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Saturday Conversations

  • Sep 29, 2012 · 1:00 PM
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TOPIC:  Selfishness -  

Per Wikipedia, Selfishness is defined as placing concern with oneself or one's own interests above the well-being or interests of others.  It is considered the opposite of altruism (the principle or practice of concern for the welfare of others) or selflessness (having little or no concern for oneself, especially with regard to fame, position, money, etc.; unselfish.)   There are numerous ways to approach this subject, far more than I can briefly list here.  Nevertheless, Ayn Rand gives us a place to start.

Rand’s definition she called rational selfishness:  meaning the values required for man’s survival as man—which means: the values required for human survival—not the values produced by the desires, the emotions, the “aspirations,” the feelings, the whims or the needs of irrational brutes, who have never outgrown the primordial practice of human sacrifices, have never discovered an industrial society and can conceive of no self-interest but that of grabbing the loot of the moment.  Human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. The rational interests of men do not clash—there is no conflict of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value. ( Ok, so Ms. Rand never heard of the KISS method.

Psychological egoism: the thesis that we are always deep down motivated by what we perceive to be in our own self-interest. Egoism should be distinguished from egotism(a psychological overvaluation of one’s own importance, or of one’s own activities).  Unlike Ethical egoism, psychological egoism is merely an empirical claim about what kinds of motives we have, not what they ought to be. So, while the ethical egoist claims that being self-interested in this way is moral, the psychological egoist merely holds that this is how we are.

Psychological altruism:  the view that sometimes we can have ultimately altruistic motives.  Several other egoistic views are related to, but distinct from psychological egoism. Similarly, psychological egoism is not identical to what is often called “psychological hedonism.” Psychological hedonism restricts the range of self-interested motivations to only pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Thus, it is a specific version of psychological egoism.

Some people appear to view the idea of selfishness so negatively that they will avoid any behavior that would cause someone to call them selfish.  I wonder how often people do what they do for no better reason than to avoid being seen as selfish.  But,

What does it really mean to be selfish? How many ways are there to be selfish? If you’re selfish with your time but generous with your money which are you, selfish or generous?

Is it possible to be concerned with the welfare of another (others) while being equally concerned with one’s own welfare?

Can one ever act only according to one's own interests without regard for others’ interests? Conversely, can anyone ever truly act for others in complete disregard for one's own interests?

If someone says, “S/He’s selfish.” what do they actually mean?

People have given huge sums of money to various causes. Were these generous acts? Were these selfless acts? How do you know?

Is there any behavior that is totally selfless?

Are generosity and altruism the same things?

Can altruism be taken too far thus creating a problem instead of fixing it?

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  • Rinda G.

    What a delightful way to spend a rainy afternoon! We had a couple of new faces who brought different perspectives to the conversation. In general I think we all agreed that there is a difference between being selfish and self-centered. Moreover, sometimes the wisest thing is the selfish thing.

    September 30, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Interesting topic

    September 29, 2012

  • Rinda G.

    Hey, Chris, I support daughter's 7th birthdays! So while you'd "selfishly" like to come, you're "selflessly" putting your daughter first. Works for me. I look forward to meeting you in October.

    September 22, 2012

  • Chris

    I would love to come, but it's my daughters 7th birthday. I hope to meet you guys at the next meeting.

    September 21, 2012

  • Rinda G.

    Hey, Felicia, you're not off, you're bringing another perspective to the topic which is what this group is about. I find your comment intriguing and look forward to learning more when we meet.

    September 6, 2012

  • Rinda G.

    Hey, Ivy, I think you're on to something.

    September 4, 2012

  • Rinda G.

    Jim, as I know you know, there are so many ways to look at any topic, and ethical egoism is certainly one view. In the limited time we have or before some folks wear out, I doubt we can ever cover all aspects of any given topic.
    Felicia, excellent question. Being new, you haven't seen that I always start with one or more dictionary definitions when I set up the final post for any topic. I consider words extremely important to intelligently discuss anything; however, experience has taught me that while there is the dictionary meaning of a word there is also how the word affects people personally. The word "selfish" in and of itself seems highly volatile to many. And, this is one reason to discuss it. I'm glad you can join us and look forward to meeting you.

    September 4, 2012

  • Jim B.

    Ethical egoism is somewhat related to selfishness, although we may have covered this ground enough with David V.

    September 4, 2012

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