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The Role of Self Interest in Political Philosophy


Every philosopher who has endevored to articlate his or her thoughts in the realm of political philosophy must at one time or another consider the role of self-interest in society. The basis for this consideration begins in moral philosophy, as the needs and obligations of the individual are weighed against the good of the individual and in turn society.

The amount of emphasis placed on the role of self-interest in political philosophy varies extensively from one philosopher to another. At opposite ends of the moral "highway" of self-interest one might find egoism and non-egoism. Egoism is often associated with the definition that calls for people to act in such a way as to best promote their own welfare, and one is only willing to promote the welfare of others if this is considered conducive to promoting one's own welfare. Non-egoism concerns itself with prima facie moral obligations and the act of determining whether these obligations promote or conflict with one's own good. It also affirms that there are situations where the good of another is the desired end to which one many times aspires and the fulfillment of this end is justifiable. If a prima facie obligation conflicts with the satisfaction of certain desires that are not essential towards self-preservation, the individual is morally obligated to perform the act that one is obligated to perform at the expense of his own appetites. If however there is no conflict between duties to the self and another, the promotion of one's own welfare is seen as prima facia in this circumstance. This position is more compatible with the myriad of duties and obligations one encounters on a daily basis and considers the individual's responsibility to society of being self-sufficient and unburdensome.1

Altruism, often falaciously seen as the antithesis of egoism, is the renunciation of self-interest and defined as an unselfish concern for the welfare of others which is greater than or equal to our own welfare. This may include the inaction of not attempting to promote one's own good but instead promoting the good of another who's end is the happiness of that other person. This unselfish sacrifice may seem virtuous but really is a corruption of the self. In the end altruism is a deeply flawed position because it would be impossible to practice universally.

"A society in which everybody spent his life sacrificing all his pleasure for others would be even more absurd than a society whose members all lived by taking each other's washing. In a society of such completely unselfish people who would be prepared to accept and benefit by the sacrifice?" 2

Another way in which to view altruism is that an unselfish concern for others is only necessary when it is required in order to secure for someone else a greater good than that which was sacrificed. This too presents problems for the defenders of altruism. If this greater good attained were contrary to an individual's self-preservation, can it be rational for this individual to act contrary to his own self-preservation even though a greater good has been sacrificed? This argument is successfully used by the State in persuading the polity to take up arms for the greater good, the State. The problem is that many times the greater good is based on subjective criteria, not fundamental moral doctrine. Many philosophers agree a person acts irrationally by sacrificing his own self-preservation even for a greater good.

Those philosophers that adhere to the position referred to above regard themselves as ethical egoists, whereby the justification of one's actions is of chief concern. One such view is offered by Thomas Hobbes who defends as justifiable man's right to act compatibly with his own long term best interests:

"And forasmuch as necessity of nature maketh man to will and desire ...that which is good for themselves, and to avoid that which is hurtful; but most of all, the terrible enemy of nature, death, that a man doth all that he can to preserve his own body and limbs both from death and pain. And that which is not against reason, men call right, or jus, or blameless liberty of using natural powers and ability. It is therefore a right of nature, that every man may preserve his own life and limbs with all the power he hath."3

Self-preservation is used as justification for committing acts that are in one's own self-interest. These acts are viewed as reasonable because man's highest moral imperative is self-preservation. Acting in one's own self-interest outside the state of nature does not always involve self-preservation. Other obligations must be considered as well and there may be times when it is reasonable to intentionally act contrary to one's own long-range self-interest. Immanuel Kant believed that there may be circumstances that moral duties would require individuals to act contrary to what one might initially may percieve to be rational. Even though an act may be incompatible with our long-term self-interest, it does not follow that it would be irrational to perform our moral duty. As a matter of fact, it would be irrational not to perform our moral duty at the expense of self-interest according to Kant.4 Kant obviously is not in agreement with any type of egoistic doctrine and is quite successful in proving that egoism is not a valid moral philosophy.

