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Isn't everybody selfish?

asked Sep 16 '10 at 22:02

AeonMcN's gravatar image

AeonMcN ♦

edited Oct 04 '10 at 10:18

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

To say that everyone is selfish is to define the term out of any valid meaning.

Clearly, some actions are self-destructive. That they are chosen does not change their nature.

Simply wanting to take action that's against your own interests doesn't transform it into action that's for your interests.

(Sep 17 '10 at 15:23) Robert Nasir ♦ Robert%20Nasir's gravatar image

Of course, this logic only applies to an objective analysis.

For example, on the premise of determinism, you could make that claim ... since determinism, the notion that one's actions cannot truly be chosen, implies that no evaluation of an action, as for or against one's interests, has meaning.

Similarly, on the religious premise, Original Sin implies that ALL of man's actions are tainted. "Selfishness" becomes the believer's description for ANY self-motivated action not ruthlessly fought by a constant (and doomed) struggle for self-denial.

(Sep 17 '10 at 15:24) Robert Nasir ♦ Robert%20Nasir's gravatar image


Definitely not.

The notion that all actions can be defined as selfish is called psychological egoism. It is refuted nicely in Nathaniel Branden's essay "Isn't Everyone Selfish" in Ayn Rand's book The Virtue of Selfishness:

The basic fallacy in the "everyone is selfish" argument consists of an extraordinarily crude equivocation. It is a psychological truism -- a tautology -- that all purposeful behavior is motivated. But to equate "motivated behavior" with "selfish behavior" is to blank out the distinction between an elementary fact of human psychology and the phenomenon of ethical choice. It is to evade the central problem of ethics, namely: by what is man to be motivated?

Psychological egoism doesn't even rise to the level of a false theory of ethics. It is a non-theory that abdicates responsibility for offering principles to guide human choices.

There is a reason why Rand called selfishness a virtue. Self-interest is not automatic; it must be understood and chosen.

answered Sep 30 '10 at 07:34

Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Andrew Dalton ♦

Everybody could be considered selfish in the sense that they do their best to achieve the values of their philosophy, whether consciously or unconsciously. However, Objectivism is centered around a more specific definition of selfishness--rational selfishness. Rational selfishness is different from the popular idea of selfishness by virtue of being a product of the conscious mind. A rationally selfish person consciously chooses his philosophy and consciously choose his actions in accordance with that philosophy.

So, it would be incorrect to say that everyone is selfish in the way that Objectivists means it.

answered Sep 17 '10 at 07:46

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dennis ♦

I think this answer is weak at best. It's not true that does their best to achieve the values of their philosophy. Some people don't do their best at anything. Some people don't have a philosophy. Some people don't even have values.

(Oct 01 '10 at 05:01) jasoncrawford ♦ jasoncrawford's gravatar image

I agree with Jason. Objectivism, in recommending selfishness, doesn't just recommend that you be selfish in a particular way. Ayn Rand claimed that most people don't know what the term "selfish" really means, and that they label, as selfish, many acts which are selfless, and vice versa.

Selfish behavior is not synonymous with motivated behavior, with rational selfishness being a subclass of that. Selfish behavior is rational behavior. And not everyone is rational.

(Oct 01 '10 at 10:40) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

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Asked: Sep 16 '10 at 22:02

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Last updated: Oct 04 '10 at 10:18