I hate to do this, because I hate it when other people do it, but here’s a little excerpt from an article which addresses egoism. I think it’s a particuar kind of egoism that this guy is against. He talks about the difference between having like desires, and having agreement is desires and how one leads to chaos, and the other to harmony.

He also distinguishes desire de dicto and de se, one being a desire for a certain set of propositions to hold in the actual world, and the other the desire to feel the way that you desire to feel about the propositions which do, or might hold. )at least that’s my half-assed version of what he says)

There’s too much to say about this for me to get into it all right now, and before I waste alot of time, I’d like to see anyone else is interesed in, or up for this conversation.

Here goes…
When we acknowledge desires a’e se, we must distinguish two
senses of ‘desiring the same thing’. If Jack Sprat and his wife
both prefer fat meat, they desire alike. They are psychological
duplicates, on this matter at least. But they do not agree in their
desires, because no possible arrangement could satisfy them
both. Whereas if Jack prefers the fat and his wife prefers the lean,
then they differ psychologically, they do not desire alike. But
they do agree, because if he eats no fat and she eats no lean, that
would satisfy them both. In general, they desire alike iff they
desire de se to have exactly the same properties and they desire de
dicto that exactly the same propositions hold. They agree in
desires iff exactly the same world would satisfy the desires of
both; and a world that satisfies someone’s desires is one wherein
he has all the properties that he desires de se and wherein all the
propositions hold that he desires de dicto. Agreement in desire
makes for harmony; desiring alike may well make for strife.
As we can desire de dicto or de se, so we can desire to desire de
dicto or de se. If desiring to desire is valuing, and if values are what
we are disposed to value, then we must distinguish values de dicto
and de se. A value de dicto is a proposition such that we are
disposed to desire to desire de dicto that it hold. A value de se is a
property such that we are disposed to desire to desire de se to have
It is essential to distinguish. Consider egoism: roughly, the
thesis that one’s own happiness is the only value. Egoism is
meant to be general. It is not the thesis that the happiness of a
certain special person, say Thrasymachus, is the only value.
Egoism de dicto says that for each person X, the proposition that
X is happy is the only value. That is inconsistent, as Moore
observed.'" It says that there are as many different values as
there are people, and each of them is the only value. Egoism de se
says that the property of happiness-in other words, the
egocentric proposition that one is happy-is the only value.
Moore did not confute that. He ignored it. False and ugly
though it be, egoism dese is at least a consistent doctrine. What it
alleges to be the only value would indeed be just one value de se,
not a multitude of values de dicto."
Insofar as values are de se, the wholehearted pursuit by
everyone of the same genuine value will not necessarily result in
harmony. All might value alike, valuing de se the same
properties and valuing de dicto the same propositions. Insofar as
they succeed in desiring as they desire to desire, they will desire
alike. But that does not ensure that they will agree in desire. If
egoism de se were true, and if happiness could best be pursued by
doing others down and winning extra shares, then the pursuit by
all of the very same single value would be the war of all against
Because egoism is false and ugly, we might be glad of a
theoretical framework that allowed us to confute it apriori. And
some of us might welcome a framework that promises us
harmony, if only we can all manage to pursue the same genuine
values. Was it right, then, to make a place for values de se?
Should we have stipulated, instead, that something we are
disposed to desire to desire shall count as a value only when
it is a proposition that we are disposed to desire to desire de
NO. Probably it is already wrong to reject egoism apriori but,
be that as it may, there are other doctrines of value de se, more
plausible and more attractive. Self-improvement and self sacrifice
are no less egocentric than self-aggrandizement and self-indulgence.
Surely we should make a place for putative
values de se of altruism, of honour, and of loyalty to family,
friends, and country. We may entertain the substantive thesis
that none of these putative values de se is genuine, and that all
genuine values are de dicto. But even if we believed this
-myself, I think it wildly unlikely-we should not beg the
question in its favour by building it into our theoretical
What conditions are ‘ideal’? If someone has little notion what it
would be like to live as a free spirit unbound by law, custom,
loyalty, or love; or what a world of complete harmony and
constant agreement would be like; then whether or not he
blindly values these things must have little to do with whether or
not they are truly values. What he lacks is imaginative
acquaintance. If only he would think harder, and imagine
vividly and thoroughly how it would be if these putative values
were realised (and perhaps also how it would be if they were
not) that would make his valuing a more reliable indicator of
genuine value. And if he could gain the fullest imaginative
acquaintance that is humanly possible,then, I suggest, his
valuing would be an infallible indicator. Something is a value iff
we are disposed, under conditions of the fullest possible
imaginative acquaintance, to value it.

I think he wants to say that value is something that’s constructed by people. And the only reliable way of measuring things we construct is de dicto or by stipulation. He stops short of saying that and hopefully suggests that we might all just imagine what the world might be like if we all could manage to stipulate those things intuitivley w/ out the need for or the limitations of a strictly descriptive system.

I personally don’t think it’s possible. People will never agree. Too much egoism, not enough knowledge de dicto.

I read through it quickly, I would like to discuss it more later when I have time to study it more. But my gut right now says he comprehends that pure communism does not work because of the human factor and is trying to construct a human framework in which in would be workable. He elegantly replaced the word communism or socialism with the word harmony but it has the same effect.

The only way he can build this framework and sell it is to say that people construct this value. And by measuring our stipulation this goal can be achomplished.

Interesting reply. That’s sort of what I like to do, get one person to frame it politically, maybe another to frame it from a religious point of view and so on until we’ve worked the idea out completely. Thanks for the post!

