Although ethical egoism and ethical subjectivism differ in many respects, they are both ethical theories. The purpose of ethical theories is to put in place a system of principles individuals use to make moral choices and to justify those choices. By doing this, the ultimate goal is to help people lead the best life possible for themselves and for society. Ethical egoism and ethical subjectivism approach these goals in different ways.

Ethical Egoism Explained

Ethical egoism contends each person has a duty to act in ways that promote his or her self-interest above the interests of all others. When a moral decision must be made, the person should exclusively consider how the results will benefit him or her. This differs from other types of ethical theories which give weight to how the choice will affect others as well. For example, if you would benefit more from keeping $10,000 than you would from donating it to charity then the morally correct decision would be to keep the money for yourself if you are an ethical egoist.

Ethical Subjectivism Explained

Ethical subjectivism argues that no ethical theory is objectively true. Statements contained in those theories, such as the duty to act in one’s self interest, are only true as long as they are believed by the person holding the theory. Therefore, ethics becomes less a matter of what is objectively true and more a matter of individual perception. If Person A believes it is morally right to keep $10,000 instead of donating it to charity then for Person A that is the ethical thing to do. However, if Person B believes donating the money to others would be ethically correct then for Person B that is the correct ethical decision.

Main Difference between the Theories

Ethical subjectivism contends that objective concepts of good and evil or right and wrong do not exist. This leads into other theories such as moral relativism which suggests these concepts are determined by agreement. On the other hand, ethical egoism argues that what is right and good is the action that promotes a person’s self-interest. Likewise, what is wrong and bad goes against that person’s self-interest. Additionally, the ethical egoist believes his or her decisions can be objectively justified by weighing the benefits for them and the costs for them. However, the ethical subjectivist would argue that those supposedly objective justifications are really just subjective statements of the person’s values and desires. Whether one thinks it is ethically right to donate to charity or keep the money is not much different for the ethical subjectivist then thinking chocolate or vanilla ice cream is the best flavor.

Common Ground between Theories

Although ethical egoism and ethical subjectivism’s biggest difference is that the former claims to be objectively true while the latter says no ethical theory can be objectively true, they do have a common theme: the importance of the individual. In both theories what is right and wrong comes down to the beliefs, values, and interests of the person making the moral decision. In fact because no one can never predict the full ramifications of their ethical decisions, it could be argued that ethical egoists are merely basing their decisions on what they perceive to be best for them at the time and not on objective criteria.

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