Whereas the term ethical egoist involves the justification for acting in one's own self-interest, psychological egoism has to do with the explanation of a person's actions. This explanation centers around the idea that no action is ever voluntarily unselfish or altruistic. Self-love is the motivator with happiness or pleasure the primary end. Happiness however is many times unattainable and immersion in self-love may lead to more pain and misery than happiness. According to Bishop Joseph Butler in his 11th of Fifteen Sermons Upon Human Nature, "private interest is so far from being likely to be promoted in proportion to the degree in which self-love engrosses us, and prevails over all other principles; that the contracted affection may be so prevalent as to disappoint itself, and even contradict its own end, private good."5 Self-love then may not necessarily be considered to be in our best interests all of the time. If we are consummed by the notion of self-love, there will be no room left for any other guiding principle on which to base one's life and happiness will be unattainable since the gratification of particular passions will be subjugated to the love of one's self. These passions are infinite and our enjoyment of our passions is merely determinate. The excess of our passion is therefore not only useless but hazardous because we can't enjoy unfulfilled desires and they become sources of pain and misery. What psychological egoism fails to recognize is that people do have obligations at one time or another who's end is the best interests of another. These moral or ethical obligations take precendent over the good of the self.

The idea that politics can be rationally founded on self-interest can be traced to the Sophists of ancient Greece circa fifth century B.C. These philosophers argued that human beings originally formed political associations for their mutual defense. Additionally, they claimed that all laws of the polity were reducible to self-interest and that by virtue of being human, individuals desired to obtain power while at the same time minimizing their own risk.

The origins of justice based on self-interest for Thrasymaschus provide Glaucon with an opportunity to elucidate the importance of this development in Plato's Republic:

"They say that to do injustice is naturally good, to suffer injustice is bad, but the suffering of injustice so far exceeds in badness the good of doing injustice, that when they do injustice to each other and suffer it, and taste both, those who are unable to avoid the latter and choose the former decide that it is profitable to make an agreement with each other neither to do nor to suffer injustice."6

Thus serving the individual's interest, covenants are made that restrict doing harm to one's neighbor, allowing for self-preservation and in turn permitting the formation of political association.

Similarily, Aristotle states in Politics that alliances are formed to insure that individuals are not treated unjustly. This in turn creates an atmosphere of mutual cooperation and a guarantee of mutual just-claims rights.7 All parties will likely agree that they will be more likely to preserve themselves if each individual promises not to inflict bodily harm in the event that this agreement is recipricated. Self-interest then is a fundamental principle in the creation of political society for these thinkers.

Such agreements however do not always serve everyone's self-interest. A man who is able to gain more than what is agreed through political cooperation has no reason to enter into such an agreement. By means of mental coercion and acts of physical harm, for example, individuals strong enough to expolit the weak will continue to subjugate political cooperation to their own self-interest. Human nature as it is has demonstrated that "anyone will act unjustly who has the liberty to do whatever he wishes."8 The example Glaucon uses of the famous ring which bestows invisibility to the wearer, whereupon the "ancestor of Gyges" uses this invisibility to kill the "King of Lydia."9

In the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle, quoting Euripides, shows that many times political cooperation contradicts self-interest. "But how could I be prudent, who might have been at ease, numbered among the many in the army, and have had an equal share?"9 For many, the interests of the self outweigh the duty to the polis. If one may reap the benefits of the political system which protects one's rights, it still may be in one's interest to violate the rights of others and avoid making the personal sacrifices neccessary to be a member in good faith of the body politic.

These early forms of interests of the individual over riding the interest of the State were further represented in Plato's Republic. Glaucon, true to form as the enduring pessimist (he would argue realist) insists that the only reason individuals agree to treat each other justly is that the bad of being a victim surpasses the benefits obtained from being a perpetrator of injustice. This concept, known as extreme individualism, holds that an individual's only motivation for completing actions which are considered good is for the benefit of the individual and not for any external consideration, and would continue unabated if people were void of external retribution.10 This transforms the notion of the good to a self-regarding activity and disregards any duties or obligations an individual may have when born into a political association.

