Category Archives: Meta-Ethics

Joseph Shapiro-Rand

The meaning, purpose and value of one’s life seem to be arbitrary and relative labels. In class we discussed the relativism of morality based on varying principles that are accepted in different societies. We have seen how one’s actions are judged based on whether or not they fit those principles. But the purpose of life and the fundamental principles of morality are still uncertain even within one’s own culture. According to Ayn Rand, if the purpose of life is existence, then individuals should base their actions on preserving and maximizing the full potential of one’s life (81).  Rand argues that the high praise that has been given to altruism is wrong and that it forces individuals to put others before themselves, ultimately harming their own well-being.  Rand devalues altruism as the sole standard of assessing one’s morality. Altruism, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is the “feelings and behavior that show a desire to help other people and a lack of selfishness” (Merriam Webster).

Robert Kurzban, an Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania concurs in concurrence with Rand, expresses one reason why altruism should not be equated to morality.  Kurzban argues that  “donating $1 million to terrorists would seem to be ‘moral’ if one uses this definition” of acting in ways that benefit others (Kurzban). Although an extreme example, Kurzban’s point is that we should not base morality solely on seemingly selfless behavior and charitable donations. Ultimately, the point is that morality is not universally defined and therefore, it we should not use one factor to define it.  Rand is right in rejecting altruistic morality as the absolute definition of morality, but she is wrong in her total denial of its importance.

Rand writes that a doctrine which “gives you, as an ideal, the role of a sacrificial animal seeking slaughter on the altars of others, is giving you death as a standard” (81).Rand’s belief that if altruism is used as the sole standard of morality, then individuals are forced forfeit all sense of self-interest and are driving themselves to an early grave. Does Rand truly believe that charitable donations, volunteer work or simple favors for friends are detrimental to our own well-being or our longevity? Although self-sacrifice may push individuals away from purely selfish motives, it doesn’t mean that people forfeit fully compromise their happiness to the point of suffering. Rand uses extreme cases of self-sacrifice to illustrate her point, but she fails to recognize that individuals often make sacrifices only up to a certain point. For example, when non-profit organizations such as schools, religious congregations or charities seek the support of individuals, people do not usually give more money or time then they can afford. Rand says that man “exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose” (81).

Rand’s argument that we are torturing ourselves if we are held to a standard that demands self-sacrifice, also fails to see that the foundations of society cannot function without it. For example, it is a necessary component of the workplace from sports teams to Fortune 500 companies  For some, helping to improve the lives of others brings them enough satisfaction to make them feel happy themselves.  If we do only what we deem best for our sole benefit, then we may find it difficult to prosper. Conversely, if we never attend to our own wants and needs, we may be jeopardizing our health, our relationships and our lives. Moreover, sometimes helping others to achieve certain goals is actually is beneficial to us as well. If Rand fails to recognize the importance of self-sacrifice then she fails to see how self-interest and self-sacrifice go hand in hand in establishing happiness.

Works Cited

“Altruism.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.

Kurzban, Robert. “Defining Morality and Altruism | Evolutionary Psychology Blog.” Defining Morality and Altruism. Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young;, 20 Oct. 2010. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.

Rand, Ayn. “A Defense of Ethical Egoism.” Atlas Shrugged (1959): 79-85. Blackboard. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.


Rachels Psychological and Ethical Egoism

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 = <>.

I Agree Rachels!

Egoism is a teleological theory of ethicist that sets its goal the benefit, pleasure, or greatest good of oneself alone. (Kay) According to James Rachels, there are two ego’s that need to be discussed and refuted: Psychological Egoism and Ethical Egoism. Within his essay, Rachel argues that both of these Egoism have no bases on which they can make sense and be justifies. This is an argument that I agree with.

Psychological Egoism is the view that all men are selfish in everything that they do and the only motive is self-interest. This theory need not describe proper behavior, instead it tells how people act for themselves. (Rachels) Throughout the article, Rachels gives a many ideas that explain why this idea just isn’t possible. One may support the idea by saying that people only do what they want, thus they’re acting selfish. However, the claim just doesn’t make sense. One has to realize that under different circumstance you “want to achieve” or in the same respect feel as though you are guilty/ obligated to do something. Obviously these are the actions of wanting, instead these are tasks that one has to complete.  To furthermore explain Rachels ideas, you have W. D. Glasgow who defines a part of Psychological Egoism, principle egoism, as:

“Everyone is so constituted by nature that insofar as he acts only on any principle, he acts, and can only act, on the principles ‘I ought to act so as to maximize  my own interest’.”

This statement basically saying that one is aware of other human beings and respects their egotist ways/wants a; yet, they still try to follow the same doctrine themselves. As you can see, this idea shows how if one has respect for someone else and there ways that obviously they aren’t just looking for self-interest.

