Passions: A Theory of Practical Reasoning.Simon Blackburn - 1998 - Oxford University Press UK.
    Simon Blackburn puts forward a compelling original philosophy of human motivation and morality. He maintains that we cannot get clear about ethics until we get clear about human nature. So these are the sorts of questions he addresses: Why do we behave as we do? Can we improve? Is our ethics at war with our passions, or is it an upshot of those passions? Blackburn seeks the answers in an exploration of guilt, shame, disgust, and other moral emotions; he draws (...)
  4. added 2017-12-05
    Generosity: A Preliminary Account of a Surprisingly Neglected Virtue.Christian B. Miller - 2018 - Metaphilosophy 49 (3):216-245.
    There have only been three articles in mainstream philosophy journals going back at least to the 1970s on generosity. In this paper, I hope to draw attention to this neglected virtue. By building on what work has already been done, and trying to advance that discussion along several different dimensions, I hope that others will take a closer look at this important and surprisingly complex virtue. More specifically, I formulate three important necessary conditions for what is involved in possessing the (...)
  5. added 2017-09-20
    Butler's Stone.John J. Tilley - 2018 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 99 (4): 891–909.
    Early in the eleventh of his Fifteen Sermons, Joseph Butler advances his best-known argument against psychological hedonism. Elliott Sober calls that argument Butler’s stone, and famously objects to it. I consider whether Butler’s stone has philosophical value. In doing so I examine, and reject, two possible ways of overcoming Sober’s objection, each of which has proponents. In examining the first way I discuss Lord Kames’s version of the stone argument, which has hitherto escaped scholarly attention. Finally, I show that Butler’s (...)
  6. added 2017-08-25
    Francis Hutcheson and John Clarke: Self-Interest, Desire, and Divine Impassibility.John J. Tilley - 2017 - International Philosophical Quarterly 57 (3):315-330.
    In this article I address a puzzle about one of Francis Hutcheson’s objections to psychological egoism. The puzzle concerns his premise that God receives no benefit from rewarding the virtuous. Why, in the early editions of his Inquiry Concerning Virtue, does Hutcheson leave this premise undefended? And why, in the later editions, does he continue to do so, knowing that in 1726 John Clarke of Hull had subjected the premise to plausible criticism, geared to the very audience for whom Hutcheson’s (...)
  7. added 2017-06-05
    Apriorist Self-Interest: How It Embraces Altruism and is Not Vacuous.J. C. Lester - 1997 - Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems 20 (3):221-232.
    This essay is part of an attempt to reconcile two extreme views in economics: the (neglected) subjective, apriorist approach and the (standard) objective, scientific (i.e., falsifiable) approach. The Austrian subjective view of value, building on Carl Menger’s theory of value, was developed into a theory of economics as being entirely an a priori theory of action. This probably finds its most extreme statement in Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action (1949). In contrast, the standard economic view has developed into making falsifiable (...)
  8. added 2017-05-31
    Character and Moral Psychology.Christian Miller - 2014 - Oxford University Press.
    This book first reviews Miller's theory of Mixed Traits, as developed in his 2013 book Moral Character: An Empirical Theory. It then engages extensively with situations, the CAPS model in social psychology, and the Big Five Model in personality psychology. It ends by taking up implications for his view in meta-ethics (a modified error theory) and normative ethics (a challenge for virtue ethics).
  9. added 2017-05-10
    How Contemporary Psychology Supports Central Elements of Simḥah Zissel’s Picture of Character.Christian Miller - 2017 - Journal of Jewish Ethics 3:120-130.
    This is my contribution to a book symposium on Professor Geoffrey Claussen’s book, Sharing the Burden: Rabbi Simḥah Zissel Ziv and the Path of Musar. I focus on just two topics that figure prominently in Professor Claussen’s book: human nature and the virtue of love.
  10. added 2017-05-10
    Why There Might Not Be an Evolutionary Explanation for Psychological Altruism.Stephen Stich - 2016 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 56:3-6.
  11. added 2017-05-04
    Does Altruism Exist? [REVIEW]William Irwin - 2016 - Philosophy Now 112:46-47.
  12. added 2017-02-15
    The Bright and Dark Side of Altruism: Demographic, Personality Traits, and Disorders Associated with Altruism.Adrian Furnham, Luke Treglown, Gillian Hyde & Geoff Trickey - 2016 - Journal of Business Ethics 134 (3):359-368.