Aristotle disputes Glaucon's position based on the supposition that community is natural to man and in fact manifests itself before the individual. Aristotle uses the anaology of the human body as the community (although he later revises this claim and admits that individuals can live outside the community, i.e. body). What Aristotle suggests is that the community is closer to perfection than the individual; a community as an organism is closer to self-sufficiency than is the individual.(205) Aristotle chooses a more moderate form of individualism when he discusses that the virtue of self-love strives to promote the welfare of others as well as the self. In his theory of friendship, the noble self-lover's actions for the sake of others are in the individual's self-interest. The good life is facilitated through an individual's acts of generosity, kindness and sympathy. Aristotle reasons that the path toward the good life in society is through the individual.11 When the good life of the individual is encouraged by the State through legislation which promotes this end, the unity of the State may be secured and its primary obligation, the happiness of its citizens is realized.

Without the polis however, human beings could never attain perfection for Aristotle. The good life is attained through the polis which as a natural condition exists "for the sake of a complete and self-sufficient life."12 Self-sufficiency includes the polis acting as a provider for its citizens, especially where education is concerned. Aristotle recognizes the rights of the individual while at the same time stressing unanimity as a critical aspect of the polis.

Unanimity for Aristotle is not agreement on everything, but on the fundamental issues of politics. Political unanimity has the appearance of a political friendship, for it is concerned with the things that are advantageous and things that promote life."13 Unanimity is the bridge between the promotion of self-interest and the common good of the polis. In an atmosphere that is conducive towards individualism, unanimity allows for a basis for mutual trust by reasonable persons.

In the construction of his political philosophy, Jean-Jacques Rousseau centered on the premis that man is naturally good. In the state of nature, natural man had an animal's instinct that included the sentiment of love for oneself. This passion was good because it allowed for the instinct of self-preservation. Natural man is compared to the child of civil society by Rousseau. Both are self-centered seeking satisfaction of their basic needs. This self-centeredness is defined by the term amour de soi or love of oneself which is purely a natural emotion as opposed to amour-propre or self-love.

"Love of oneself, which only regards ourselves, is content when our true needs are satisfied, but amour-propre, which compares, is never content and cannot be because this sentiment, in preferring ourselves to others, also demands that the others prefer us to themselves which is impossible"14

Amour-propre is not natural to man. A product of living in society, this form of self-love is an egoistic behavior that "inclines each individual to have a greater esteem for himself than for anyone else, inspires in men all the harm they do to one another."15

Upon entering civil society with the development of rationality, man actualizes his ability to make comparison of himself to others. This is first manifested by way of sexual love. In natural man love is guided only by physical desires, civilized man's cognitive development allows for the acquisition of choice. Ironically, these choices create passions such as hatred, jealousy, and envy which represent the darker side of civil man's personality and have their foundation in Amour-propre.

For Rousseau, the greater the needs of an individual the more likely he is to be wicked. "What makes man essentially good is to have few needs and to compare himself little to others."16 Dependence on things as opposed to people is important for Rousseau in order for civil man to maintain the natural goodness of man in the state of nature. "Dependence on things, having no morality, does not hinder liberty and does not engender the vices. Dependence on men, being disordered, engenders them all, and by it master and slave mutually deprave each other."17

Rousseau's political philosophy is an extension of this autonomy from the dependence of other men. The concept of the general will, which has as its basis the common good, proposes to liberate the individual from the subordination of any other individual. A concerted effort is thereby extended by Rousseau to extinguish the undesirable aims of one individual's particular will avoiding the projection of that will onto the entire civil society.

