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James Rachels: Moral Problems

Sep 14, 2017 in Psychology

Virtually the understanding of morality is challenged by the steam of thoughts revolving around it. Conforming to the actions and rules of right behavior is not a justification of altruistic conduct, as it is held up by the numerous assumptions and deceptiveness. These assumptions create a conflict between peoples’ self-interest and that of others in relation to what moral principles should entail. The extent, to which we understand these confusions and assumptions within the context of morality, enables the analysis, evaluation, and conclusion of the facts that reflect its real understanding.

Rachels describes the attack of these assumptions by skeptics in a way that brings vivid view of their nature and influence on people’s thoughts. A scoundrel person is no better than a virtuous one, if at all they both behave in almost similar manner, when freed from reprisal. It is argued that what drives a man is self-interest; therefore, under no circumstances a man will fail to pursue what benefits him most or thinks is best for himself regardless of his violation of norms of morality. Evidently, moral problems arise in the situations, whereby a person is given explicit freedom to act in a manner, in which he/she pleases or gives him/her an advantage over others. The main difference between the two types of person lies under the principles they use to fulfill their wants; hence, the psychological egoism and ethical egoism. The application of these two views of skeptics gives institutions of moral life a new dimension of consideration; thereby, deceiving most people on what they should believe and emulate.

Psychological egoism bases its argument on both selfishness and self-interest, as what makes a person to act in the way they do of whose absence their actions cease. Rachels explains that sometimes we perform certain actions either to achieve an objective at the end or to accomplish an obligation. He furthers the argument, as he elaborates that conflict will ultimately arise, if a person does not do what he/she has promised to do. Therefore, the assumption that since people always do what they most wanted, loses ground as such, it is not in all cases that this is possible, because not all actions are voluntary. This eliminates the idea that all people are selfish, as they all do what they wanted most. Furthermore, the outcome of what people do to themselves dictates whether it is of selfish or unselfish nature, disregarding of whether it is voluntary or not. If fulfilling one’s desires or wants basing on self-interest results in satisfaction of others or improvement of their life directly or indirectly, then such an action is unselfish and can only be regarded selfish, if its achievement results in disadvantages or negative effects to others. Again, we cannot presume that all people are universally unselfish, since it is not in all cases that their actions reflect on the desires to help others, as such sometimes it is encompassed by the urge of self-satisfaction only.

Literally, unselfishness implies helping others in the expense of oneself. Having a good heart and involving in actions that support others without mere expectations of payback defines the virtues of unselfish person. Selfishness, according to skeptics, prevails every time person’s motive is to bring about pleasant state of consciousness other than helping others; also, it is considered to be an act of selfishness, as it involves derivation of self-satisfaction from others. This concept is misleading as such; indeed, it is the unselfish person, who derives satisfaction from helping others, whereas the selfish one does not (Rachels 6). Basically, any action intended to help others is regarded as being unselfish, in as much as it may have self-satisfaction or benefits for the person doing it. On the contrary, selfishness, in fact, does not result to any satisfaction to others; it focuses entirely on one’s satisfaction on the expense of others. Therefore, there is no justification that a person is selfish, merely because he/she shows concern for others for attainment of pleasurable consciousness. Generally, it is true to argue that if our intention in achieving a certain goal has a positive attitude, then we may derive satisfaction from attaining that goal, but since our objective is attaining the goal, we may achieve it prior to finding any satisfaction from it. Hence, person’s desires regarding the success of others may have self-satisfaction, but this does not guarantee him/her to be selfish, as it has a positive impact as well.

Psychological egoism is blindly favored, despite having many unsupportive arguments. Rachels idea of taking on motivation of human actions as by self-interest, gives him unopposed approach to criticize, only when such facts are deliberately distorted. We can conclude that they were motivated by a desire of automatic self-gain associated with harm of other people. Most people are forced to believe the knowledge presented to them, basically, because simple thoughts and calculation lead them to that; also, the perception of matters lightly tends to confirms false and obvious assumptions as truthful, creating multiple moral problems, since often such assumptions get questioned; hence, causing confusions.

Rachels’ stand on the first confusion dwells on the misconception existing between selfishness and self-interest. The idea forwarded by Rachels on the distinct difference between selfishness and self-interest gives a clear understanding on the circumstances, in which a person is regarded as selfish, to be only when he/she ignores the interest of others when they ought not. Most people tend to regard others as selfish, simply because they have never been and are not willing to share their success; in such cases and observing the human rights, one has the right to his/her property, and failure of him or her to involve others in management of what is his/hers can never be considered as selfishness. This is supported by the fact that in fulfilling his or her desires one should not ignore the interests of others deliberately and knowingly.

