In Egoism and Moral Skepticism by James Rachels, the moral ideas of psychological egoism and ethical egoism are explained. These two ethical standpoints are different in that psychological egoism is more about how people think while ethical egoism is about how people ought to think. Both, though, are hard concepts to believe anyone in the human race can truly hold.
Psychological egoism is the idea that all men are selfish, and that we only do things for our own self-interests. Ethical egoism is the idea that people ought to only do things for their self-interests, and that we should only feel obligated to do things for ourselves, regardless of the effect it may have on others. Both of these ideas seem pretty self-centered and disgustingly inhumane. In my opinion, they are.
Psychological egoism is a terrible outlook on the human race, and it is not how we should be. It seems to be a sad outlook on our mindsets. It is a fair claim, considering deep down everything we do, even the most selfless things, are deep down pleasing for us in some way. As said by Shaver “altruistic action is often revealed to be self-interested” (Shaver). Even if we claim we’re doing something we do not want to do for someone else, deep down it will either benefit us in the long run or it will make us feel better about ourselves for doing something good for someone else. Either way, yes, the things we do all have some underlying benefit for ourselves, but it is not a good thing to look at the human race as people only trying to do things for their own benefit. That is not always someone’s only incentive for doing something, and we should not look at ourselves as beings only motivated in that conceited way.
Ethical egoism is even worse than psychological egoism. One would have to believe that “the reason to pursue my good is the goodness of the thing I obtain” (Moore). It is not just a bad way to look at the way people behave, but it is a selfish sort of mentality that we supposedly should feel obligated to have. For someone to be a real ethical egoist, they would have to have no compassion or sympathy for anyone else. You would have to be so narcissistic, self-centered, and inconsiderate. There are very people who can be this way. There are so many natural feelings we have to not be completely evil that just come with being humans. We do not come into this world careless and thoughtless about everyone around us. The only way people turn out that way is through mental illness or a traumatic upbringing or lifestyle that forced them to have that sort of mindset to survive or succeed.
Overall I do not think that it is natural or ideal for anyone to have the psychological egoist mindset or to believe that we should live believing that we have the obligations that the ethical egoist concept suggests. Both of these are negative when it comes to real life application, no matter how much sense they may or not make.
Moore, G.E., 1903, Principia Ethica, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, sec. 59.
Rachels, James. 1971 Egoism and Moral Scepticism. 233-239
Shaver, Robert, “Egoism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2010/entries/egoism/>.