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I have accepted the word "selfish" to best describe my moral code since reading Rand's "The Virtue of Selfishness". It has not been easy to convince folks that "selfishness" is a good thing..., but I remain steadfast in my conviction!
However, I have also found myself defending the word “greed”…, based upon the same philosophical lines!
There is not enough time in one lifetime to defend both words!!! It’s time to choose our battles! Here is my proposal: I am willing to give up the word "Greed" (Greedy) as a virtuous word..., if society would accept "selfish" (selfishness) as a virtue!
Think about it..., "greedy" sounds like "seedy"! It could catch on!!! The definition for the word "greedy" could look like this: greed (n) An excessive desire to obtain wealth, at the cost of ones self interest.
'Bernie Madoff was a greedy person'..., sounds better (or worse per se) than 'Bernie Madoff was a selfish person'.
The word “Greed” is not even listed in the Ayn Rand Lexicon…, so I say ‘throw it under the bus’!!! We’ll let “greed” take one for the team!!! What do you think?
Every definition (for greed) I have looked up..., includes words like "excessive", or phrases like "more than one needs"! Nowhere does it define it as "virtuous" except in Objectivist circles! Objectivists have invented a definition, that allows greed to be used to describe a rational desire to accumulate unlimited wealth. That is not how the rest of the world see's it..., and I'm tired of defending the "made-up" definition! I can defend rational self interest..., but not semantics!

asked Nov 19 '11 at 22:57

Casper's gravatar image


edited Nov 20 '11 at 21:22

Quite frankly, I am of the mindset that greed is good. Look at all the goods and services that have come about as a result of it.

(Nov 20 '11 at 10:02) dream_weaver ♦ dream_weaver's gravatar image

The entire concept of throwing this-or-that expression under the bus strikes me as extremely un-Objectivist, or in more technical terms: anti-conceptual. Reality is a certain way, and none other, and concepts denote certain facts of reality and none other. Defining and redefining concepts on the basis of political tactics and popular appeal seems to me to be a favorite strategy (and one of the least savory) of the Left, but not of Objectivists (else why the heck would you choose "The Virtue of Selfishness" as the title of your book on ethics?) We should stand strong in defense of our ideas.

(Nov 26 '11 at 15:36) FCH FCH's gravatar image

We should stand strong, and defend our principles! However, my point is that WE (Objectivists) have "redefined" the concept of greed (not the other way around as you suggest)! I think it is a mistake to champion a word you have redefined! How are we to promote rationality if we adopt such an irrational approach?

(Nov 26 '11 at 17:55) Casper Casper's gravatar image

I'd like for you to point out where Objectivists even argue for or actively (as opposed to reactively, in defense against misuse of the term) redefine "greed". In my (limited) experience, "greed" is an altruist concept thrown at "excessively" selfish people particularly with regard to material values. A concept that is used primarily to facilitate argument from intimidation shouldn't be "thrown under the bus" in the sense of accepting the intimidation. Rather, we should point out what's wrong with the "excessive"-accusation(see dream_weaver below) and stand strong in defense of value-pursuit.

(Nov 26 '11 at 18:11) FCH FCH's gravatar image

Secondly, "redefining" doesn't simply mean "not accepting the most popular definition and offering a better one". If it did, we could not argue for selfishness (read the introduction of VOS), nor Capitalism (given that the prevalent definition is a Marxist one centering on the means of production). If we are going to be serious about definition by essentials, then we have to reject such floating definitions and identify what the term actually denotes. With the case of greed, "excessive" is just an altruist evaluation smuggled into a supposedly neutral definition of value-pursuit.

(Nov 26 '11 at 18:17) FCH FCH's gravatar image

What I'm hearing here is that [most] Objectivist insist that all forms of "greed" are a good thing..., and that some altruist happened to "smuggle" the word "excessive" into the definition (over 3000 years ago) and polluted a virtuous word! Fine! If I have to turn in my Objectivist card to establish that the rational, selfish pursuit of [unlimited] wealth is [by definition] NOT "greedy"..., and that an irrational, self destructive pursuit of wealth IS [by definition] "greedy" (in an effort to champion capitalism, and rational self interest)..., then so be it!
Thanks for the clarification...

