Egoism by Greg Hodes

“WHY A WOMAN DOES NOT HAVE A MORAL RIGHT “TO CHOOSE (OR NOT TO CHOOSE) TO HAVE AN ABORTION, JUST AS SHE WISHES” AND WHY A  FUNDIMENTAL TENET OF ECONOMICS (NOT TO MENTION A. RANDS “LIBERTARILANISM”} IS DEMONSTRABLY WRONG.”

Now that I have The Community of Reasons attention I can offer it some reasoning.

It is a commonplace that “science cannot tell us what is morally right.”  There are, however, two Fundamental lessons that ethics must learn from science, mathematics, or a any other intellectual activity whose aim is to know what is really the case. They are (1) that if you do not distinguish what is relevant from what is not, you will get it wrong, and (2) that knowledge is primarily of types and only secondarily of tokens.

  • For example, suppose that on Monday in my office I prove a theorem in geometry by writing with green chalk on a blackboard , and on Tuesday you repeat the same proof in your office, writing on a blackboard with white chalk . It would be absurd for me to protest that the proof was no longer sound because the offices and the colors of the chalk were different. These facts are simply irrelevant. (They do not appear among the premises of the proof). Similarly, no scientist publishes the result of an experiment in which, say, a certain gas is heated for ten min-utes at 100 degrees centigrade, but adds that the result only follows for the identical set of par-ticles, heated for that identical ten minutes (now gone, never to be recaptured), on that partic-ular day (now, also, gone forever) .
  • No, science is about “types>,” or kinds> of thing and events, and only indirectly about the par-ticular “tokens”, or examples, which instantiate those types or kinds. The experiment was about any ten minute period, and any collection of particles of the same kind and quantity, manipul-ated in a same kind of way in the same type of circumstances. There is no “that particular Mon-day” type of event.

Similarly, ethics is about types of relevant decisions made by persons having relevant types of attributes, under relevant types of circumstances, having certain relevant types of consequen-ces:

If an act of type C (e.g, taking of a human life), performed by person P, who has   relev- ant attributes of type A (e.g., was a sane adult of normal intelligence), in circumstances of type CR (e.g., was not acting in self-defense), is morally wrong (or right), then it is wrong for any other person Q, providing all of these condition are also true of Q.

It follows that all forms of egoism, including the economists’ “rational self interest” are wrong from the start. It  can be shown to be either incoherent or arbitrary. (This is shown for egoism below using the “deserted island” scenario).  As a matter of objective fact, my well being is no more important than yours, merely because it is mine, than my proof is right because it was written by me  in my office.  Any claim that it is reasonable for me to value my well-being more than others would have to assign a reas-on, (say) that I am wiser or more charming than you. (For present purposes it makes no differences what reason is given). That is, something or someone is important because of the type or kind of thing she is, just as a triangle is three-sided because it is the kind of figure it is, But in that case, the happiness of anyone equally wise and charming would be equally important.

Now, if you wish your values and moral judgment to be based on reality, if you wish them to be rational (as Rand, et al, urge),  you will not value your happiness any more or less that anyone else’s, because it is not in fact more valuable. If you are not convinced, identify the attributes you can boast that make this the case. You will find that “person whose happiness is most valuable” applies equally well to any-one who has those same attributes. (The expression “me” or “mine” refers to  the person uttering the expression, whoever that maybe, and does not indicate a property or type. Everyone is a “me.”)

Science cannot tell us whether we should value human happiness (or even what  ”value” and ”happin-ess” are); but, as a rational cognitive  project, it does tell us that that if happiness is important (whatever “happiness” and “important” may mean) they must be so because of some attribute I have; and, there-fore, they  will be equally important for anything else that has that attribute.

It is important to see that what has been said so far is essentially about knowing what is the case, not specifically what is the case in ethics matters. The moral issue arises when one decides whether he or she will conform his or her actions to her knowing . Science tells us that what is really case is known only by objective, disinterested enquiry, and judgment. Ethics tells us that the values that motivate our act-ions must be as objective, disinterested and unrestricted as our knowing  because the point is to do what really is good.  If we cannot succeed in knowing what is really good or cannot be motivated to bring it about, the implication is that we are hopeless ignorant or impotent ethically; it implies nothing about the good or the ethical.

The moral crunch comes in deciding whether one will about the good she knows about, or merely the good she herself will experience.

The application of all this to a literal reading of “a woman’s right to choose” should be obvious. A preg-nant women is no more excused from the obligation of cognitional and motivational disinter-estedness and authenticity than anyone else making an ethical decision. Her decision, if it is to be correct, should be no more personal that was her physicians decision that she is pregnant. She cannot hope to achieve the same to degree of certainly as her physician, but that is another issue. Whether she ought to be ex-ternally compelled  to act in a certain way is also another issue.

Here is the “Desert Island” Scenario for the Anti-Egoism Argument.

META-ETHICAL RULE (E1): A CORRECT ETHICAL PRINCIPLE MUST NOT BE INCOHERENT, I.E., MUST NOT CONTRADICT ITSELF AND MUST NOT BE ARBITRARY. (NOTICE THAT THIS IS A GENERAL COGNITIVE PRINCIPLE, APPLICABLE IN ANY CASE WHEN ONE WISHES TO UNDERSTAND THINGS AS THE ARE AND APPLIES EQUALLY TO SCIENCE AND EVERYDAY COMMONSENSE.)

