, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 313–335 | Cite as

Egoism and Emotion

  • Michael Slote


Recently, the idea that human beings may be totally egoistic has resurfaced in philosophical and psychological discussions. But many of the arguments for that conclusion are conceptually flawed. Psychologists are making a conceptual error when they think of the desire to avoid guilt as egoistic; and the same is true of the common view that the desire to avoid others’ disapproval is also egoistic. Sober and Wilson argue against this latter idea on the grounds that such a desire is relational, but a deeper reason stems from the fact that it places such intrinsic importance on other human beings. And other basic human desires, like the desire for love, the desire for revenge, the impulse to imitate others, and the desire to belong, also treat others as important and on those grounds cannot count as egoistic. Another line of recent argument for egoism stems from the work of Robert Cialdini et al., and claims that the way we identify and feel one with those other people we empathize with and seek to help shows us to be thinking of those others as part of or identical with ourselves. This is supposed to show that our putative altruism is basically self-centered and egoistic, but Cialdini arguably misinterprets what we mean when we speak of feeling one with someone else, and the phenomena he mentions don’t therefore stand in favor of psychological egoism. More generally, many of the positive and negative emotions we feel toward others are best interpreted as non-egoistic, and there is no reason at this point to doubt that humans are capable of altruistic motivation.


Altruism Egoism Emotion Imitation Malice Need for love 


  1. Batson, C. D. (2011). Altruism in humans. NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Batson, C. D. (1991). The Altruism question: Toward a social-psychological answer. Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  3. Cialdini, R. B., Brown, S. L., Lewis, B. P., Luce, C., & Neuberg, S. L. (1997). Reinterpreting the empathy-altruism relationship: when one into one equals oneness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 481–494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Feinberg, J. (1971). Psychological egoism. In J. Feinberg (Ed.), Reason and responsibility: Readings in some basic problems of philosophy (2nd ed.). Encino: Dickenson Publishing Co.Google Scholar
  5. Hoffman, M. (2000). Empathy and moral development: implications for caring and justice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. May, J. (2011). Egoism, empathy, and self-other merging. Southern Journal of Philosophy, 49(Spindel Supplement: Empathy and Ethics), 25–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Nagel, T. (1970). The possibility of altruism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Noddings, N. (2002). Starting at home: Caring and social policy. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  9. Noddings, N. (1984). Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  10. Rawls, J. (1971). A theory of justice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Slote, M. (1964). An empirical basis for psychological egoism. Journal of Philosophy, 61, 530–537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Sober, E., & Wilson, D. S. (1999). Unto others: The evolution and psychology of unselfish behavior. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Stich, S., Doris, J., & Roedder, E. (2010). Altruism. In J. Doris et al. (Eds.), The moral psychology handbook (pp. 147–205). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Velleman, D. (1999). Love as a moral emotion. Ethics, 109, 338–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA

Personalised recommendations