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Thomas Hobbes: Nature Of Egoism

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There are numerous theories that have been innovated since the beginning of time. From the Greeks, the Renaissance, and to Thomas Hobbes there has always been a new theory to human nature. Thomas Hobbes introduced the nature of egoism and the factors along with it. Egoism is the way humans are and how we are meant to be. According to Hobbes, egoism is someone, who only acts in their own interests. Even if that person claims that they did something for someone they are not telling the truth which is, they did it for their own benefit. There is the psychological theory of this and the rational theory of this. Both stating similar claims of human nature. Neither of them is a subjective viewpoint which means they do not depend on the feelings of others. Self desires and interests are what put this theory in full effect.

Psychological egoism is when a person acts to fulfill their self-interest all the time. If a person wants to do something then they will or they will not. No one else can interrupt one from doing what they want. A psychological egoist would suggest that anyone who claims to be doing good for someone else is only doing it for recognition or some other benefit. They would also suggest that at all times a person thinks of themselves and no one else. In the words of David Hume “On this interpretation, egoism says that ultimately all human actions must be explained in terms of the desires of the people whose actions they are.” Everyone says or acts in a certain manner because they need to. Everyone needs to express their desires and interests in some way to feel free or to feel human.

Further, rational egoism still keeps the idea of a person acting out of self-interest but also says that one can act out of pity for someone else. A person can do something for someone else but they are not doing it for rational motivations. For example, a person gives to the homeless out of pity, rational egoism says that the person is not thinking correctly. According to rational egoists, thinking conventional is wrong but it is a possibility. Psychological egoists say that there is no possibility for people to act out of pity in any type of circumstances. Both types of egoists try to set reasonable and emotions apart. The reason is usually associated with men and emotion is used towards women. Men are always known as rational or logical. As stated by Gordon Graham, “Rational egoists recommend that I should always do whatever I want.” Rational egoists follow the same belief as psychological egoists but also insults the thought of feeling pity for others.

Egoism can be mistaken for being selfish but they are actually distinct. Egoism is an identification of an ethical theory of criteria while being selfish is plainly a character trait. Egoism is the way humans live life and selfishness is one’s personality. Being selfish is what a person is acting like while being an egoist is what a person is. According to Graham “Selfish people are people who, for instance, always try to get the best seat, the finest steak, the one remaining strawberry, or the largest glass of wine for themselves.” “Egoism is a philosophical doctrine according to which practical reasons—reasons—for me to do things—have to be grounded in what matters to me.” Selfishness does not need to be logical like egoism does. Egoism does not prevent people from acting of interest in others nor does it force people to act of interest in others.

Also, there is a difference between egoism and altruism. Morality plays a part in defining the difference. As stated earlier morality is caring about others well being just as much as your own. Altruism ties in with morality because altruism is simply a practice of selfless acts for others. Egoism opposes this because egoists dominate others to benefit them. Gordon Graham best explains this, “You lead the best life when you get what you want, regardless of how this affects others.” “The egoist’s essential insight is that people don’t need to be given reasons to pursue personal advantage, but they do need to be given reasons not to pursue personal advantage.” If the reason for not gaining or benefiting from something is not valid, then it will be ignored.

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In addition to Thomas Hobbes’s rational egoism theory, he has two types of motions; vital and voluntary. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains vital motions as “Passions stand between the involuntary “vital” motion characteristic of all living things, and animal.” Vital motion is a person’s involuntary motion. It is what your body does without consent or thought. For example, scratching your head because it itches is a vital motion. Or switching from side to side while you sleep is a vital motion because you have no real thought that made you switch sides. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy also explains voluntary motion “By which animals move their bodies through the world, driven by appetites and aversions.” Voluntary motions are movements that you have to think about. For example, if you drop your phone, you will have to think to bend down and grab the phone. Or when you are hungry, you think to put food in your mouth.

Voluntary motions are usually broken down into either appetite and aversion. Appetite is when a person is attracted to something. It is having a desire or passion for something. When a person is hungry they have an appetite for food. Aversion is when a person is repelled by something. It is when a person is almost disgusted by something. For example, a person is disgusted with the smell of dirty laundry. Appetite and aversion are what Hobbes says are important to the nature of humans.

A moralist would oppose an egoist because they will tell an egoist to aid others first and focus on interests second. Moralists need reasons while egoists do not. Graham says, “This shows that the burden of proof is on the moralist.” The proof is important to Moralism, not egoism. “The burden of proof always falls on the moralist, and this confirms the idea that, in the absence of reasons to the contrary, by the very nature of the claim it makes, rational egoism is the default position.” Rational egoism does not need proof to fulfill self-interest.

However, Thomas Hobbes’s egoism theory does have some major flaws. First, limited resources become a problem. If everyone does everything for themselves then there would be an insufficient amount of supplies in the world. Greed will overtake the humanitarian side of society because everyone wants something for themselves. Hobbes’s theory suggests that we are always in a state of war being of glory and competition. He suggests that we are always preparing for a fight, fear of a fight, and getting in a fight. We are not always in a state of war. In war, there is never an actual winner because everyone loses something. Preparing for war all the time would be exhausting and terrifying. This leads to the next problem with this theory. Being anxious, distressed, and worried all the time for a war that is fed by greed is misery. If everyone followed this theory there would be no resolving conflict in our society. Also, in the state of war means no culture, no navigation, no industry, no new knowledge, and no well-structured buildings. War makes people less creative and more savage.

In the end, Thomas Hobbes's state of nature theory is incorrect, terrifying, and obsolete. Egoism is not a theory that actually follows the nature of morality. It opposes what is morally right and wrong. Living in a society that is based on this theory would be horrendous because showing pity or helping others would be considered weak. People need to care for one another because it is morally right and it is how we evolve.

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Thomas Hobbes: Nature Of Egoism. (2021, September 26). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 4, 2024, from
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