What does ethical egoism believe we should embrace as a concept for living and how alien is this to the Christian worldview?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ethical egoism argues that the individual must look out for their own sense of self and maximize their own self- interest.  This is what defines proper ethical behavior in terms of what one should do and how one should live.  Ayn Rand is quite explicit in articulating the condition of ethical egoism:  "Accept the fact that the achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness -- not pain or mindless self-indulgence -- is the proof of your moral integrity... "  Ethical egoism rests in this proposition.  The "achievement of your happiness" is where the individual must place primacy.  Individual happiness is a "responsibility."  As an ethical egoist, Rand clarifies what individuals should do and how they should live: "Discard the protective rags of that vice which you call a virtue: humility—learn to value yourself, which means: to fight for your happiness—and when you learn that pride is the sum of all virtues, you will learn to live like a man."  Maximizing one's self interest becomes the driving force behind individual actions.  In ethical egoism, the individual is the center of being in the world.  Acting in concert with what will benefit this individual sense of consciousness forms a major part of the theory.

It is in this light where the Christian worldview provides a stark contrast to the tenets of ethical egoism.  The Christian paradigm does not place primacy on the individual as the central being of consciousness. What Rand decries as "humility" represents the very basis of the Christian worldview. Individual action rests in following the example of Christ and adhering to the world order that he preached.  The individual is merely an extension of the divine example that Christ set.  

For the ethical egoist, this is problematic on two levels.  One is that the Christian worldview seeks to devalue the individual.  Rand felt this as the case: "Ask yourself whether the dream of heaven and greatness should be waiting for us in our graves--or whether it should be ours here and now and on this earth."  This statement critiques the Christian world view that argues individual acts should be geared for the individual and not for something hereafter.  At the same time, an ethical egoist would object to the Christian world view because it seeks to supplant individual autonomy and decision making abilities in the hands of another agent.  Again, Rand the ethical egoist is quite direct in her disdain for such a position: "Faith is the worst curse of mankind, as the exact antithesis and enemy of thought." Rand's critique reveals why the Christian worldview is alien to the ethical egoist.  Egoism's position of placing primacy on the motive of self- interest is challenged when the individual sees themselves as an agent of Christ's example, placing more emphasis on this transcendence as opposed to the individual being.  

The Christian world view is steeped in altruism. It is steeped in acts that reduce the role of the self and strive to merge this subjectivity into something larger.  This position trades off with the ethical egoist notion of self.  The Christian world view seeks to reduce the notion of self into something larger and more all- encompassing.  For the egoist, there is nothing more encompassing than the self.  The starting point of each is where fundamental conflict lies for both.  This particular condition is where egoism would see the Christian world view as an alien one.