Another idea that Rachel disagrees with, is that of Ethical Egoism. Ethical egoism is the view on how men ought to act regardless of the effect on others. Egoist don’t care about other people’s feelings, emotion, and such like things. This idea obviously, then, can’t be universal, which is what Rachel tries to tell us. Once of the most important supporters of this theory Thomas Hobbes said that ethical egoism had to be controlled in order to work, clearly supporting the claim that it couldn’t be universal. (Jennings) Ironically, although this theory, ethical egoism, is not common, some major players in the world follow this doctrine. For instance, if we were to look at this economically, you have Nike, one of the leading companies in the world that happens to follow the egoism theory. In recent years, Nike has had many child labor cases because it employs many underage children in other countries. Nike only thinks about the profit in the long run and not about the hurt and unjust that it is doing to the people of these countries. This act clearly is ethical egoism since Nike isn’t caring for these people or bringing about change. Furthermore, if every company followed in the footsteps of Nike and was an ethical egoists, then the economic system wouldn’t survive. There wouldn’t be any care for the employee, thus most things fail and there wouldn’t even be a system to call economic.

With all being said, I truly think that Rachels arguments against Psychological Egoism and Ethical Egoism are justifies and make sense. There are many others who follow these doctrines and modern examples that help explain many of his claims.




Works Cited:

Dr. Charles Kay.  “Varieties of Egoism.” » Egoism. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2014. <>.


Jennings, Marianne. Business Ethics: Case Studies and Selected Readings. 7th ed. Australia: South-Western, Cengage Learning, 2012. 12. Print.


“Nike Info” 12 2012. 2012. 12 2012 <>.


W. D. Glasgow.” Psychological Egoism.” American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Jan., 1976), pp. 75-79 Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of the North American Philosophical Publications  Article Stable URL:


Rachels, James. “Egoism and Moral Skepticism.” The University of Morality (1971): 233-239. Blackboard. Web. 13 Sept. 2014.




Ethical Relativism – Hugh Phillis

Hugh Phillis

September 7, 2014

Millson: Philosophy 115

Benedict: “A Defense of Ethical Relativism”

            Ruth Benedict’s “A Defense of Ethical Relativism” composes an argument regarding morality in human societies.  She initializes this argument through an inspection of cultural relativism.  In short, cultural relativism is the principle that  “what is and is not behaviorally normal is culturally determined” (Benedict 49).    Then presumably, right and wrong differs from society to society.  Therefore, it is implied that no moral code is universally shared (Pojman 240).  From this stems Benedict’s argument in relation to ethical relativism.  She argues that, similar to behavior, morality is also culturally determined.  This argument can be accurately demonstrated through the current international statuses of homosexual rights.

Many societies around the globe consider homosexual acts morally wrong and personally abhorrent.  From this ethical foundation, various criminal sanctions have been imposed to mitigate what is regarded as in immoral, aberrant behavior.  Examples are rooted in virtually every corner of the globe.  For instance, scores of Ugandans have sought refuge in Kenya due to their country’s homophobic agenda.  The Anti-Homosexuality Act, which became law in February, enacted “life sentences for those convicted of gay sex and criminalized vague offenses like attempted homosexuality” (Chin).   Although this law was repealed (on a technicality), public sentiment and legalized endeavors greatly threaten the lives and wellbeing of homosexuals in Uganda.  Brizan Ogollan, a worker at a refugee camp stated, “They knew at an international level and at the diplomatic level, the decision is going to have impact, but at the local level, it won’t really.  You can overrule the law, but you can’t overrule the mind” (Chin).   This of course references the public indoctrination of these homophobic cultural and ethical viewpoints.  Furthermore, at least ten other notable nations such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar sentence those guilty of homosexual acts to death (Rupar).

On the other hand, many modernized civilizations have integrated homosexuality into society’s mores and acceptable behaviors.   Many nations and peoples have undergone an ideological evolution forming a more open and equal society.    In stark contrast to Uganda or similar nations, homosexuality is ethically and morally acceptable.  Furthermore, to persecute or discriminate on the basis of sexuality is often viewed as a heinous act.  For instance, a shift in social norms has resulted in a majority of Americans in favor of marriage equality.  In fact, roughly forty percent of American states have legalized gay marriage (American).   Furthermore, Spain “has eliminated all legal distinctions” between homosexual and heterosexual persons (McLean).  The perception of behavioral normality has shifted and in turn an ethical standpoint has reversed.

In more liberal, westernized societies where the principles of personal freedom are the cornerstones of society, homosexuals experience greater rights and societal prestige.  Values and cultural factors shape people’s minds.   Within more liberal societies homosexuality established moral acceptance.  Conversely, in more conservative cultures, people are molded into believing homosexuality is immoral and intensely wrong.    In ending, ethical models are the result of a malleable human society, one which “readily take any shape that is presented to them” (Benedict 56).