Self-interest for Rousseau is manifested in civil society by the particular will. In the Social Contract, Rousseau acknowledges that the general will is deferential to the will of the individual. "Each individual can have, as a man, a private will that is contrary or different from the general will he has as a citizen."18 The Social Contract demands that men who enter into such an agreement...

"find a form of association which defends and protects the person and the goods of each associate with the common force, and by which each one, being united with all, only obeys himself and remains as free as before."19

Man must obey only himself, otherwise he is a slave to the society in which he lives. While the individual retains the right to obey only himself, that is as far as his self-interest may lead; each individual must alienate "all his rights to the community."20

The aggregate sum of the particular wills in a given society do not constitute a general will although the common interest is a part of the will of each individual. The general will is the "sum of the differences" of each particular will's desire that remains. If individual A desires objects a, b, c and d and individual B desires objects d, e, f and g it may be surmised that objects a, b, c constitute the self-interest of individual A, while individual B's self-interest is manifested in objects e, f and g. Object d which both individuals desire form a basis for the common interest of A and B. Rousseau realizes that in order to create legitimacy in political society, "the social compact gives the body politic an absolute power over all it's members; and it is this very power which, directed by the general will, has the name sovereignty, as I have said."21

The political philosophy of John Locke is one which the individual's natural rights of self-determination are tempered by the needs of the public good. One of the things Locke agrees with Hobbes is man's right to self-preservation in the state of nature and "to do whatsoever he thinks fit for the preservation of himself and others within the permission of the law of nature."22 These laws of nature include the theological notion that God has given the world to mankind equally and no one person should have a disproportionate share of property. The first property a man possesses is his own body and he may do with it what he wills as long as he remains within the law. Other acquisitions of property serve not only the individual but the community at large in order to perpetuate man's obligation to cultivate his society.

The state of nature for Locke is one of historical significance and exists anywhere individuals are not subject to political society. These individuals are not savages in the Hobbesian sense but civilized except for the absence of organized government. The rights and obligations these individuals have in the Lockian state of nature are rights and obligations initiating from social needs. By virture of their membership in the human species individuals in the state of nature belong to the community of mankind, which distinct from all other species create a unique society of mankind, albeit void of political association. Thus social men without a government have needs that remain unfulfilled and for the satisfaction of these needs they enter into political society.

Upon entering a political association individuals are obligated to relinquish certain aspects of their freedom "as the good and safety of the society shall require."23 This does not necessitate the relinquishing of rights to property, however in the Second Treatise of Government he does require that individuals subjugate their inherent authority they possessed in the state of nature to the State. This sacrifice of the individual secures the combined power of the entire State in the defence and security of the property of all citizens.

Locke insists that individuals orginate as free beings and rationality dictates that only through one's consent can an individual be subordinate to any terrestial force.24 Thus Locke's political philosophy is based on the premise that the justification for civil power rests on the approval of it's citizens. The responsibilities of government begin with the creation of a civil law that sustain and augment freedom. Locke understood that these laws were required for the protection of liberty that guaranteed freedom from violence among other liberties.25

Central to Lockian thought was his conception of the public good. Civil society forms an idea of the public good whose purpose is to create just laws, such as preserving citizen's property, which serve the needs of its citizens. Although the public good can be viewed as the aggregate of individual's goods, it is not the case the public good served the best interests of all the citizens all of the time. Additionally, the public good mandated that legislation was under a moral obligation to adhere to the laws of nature and the will of God in the creation of its body of law.

Under these precepts the authority of the State is absolute and the individual is required to comply to the rule of law insofar as the State does not abandon its moral duty. Any violation of this authority may result in the punishment of the individual transgressor. Locke's authoritarian nature is revealed when he expresses that individual obedience to the will of the majority must be unquestionable.26 An individual's rights in society are upheld as long as they are compatible with the public good. Finally he argues that an individual's consent for citizenship in the society is unilateral and "the power that every individual gave the society when he entered into it, can never revert to the individuals again as long as the society lasts."27

Locke unlike Kant, does however have an escape clause in the case of tyranical abuses of power and grants that the community, which entrusts the legislature with power and is limited to the public good of the society, retains the supreme power to save themselves from "anybody foolish or wicked enough to plot against the liberties and properties of the subjects."28 This supreme power of the people allows for the right of revolution by "appealing to heaven" by the majority of the citizens.

