How does ethical egoism relate to law enforcement?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Ideally, ethical egoism and law enforcement would not be connected to one another at all.  We want our law enforcement personnel to have good ethics, but we do not want them to subscribe to the ideas of ethical egoism.  The reason for this is that ethical egoism would tend to lead law enforcement officers to act in ways that are antithetical to what we want in those who are supposed to protect us.

Ethical egoism is the stance that holds that we should act on the basis of our self-interest.  In other words, we should always do what is best for us, regardless of how it would affect other people.  This is surely not the sort of attitude we want our law enforcement officers to have.

If law enforcement officers were to act based on ethical egoism, there could be bad effects, both minor and major.  Imagine, for example, a young male police officer who stops someone for speeding.  He sees that it is an attractive young woman that he has been wanting to date.  He decides that it is in his best interests to let her off with a warning, hoping that she will be more likely to agree if he asks her out in the future.  This is not anything that is going to endanger public safety, but it is not in keeping with the ethics we expect of our police officers.  Now think of this in a much more serious situation.  Let us say that a police officer sees someone walking through a school parking lot holding an assault rifle.  The officer only has a pistol and is therefore dramatically outgunned.  It is probably in the officer’s best interest to call for backup and let the person with the rifle keep going.  That way, the officer does not risk being killed.  Most of us would not want the officer to act in this way.  Instead, we would want them to put their life on the line to protect the children inside the school. 

In these examples, we can see that ethical egoism is something that we do not want connected to law enforcement.  When the two are connected, they tend to bring about problems because law enforcement officials who act out of ethical egoism are likely to act in ways that are not beneficial to the public.

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