From Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

Selfishness is being concerned excessively or exclusively, for oneself or one's own advantage, pleasure, or welfare, regardless of others.[1][2]

Selfishness is the opposite of altruism or selflessness; and has also been contrasted (as by C. S. Lewis) with self-centeredness.[3]

Divergent views[edit]

The implications of selfishness have inspired divergent views within religious, philosophical, psychological, economic, and evolutionary contexts.


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.[4]

Seneca proposed a cultivation of the self within a wider community – a care for the self which he opposed to mere selfishness in a theme that would later be taken up by Foucault.[5]


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.[6]

Francis Bacon carried forward this tradition when he characterised “Wisdom for a man's self...[a]s the wisdom of rats”.[7]


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.[8]

Adam Smith with the concept of the invisible hand saw the economic system as usefully channelling selfish self-interest to wider ends;[9] 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.[10]

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.[11]


Lack of empathy has been seen as one of the roots of selfishness, extending as far as the cold manipulation of the psychopath.[12]

The contrast between self-affirmation and selfishness has become a conflictual arena in which the respective claims of individual/community are often played out between parents and children[13] or men and women, for example.[14]

Psychoanalysts favor the development of a genuine sense of self, and may even speak of a healthy selfishness,[15] as opposed to the self-occlusion[16] of what Anna Freud called "emotional surrender".[17]


Self-centeredness was marked as a key feature in a phenomenological theory of criminality named "The Criminal Spin" model. Accordingly, in most criminal behaviors there is a heightened state of self-centeredness, that differently manifests itself in different situations and in different forms of criminality.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Selfish" Archived 2014-10-19 at the Wayback Machine, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, accessed on 23 August 2014
  2. ^ Selfishness – meaning,, accessed on 23 April 2012
  3. ^ C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (1988) pp. 116–17
  4. ^ Aristotle, Ethics (1976) pp. 301–03
  5. ^ G. Gutting ed., The Cambridge Companion to Foucault (2003) pp. 138–
  6. ^ Dante, Purgatorio (1971) p. 65
  7. ^ Francis Bacon, The Essays (1985) p. 131
  8. ^ Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees (1970) pp. 81–83, 410
  9. ^ M. Skousen, The Big Three in Economics (2007) p. 29
  10. ^ P. L. Nevins (2010). The Politics of Selfishness pp. xii–xiii
  11. ^ Maritain, Jacques (1973). The Person and the Common Good. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. ISBN 978-0268002046.
  12. ^ D. Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (1996) pp. 104–10
  13. ^ R. D. Laing, Self and Others (1969) pp. 142–43
  14. ^ What is Selfish?
  15. ^ N. Symington, Narcissism (1993) p. 8
  16. ^ Terence Real, I Don't Want to Talk About It (1997) pp. 203–05
  17. ^ Adam Phillips, On Flirtation (1994) p. 98
  18. ^ Ronel, N. (2011). “Criminal behavior, criminal mind: Being caught in a criminal spin”. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 55(8), 1208–33

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]