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What is selfishness?

Satya Prakash asks a very pertinent question, What exact is Selfishness?

Selfishness - a virtue

What exactly is Selfishness?

The popular usage of selfishness is for a sinful adjective where one person behaves in total disregard to consequences of his/her actions on others. Such selfish person will be ever ready to do anything just to satisfy whims. But is there any positive aspect of selfishness; is it justifiable to be selfish? The answer lies in how we define selfishness.


The word "selfish" word is used in two contexts. The popular day-to-day
usage refers to those acts that violate or disregards one's obligation
to others. For example, if a friend has helped me during my hour of
need and if I now refuse to help him when he needs me, that would be
truly "selfish" on my part.

In philosophical term, "selfish" word refers more to the tendency of oneself to act in such a way so as to ultimately benefit himself/herself (not necessarily at the cost of others). It is more like a ultimate strategic objective. There is nothing wrong with this behavior. This is what Ayn Rand was refering to. Thus, if my friend has helped me in the past with the sole purpose of receiving a return favor from me in the future when in need, that would be an selfish act on his part. Obviously, there is nothing wrong in that.

Two usages are not consistent with one another. Those who ask others to act selflessly (second usage) cannot be more selfish. Think of it for a while. If I ask my friend to help me without expecting any return help (thus selfless act on friend's behalf), my friend can accuse me of being seriously selfish. Thus, when one asks others to act selflessly (under usage two) he/she is indulging in selfishness of variety one (planning to renege on one's obligations).

Comments

Trapper

Does any one know a good word that exemplifies the positive aspects of selfish?

Satya

Hi,

Thanks for linking. Yeah, you have put it perfectly well.

Just to add " a selfish man will never sacrifice himself for others and nor ask other to sacrifice for him"

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