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Hicks — Egoism in Nietzsche and Rand


A series of closely-related questions must be answered in determining the full content of an ethical theory, whether egoist or altruist.

What is the self? Is the self to be identified with one’s mind, body, spirit, reason, or emotions? Is the self essentially individual or not? Does the self have the capacity of volition or not, and, if so, how much power does the self have to shape itself?

What are the self’s major interests? Are they the satisfaction of basic physical needs, pleasure, a sense of community, serenity, freedom, knowledge, power, wealth, flourishing, or what? Are those interests intrinsic, objective, or subjective? Are they universal to the species or are they particular to the individual?

By what cognitive means does the self come to know its interests

  • through instinct, passion, reason, or what?

Is self-interest the standard of value? Is ethics fundamentally about the maintenance and development of oneself, or is the self primarily a means to or part of the development of some value beyond itself? (Or is the self valueless, as some religions hold, or a disvalue, as some environmentalists hold?)

What specific policies of thought and action should the self practice? Should one be rational or passionate, productive or predatory or charitable, pro-active or passive, proud or humble, benevolent or aggressive, or what? (Not at the outset to assume that the above are either-or choices.)

As a result of the above, are self-interests mutually satisfiable socially? Does the pursuit of one’s self-interest conflict with others’— or does it leave others unaffected—or is there a harmony?

Integrated sets of answers to the above questions fall into three

major categories—what I will call colloquial “Selfishness.”

“Egoism,” “Altruism,” and

For example, suppose that one holds wealth to be one of the self’s interests. “Selfishness” in much common usage is the position one should intentionally pursue one’s self interest—in this case, the acquisition of wealth—but that one person’s pursuit of wealth conflicts with others’ pursuit of wealth, so one should be aggressive against others to get wealth.

One major form of altruism holds that the pursuit of wealth is in conflict with a higher value—other people’s peace and stability—so

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