Self-interest is a fundamental aspect of human nature for Thomas Hobbes and his thoughts on political philosophy begin with his postulate of the "natural appetite." Man for Hobbes, is an animal in all respects to that of the beasts of the jungle except for his capacity to reason. These characteristics include his perpetual struggle to satisfy his desires. "Men from their birth, and naturally, scramble for everything they covet, and would have all the world, if they could, to fear and obey them."29 Hobbes believes that reason is nothing more than a device to manipulate his environment in order to gain what he desires.

The origin of man's natural appetitie is vanity. Vanity produces in man his perpetual effort to gain power. The passions which power quenches include pleasures derived from fame, ambition, and pride. These attributes further differentiate man from animal and place him in situations that bestow honor, a result of man's need for power. These needs may arise from rational or irrational sources. Irrational attempts to gain power should be morally impermissable for Hobbes.30

Vanity as a consequence of self-interest produces passions for Hobbes that bring out the worst in man. Vain-glory attempts to satisfy man's inclination to receive delight in the recognition of his own superiority. Because of this, man in the state of nature for Hobbes was in a continuous state of war; every man against every man. By subcumbing to their own self-interests, each man desires to exceed the other in terms of possessions and power.

Vanity as the origin of man's natural appetitie is a consequence of his animalistic derivation and man's moral agency to this original vanity disappears. In the state of nature, this natural vanity is contained within a state of innocence relatable to man's animal character. However, once man enters civil society this innocence is lost and man becomes a moral agent taking responsibility for the actions he performs. Alas, this entry into the civilized world is not voluntary. "Man does not by nature seek society for its own sake, but that we may receive some honour or profit from it: these we desire primarily, that secondarily."31

The only power strong enough to subdue the passionatly proud ambition of vain-glorious man is the authority of the mighty Leviathan; the State. The story in the book of Job told of the monsterous sea creature Leviathan, unleashed by God and called "King of the Proud". The State is likened to this beast as the sole organ of moral legitimacy able to quell man's natural appetite of pride, ambition and vanity.32

Self-interest for Hobbes takes one of its most extreme forms in describing the right of natural man "to use his own power, as he will himselfe, for the preservation of his own nature, of doing anything, which in his own Judgement, and Reason, hee shall conceive to be the aptest means such a condition (of nature) every man has a Right, to every thing; even to one anothers body. The force which drives this egoistic rationality is what Hobbes calls the primary evil, death. The fear of death is a passion "which brings man to reason" and leave the savagry of the state of nature, volunteering to relinquish their rights of natural freedom to the authority of the State.33

The fear of a violent death compels men to accept morality and pride allows for men to acknowledge these societal constraints. If it is impossible for individuals to gain the obedience of each other through fear in the state of nature, each individual will agree to seek their own self-preservation through the acceptance of an outside authority, namely a sovereign. This necessitates mankind to "endeavor peace...and be willing, when others are lay down this right to all things."34 Thus not the civil creation of legislation but morality is the creator of the just man. By entering into covenants man obligates himself to act justly. Fear of the consequences from breaking a covenant as well as the pride of not needing to resort to such a trecherous act facilitate political justice.

Self-preservation is the primary good, and as such is not a freedom relinquished in political society. Hobbes additionally asserts that the greatest good is happiness, which is the state of pleasure one enters when a desire has been satisfied. The satisfaction of this desire is tempered by the aversion to negative consequences which may arise as a result of the satisfaction of this desire. Therefore, one must rationaly determine whether the satisfaction of this desire will have an overall positive or negative consequence. Hobbes' morality is thus based on ethical egoism, the rational, prudential action or inaction on a desire that will maximize the satisfaction of the primary good, self-preservation and the greatest good, happiness.

