An empirical basis for psychological egoism

Journal of Philosophy 61 (18):530-537 (1964)
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In the present paper I wish to argue that psychological egoism may well have a basis in the empirical facts of human psychology. Certain contemporary learning theorists, e.g., Hull and Skinner, have put forward behavioristic theories of the origin and functioning of human motives which posit a certain number of basically "selfish, " unlearned primary drives or motives (like hunger, thirst, sleep, elimination, and sex), explain all other, higher-order, drives or motives as derived genetically from the primary ones via certain "laws of reinforcement," and, further, deny the "functional autonomy" of those higher-order drives or motive. Now it is a hotly debated issue in contemporary Learning Theory whether any theory such as we have described briefly above could adequately explain adult human behavior. I shall, however, argue only that a theory of the above kind may well be true, and that from such a theory, fortified only by one additional psychological premise, the truth of egoism (non-altruism) logically follows. I hope to show, thereby, that the question of psychological egoism is still an open empirical issue, however fallacious be the philosophical arguments for it.



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Michael Slote
University of Miami

Citations of this work

Egoism.Robert Shaver - 2021 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Egoism, Empathy, and Self-Other Merging.Joshua May - 2011 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 49 (s1):25-39.
Psychological Egoism.Joshua May - 2011 - Internet Encyclopeida of Philosophy.
Empirical Work in Moral Psychology.Joshua May - 2017 - Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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