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Related to egoism: utilitarianism


egoism (ēˈgōĭzəm), in ethics, the doctrine that the ends and motives of human conduct are, or should be, the good of the individual agent. It is opposed to altruism, which holds the criterion of morality to be the welfare of others. The term has been variously used, from the benevolent self-interest of the utilitarians to the belief, articulated by Friedrich Nietzsche, that all altruistic sentiment is cowardice. Egoism is frequently associated with the ethics of the early Greek hedonists. Some modern philosophers attempt to reconcile egoism and altruism by adducing the concept of the growing self who invests his interests in an ever-widening field.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an ethical stance in which private interests are viewed as the basic motive for all action and as the chief criterion of value applied to society and to an individual’s immediate milieu.

Egoism arose with the decay of the primitive communal system and the appearance of private property. It reflected the atomiza-tion of social associations and the separation from them of self-sufficient individuals, closed groups, and later, classes, for all of which socially useful activity was, and was regarded as, only a means of consolidating and maintaining their social position.

With the development of the commodity, and especially the capitalist, mode of production, private interests, objectively turned into the goal of action, and the principle of egoism became the universal measure of human enterprise. The principle of egoism underlay the philosophical, political-economic, and moral doctrines of such representatives of the Enlightenment as T. Hobbes, B. Mandeville, A. Smith, D. Ricardo, C. Helvétius, P. Holbach, and J. Bentham, the last of whom advocated the ethic of utilitarianism. With later thinkers, such as M. Stirner, adherence to the principle of egoism frequently took the form of extreme individualism and amorality.

Completely unlimited egoism has always been condemned by ordinary moral consciousness. The principle of altruism was advanced as an alternative to it. Only with the elimination of private property under socialism, however, did egoism cease to be the basic means of motivating social activity; it was supplanted by the principle of collectivism. The final elimination of egoism from human relations will take place in the age of mature communism.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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