Psychological egoism is the view that we are always motivated by self-interest, even in seeming acts of altruism.
Psychological egoism should be contrasted well with ethical egoism, which is the view that we always ought to be motivated by self-interest.
Max Stirner is known for holding this view of the human psyche.
Some versions of psychological egoism are resistant to easy falsification by empirical evidence, because they claim that apparent acts of selflessness are simply the acts of individuals seeking a "warm fuzzy glow" or following social incentives to be seen to be altruistic.
But very strong arguments can be made from thought experiment to suggest that at least some individuals are very genuinely altruistic. Thought experiments can rule out forms of selfishness which could not be controlled for in an ordinary psychological experiment. These arguments make psychological egoism extremely difficult to defend.
Another criticism is that psychological egoism amounts to the tautology, "You can only most want that which you most want" and is therefore vacuous.
Last updated: 10-19-2005 16:03:08