Is It Unethical to Be Self-Focused?
The term self-focused or selfish has various definitions in ethics. However, one of the most common associations that exist in most minds is of an individual who thinks only about him or herself, and is extremely self-centered. These people seem to think about all opportunities available for them and how they can exploit it to benefit their lives. On the other hand, one pictures selfless people as those who think about their mates. Such individuals are often lauded by the society for their sacrifice and service for the people they routinely help. In that end, two extremes are outlined, one being selfless and the other being self-focused. In terms of ethics, the former would be the honorable option out of the two. This paper tries to prove that selfishness is unethical. The standpoint is supported by examining selfishness from a moral dimension. In other words, the assertion is justified by different ethics theories on selfishness. Precisely, the paper outlines the ethical perspective of a Korean socioeconomic migrant, who has decided not to go back to his country after living in the United States for over 10 years. Central to this paper is the fact that the immigrant is a graduate, whose parents want him to return home.
The question that arises is a dilemma of whether self-focused people think only about themselves while selfless people think only about the others. Certainly, out of the two extremes, there are potentially motivating factors supporting each of them. Firstly, it is important to shade light on the notion of being selfish. As mentioned above, the typical example of selfish individuals are people who are out for themselves. However, there is an abstract perspective on selfishness and the one that goes in contrast with being self-centered. In a way, self-focused individuals understand that, for a change or transformation to be tangible and to be of any help to others, precedence must be given to personal needs. A self-focused individual will often find time for others; however, his or her personal needs are almost always given priority.
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There is a conflict between the Korean young man and his parents because he believes that his decision to stay in the United States is right while his parents consider his decision to be dishonorable, unjust, and wrong. If his parents sponsored him to get good education in the US, and in turn expected him to take care of them in the future, his decision would be unethical because he would fail to meet this obligation. More controversy and complexity emanates from the distinction between the actions that are objectively or subjectively ethical. The Korean man’s action is subjectively ethical if he believes that he acts ethically. His action can be termed as objectively ethical if he acts according to the law. An action is subjectively unethical if it is intended and objectively unethical if it violates the predefined rules.
Ethics is a branch of philosophy that outlines a systematic and logical set of principles that define the ethical behavior. Both an individual and society establish systems of ethical values that serve critical functions to them. Ethical behavior is the one that is widely considered as right, good, honorable, just, and praiseworthy (Champoux 51). On the other hand, unethical behavior is the one that is judged dishonorable, unjust, wrong, and failing to meet an obligation. According to Champoux (51), the opinion on an action to be ethical or unethical is based on the rules, guides, or principles that emanate from specific theories of ethics, social values, and character traits. In this context, the paper builds the following argument based on the ethics theory.
According to the utilitarianism ethics theory, an action is ethical if the net benefits of an action or decision exceed the net benefits of any other action (Champoux 56). If the immigrant decided to stay in the US with the intention of developing his career and earning significant income, his action is justified and ethical. Further, the decision is praiseworthy if he stays and remits part of his income to support his parents. In that end, the decision to stay is justified by utilitarianism. It is assumed that the immigrant can identify and evaluate the net benefits of his decision. His assessment of potential future benefits considers indirect benefits to his parents and community. On the other hand, if the decision does not yield the optimum benefits for every affected party, including himself, it is unethical and wrong. Consequently, utilitarianism motivates an individual to assess the effects of his/her actions on others.
According to the right-based ethics, rights are people’s just entitlements or claims. In this context, positive and negative rights are distinguished (Champoux 57). The underlying rationale behind positive rights is that people have a duty to help others achieve their rights. Positive rights cover the basic human rights such as the right to life, right to hold an opinion, and the right to move and associate freely. The underlying principle of negative rights is that one should not interfere with the other people’s rights. Champoux (57) notes that the moral rights are a subject to the ethical standards, whereas legal rights are a subject to the legal system. The right lets people pursue certain action freely without interference with others. Unlike the legal rights, moral rights are universal. Both the immigrant and his parents have the moral duty to respect the rights of each other. Rights allow the immigrant pursue his interests being an autonomous equals. Parents are not justified to interfere with the immigrant’s rights or actions, but they are justified to help their child pursue his rights. In this argument, the Korean man has a right to live in the US; however, his decision might interfere with his parent’s rights if he deviates from his duty to take care of them. Objectively, his self-focus is ethical because he does not violate any rule or law. From his parents’ viewpoint, his decision is dishonorable; hence, it is judged as being subjectively unethical.
Egocentrism is a fundamental barrier to ethical reasoning, as well as ethical behavior (Windschitl, Rose and Stalkfleet 253). Intricately, humans tend to judge things from a narrow perspective. That is to say, humans are naturally masterful at rationalization and self-deception. For example, people maintain beliefs that are barely evidenced. People engage in activities that deliberately violate the ethical principles. Enlightened-self-interest is a scenario whereby an egoist considers the interests of others with a notion that other people would act similarly towards him or her. Ethical egoism does not solve conflicts between the conflicting individuals.
According to Elder and Paul (6), the human beings naturally develop into the narrow-minded and self-interested thinkers. For instance, one feels pain without considering the pain that the other feels. The source of virtually all unethical actions is some degree or form of self-idealism. Additionally, there is some flaw in reasoning at the root of self-idealism. For example, Hitler believed that he was justified and right in mistreating the Jews. The dictator believed that he was subjectively ethical because he was serving the interest of all Germans. Such flawed reasoning resulted in human harm and suffering. Ethical actions or decisions can be made if one recognizes the fact that everyone is prone to prejudice, egoism, self-deception, as well as self-justification and that these defects in human reasoning negatively impact the others.
To recap, the immigrant judges his action according to his interests; it is an individual ethical egoism. According to the moral philosophy and the fact that this form of egoism does not consider the other people’s interests, precisely the parents, self-focus is a defensible foundation of ethics. Notably, the rights-based ethics considers moral rights from an individual perspective, rather than society’s view. It implies that the immigrant’s parents are not factored in the benefits of the decision because they limit his rights. For instance, everyone holds the right to free speech even if an individual communicates a dissenting idea. However, utilitarianism concerns can overweight the rights. For example, the immigrant’s parents or sponsors can restrict his stay in the United States because of negative effects. Egoism can consider the interests of others while evaluating the impact of an action, but it remains controversial. The evaluation is motivated by pleasure. In spite of the fact that the ethical egoist pursues self-interests, it is unethical if an egoist directly or indirectly exploits other’s interests as means to an end.
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In conclusion, the issues of ethics and ethical dilemmas proliferate in human actions and affect personal decisions. This discussion provided theoretical context of selfishness through definition and underlying rationales with emphasis on the assertion that selfishness is unethical. Selfishness and greed are not good in the sense people tend to be unethically objective as they aggressively pursue wealth or pleasure. For example, greed leads to bribery and corruption. When ethical issues are combined with the aspects of globalization, the complexity of ethical dilemmas in personal behavior becomes clear. Ethical behavior is conceptualized as the one that is right and honorable, whereas unethical behavior is viewed as the one that is wrong and dishonorable. These definitions raise ethical dilemmas for individuals. First, individuals have to associate themselves with standards that are used to judge their behavior or action as ethical or unethical. Secondly, the meanings of the right and wrong are contextual in the sense that they have different meanings to different people. Notably, standards of ethical actions also vary from one nation to another. Consequently, egocentric thinking leads to actions that strive to satisfy self-centered and selfish interests. It can be counterbalanced by rational thinking, which considers the needs and rights of the others. Ethical reasoning or behavior involves doing what is right or just even to the damage of the selfish desires.
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