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Ethical Egoism Vs Social Responsibility

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Merriam-Webster collegiate dictionary defines egoism as "a doctrine that individual self-interest is the actual motive of all conscious action." Social responsibility entails one's actions benefiting one's society more than oneself. A cost benefit analysis sided towards the many rather than towards the individual. In the two books The Elements of Moral Society and Ethical Issues in Engineering by James Rachels and Deborah Johnson respectively, the subject of egoism and social responsibility come up. Hannaford in Johnson's book and James Rachels support social responsibility. Friedman and I are supporting the egoism side.

Our modern society is based on individualism. Without individualism we'd end up just like serfs on a medieval manor. That is looking out for the "society" as opposed to oneself. The Renaissance in the western world is where we broke those chains of social obligations. Looking out for number 1, one's family, one's company first and foremost is my definition of egoism. One can make egoism work in a society as long as he does not induce harm to others and follow "the basic rules (laws) of society." (Friedman 79)

Robert Hannaford uses the DC-10 example where a McDonnell-Douglas executive's decision to rush the DC-10 into production to get ahead of its competitors, even though their own engineers had warned the management about the danger of the cargo door latch. It was the main contributing factor to the disastrous crash of the DC-10 crash in Paris airport in 1975. This was not an isolated incident. He goes into how "their chief executive officers are Ð''single-mindedly almost slavishly committed to achieving' a showing of maximum short-term profits." (Hannaford 85) Hannaford has inadvertently pointed out that his decision on short-term profits should have been outweighed by the long-term profits. I see it as he merely made the wrong decision to help his own company. He should have had the foresight that making an inferior aircraft would not benefit his company in the long run. Thereby making it the wrong egocentric decision. How could you expect any customer to not be comfortable about buying from a company that could tarnish their own name with a place crash as well?

That brings another point. I might point out that would be an egocentrically sound decision on the airlines part. On the other side of the argument you could say that the social responsibility of the airline is to protect the many McDonnell-Douglas employees' jobs. The airlines should choose the best decision for their company. Helping McDonnell-Douglas would be self-defeating in this case.

In arguing against the egoist position it seems to be like one can't do good for the community and serve your own best interests to the fullest. We can make decisions with the social volunteerism and not "social responsibility" while still looking out for number one. Hannaford points out that:

Acting to fulfill social obligations is not contrary to a firm's business interests. Business interests include community interests. Corporate decisions should center on what is in the total interest of the corporationÐ'... farmers and small businesses can decide to satisfy social obligations and not thereby threaten their livelihood or the free market.

Hannaford attempts to make fit "social obligation" into the egoist theory. The farmer or small business should not have the "social obligation" but the social choice to keep prices low for the customer. In losing his autonomy he or she cannot maintain an egoist creed.

One might present the premise:

1. An egoist is selfish by nature.

2. Selfishness goes against the general rules of society.

3. Therefore egoism goes against the rules of society thereby making it contradict it's own principles (to follow the basic rules (laws) of society.)

James Rachels (a non-egoist) poses an argument for the egoist: "These (good deeds) are all clear cases of unselfish behavior, and if the psychological egoist thinks that such cases do not occur, then he is just mistaken." (71) Being an egoist does not make you selfish. Merriam-Webster's defines selfish as "concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others." The last phrase



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