  13. added 2017-02-14
    Autism, Empathizing-Systemizing (Es) Theory, and Pathological Altruism.Simon Baron-Cohen - 2011 - In Barbara Oakley, Ariel Knafo, Guruprasad Madhavan & David Sloan Wilson (eds.), Pathological Altruism. Oxford University Press. pp. 345.
  14. added 2017-02-14
    The Elusive Altruist: The Psychological Study of the Altruistic Personality.Gustavo Carlo, Lisa M. PytlikZillig, Scott C. Roesch & Richard A. Dienstbier - 2009 - In Darcia Narvaez & Daniel Lapsley (eds.), Personality, Identity, and Character. Cambridge University Press.
  15. added 2017-02-14
    Sellars' Defense of Altruism.W. David Solomon - 1978 - In Joseph Pitt (ed.), The Philosophy of Wilfrid Sellars: Queries and Extensions. D. Reidel. pp. 25--39.
  16. added 2017-02-07
    Book Review:Friendship, Altruism, and Morality. Lawrence A. Blum. [REVIEW]Norman C. Gillespie - 1983 - Ethics 93 (3):596-.
  17. added 2017-02-06
    Two Types of Psychological Hedonism.Justin Garson - 2016 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 56:7-14.
    I develop a distinction between two types of psychological hedonism. Inferential hedonism (or “I-hedonism”) holds that each person only has ultimate desires regarding his or her own hedonic states (pleasure and pain). Reinforcement hedonism (or “R–hedonism”) holds that each person's ultimate desires, whatever their contents are, are differentially reinforced in that person’s cognitive system only by virtue of their association with hedonic states. I’ll argue that accepting R-hedonism and rejecting I-hedonism provides a conciliatory position on the traditional altruism debate, and (...)
  18. added 2017-02-02
    Morality and Altruism.John Kekes - 1981 - Journal of Value Inquiry 15 (4):265-278.
  19. added 2017-01-28
    Smiley, C. W. -Altruism Considered Economically.E. E. C. Jones - 1905 - Mind 14:146.
  20. added 2017-01-27
    Altruism Beyond Con-Specifics: The Role of Nature Religions.Abhik Gupta - 2006 - Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 16 (5):134-139.
  21. added 2017-01-26
    Altruism and Subjective Well-Being: Conceptual Model and Empirical Support.Carolyn Schwartz - 2007 - In Stephen G. Post (ed.), Altruism and Health: Perspectives From Empirical Research. Oup Usa. pp. 33--42.
  22. added 2017-01-22
    Review: Sober and Wilson on Psychological Altruism. [REVIEW]Dale Jamieson - 2002 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 65 (3):702 - 710.
    The problem of Evolutionary Altruism (EA) "is to show how\nbehaviors that benefit others at the expense of self can\nevolve;" group selection is the key to the solution of this\nproblem. The problem of Psychological Altruism (PA) is to\ndetermine whether people "have altruistic desires that are\npsychologically ultimate." After carefully considering the\narguments of both psychologists and philosophers, Sober and\nWilson render the verdict "not proven." But just in the\nnick of time, evolutionary biology rides to the rescue; it\nsucceeds where psychology and philosophy fail in\nvindicating our (...)
  23. added 2017-01-22
    A Dialectical Dissolution of Psychological Hedonism.Laurence J. Lafleur - 1953 - Review of Metaphysics 7 (3):368 - 378.
  24. added 2017-01-21
    Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson, Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior:Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior. [REVIEW]Michael Ruse - 2000 - Ethics 110 (2):443-445.
  25. added 2017-01-21
    Book Review:The Duty of Altruism. Ray Madding McConnell. [REVIEW]Radoslav A. Tsanoff - 1912 - Ethics 22 (2):245-.
  26. added 2017-01-20
    Is There a Paradox of Altruism?Robert Paul Churchill & Erin Street - 2004 - In Jonathan Seglow (ed.), Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy. F. Cass Publishers. pp. 87-105.
    Behavioural scientists show altruism to exist as a distinctive personality. Yet when subjected to philosophical scrutiny, and altruistic personality is prima facie paradoxical. To motivate herself to help others, the altruist needs ?extensivity?, the capacity to compassionately identify with others. To aid others effectively, however, the altruist must have individuation, the possession of highly developed autonomy and self-efficacy. We assert that a better understanding of the relationship between concern for others and concern for self reveals the paradox to be merely (...)
