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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

2 - Egoism


The wise pursuit of happiness

The question that leads us into the study of different ethical theories concerns the reasons we have to be honest and just in circumstances that invite dishonesty or injustice without risk of disrupting social peace, tarnishing one's reputation, or losing the goodwill of others. One thought a person who was faced with such circumstances might have is that his happiness is best served in the long run by adhering to the standards of honesty and justice. “The cash is very tempting,” he might say to himself as he looked at the wad of bills in the purse he had just found, “but it would be stupid to take it. The costs and risks involved make it likely to be more trouble than it's worth.” The ideal that a person who thought along these lines would affirm is that of wisdom in the pursuit of happiness. In ethics, the theory that affirms this ideal is egoism. The popularity of this theory among people unfamiliar with moral philosophy suggests that no other theory has more immediate intuitive appeal. The theory, in addition, has a secure and important place in the history of ethics. Arguably, it is the theory Plato worked out in the Republic to answer Thrasymachus' challenge to the value of justice. In any case, it certainly had other champions in the ancient world. The most noteworthy of these is the great Hellenistic philosopher Epicurus (341–271 BC).

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An Introduction to Ethics
  • Online ISBN: 9780511750519
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