Self-love and morality: Beyond egoism and altruism

Li Jing, Marquette University


The age-old controversy over egoism and altruism remains unsettled and continues to divide moral philosophers. The purpose of this essay is to try to find a way to go beyond the rigid and unhelpful opposition between egoism and altruism, and to argue for an ethical theory named self-referential altruism. The idea of self-referential altruism is that self-love and the felt connection between self and others foster genuine other-concern that may result in altruistic acts for others' sake. The theory of self-referential altruism occupies a middle-ground between commonly understood egoism altruism, which means that it both recognizes the partial truth of egoism and altruism respectively and rejects their errors and misconceptions. Emphasis on the formal characteristic of agency is made and a distinction between an agent's formal self-interest and substantial self-interest is drawn. This distinction proves helpful in refuting psychological egoism and dismissing the misconceptions altruism. To discredit the belief that altruism requires harsh self-sacrifice, this essay makes a strong claim that the notion of self-sacrifice is relative and illusory. This study is also concerned with the justification for an altruistic morality. Two kinds of justifications are kept apart: justification for the other-regarding requirements of morality and justification for a person to accept that morality. Three approaches are examined: self-interested, reason-based and self-referential justifications. Self-interested justification for altruistic morality is found partly credible; reason-based Kantian justification is firmly refuted; and self-referential justification is argued for. It is a mistake to downplay the nobility of altruism simply because an altruist has a self and acts out of her self. We must reject the misguided wish for a selfless agent and selfless morality; the moral model we advocate is an autonomous and un selfish self . This essay argues that the best explanation of altruistic behaviors and the best non-self-interested justification of altruism lie in the notion of extended-self-love. Since progress in other disciplines facilitates the philosophical study of altruism, this essay makes use of abundant studies on altruism in social sciences such as psychology, sociology, etc.

Recommended Citation

Li Jing, "Self-love and morality: Beyond egoism and altruism" (January 1, 2005). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI3201925.