  27. added 2017-01-20
    The Problem of Altruism in the Philosophy of Saint Thomas.Cyril Harry Miron - 1939 - Washington: The Catholic University of America Press.
  28. added 2017-01-19
    Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson: Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior. [REVIEW]Austin Dacey - 2001 - Journal of Value Inquiry 35 (2):279-283.
  29. added 2017-01-19
    Varieties of Altruism - and the Common Ground Between Them.Nicholas Humphrey - 1997 - Social Research 64.
  30. added 2017-01-18
    Self and Others: A Defence of Altruism.W. G. Maclagan - 1954 - Philosophical Quarterly 4 (15):109-127.
  31. added 2017-01-16
    Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior. Elliott Sober, David Sloan Wilson.David Wÿss Rudge - 2001 - Isis 92 (2):379-380.
  32. added 2017-01-16
    Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior. Elliott Sober, David Sloan Wilson. [REVIEW]Jane Maienschein - 1999 - Isis 90 (2):406-407.
  33. added 2017-01-16
    Four Types of Altruism.Björn Petersson - unknown
  34. added 2017-01-15
    Introduction: The Biology of Psychological Altruism.Justin Garson & Armin W. Schulz - 2016 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 56:1-2.
    I develop a distinction between two types of psychological hedonism. Inferential hedonism (or “I-hedonism”) holds that each person only has ultimate desires regarding his or her own hedonic states (pleasure and pain). Reinforcement hedonism (or “R–hedonism”) holds that each person's ultimate desires, whatever their contents are, are differentially reinforced in that person’s cognitive system only by virtue of their association with hedonic states. I’ll argue that accepting R-hedonism and rejecting I-hedonism provides a conciliatory position on the traditional altruism debate, and (...)
  35. added 2017-01-15
    Can Altruism Be Unified?Grant Ramsey - 2016 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 56:32-38.
    There is clearly a plurality of forms of altruism. Classically, biological altruism is distinguished from psychological altruism. Recent discussions of altruism have attempted to distinguish even more forms of altruism. I will focus on three altruism concepts, biological altruism, psychological altruism, and helping altruism. The questions I am concerned with here are, first, how should we understand these concepts? and second, what relationship do these concepts bear to one another? In particular, is there an essence to altruism that unifies these (...)
  36. added 2017-01-15
    An Examination of Psychological Hedonism.W. A. Merrylees - 1932 - Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy 10 (2):92-108.
  37. added 2017-01-14
    Altruism.Erik S. Ohlander - unknown
  38. added 2017-01-14
    Altruism: Volume 10, Part 1.Ellen Frankel Paul, Miller Jr & Jeffrey Paul - 1993 - Cambridge University Press.
    Confronting crucial and difficult issues, the ten authors whose essays appear in this volume offer fresh perspectives on the nature and value of altruism. This collection of essays on moral philosophy deal with the balance to be struck between egoism and altruism - that is, between pursuing one's own interests and serving the interest of others - and with related issues. Contributions examine the relationship between altruism and rationality; consider cases in which one's personal needs and goals may legitimately be (...)
  39. added 2016-12-12
    From a Biological Point of View: Essays in Evolutionary Philosophy.Elliott Sober - 1994 - Cambridge University Press.
    Elliott Sober is one of the leading philosophers of science and is a former winner of the Lakatos Prize, the major award in the field. This new collection of essays will appeal to a readership that extends well beyond the frontiers of the philosophy of science. Sober shows how ideas in evolutionary biology bear in significant ways on traditional problems in philosophy of mind and language, epistemology, and metaphysics. Amongst the topics addressed are psychological egoism, solipsism, and the interpretation of (...)
  40. added 2016-12-08
    Moral Character: An Empirical Theory.Christian Miller - 2013 - Oxford University Press.
    The goal of this book is to develop a new framework for thinking about what moral character looks like today. My central claim will be that most people have moral character traits, but at the same time they do not have either the traditional  ...
  41. added 2016-12-08
    Selflessness & Cognition.Lawrence A. Lengbeyer - 2005 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 8 (4):411-435.
    What are the cognitive mechanisms that underlie selfless conduct, both ‘thinking’ and unthinking? We first consider deliberate selflessness, a manner of selecting acts in which, in evaluating options, one expressly chooses not to weigh the potential consequences for oneself (though this formulation is seen as needing some qualification). We then turn to unthinking behavior in general, and whether we are responsible for it, as the foundation for analyzing the unthinking variety of selflessness. Using illustrative cases (Grenade Gallantry, The Well-Meaning Miner, (...)
