Tuesday, January 29, 2013

[PHI 2200] Egoism and the limits of argument

In Egoism and Moral Skepticism, James Rachels writes:
So if we are asked, “Why shouldn’t I set fire to this department store?” one answer would be, “Because if you do, people may be burned to death.” This is a complete, sufficient reason which does not require qualification or supplementation of any sort. If we are pressed further and asked the skeptical question, “But why shouldn’t I do actions that will harm others?” we may not know what to say—but this is because the questioner has included in his question the very answer we would like to give: “Why shouldn’t you do actions that will harm others? Because, doing those actions would harm others.”
The egoist, no doubt, will not be happy with this. He will protest that we may accept this as a reason, but he does not. And here the argument stops: there are limits to what can be accomplished by argument, and if the egoist really doesn’t care about other people—if he honestly doesn’t care whether they are helped or hurt by his actions—then we have reached those limits.
Consider the following:
  • You shouldn’t do actions that will harm others because doing those actions would harm others.
  • You should be nice to others because it’s nice to be nice.
Are these instances of circular reasoning or the “limits of argument”?

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