A philosopher diametrically oppossed to Hobbes' ethical egoism is Kant. Kant maintains that morality is compromised when the will seeks the ends of self-interested happiness. The maxim of self-love cannot become a universal law of nature because the law of morality categorically obligates the will to make as an end the happiness of others in addition to our own. The duties that moral law dictate include the temperance of self-esteem. Pure practical reason is the ultimate authority from which morality originates. The maxim of morality mandates that an individual's will conform to conduct that is inherently virtuous. This universal mandate is made possible because it is within everyone's ability to accomplish this as oppossed to the impossibility of each person satisfying an obligation to achieve happiness. The maxim of self-love cannot be a duty since the most it can offer is to suggest that a person's actions are compatiable with their best interests; it cannot enforce this advise.35 Obedience is required of the moral law, and repurcussions will be administered, either internally or externally, if these moral obligations remain unsatisfied.

It is the moral duty of each individual to behave in accordance with Kant's first formulation of his categorical imperative; "act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a universal law of nature."36 When individuals are brought together and form a society they are concurrently agreeing to the terms of a hypothetical social contract. This contract serves as an a priori idea, guiding our daily actions through the use of pure practical reason giving ethical viablility to civil society.

Morality originates with the individual for Kant but freedom does not. Although individual freedom does predate civilized society, civilized man no longer lives in this state. It is the duty of the State to provide each member of her polity with the social conditions necessary for the actualization of individual freedom. These conditions include the presupposition that among its other obligations, the State exists for the purpose of ensuring individual freedom. The individual contrastly, obligates himself to his moral and ethical duty first to himself then to the State. The motives of an individual's actions are of paramount imporatance as opposed to the consequences which are produced as the object of his ends. If an individual acts according to the formulation of the catagorical imperative, the consequences of his actions and the created ends will be consistant with any universal law of nature.37

Kant depends on the rational individual to promote "the well-being of the State." These individuals produce a general will that defend the interests of society for their own benefit. The general will is manifested by the State in the form of the executive, legislative and judicial functions of goverment. Only through a cohesive integration of these three branches of the State can the well-being of the State be achieved. The potential for political cohesion is precarious. Kant recognizes that people do not act in accordance with his catagorical imperative all the time. The pursuit of individual interests that conflict with the welfare of the State have a debilitating affect on civil society. Likewise, individual freedoms may be violated by usurping sovereigns who neglect the duty of the State in protecting these freedoms. The welfare of the State therefore can not be sustained through private interests nor wholly through the aggregate general will whose prescence is expressed through the branches of government. A symmetrical synthesis of these dynamic powers must be carefully implemented in order to achive this state of well being.38 Equilibrium is attempted through the deemphasis of government's role and a rule of law that allows for the freedom of the individual to supercede matters relating to goverment. I shall not digress further by delineating the creation of a harmonious society and return to the role of self-interest for Kant.

It is ironic that although Kant does acknowledge the importance of individual freedom and government's role in ensuring that freedom, he denies the individual's right to act upon his opposition to the will of the sovereign. Although an individual is encouraged to publicly debate and criticize policies he may deem unjust, an individual who vehemently acts upon his dissaproval of sovereign power commits sedition for Kant. For example, a citizen who questions the historical legitimacy of the State's creation would be prohibited from acting on this challenge and is bound to honor the State's right to existence.39 Kant argues that it would be a contradiction of the individual to oppose the will of the State and in turn the sovereign. A citizen by virtue of his citizenship, hypothetically agrees to the terms of the social contract and morally obligates himself to act in accordance with the duties of membership in the general will. So in effect each individual is a compulsory component of the State and it is morally impossible to oppose a fundamental aspect of yourself.40 Unlike Rousseau and Locke the individual has no right to challange a corrupt sovereign. These two thinkers allow for citizens to return to the formulative stages of political society based on the violation of the original agreement between sovereign and citizen. Kant's sovereign resembles that of Hobbes' Leviathan where absolute authority reigns supreme under the guise of the sovereign being morally bound to the precepts of the catagorical imperative. This a priori endowment of sovereign's rights is in my opinion existentialy flawed. A sovereign who understands that his authority is unquestioned may endeavor to allow his own self-interest to supercede his duties as sovereign and not obligate himself to the catagorical imperative.