  42. added 2016-12-08
    Commentary on Sober and Wilson, Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior.Danielc Dennett - 2002 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 65 (3):692-696.
  43. added 2016-12-08
    Egoism and Morality.Leslie Mulholland - 1989 - Journal of Philosophy 86 (10):542-550.
  44. added 2016-11-01
    The Paradox of Aquinas's Altruism.R. Mary Hayden - 1989 - Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 63:72-83.
    Aquinas argues that love of others depends on whether the other is seen as a person like oneself or as a tool of gratification. The former grounds love-of-friendship (altruistic love), the latter love-of-concupiscence. Seeing the other as a person like oneself enables one to love the other as another self, thereby, basing altruism ultimately on self-love.
  45. added 2016-06-13
    The Transient Suppression of the Worst Devils of Our Nature—a Review of Steven Pinker’s ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined’(2012).Michael Starks - 2017 - Philosophy, Human Nature and the Collapse of Civilization -- Articles and Reviews 2006-2017 3rd Ed 686p(2017).
    This is not a perfect book, but it is unique, and if you skim the first 400 or so pages, the last 300 (of some 700) are a pretty good attempt to apply what's known about behavior to social changes in violence and manners over time. The basic topic is: how does our genetics control and limit social change? Surprisingly he fails to describe the nature of kin selection (inclusive fitness) which explains much of animal and human social life. He (...)
  46. added 2016-04-18
    Empathy and Intersubjectivity.Joshua May - 2017 - In Heidi Maibom (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Empathy. New York: Routledge. pp. 169-179.
    Empathy is intersubjective in that it connects us mentally with others. Some theorists believe that by blurring the distinction between self and other empathy can provide a radical form of altruism that grounds all of morality and even a kind of immortality. Others are more pessimistic and maintain that in distorting the distinction between self and other empathy precludes genuine altruism. Even if these positions exaggerate self-other merging, empathy’s intersubjectivity can perhaps ground ordinary altruism and the rational recognition that one (...)
  47. added 2016-03-29
    Distributive Justice and Empirical Moral Psychology.Christian Miller - 2015 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:Online.
    Bargaining games typically involve two players distributing a specific payoff (usually money), and will be our focus here, as they are especially helpful for examining the moral psychology of justice. Examples include the ultimatum game and dictator game. We will also look at a novel twist on the dictator game by the psychologist Daniel Batson, which has fostered a large experimental literature on what he calls ‘moral hypocrisy.’ Finally we will connect this discussion of economic games to the virtue of (...)
  48. added 2016-03-23
    Moral Reason, Moral Sentiments and the Realization of Altruism: A Motivational Theory of Altruism.JeeLoo Liu - 2012 - Asian Philosophy 22 (2):93-119.
    This paper begins with Thomas Nagel's (1970) investigation of the possibility of altruism to further examine how to motivate altruism. When the pursuit of the gratification of one's own desires generally has an immediate causal efficacy, how can one also be motivated to care for others and to act towards the well-being of others? A successful motivational theory of altruism must explain how altruism is possible under all these motivational interferences. The paper will begin with an exposition of Nagel's proposal, (...)
  49. added 2016-02-13
    Hutcheson's Theological Objection to Egoism.John J. Tilley - 2016 - Journal of Scottish Philosophy 14 (1):101-123.
    Francis Hutcheson's objections to psychological egoism usually appeal to experience or introspection. However, at least one of them is theological: It includes premises of a religious kind, such as that God rewards the virtuous. This objection invites interpretive and philosophical questions, some of which may seem to highlight errors or shortcomings on Hutcheson's part. Also, to answer the questions is to point out important features of Hutcheson's objection and its intellectual context. And nowhere in the scholarship on Hutcheson do we (...)
  50. added 2015-11-17
    Behaviorism and Altruistic Acts.J. McKenzie Alexander - 2002 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 25 (2):252-252.
    Rachlin's idea that altruism, like self-control, is a valuable, temporally extended pattern of behavior, suggests one way of addressing common problems in developing a rational choice explanation of individual altruistic behavior. However, the form of Rachlin's explicitly behaviorist account of altruistic acts suffers from two faults, one of which questions the feasibility of his particular behaviorist analysis.
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