Selfishness is being concerned, sometimes excessively or exclusively, for oneself or one's own advantage, pleasure, or welfare, regardless of others.
Divergent views 1
- Classical 1.1
- Medieval/Renaissance 1.2
- Modernity 1.3
- Psychology 2
- See also 3
- References 4
- Further reading 5
- External links 6
Aristotle joined a perceived majority of his countrymen in condemning those who sought only to profit themselves; but he approved the man of reason who sought to gain for himself the greatest share of that which deserved social praise.
Selfishness was viewed in the Western Christian tradition as a central vice – as standing at the roots of the Seven deadly sins in the form of pride.
Francis Bacon carried forward this tradition when he characterised “Wisdom for a man's self...[a]s the wisdom of rats”.
With the emergence of a commercial society, Bernard Mandeville proposed the paradox that social and economic advance depended on private vices – on what he called the sordidness of selfishness.
Adam Smith with the concept of the invisible hand saw the economic system as usefully channelling selfish self-interest to wider ends; while John Locke based society upon the solitary individual, arguably opening the door for later thinkers like Ayn Rand to argue for selfishness as a social virtue and the root of social progress.
Roman Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain opposed the latter view by way of the Aristotelian argument that framing the fundamental question of politics as a choice between altruism and selfishness is a basic and harmful mistake of modern states. Rather, cooperation ought to be the norm: human beings are by nature social animals, and so individual persons can only find their full good in and through pursuing the good of the community.
The contrast between self-affirmation and selfishness has become a conflictual arena in which the respective claims of individual/community is often played out – between parents and children or men and women, for example.
Psychoanalysts favor the development of a genuine sense of self, and may even speak of a healthy selfishness, as opposed to the self-occlusion of what Anna Freud called 'emotional surrender'.
- "Selfish", Merriam-Webster Dictionary, accessed on 23 August 2014
- Selfishness - meaning, reference.com, accessed on 23 April 2012
- C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (1988) p. 116-7
- Aristotle, Ethics (1976) p. 301-3
- G. Gutting ed., The Cambridge Companion to Foucault (2003) p. 138-30
- Dante, Purgatorio (1971) p. 65
- Francis Bacon, The Essays (1985) p. 131
- Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees (1970) p. 410 and p. 81-3
- M. Skousen, The Big Three in Economics (2007) p. 29
- P. L. Nevins, The Politics of Selfishness (2010) p. xii-iii
- Maritain, Jacques (1973). The Person and the Common Good. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
- D. Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (1996) p. 104-10
- R. D. Laing, Self and Others (1969) p. 142-3
- What is Selfish?
- N. Symington, Narcissism (1993) p. 8
- Terence Real, I Don't Want to Talk About It (1997) p. 203-5
- Adam Phillips, On Flirtation (1994) p. 98
- A Theory of Justice (by John Rawls)
- The Evolution of Cooperation, Robert Axelrod, Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-02121-2
Is Human Nature Fundamentally Selfish or Altruistic?