(Nov 26 '11 at 20:23) Casper Casper's gravatar image

Ok, I guess at some point this becomes a meaningless back and forth but let me just answer one last time. My point is that "greed" is, or is at least very close to, an anti-concept that is only applicable within an altruist framework. What it denotes is value-pursuit coupled with an altruistic-amoralistic evaluation ("excessive", implying that some value-pursuit is permissible, but not too much). So no, we should not advocate "greed", except perhaps as polemic to see altruists' heads explode. But neither should we fold when altruists bring up the accusation, but point out their hidden premises

(Nov 27 '11 at 06:01) FCH FCH's gravatar image

"An excessive desire to obtain wealth, at the cost of ones self interest."

Is the desire to cost one's self interest, or is that just the ultimate result? If the latter, I think you are improperly categorizing a mistake as a desire. If the former, well that's just plain old altruism.

(Nov 27 '11 at 09:51) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Selfishness is not a virtue in itself. Go back and re-read TVOS. The description of selfishness merely describes serving ones' own interests, it does not define whether those interests are good or evil. This is a subject of ethics. There is/can be virtue in selfishness as is true that there may not be. It is dependant on ones' own moral code. Likewise greed is not described correctly and like selfishness it has been intellectually packaged to suggest a morality. But like selfishness, attributes have been assumed incorrectly. Greed for more does not evaluate anything without discussing ethics.

(Jan 19 '13 at 15:07) mindman mindman's gravatar image
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Greed is essentially the desire for more (despite the popular addendum of "than an individual needs or deserves"). The desire for more what? This can be answered by more money, another car, more friends, etc; in essence; values. This in turn is the motivating force (desire) for bringing about activity in an individuals life to acquire more along the lines of those values . . . the virtues of production, creativity, etc, as the means of achieving those ends.

The popular notion that greed is the 'excessive' desire for more than an individual needs or deserves, is projecting a personal judgment as the guide for someone other than themselves. Who determines what is excessive? Who am I to say how much is enough for you or vice versa? Who am I to say what specifically how much or what you should value in general (outside of prohibiting what can be demonstrated to be immoral, that is.) Even if we apply 'excessive" to 'desire', as the desire can serve as the motivation, it still stands, as: who is responsible for deciding how much motivation another should/ought have?

answered Nov 20 '11 at 13:33

dream_weaver's gravatar image

dream_weaver ♦

edited Nov 25 '11 at 11:42


Part 1 of 2-part comment According to at least one definition, greedy means “ having or marked by an intense usually reprehensibly excessive or selfish desire especially for possessions.” The adjective “excessive” is applied to the nature of the desire, not the character or quantity of that which is desired. Greed is synonymous with “covetousness” which means a desire for, not what one’s neighbor has, but that which belongs to one’s neighbor; in other words, it is a characteristic of the looters. In this sense, Bernie Madoff was indeed a greedy individual.

(Nov 23 '11 at 13:06) SLValleyGirl SLValleyGirl's gravatar image

Part 2 of 2 Unless I’m mistaken, you want a word which is defined as desiring that which can be achieved (earned) by the deliberate application of one’s own intelligence, honest industry and enterprise, etc. Greed is not that word. Reference "greedy." Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com ( 23 Nov. 2011).

(Nov 23 '11 at 13:07) SLValleyGirl SLValleyGirl's gravatar image

Greed is also synonomous with acquisitiveness, avarice, avariciousness, avidity, avidness, cupidity, graspingness, greediness, mercenariness, rapaciousness, rapacity, borrowing from their abridged site, many of which do not specify who owns the target of desire, be it the neighbors goods or his wife.

(Nov 25 '11 at 11:34) dream_weaver ♦ dream_weaver's gravatar image

Thank you SLValley Girl! I assert that you understand my point!

(Nov 26 '11 at 17:57) Casper Casper's gravatar image

"Who determines what is excessive?"

Ultimately, reality determines it. In the mean time, each person needs to determine it for him/herself. You say the popular addendum is more "than an individual needs or desires (*)", but the way I see it the term "greed" is also commonly used as a desire for more "than an individual is capable of obtaining rationally".

Or going about it a different way, what is the quality that Howard Roark is referring to when he references "the worst kind of second-hander"? What is it that Gail Wynand desires that Howard Roark doesn't?

(*) Desire more than you desire?

(Nov 27 '11 at 10:08) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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If you want to defend selfishness, you will be hard-pressed to do so if you concede defeat the instant your adversary appeals to the "G" word (greed). What makes selfishness ok but greed not? Isn't it rationality that most fundamentally matters? Is greed in any form necessarily and inescapably irrational? If there can be rational selfishness, why can't there also be rational greed?