The a priori foundations of Kant's political philosphy are well intentioned but like Hobbes are not compatible with the existential neccesities of a just democratic constitutional regime. One thinker who attempts to create such a system while adhering to the Kant's moral foundations is John Rawls. By laying at the foundation of his work the premise that fully cooperating, free and equal citizens can create a just, democratic constitutional regime based on a political conception of justice as fairness using the philosophy of political liberalism despite the tolerable pluralism of comprehensive doctrines. Rawls hypotheticaly places individuals in an original position whose object is the creation of the basic structure of political society based on principles of justice. These individuals are moral, rational beings and use these attributes in the original position under the veil of ignorance in their conception of a just, democratic constitutional regime. A veil of ignorance in the original position does "eliminate the bargining advantages that inevitably arise" denying individual's tolerable comprehensive doctrines to influence "the principles that are to regulate the institutions of the basic structure itself,"41 thus allowing for a conception of justice to be based on an overlapping consensus of free and equal citizens.

Individuals have at their disposal two moral powers which guide rationality. First of all the capability to understand the true meaning of justice allows for citizens to comply with these principles of justice that stipulate fair terms of cooperation. Secondly, by realizing their potential for a conception of the good that is appropriate for the doctrines of political justice, citizens are capable of becoming free and equal persons in the political conception as well as pursue their own ends in the formulation of tolerable comprehensive moral, religious or philosophical doctrines.42 These two moral powers the individual has at his disposal allows for the idea of a well-ordered society. Through the support of its citizens, a well-ordered society allows for the proliferation of tolerable comprehensive doctrines and despite these differences of opinion justice as fairness is permitted to florish.

Just as the practicality of Kant's formulation of political society was placed into question, so too is it true with Rawls. Lemos raises some very interesting points in his work Rights, Goods and Democracy concerning the relevance of the original position in existential circumstances. Rawls maintains that a veil of ignorance is necessary in the original position in order to create a political conception of justice that is compatible with a just, democratic constitutional regime. If however, Rawls' original position functions within a framework that reduces pragmatic reason to behavior consistent with the advancement of one's own good (which he maintains), how can our own rational self-interest guide us to select similar principles of justice that would be required when we are not under the influence of the veil of ignorance? "If one's choice of principles of justice is rational only if it is compatible with the promotion of one's own good, then we can insure that people will choose principles of justice rationally and impartially only if we place them behind the veil of ignorance."43 Lemos points out that since it is impossible to be behind a veil of ignorance, self-interest would necessarily dictate that certain tolerable doctrines held by a slight majority of people for example, could find their way into the principles of justice used in a political conception. When rational self-interest is rendered impersonal and impartial and used as a means in the attainment of a greater good that is compatible with the promotion of one's own good, "appealing to a hypothetical original position in which people are placed behind a veil of ignorance" is frivolous.44

Over the centuries many philosophical thinkers have attempted to create their own political philosophy and in doing so have conveyed their beliefs on the role of self-interest in political society. They do agree however on the basic maxims of individual rights. Most would agree with Hegel that everyone has the right to seek his own welfare as long as it does not interfere with the rights of others. Most political philosophers describe a pre-political state of nature. They all regard this state of nature as hypothetical except for Locke.

Aristotle and Locke describe man as more of a social being as the others and is diametrically oppossed to Hobbes on this issue. Locke's importance of the value of the community seems to be influenced by Aristotle in addition to his assertion that society fundamental to the individual. Locke's thoughts on political association influenced Rousseau's theory of the general will.

