SOPhiA 2019

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

The Strength of Real-World Egoism
(Ethics, English)

Economics is based on the idea the people are exclusively self-interested -- they do not care about the others' well-being. The main argument in favor of this (empirically false) hypothesis is that, when we imagine how to organize a society, we should "economize on virtue", that is, make sure society can work even though its members are all selfish. According to this view, a "realistic" or "non-utopian" conception of society should be based on a conception of human nature which is not too optimistic.

This argument in favor of the "self-interest hypothesis" in economics has some force. Yet, we can object that the egoistic conception of human nature that we find in economics is still not "realistic enough"; the conception of human nature on which it relies is still too optimistic. Indeed, the objection says, people in the real-world are far more selfish than what is supposed in economics.



The objection we develop claims that the interpretation of egoism that we find in economics is too weak. In order to argue for this claim, we define the strength of egoism by the value people assign to their own life -- and not by the fact that they disregard other peoples' lives. We then show that, in the economic conception of egoism, the value people assign to their own life is only personal, i.e. their life has value only for themselves, but not in themselves. Yet, in the real world, people assign not only a personal value to their own life, but also an impersonal and intrinsic value. They consider that their life has an intrinsic value from an impersonal point of view. We then show that the ethical theory which appropriately represents this higher value that people assign to their lives is the doctrine of human rights. We then conclude that, if economists had a realistic conception of the strength of real-world egoism, they would support an economic world where it would never be acceptable to use or exploit someone in the name of the society economic prosperity.


Chair: Jana Holíková
Time: 12:00-12:30, 20 September 2019 (Friday)
Location: SR 1.004

Judith Würgler 
(University of Neuchâtel , Switzerland)

I am in the last year of my PhD research program. I am writing a thesis since 2014 on topics related both to economics and metaethics. The thesis explores the relation between conceptions of human motivations and normative ethical theories. Previously, I did a bachelor and master degree in philosophy and history at the University of Neuchâtel. I have also spent eight months at the University of Utah during my master degree and ten months at the Goethe-University in Frankfort for a research program during my PhD.

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