There are two views that compete with each other over how one should attain happiness and live their life. Both views accept the premise that everyone’s end goal is happiness, but take different routes to get there. Ethical Egoism says that one ought to act and live according to their self-interests. Ayn Rand is a famous philosopher of the twentieth century that defended ethical egoism. She took the view of extreme individualism and ultimately argued that your being and self-identity is equivalent to your stream of consciousness and experiences. This is a buffed up view of Cartesian ontology of human beings. “Man is a being of volitional consciousness (505).”
Aristotle took the view of the telos, that everyone’s goal is happiness and you should get there by living the virtuous life. Virtue can be defined as a habit that serves the higher good. According to Aristotle there are two different types of virtues, moral and intellectual virtues. Moral virtues would be examples like courage or justice. Using justice, rendering one one’s due shows virtue because you punish evil for the future good of maintaining order in the polis. Intellectual virtue includes having wisdom in both practical and theoretical knowledge.
Aristotle would argue that in our ontology we are both rational and social creatures, so to achieve happiness we must fulfill both of these types of desires that we have. “The definition of happiness; for it has been said to be a virtuous activity of soul, of a certain kind (59).” To practice virtue is to be in a state of “soulishenss”, which fulfills are rational and social needs. Doing this satisfies these functions of human ontology and builds the habit of virtue, which achieves our end goal of happiness.
The position that is most impressive with is living the virtuous life to bring about happiness. Firstly, Aristotle’s view of human ontology is correct as describing us as social beings. If this was not the case, then there would not be a strong need for community of each individual. Humans need to be social to fulfill this desire in us and to do this you must make friends. Friendship is a core aspect of the virtuous life, to maintain this requires habits of virtues. Love is one of these virtues that should be between true friends.
The second reason for why the virtuous life is better than an egoistic life is that virtue by definition helps out the greater good. An egoistic life doesn’t do good for the sake of good, but rather does good for self-interest and survival. There’s no real intrinsic good on egoism and it can’t ground intrinsic good. Many people have lived for self-interest and lived very easy lives. The ring of gyres shows that if one gets the ring, then they have power. If someone lives by self-interest, then with the ring can cause serious problems with those that have less capabilities.
The final reason for why one should live the virtuous life is to look at the greatest human to have ever lived. This being Jesus of Nazareth who lived a very virtuous life. Whether he was God is a different question, but clearly he has had the biggest impact on human history. The beatitudes in the sermon on the mount shows the basic virtues that people should live by. Examples like peace-keepers and the merciful are virtues that Christ taught to live by. The second greatest commandment is the key to friendship and the virtuous life, which is to love thy neighbor as you love yourself. Love here is the greatest virtue that brings about friendship and truly serves the highest good. Any Rand’s view of ethical egoism does not fit the need to fit human ontology, our need for community, and love as a server to the highest good. The end goal of happiness is to live the virtuous life and love as the central habit that you live by.
A defense of Ethical Egoism