Altruists, of course, will insist that "rational greed" is an impossible contradiction in terms. They may also try to insist that the same goes for "rational selfishness." But it is specifically rationality and what it means that must be defended, regardless of altruistic assumptions about what selfishness and greed both allegedly include and imply.

An Objectivist view of selfishness and/or greed moderated and driven by rationality will very likely be judged by altruists to be a strange if not bizarre view of selfishness and greed, not representative of "true" selfishness or greed at all. Altruists want selfish/greedy people to be obsessed with conquering and exploiting others for personal gain at all costs, rather than steadfastly dedicated to rationality (on principle) in all production and trade (including non-material trading as well as purely material forms of trade -- which is another integation altruists typically seek to disintegrate, preferring to assume that "trade" means economic or material trade only). People who fit the typical altruist view of selfish greed give altruists the perfect fodder for altruists' outrage and condemnation, with the issue of rationality versus irrationality completely lost in the confusion (perhaps intentionally so, to keep altruism safe from the light of reason).


Several formulations in comments by the questioner may be confusing or even misleading to a general audience.

1) "I have to turn in my Objectivist card to establish..."

If this means explaining that Objectivism is a new and revolutionary philosophy that challenges altruism, then yes, it is and does.

2) "selfish pursuit of [unlimited] wealth is [by definition] NOT 'greedy'"

When altruists use the term "greed," they tend to be focused on the beneficiary of values rather than issues such as the standard by which "value" is to be judged at all, and how values come into existence. They probably see greed as an extreme unwillingness to "share" values with others, and probably regard the idea of "trade" as inherently exploitative of others, especially successful trade in which one receives a greater value to oneself in return for giving up a lesser one. This isn't an issue of how one defines "greed," but an issue of how one pursues it, i.e., how one pursues one's own interests.

3) "irrational, self destructive pursuit of wealth IS [by definition] 'greedy'"

Again, it's not an issue of how one defines "greed," but how one pursues it. At root, altruists aren't focused on what is self-destructive or self-beneficial; they are concerned mainly with how one treats others and responds to them. That's what "altruism" means -- "other-ism." They can't see (and don't want to see) how trade (both material and non-material) can be mutually beneficial for both sides in the trade, or how capitalism is a vast system of cooperation rather than "dog-eat-dog" competition.

answered Nov 26 '11 at 20:12

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

edited Nov 26 '11 at 21:06

If I have to turn in my Objectivist card to establish that the rational, selfish pursuit of [unlimited] wealth is [by definition] NOT "greedy"..., and that an irrational, self destructive pursuit of wealth IS [by definition] "greedy" (in an effort to champion capitalism, and rational self interest)..., then so be it! Thanks for the clarification...

(Nov 26 '11 at 20:30) Casper Casper's gravatar image

I can accept this, but there really needs to be a word or phrase to substitute for certain instances of "got greedy" which are often mistaken rather than outright immoral.

It seems to occur when someone overestimates their abilities.

Maybe "bit off more than [one] could chew"...

"I was making a huge profit selling to a niche segment of the market, then I got greedy, tried to capture 100% of the market, and lost it all." becomes "I was making a huge profit selling to a niche segment of the market, then I bit off more than I could chew, tried to capture 100% of the market, and lost it all."

(Nov 27 '11 at 09:30) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Bernie Madoff certainly bit off more than he could chew, and that might be why he ultimately got caught, but that wasn't his crime.

(Nov 27 '11 at 09:39) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Thanks to all for stating the Objectivist position so clearly! My apologies for my snarky comments... I have only respect for Objectivists..., and I can not foresee a time when I would disassociate myself from Objectivism! Best to all!

(Nov 28 '11 at 02:16) Casper Casper's gravatar image

I am new to this site so don't mistake this comment as one which is trying to advise you. However, i personally feel that I should never have to jump through loopholes trying to justify greed to someone or to make it sound less negative. It is my right to believe what I believe and it is not my right to force my beliefs on others, just as it is not their right to force theirs on me. Thinking the word 'Greedy' might not settle well with someone is guilt, and as Ayn Rand states numerously, feeling guilty for one's virtues is evil in itsself.

(Jan 25 '13 at 06:07) John Galt John%20Galt's gravatar image
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Asked: Nov 19 '11 at 22:57

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Last updated: Jan 25 '13 at 06:07