Locke and Hobbes among others disagree with Aristotle and his thoughts on individual egalitarianism. They argue that men are equal with respect to their natural rights and their independence from the subjugation to the will of another. Hobbes however stands alone on his views of the individual. Many of his thoughts on egoism have been proven unacceptable but his defense of the rights of the individual have been a stalwart of democratic philosophy.

The similarities drawn between Rawls and Kant are apparant. Rawls makes mention of his philosophical mentor and the comparison between Kant's "well-being of the State" and Rawls "well-ordered society" is an obvious parellel. Additionally Rawls seems to draw upon Kant's referral to the social contract in his original position. Using morality as a basis for agreement, the rational moral agent is able to determine the proper elements to be included in a just, political conception. Rawls seems to be influnced by Rousseau's idea of the sum of the differences in constituting a general will in his overlapping consensus of reasonable comprehensive doctrines.

If there are a finite number of comparisons and differences to be made in the analysis of the political thinkers covered in this paper it would without a doubt neccessitate considerably more space than has been taken thus far. The fact remains that the contributions of these philosphers and others have contributed to the ideology political regimes have used since the beginnings of civilization. The role of self interest will always be a key componant to any political philosophy, a role that may either benefit the individual or enslave him.


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1. Lemos, Ramon M., Rights, Goods and Democracy, Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1986, pg.33.

2. Milo, Ronald, D. ed. Egoism and Altruism, Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, Inc., 1973, p.2.

3. ibid., pg.8.

4. ibid., pg.58.

5. ibid., pg.29.

6. Miller, Jr., Fred, D., Nature, Justice, and Rights in Aristotle's Politics, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995, p.129.

7. ibid., pg.130.

8. ibid.

9. ibid.

10. ibid., pg.199.

11. ibid., pg.131.

12. ibid., pg.133.

13. ibid., pg.136.

14. Masters, Roger D., The Poltical Philosophy of Rousseau, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968, pg.39.

15. ibid., pg.40.

16. ibid., pg.41.

17. ibid., pg.42.

18. ibid., pg.323.

19. ibid., pg.314.

20. ibid., pg.322.

21. ibid., pg.326.

22. Gough, John W., John Locke's Political Philosophy, Oxford: Clarenden Press, 1973, pg.31.

23. ibid., pg.32

24. ibid., pg.34.

25. ibid., pg.37.

26. ibid., pg.45.

27. ibid.

28. ibid.

29. Strauss, Leo The Political Philosophy of Hobbes, Its Basis and Genesis, The

Uiniversity of Chicago Press: Chicago and London, 1966, p. 10.

30. ibid., pg.11.

31. Campbell, Tom, ed. Seven Theories of Human Society, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981, pg. 76

32. Milo, Ronald, D. ed. Egoism and Altruism, Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, Inc., 1973, pg.13.

33. ibid., pg.16.

34. Schochet, Gordon, Intending Political Obligation: Hobbes and the Voluntary Basis of Society, from Dietz, Mary, G. ed.,Thomas Hobbes and Political Theory, Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1990, pg 60.

35. Kant, Immanuel, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, from Milo, Ronald, D. ed., Egoism and Altruism, Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, Inc., 1973, p.59.

36. Kant, Immanuel, Critique of Practical Reason, from Milo, Ronald, D. ed., Egoism and Altruism, Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, Inc., 1973, pg.55.

37. Williams, Howard, Kant's Political Philosophy, New York: St. Martins Press, 1983, pg.183.

38. ibid., pg.195.

39. ibid., pg.199-200.

40. ibid.

41. Rawls, John, Political Liberalism, New York: Columbia University Press, 1993, p.23.

42. ibid., pg. 81.

43. Lemos, Ramon M., Rights, Goods and Democracy, Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1986, pg.42.

44. ibid., pg. 43.

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