The second assumption stresses that unavailability of genuine altruism leads to all actions being done from the point of self-interest. Rachels strongly negate this dichotomy. Supporting his argument, it is common that not all people, who lack virtue of altruism, are motivated by self-interest. A substantial number of people are motivated by others’ self-harming lifestyles, such as drug abuse, reckless driving, and risk taking. On critical observations, in fact, a selfish person demands they quit from that; yet, they do not conform to the demands of altruism.

Lastly, drawing Rachels’ argument, it is obvious that people live in the societies built by families. We need each other in our daily lives. Therefore, concern of other people’s welfare is a common occurrence. The fact that we may get concerned and help others in their welfare without other motives disregards this assumption.

In our daily lives, often we meet people, whose aims or objectives seem to be absolutely self-centered; yet, by no means do they live by this standard. Hence, the concept of psychological egoism has no credible proof for its application or support. This leads to a conclusion that moral institutions of life may dwell in the diverse dimension, only when its virtues are motivated.

Ethical egoism is practiced by many people today with moral obligation in favor to themselves, and they ought to accomplish any mission for their own interest. In this situation, an egoist would rather not help his or her friend in times of need, and if he or she does so, in many instances they will offer help in return to their own favor. The term is so different from the psychological egoism and differs from rational egoism, which recommends that to be rational one have to act for self-interest. According to Rachels, ethical egoism can be deduced to be the idea, in which people tend to have moral obligations that favor only themselves and the one that they ought to pursue their own interests only (Rachels 12).

Rachels in his work has provided us with a number of arguments supporting and opposing ethical egoism. The first and foremost argument is about people or our ambition to harm and affect other people’s lives for our own interest or with an interest to satisfy our own needs. As an example, he says that we intend to intrude and interfere with other people’s lives in a manner, in which they never like, such as degrading them by offering them handouts. Also, we may find ourselves misinterpreting other people’s interest, while we bungle any attempts to their help. The egoism is explained in the text, where the writer refers to a person with the fascination of watching a big blaze of fire, he or she might find it okay to set fire in a building, regardless whether it is occupied or not. In such a case, many people might die or suffer from the serious burns, but as long as the person satisfies their interest, they have no reason that can make them fail to do so. In such a case, the negative effects will be on the injured people and that concerns their welfare. This is supported by ethical egoism, as the only thing to consider are the interests of the person setting fire to the building. The Al-Qaida terrorist group shows the real experience of this kind of egoism, when they hit the Twins Towers in September 11. They have satisfied their revenge against Americans and never cared for the suffering people.

Another argument given in Rachels’ work concerning ethical egoism is about altruistic ethics. This kind of ethics recommends that we offer help to others, who are in need of our help, by either requesting us or by our conscience regardless of whether we are benefiting or not. This philosophy requires that we sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of others and denies us what we term as valuable in our lives for the sake of others. Mr. Lincoln demonstrates this, when he saw some helpless pigs in the slough. He exercised altruism by alighting from the coach he had boarded to ensure that he assists the pigs from the danger of drowning. Though this act, according to Lincoln, helped him have peace of mind, it cannot be termed as ethical egoism, just because he benefited for his mind would not think of drowning pigs. It was much more than a sacrifice to save the pigs, since he neither minded about being left by the couch nor getting dirty from the mud. Rachels is seen to dismiss this argument of altruism, since he suggests that sacrificing and having an obligation to help others should not entail or demand that one leaves all of his or her projects for the sake of others.

Rachels reveals that ethical egoism is what underlies and what is governed by people’s common-sense morality. The reasons, as to why there are banning of actions like stealing, and there are obligations to assist the needy, is that by doing so we will all benefit. He demonstrates that sometimes people may lie in an advantageous situation or even assist with other agenda rather than for one’s advantage. Rachels assumes that unacceptable arbitrariness is the best argument against ethical egoism. He says that the interest of the egoist comes first before the interests of other people, but in the real sense, there is no person, who matters more than the other one does.

In his conclusion, Rachels through his work finds the ethical egoism implausible, as in the case of morally relevant differences. He explains the moral principle requiring us to treat others, as we would like them to treat us. He also says that, in a situation case, where we have to treat others differently, there should be some realistic differences between us to justify why we treat them differently. Ethical egoism fails to satisfy the moral principle, as it stresses on the assignment of oneself greater moral importance, as compared to other people, even though there is no realistic difference justifying this greater assignment. He concludes on the fact that ethical egoism is mistaken, having failed to meet the basic principles of morality.

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