META-ETHICAL RULE (E2): CONFORM YOUR MORAL DECISIONS AND ACTIONS TO YOUR KNOWLEDGE (AS DESCRIBED IN THEORY L.). (“DO the GOOD YOU KNOW ABOUT, NOT MERELY THE GOOD YOU PERSONALLY EXPERIENCE.”)

EGOISM: Everyone has the right (and duty) to maximize her or his own happiness and has no obligation to further anyone else’S happiness.

there are two versions of egoism depending on how the blanks in the following open sentence are filled iN:.

A B ____ should take care of         _______

and has no obligation to anyone else.

(1) PLAIN VANILLA EGOISM (PVE) : Any name can and should be written in blank A, provided the same name is  written in blank B.

EXAMPLE:       (1)      Greg  Hodes should take of    Greg  Hodes

(2)      Mary Smith “           “              Mary Smith

(3)      Joe Brown “                   “             Joe Brown

BUT NOT:

\           Mary Smith should take care of Joe Brown

NOTE THAT As a beliEver in RULE (E1), Hodes APPROVES OF (2) & (3) AS MORALLY CORRECT; SIMIL–ARLY, Smith APPROVES OF (1) & (3) AS MORALLY CORRECT, AND Brown APPROVES OF (1) & (2) AS MORALLY CORRECT. THIS IS IMPORTANT.

DESERT ISLAND SCENARIO: (PVE)

(1)    X & Y are stranded together on a deserted island.

(2)    They know they will be rescued in two weeks.

(3)    There is just enough water to last ONE of them for two weeks.

(4)    If they share the water, both will die of thirst before rescue.

(5)    X & Y are both PVEs

(You don’t’ get to fiddle with these conditions!)

The problem is that the PVE.version of the rule instructs X:  (a) that it is morally correct for X to take care of himself and that he, X., has no obligation to Y, AND (b) that it is morally correct for Y to care of himself, and that he, Y, has no obligation to X. Therefore, the rule, instructs X that in this situation he should get the water (this follows from (a)) AND that he should not get the water (this follows from [b]) that Y should get the water. As an egoist, Y is in an exactly symmetrical position.

Note that the difficulty with the PVE version of the rule is NOT that it leads to a conflict between X and Y, but that the rule itself is nonsense because it is inchoherent (e.g., “the way to get to St. Louis is to drive to the next intersection and turn right and left simul-taneously”).

*PPVC IS LOGICALLY INCOHERENT IN CIRCUMSTANCES OF RESTRICTED RESOURCES.

*TTHerefore, PVC violates meta-ethical rule (1).

*TTHerefore, PVE cannot be a correct moral principle.

NOTE THAT IN THIS CASE, E2 NEED NOT COME INTO PLAY, FOR IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR SOME TO DO OR DESIRE TO WHAT SHE KNOWS TO BE LOGCALLY IMPOSSIBLE.

(2) “DESPOTIC EGOISM” (DE.):  My (the DE’s) name should be used to fill in the right hand blank of the above open sentence and my name and everyone else’s’ name should be placed in the left hand blank.”

NOTE, AGAIN,  THAT As aN ADHERENT OF  THE de VERSION OF egoism, the despotic egoist approves of his HAPPINESS BEING EVERYONE’S GOAL, BELIEVES THAT EVERYONE ELSE SHOULD ALSO APPROVE OF HIS HAPPINESS BEINg their GOAl, and approves of their doing so.

DESERT ISLAND SCENARIO (DE)

(1)    X & Y are stranded together on a deserted island.

(2)    They know they will be rescued in two weeks.

(3)    There is just enough water to last ONE of them for two weeks.

(4)    If they share the water, both will die of thirst before rescue.

(5)     X & Y are both DEs

(AGAIN, You don’t’ get to fiddle with these conditions!)

DE instructS X thAT he should get thE water and that Y should allow him to have it. Of course, DE provides Y with exactly the same instruction, substituting Y for X. Notice that DE is NOT LOGOCALLY INCOHERENT in this case: DE does NOT tell either party both to dO SOMETYHING THAT IS LOGICALLY IMPOSSIBLE. The other partY’s refusal to go along will be construed as the other party being A morally bad or uniformed person. The problem here is that neither X nor Y can give a non-arbitrary reason why he, and not someone else should be the DE (Of course there cannot be more than one DE.).

*THE DE’S DESIGNATION OF HIMSELF AS THE EXCLUSIVE OBJECT OF EVERYONE ELSE’S CONCERN IS ARBITRARY.                                                                                                                                                                      *THEREFORE, DE DOES NOT MEET META-ETHICAL RULE (1).                                                                              *THEREFORE, DE CANNOT BE THE CORRECT ETHICAL RULE.

THEREFORE, BY E2, ONE COULD VALUE HIMSELF OR HERSELF MORE THAN ANYONY ELSE, BUT OUGHT NOT TO.

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