If no one else does, I will give you a religious one later. Or maybe even an ethical response.

David Lewis does alot to flesh out the distinction between scientific and religious/subjective epistemologies. I think it’s something that’s important but that gets glossed over, or is poorly articulated in most cases.

That excerpt is from a paper called “dispositional theories of value” by the way, if you’re interested to see the rest of it.

The only problem with that is it is properly said scientific/subjective and religious/subjective epistemologies. He failed in this article because he predicts something will prove to be useful and successful by using the word harmony. He may have succeeded in fleshing out the religious/subjective but left in the scientific/subjective with that word. Any true epistemology does not address that kind of belief.

I agree though, it is something that gets glossed over a lot and often completely ignored. I do not mean to sound to critical, he did a better job than most. This wasn’t from David Kellogg Lewis was it? It does not sound like him.

egoism is neither false, ugly or artificial…

harmony is all three…


He fails to make a strong argument for the the higher value of harmony over egoism, and in that absence he utilizes the weak assertion of insinuating that the failure is the readers due to a lack of imagination.

The problem contained in this ideal is that one dissenter can ruin everything. All it takes is one person to raise his voice in disagreement and the whole structure is found to be laced throughout with flaw. Maybe the flaw lies with human nature but regardless man is animal and therefore can not and will not give up individual advantage over other people. What happens when a mans greatest desire is for control over other men? What happens when an individual feels the need to enact revenge upon another and is willing to use violence in order to satisfy that desire? It is my belief that this type of community can only be sustained in small groups of like minded individuals who have risen above the level of primitive dispute through the attainment of knowledge.

And anyway, in order for him to have any chance of making a good argument he needs to state why it should be a societal goal for people to “desire alike.” Maybe I missed something but it would be good of him to state what type of desires people are supposed to share in order to build this Utopian dream world he believes is possible if every one simply bands together and subjugates their nature.

The entire article is 90 pages. If anyone wants to really respond to it, I can send it to them. He covers alot more ground than is shown here.

When you talk about scientific/subjective and religion/subjective, that’s when knowledge de re comes in which is the self ascription of properties. It’s complicated. I’m high. You can read it if you want.

IMP, If egoism is good and harmony is bad, then just reverse them and tell me if you think it makes sense.

The argument for harmony over egoism is that there’s only one world that we live in, not a bunch of different possible ones, and the purpose of his type of agreement and harmony is for everyone to understand this world and see how we can all be pleased by the same propositions holding in it.

It’s not that the reader doesn’t have enough imagination. The point is that since we can never have that kind of imagination, is that we should focus on a universal understanding of the de dicto elements of our observations, so that we can at least have agreement insofar as we acknowledge that we encounter the same propositions in the world.

the argument for selfishness is that one only lives ones life, not the community life, not the group life, not the world’s life. one’s own life. period. rand was correct. harmony is for slaves.


Don’t think of it as harmony imposed by authority, think of it like, if everyone agreed on which propositions were true, that the world would be a more efficient place. Less semantic horseshit and emotional baggage. Life would be easier for everyone if we all accepted at least the most basic truths of descriptive reality. It’s not a contest against one another, it’s all of us competing w/ nature to understand it before it does us in.

That extended quote was very confusing to me. I wonder if that was the intention?

Despite the fact that I had no idea what he was trying to say, I can at least say that the above quote seemed telling to me. He seems to take ‘desire’ as an unquestioned given and then go on to question with weblike complexity how to deal with that desire. If he is merely describing the range of how most people approach the relationship between ‘self’ and ‘other’, then he has probably done a good job of it, including the image I get of an intricate and tangled web of interpersonal and political relationships as reflected in his complex logic and linguistic expression. He has described the mechanics of ego-based relations well, whether expressed through overt egoism, attempts at harmony and cooperation, or some combination of the two.

I could obviously be way off since I’m mostly just confused here.

no, it is against one another… but humans aren’t natural eh?


It’s the ego that desires de se. The thing is we only live in this one world out of all the possible ones. We must focus and tune our desire such that we only desire that the propositions hold which actually do in this world. Disagreement basically stems from a misunderstanding of which propositions hold in this world, and having desires for ones that do not. If both want the lean meat, then they desire the same as one another, but they don’t have the harmony that they should in this, the actual world, where there’s not enough lean meat for both.

One’s own life is in fact a group, a community, a world. Our confidence in ourselves as a singular or at worst integral ‘unit’ is as illusory as seeing a society as a single unit. And as real. That is Rand’s mistake - that and bad soap opera-ish narrative.

there isn’t enough lean meat or anything else for both.

gird your loins.


IMP, no, not like the USSR’s utopia. They desired propositions to hold which did not. Therefore you might say that it was egoism de se on the part of the masses which led to it’s fall.

And while I do think that humans are a part of nature, I also think that within nature we must compete against animals, and time and floods and economic laws, (real economic laws like supply and demand, not like tax laws). Too much competition amongst ourselves leads to the sort of situation where some people have too much, and some too little.

I’m not going to go into the intracacies of a redistribution of wealth here, I’m just saying that we could all have our opinions of the world, and all feel differently about it, as we do, but that the more we lean toward description, or knowledge that’s available for everyone, the more likely we are to agree on more things, and the more likely we are to benefit.

Just think about how much cleaner and neater war has become with the advent of technology. Science is essentially de dicto.

at least she didn’t write in parables.


Exactly. One is a misnomer.

cleaner and neater? no… war is more final.