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Psychological Egoism

            Abraham Lincoln was once caught in a dilemma. He had seen some pigs caught in a slough and needed to decide whether he should help them or not. Lincoln chose to get the pigs unstuck, and when asked how this action could be taken by an egoist, Lincoln responded by saying that he "should have no peace of mind all day had [he] gone and left that suffering old sow worrying over those pigs. [He] did it to get peace of mind." As a psychological egoist would see it, Abraham Lincoln was acting selfishly. James Rachels refutes this in his piece Egoism and Moral Skepticism and says that Lincoln was not acting selfishly at all. In this case and in many like it, psychological egoism does not hold up, and since moral theories need to be universally applicable, James Rachels is correct in stating that psychological egoism is false. .
             The story above shows a situation where a person acts selfishly in order to produce satisfaction. Rachels calls this the second argument for psychological egoism stating, "Since so-called unselfish actions always produce a sense of self satisfaction in the agent, and since this sense of satisfaction is a pleasant state of consciousness, it follows that the point of the action is really to achieve a pleasant state of consciousness, rather than bring about any good for others" (Rachels 1971). Everyone would agree that we can be motivated to act according to our own self-interests and there are also instances where we may think that our actions are in the interests of others. The psychological egoist would show that even in those instances where we believe we are acting unselfishly, our motivation for acting that way is the sense of satisfaction and the rewards that we receive from helping others. In Lincoln's situation, the egoist would say that Lincoln did not want to help the pigs because it was the right thing to do, instead, he helped the pigs because he prevented himself from feelings of guilt and because Lincoln would have gotten a better image in the community if he had seen him helping the pigs.

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