Altruism and egoism are two sides of the same coin and as moral practices, scholars believe that their impacts on the quality of life differ. Altruism was coined by Auguste Comte, a French philosopher, as an antonym to egoism. Altruism, which is derived from the Latin word “alteri,” which means “other people,” is a principle that urges for the general concern towards the happiness of others, be they human beings or animals. The premise for altruism is that individuals should be selflessly concerned about the welfare of others. Altruism is considered a form of consequentialism, as it suggests that if an action creates good consequences to others, then it is ethically right. However, compared to utilitarianism, which aims to maximize good consequences for all parties, altruism demands that everyone else should benefit, except the individual.
To those that practice altruism, the principle is considered essential to achieving better quality in life, both spiritually and materially. In daily life, altruism is seen through the actions of persons who do many things to make the lives of others more comfortable. For example, volunteers or contributors to a charity event can be said to be altruistic as their actions are aimed at immediately benefiting others. However, in recent times, there have been concerns about the effectiveness of altruism, since there is a possibility that it can be misinterpreted and distorted for malicious intentions. For instance, how can genuine altruism be accessed in real life? In philosophy, altruism has also attracted significant criticism as some thinkers feel that it is degrading and to some extent, irrational to be genuinely altruistic.
For example, Friedrich Nietzsche believed that treating other people as more important than oneself was inherently demeaning and degrading. Nietzsche felt that altruism undermines the individual pursuit of self-development, creativity, and excellence, as the person abandons themselves in favor of others. In his argument on a good life means, Nietzsche felt that a good person does the right thing for themselves and those around them. Following the logic, therefore, concerning oneself with the affairs of others and overlooking oneself is not the right thing, which means that is not a good life to lead. Ayn Rand, another thinker, felt that many problems today are created by altruism since there is no rational basis for sacrificing yourself for the good of others. As a moral ideal, Rand felt that altruism could create a society where people would be forced into a collectivist system where the group’s welfare would be placed before the individual’s.
Egoism, on the other hand, is the opposite of altruism, as it proposes that the “self” should be the only motivation and goal of one’s actions. As an ethical position, egoism proposes that moral people ought to do whatever is in their self-interest. Egoism stems from individualism in its overt promotes self-reliance and freedom in the belief that no individual deserves to prevent others from doing what they want. According to Henry Sidgwick, egoism as a theory can be closely compared to utilitarianism, with the only exception of the own individual’s status. According to ethical egoism, before any action, one should consider the benefits that will be enjoyed on the individual level or maximizes own good. What should be noted, however, is that ethical egoism approves behavior that benefits other parties, with the exception that actions should not harm the actor. In the end, the actions should serve the individual’s good.
The focus on the individual is a significant factor that contrasts egoism to altruism since no egoist can imagine benefiting others for their sake. Some criticisms of egoism include that egoism is immoral and evidence of selfishness. According to Thomas Jefferson, for instance, no one owes duties to oneself since any forms of obligation require 2 parties. Thus, if egoism is not an obligation, any actions inspired by the ideology are immoral and harmful. For religious pundits, egoism as a philosophy stems from a lack of spirituality and evidence of greed and selfishness.
Egoists have several justifications for their stance, which stems from the human reality that only an individual understands their wants and needs. According to James Rachels, if we understand our own needs, then we should do all we can to pursue their attainment. Furthermore, since we cannot comprehensively know the desires, wants, and needs of others, it is only reasonable to act in ways where the consequences will benefit us the most. Additionally, for those that compare altruism to egoism, another response is that gifting others through charity is harmful to them since it undermines their ability to cater to their own needs. Altruism makes people dependent, which calls for more egoism to inspire everyone to pursue paths that will improve their realities. An example is a fact that most developing countries are aided each time they face natural disasters such as droughts, a pattern that makes them unable to find their solutions. Overreliance degrades, breeds contempt, and creates resentfulness.
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