Hedonistic Egoism is an ethical theory that many people consider unethical.
No, this is not a paradox: Hedonistic Egoism is a theory that belongs to the field of moral philosophy although for many it is the quintessence of immorality. This charge of immorality arises because of Hedonistic Egoism’s claim that, morally speaking, you should pursue your own pleasure. In other words, however you got here, your purpose is to have as much fun as you can, until you die.
Hedonistic Egoism might sound like it was fashioned to describe Donald Trump. But no, that would be fake news. Hedonistic Egoism has a much longer history. The earliest written record of Hedonistic Egoism is represented by the Cārvāka, an Indian philosophical tradition based on the Barhaspatya sutras (7th century B.C.E.) It also existed in Ancient Greece, adhered to by the Cyrenaics, a school founded by Aristippus (c. 435-356 B.C.E.).
But just because some philosophers have endorsed Hedonistic Egoism, doesn’t mean we are saying that you have Philosophy’s approval to be a selfish jerk. Some of you may have come here hoping to find a justification for your past and perhaps planned misdeeds. Sorry! Our goal is not to promote or excuse jerkishness. Our goal is to argue that pursuing your own pleasure and being a jerk do not necessarily go hand in hand.
If you explain to a friend that Hedonistic Egoism advocates the pursuit of one’s own pleasure, the first reaction you may get is: “so why not kill a person, steal his money and buy a new phone?” If you do get this reaction, it may be time to get a new friend. The thing is, for non-psychopaths, killing people doesn’t seem like much fun. Regular people have moral emotions that would generate moral repulsion and soul-destroying guilt if we even tried to kill an innocent person for personal gain. Besides, new phones are getting cheaper all the time. Simply put, the strategy that your former friend advised, would likely fail to maximize your pleasure.
What is striking, in these conversations, is that people seem to assume that maximizing pleasure has to be anti-social: violence and deception for the sake of money and power. Perhaps contemporary exemplars of egoists like Wall Street’s wolves encourage this anti-social image, but they shouldn’t. If regular ALL CAPS tweetstorms mean anything, they mean that the tweeter is not a happy chappy. We humble authors are surely not the only ones enlightened enough to see that happiness lies more in meaningful personal relationships than in money and power. Empirical evidence, by the way, supports us. For example, in reviewing psychological research on happiness, Jonathan Haidt claims that “the condition that is usually said to trump all others in importance is the strength and number of a person’s relationships” .
The economic system we live in has perhaps brainwashed us into thinking that happiness = resources. People may assume that all the goods are limited in this zero-sum game we call life. Basically, happiness is like a pie that is only so big. When we take a bigger slice someone else has to take a smaller one. But this is not true. The growing empirical evidence on happiness shows that being part of meaningful relationships makes us happier . And, unless all of our meaningful relationships are with ourselves, the existence of meaningful relationships tends to benefit two or more people, not just one.
So, stop being jerks and enjoy the renewable ecstasy of loving and being loved. Being an egoistic hedonist and being a psychopath are not the same thing. Unless you are a psychopath, to pursue pleasure at the expense of other people is not an effective strategy. Furthermore, pursuing the traditional villain’s goals of money and power will do a lot less for your wellbeing than pursuing and nurturing your beloved friends, partner, children, family, pets, community, and so on. Basically, don’t kill people for a new phone.
Lorenzo Buscicchi, Dan Weijers, Nick Munn. University of Waikato
 Haidt, Jonathan. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, New York: Basic Books, 2006.
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 Saphire-Bernstein, S., & Taylor, S.E. (2013). Close relationships and happiness. In I. Boniwell, S.A. David, and A. Conley Ayers. (Eds.). Oxford handbook of happiness. (pp. 821–833). London: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/ 9780199557257.013.0060.