Egoism needs Virtue Ethics

I have an intense interest in ethics and using philosophy to discover general rules for how to live life and interact with others. This passion has always lead me to take the position of ethical egoism very seriously. Ethical egoism, which i’ll just call egoism for the rest of this, is the idea that when at the crossroads morality, you ought to always choose the thing that is in your self interest. Of course egoism doesn’t mean you can’t help others or value the interest of others. Simply that the core principle that should motivate one’s moral actions should be based in self interest.
Virtue ethics is the idea that morality is not about specific actions, or specific results, but about the character of the person making those moral choices. Aristotle is the old dead philosopher often credited with its creation. He starts with idea that all people want to and should seek their eudaimonia. The simple translation of this word is happiness, but that’s a bit misleading. Eudaimonia is a much grander final goal in life. Think of it as fulfilment beyond just simple fleeting pleasures and temporary happiness. The major way Aristotle thinks we can reach such a state is through learning to live out the virtues. The virtues are the characteristics one can embody when making choices. The virtue of courage is needed to make the action to defend your community against an invader. The virtue of temperance (not to be confused with the temperance movement) is needed to learn how to enjoy alcohol in moderation without going overboard. For Aristotle, the way in which me discover the virtues is by finding the middle of two extreme vices. Courage is in between being a coward and seeking out danger for example.
Though I think this sort of middle ground approach for discovering the virtues, has its flaws, I’m very interested in the synthesis of virtue ethics with egoism. Obviously one can see where valuing eudaimonia can be interpreted as a sort of egoism. If at the core of our ethics is the question of happiness and fulfillment for ourselves, then the core is a matter of self interest. Maybe more intriguing is how virtue ethics helps us flesh out egoism. It’s not enough to say “you ought to act in your self interest”. The question that must follow is, how do we know if something is actually in our self interest or not? We could simply it down to impulsive wants, that may lead us to some confusing contradictions. I may want to shoot up heroin all weekend but I also have a value for maintaining healthy relationships with my family and friends. Both of these are my expressed values, yet It’s unlikely I will be able to successfully do both. If the standard for self interest is simply “what I want to do”, then I’m not really closer to knowing which choice is best. It may be tempting to resolve this by categorizing specific actions as good or bad. But such an approach isn’t very universalizable. Shooting up may be intuitively in the bad category, but there’s certainly cases where it might be in your self interest. Soldiers in Vietnam used heroin was a way to self medicate and deal with the horrors of war. Most of which were able to come home and quit cold turkey. This is where the virtue ethics comes in. If you want to truly act in your self interest, then the specific actions you take are less relevant than the mind set and intentions of why you took those actions. It would make sense to embody virtues and characteristics, that are universalizable, to help insure you always make the choice that is in your best interest. For example, If you want to know what the best choice to make is, then you must live with the characteristic and virtue of valuing truth and logic. This is what helps us reach a better egoism. It’s through embodying virtues that we can get closer to resolving the question of knowing what is truly in our self interest.


Strict adherence to the law is a terrible vice

There is no virtue in following the law without question. I don’t mean it’s bad to follow the law in all cases. Certainly if you don’t want to snort lines of coke then you shouldn’t feel obligated to. However there are many laws if not most laws that following makes you less of a virtuous person.

Speed limits are probably the most obvious example. Most of studies done in the last 20 years about driver safety suggest the best way for drivers to behave is to match the speed and direct flow of the traffic. Often this means going over the speed limit, following the spontaneous order of the road ways. The driver who slows to meet the speed limit puts everyone on the road at risk. Literally by following the law they create an unsafe environment for those around them.

Imagine the mindset of the individual who believes they ought always follow the rules. The type of person who the concern of others around them and for their own freedom is second to being a good citizen. The person who isn’t ever willing to consider the unintended consequences of their actions.  Worse yet they might feel superior or more mature for their submission. It’s gross at the very least and unethical at the most.

Long live the outlaws for they live a life of virtue.

Religion: Killing yourself with prayer

Religion: Killing yourself with prayer

I want to stress I got a lot of great things out my fling with religion, especially some great friends and a lot of under the table style hedonism.

There were a few years of my youth that religion, particularly episcopalian Christianity, played a role in my moral compass and decision making.  My understanding of how one should act, especially as a young man was dictated by readings of Christianity. One of the most horrible skills I ever learned while religious was how to repress my desires and emotions.

There was a bible verse that really stood out to my young puberty-ridden mind, Matthew 5:28:  “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”, naturally at the time I was just learning to explore my sexuality, though, this brought me great grief. Many a night did I lay in bed, only to catch myself thinking impure thoughts which I would pray away. “Dear lord please help me stop having these thoughts, dear lord please help me stop having these thoughts” again and again and again, until I would cry myself to sleep from existential guilt.

Religion teaches this horrible skill of repression, take your natural desires, your natural passions and interest, and kill them with God. Pray them away until those thoughts are gone and you are no longer your authentic self but you are a mindless childlike servant to your church, your family, and your god.

This idea of repression of the self is central to Christianity and most religions. Angry and want revenge? No, you must learn to repress your desire and give into mercy. Not comfortable with monogamy and want to have an alternative relationship? No, you must fight these sexual perversions and never have sex out of heterosexual wedlock. Dissatisfied with your job? Don’t you dare think of getting rich, pray your dissatisfaction away and embrace meekness. The things that make the individual authentic and unique are to repressed in the name of purity. In order to love God fully, you must philosophically kill yourself.

It’s okay to be yourself regardless of what the God-Man says. The good aspects of religion are not worth the psychological damage you can cause yourself. If you have desires, don’t repress them, don’t kill your self with prayer, embrace them, be authentic.