Benedict, Ruth. “A Defense of Ethical Relativism.” Anthropology and the     Abnormal (1934): 49-56. Blackboard. Web. 6Sept. 2014.

Chin, Corinne. “Why Ugandan Gays Who Fled To Kenya Still Feel Like They’re In            Danger.” The Huffington Post., 17 Aug. 2014. Web. 08            Sept. 2014.

 “LGBT Relationships.” American Civil Liberties Union. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Sept. 2014.

 Mclean, Renwick. “Spain Legalizes Gay Marriage; Law Is Among the Most Liberal.”           The New York Times. The New York Times, 30 June 2005. Web. 08 Sept. 2014.

Pojman, Louis. “Who Is to Judge?” (n.d.): n. pag. Web.

 Rupar, Terri. “Here Are the 10 Countries Where Homosexuality May Be Punished by         Death.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 2 Feb. 2014. Web. 08 Sept. 2

Ethical Relativism and Meat

      Benedict’s “In defense of ethical relativism”, suggests that individuals act based on the norms deemed “acceptable” by their cultures. They do not formulate their own beliefs regarding what is morally correct, but rather adhere to what their cultures have previously branded “normal”. “Most individuals are plastic to the moulding force of the society into which they are born” (Benedict 56). I will support this claim using a specific example: the difference between acceptable meats in the United States and China.

      Author John Feffer describes which meats are “normal” in our culture. They include: “chicken but not crow, beef but not horse, venison but not reindeer, lamb but not mutton, legs and wings and rumps but not hearts or lungs or tongues” (Feffer 1). We are taught and conditioned to believe that some animals are “edible”, while others, quite simply, are not. He continues: “anonymous livestock and wildlife are fair game, but pets are a different matter, and dog in particular remains taboo” (1). In the United States, many people find the prospect of eating dogs and cats absolutely horrendous. Most love dogs as companions, not as Sunday dinner. Dog meat is virtually nonexistent.

     Although Feffer is completely aware of the norms regarding dog meat in our culture, he chose to ignore them. He ate dog. He shares his experience: “whenever I mention to my friends that I have eaten — and enjoyed — dog stew, they look at me with the sort of horror reserved for hangmen and white supremacists” (Feffer 1). Americans view Feffer’s choice to eat dog meat with disgust. They find it abnormal and repulsive. Most eat meats based on the norms established by our culture. They share the same sentiments regarding which types of meats are edible and which are not.

    In China, the cultural norms regarding meats are vastly different than those of the United States. Many individuals eat dog stew on a regular basis. Eating dog meat has been widely accepted and promoted by the Chinese culture for many years. It is a tradition. Author John Sudworth explains that: “the practice of eating dogs goes back centuries” (Sudworth 1). In fact, most do not know when it began. “If you ask a local when the tradition of eating dog meat began, then you’ll be met with a dumbfounded expression” (Young 1). There are many dog meat festivals that locals attend. Around “ten thousand dogs were slaughtered” for a dog meat festival this past June (Kaiman 1). The dog meat is especially popular since many believe it has both warming and cooling properties, which are very important to the Chinese culture. “According to Chinese folk dietetics, which classify every food according to its heating and cooling properties, dog is one of the ‘hottest’ meats around, best eaten in midwinter, when you need warmth and vital energy, not in sultry August” (Dunlop 1). The Chinese culture has clearly instilled in its people that eating dog meat is normal and also beneficial to health. Therefore, “for many in the city, eating dog meat is a hard habit to break” (Young 1).

    Individuals truly do make decisions based on the cultures in which they live. In the United States, our culture has taught us to view dog meat in a negative light. Thus, dogs will remain house pets and far from the kitchen. Yet in China, eating dog meat is respected for it’s “healthy” properties. Eating dog meat in China will remain a tradition for years to come. While some may deviate from cultural norms, as John Feffer did, most will never act as boldly.

                                                                                                           Works Cited

Benedict, Ruth. “A Defense of Ethical Relativism.” Anthropology and the Abnormal                  

                   (1934): 49-56. Blackboard. Web. 6Sept. 2014.

Dunlop, Fuchsia. “It’s Too Hot for Dog on the Menu.” The New York Times. 4 Aug.

                   2008. Web. 6 Sept. 2014.

Feffer, John. “The Politics of Dog.” The American Prospect. May 2002. Web. 6 Sept.


Kaiman, Jonathan. “Chinese Dog-eating Festival Backlash Grows.” The Guardian. 23

                     June 2014. Web. 6 Sept. 2014.

Sudworth, John. “Chinese Dog Meat Dilemma: To Eat or Not to Eat?” Web log post.

                      BBC News. 20 June 2014. Web.

Young, Connie. “Canine Controversy: Chinese Festival Serves up Dog Meat.” CNN

                    World. 23 June 2014. Web. 6 Sept. 2014.