Morality and Self-Interest

Morality and Self-Interest

Morality and Self-Interest

Morality and Self-Interest

Synopsis

Ever since "Know Thyself" was inscribed at Delphi, Western philosophers have struggled to understand the relations between morality and self-interest. This edited volume of essays pushes forward one of the oldest and most important debates in philosophy. Is morality a check on self-interest or is it in one's self interest to be moral? Can morality and self-interest be understood independently of each other?

Excerpt

There are two conceptions of “morality” currently at play in the philosophical literature and employing them differentially affects how the relationship of morality to self-interest is conceived.

The first conception may be thought of as the social conception of “morality”. It begins with the question of how one ought to behave toward others. Morality is seen as having a final authority over our lives and the interests of others play a necessary role in the decision procedures we ought to use. Where the interests of others are not at issue, morality does not come into play: there is no morality for an agent stranded alone on a desert island. Thus, on such a view, morality and justice, understood loosely to encompass all fair dealings between people, are often seen to have the same scope. Typically, on this conception, morality requires impartiality, such that agents must not see their own interests, or the interests of their families, communities, etc., as having any special standing whatsoever in the decision procedure that determines what ought to be done. Thus, we see Kantian deontology requiring theuniversalizability of maxims of action and utilitarianism, and consequentialism more generally, requiring strict impartiality in the evaluation of the outcomes of possible actions. On some accounts, the strict impartiality may be loosened somewhat by, for example, “agent-centered prerogatives”, as discussed by Scheffler (1982), but this loosening must still be justified given standards according to which it would be acceptable for everyone to act in the same way; agents may, to some degree, favor themselves to avoid undue sacrifices that would be required by strict impartiality, but they may only do so according to rules that admit no exception.

1. The basic distinction here is developed in W. D. Falk’s “Morality, Self, and Others,” reprinted within, as well as in William Frankena’s “The Concept of Morality,” The Journal of Philosophy 63, no. 21 (Nov. 10, 1966): 688–96. My use below and throughout the volume of the names “Within” and “Without” are based on “In” and “Out” in the masterful opening dialogue of Falk’s paper, which itself could serve as an excellent introduction to the volume as a whole.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.