Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 16 (3):529-542 (2013)

Keith Burgess-Jackson
University of Texas at Arlington
Though utilitarianism is far from being universally accepted in the philosophical community, it is taken seriously and treated respectfully. Its critics do not dismiss it out of hand; they do not misrepresent it; they do not belittle or disparage its proponents. They allow the theory to be articulated, developed, and defended from criticism, even if they go on to reject the modified versions. Ethical egoism, a longstanding rival of utilitarianism, is treated very differently. It is said to be “refuted” by arguments of a sort that apply equally well to utilitarianism. It is said to be “unprovable,” when many of the greatest utilitarians themselves, such as Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), and Henry Sidgwick (1838–1900), admitted that no normative ethical theory, including their own, is provable. Critics of ethical egoism seldom discuss the various theoretical moves that utilitarians are routinely allowed to make, such as (1) fighting the facts, (2) transforming the theory from “act utilitarianism” to “rule utilitarianism,” and (3) biting the bullet. This essay argues that every defensive move made by utilitarians can be made, with equal vigor (if not also plausibility), by ethical egoists. The conclusion is that ethical egoism deserves to be taken more seriously than it is.
Keywords Ethical egoism  Utilitarianism  Normative ethical theory  Moral philosophy  Argumentation  Criticism
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s10677-012-9372-5
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 57,041
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

The Methods of Ethics.Henry Sidgwick - 1874 - Thoemmes Press.
Utilitarianism: For and Against.J. J. C. Smart & Bernard Williams - 1973 - Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Utilitarianism.John Stuart Mill - 1863 - Cleveland: Cambridge University Press.
Moral Thinking: Its Levels, Method, and Point.R. M. Hare (ed.) - 1981 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.

View all 31 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Egoism.Robert Shaver - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Morality and Rational Self-Interest.David P. Gauthier - 1970 - Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall.
Egoism Versus Rights.Robert H. Bass - 2006 - Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 7 (2):329-349.
Egoism.Robert Shaver - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Egoism.Alexander Moseley - 2005 - Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
The Dualism of the Practical Reason: Some Interpretations and Responses.Francesco Orsi - 2008 - Etica and Politica / Ethics and Politics 10 (2):19-41.
Sidgwickian Ethics.David Phillips - 2011 - Oxford University Press.
Motilal Shastri’s “Rule Utilitarianism”.Richard M. Fox - 1986 - Philosophy Research Archives 12:155-162.


Added to PP index

Total views
151 ( #63,801 of 2,410,727 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
11 ( #60,828 of 2,410,727 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes