Topics Worth Investigating

  1. Psychological egoism is the view that all persons, without exception, seek their own self-interest. Ethical egoism is the view that recognizes that perhaps not all persons seek their own self-interest but they should do so. Explain whether Glaucon's account supports psychological hedonism or ethical egoism or both. Explain whether psychological egoism implies ethical egoism. Can you construct an unambiguous example of an action that could not possibly be construed to be a self-interested action? Would people always steal when the expected return greatly exceeds any expected penalty? You might want to consult such subjects as rational decision theory, the oft-termed "Chicago school" economics, and psychological studies of the Prisoner's Dilemma.

  2. A closely related view to egoism is psychological hedonism: the presumption that all persons seek pleasure. If I go out of my way to help others, and it gives me pleasure to do so, am I necessarily acting as a psychological hedonist? Explain this apparent paradox. If psychological hedonism were true, would that imply that ethical hedonism is true? Ethical hedonism is the view that all persons ought to seek pleasure, even though some persons might not actually do so.

  3. Compare Glaucon's account of the origin of covenants with the idea of the social contract described by Hobbes, Locke, or Rousseau. Social contract theory holds that people in a society implicitly agree to abide by unwritten or written agreements among themselves because it is in their interest to do so. Does Glaucon presuppose a actual "state of nature" prior to the formation of covenants or is his account only a logical justification of mutual agreements?

  4. If human beings have a biological nature just as other living things have a nature, then what arguments can you propose that that the nature of human beings is primarily social rather than individual? Aristotle wrote, "A man living outside of society is either a man or a beast." In the language of Richard Dawkins, are our genes "selfish"? Do human genetic factors favor cooperation among the species? Do you think this question empirically resolvable?