EGOISM Focus, represented by a mirror. Focus Color: DARK BLUE
Why read the information below?
1. Explore the strength and challenges of this decision-making focus.
2. Have a tough decision to make? Discover the benefits of uniting different focus areas (colors/animals).
3. Practically apply these resources to make better decisions individually, and in groups. For example: use the FREE Take5 card (take5.gmu.edu/ethics-card), request a workshop (email firstname.lastname@example.org), etc.
Why a Mirror?
A mirror represents a focus on the self. Those with a focus on egoism may ask themselves, as represented by the mirror: “How will this benefit me?” Egoism can be seen as a type of Consequences focus (Blue Wolf) that predominantly focuses on results for the self (e.g. someone who chooses to be a “lone wolf” in terms of their focus on themselves).
Why Dark Blue?
As mentioned above, Egoism can be seen as a type of Consequences focus, which is represented in Take5 by the color Blue (Blue Wolf). However, since Egoism is strictly focused on results for the self, the color is DARK blue since it is further from the full spectrum of light.
When deciding what’s right, people that have an Egoism focus are most concerned with how things affect them. They often believe strongly in the importance of doing what will benefit themselves.
Someone with an egoism focus may ask themselves, as represented by the mirror: “How will this benefit me?” They believe in the importance of making decisions based on what is best for themselves.
Strengths of the Egoism Focus:
1. STANDING UP FOR ONESELF. Life is not only about giving up what we want or need. We do have some responsibility to look out for ourselves and we each may know what will benefit us better than others do. We may need to stand up for ourselves, or even protect our own lives sometimes. However, there can be many cons if our own interests are ALL we consider.
Challenges of the Egoism Focus:
1. WICKED ACTIONS ENDORSED. Imagine that your friend Mir is working with a pharmacist. Mir decides to secretly water down a life saving medication, and then sells it to the patients who need it. Mir keeps the extra medication just to make some additional money. Mir never gets caught, but the patients are harmed. Ethical Egoism doesn’t condemn this as long as Mir benefits. Ethical Egoism seems to support doing some terrible things (e.g. cheating, stealing) as long as they benefit the self.
2. ARBITRARY. Why am I more important than someone else? What is the morally relevant difference? Don’t we all have the capacity to experience happiness, as well as suffering? Ethical Egoism gives unwarranted preference to one’s own interests at a possible cost to others, without a good and relevant reason. Consider racism, something that reasonable people consider unethical. Why should one racial group be seen as superior to another? In much the same way, why does one individual deserve preference over another? Imagine visiting an area where some children are suffering because they are extremely hungry. Should your hunger matter more than theirs? Does hunger affect them less than it does you? What’s the relevant difference between your hunger and their hunger?
3. DOESN’T HANDLE CONFLICTS. Ethical Egoism does not provide solutions for conflicts between people. Imagine two people (Ali and Beck) running for president. Both really want to win. We could argue that it would be in Ali’s interest to sabotage Beck’s campaign (as long as Ali wouldn’t get caught). We could argue the same for Beck. It is also in each of their interests to prevent the other person from sabotaging their campaign. Ethical Egoism provides no way to resolve this conflict. If what’s right is to only look out for oneself, wouldn’t it be “right” for both of them to work to sabotage the other’s campaign and “right” for both of them to work to prevent the other person from sabotaging them? Note: This con assumes that we think it’s important for a theory to help us resolve conflicts.
A much criticized philosophy called Ethical Egoism.
EGOISM is NOT a highly respect approach in Moral Philosophy. It can be seen as a type of Consequences approach that only focuses on results for the self. It has some important lessons (see above), but Egoism seems to support doing some terrible things (e.g. cheating, stealing) as long as they benefit the self. Also, why is one of us any more important than others of us? Don’t we all have the capacity to experience happiness as well as suffering? Furthermore, Egoism doesn’t provide solutions for conflicts between people. To be ethical we must look beyond ourselves and consider other approaches like Otter’s CHARACTER, Hawk’s CODE, Wolf’s CONSEQUENCES, and Bear’s CARE.
1. Remind yourself of the strengths and challenges of your main focus animal/color. This can help you anticipate benefits and identify potential problems down the road. For example, if someone only focuses on the Golden Rule: “How can I treat others how I/they would like to be treated?” (Bear’s Care focus) they may not hold someone accountable for their behavior because they would not want to be held accountable if they were in the other person’s situation, leading to a lack of fairness/justice.
2. Pick at least one other focus area (another animal/color) to read more about (see take5.gmu.edu/animals/). This can help you to better understand the strengths and challenges of different decision-making strategies. It can also help you to see the benefits of uniting the focus areas, since the different focus areas can build off of one another’s strengths and counteract one another’s challenges. This is why we say “Unite to light the way.”
3. Use the Take5 card (take5.gmu.edu/ethics-card/) to help you make well-balanced decisions (individually, and in groups). This card is practical, and action focused. Print it out or email email@example.com to request a card. Research shows that we all need reminders to make more ethical decisions.
4. Request a workshop. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a workshop to better understand these ideas and resources.
To better understand this focus area, see the PDF Handout.
Overall Conclusion about the focus areas of the animals (and mirror):
The Otter, Hawk, Wolf, Bear and Elephant represent very respected views from moral philosophy. We recommend combining the views of these 5 animals to balance out their strengths and weaknesses. For some tips on how to do this, please see the ethicspectrum page.
For George Mason University community members who would like to learn more, the Leadership Education and Development Office (LEAD) offers workshops and other programs on ethics and leadership topics. The workshop that directly addresses the ethics and leadership topics discussed on this website is called: “What Would You Do? Making Tough Ethical Choices.” Please see our general page at lead.gmu.edu or our workshop request page.