I have always seen people first care for themselves and then for others. On the contrary, it doesn't seem wrong as self-interest is indispensable. But is acting for own interest and not caring about others, immoral and unethical. What if we are not the one to think about other's lives.

Why should I think about others?

  • As written this is not a very good fit for our site. Are you asking for a catalogue of views? Do you have an answer in mind? Are you just trying to start a discussion (= off-topic)?
    – virmaior
    Mar 28 '16 at 5:38
  • 'Selfishness' carries various connotations along with it, including petty and shortsighted greed or hedonism that few would advocate. It might be best when examining this question to specify what exactly you mean by the term. Rand used the definition of selfishness that was basically 'rational long-term self-interest'. Mar 28 '16 at 16:07

Whether something is, or isn't depends on your standard. That is, "what is the standard that you use to evaluate whether a particular behavior is ethical or not ethical?" Before you answer that though, you should first ask the question: Why does man needs a code of ethics? From there you can derive what the standard should be. And from there you can derive your answer as to whether a particular behavior is moral or immoral.

Ayn Rand is a philosopher, may be the only one, who approached ethics from this angle.

  • Certainly others have done a similar approach, see eg Rousseau's Social Contract. It also is a utilitarian approach to ethics (eg, we only have ethics because they are useful). Feb 26 '16 at 19:38

Within ethics, there are a few different approaches you can take.

  1. Aristotle- as stated above, virtues are found in the middle. Thus, what's between selfishness and selflessness is what Erich Fromm describes as self-love, which is being able to love others as long as you can respect/"love" oneself.

  2. Ayn Rand- her belief is that we must be selfish to be ethical. This creates development in the society. Idealy, this would be absolutely great for true capitalist market. However, to see this failing when put into action, see the deregulation of different industries in houndorus and the U.S. during the industrial revolution.

  3. Utilitarian- if the selfishness helps the common good, then it's good. However, selfishness and utilitarian ethics are incompatible in a general sense because you must always be following the common good. That following cannot always occur in selfishness (this could be a question by itself).

  4. Categorical Imperitive (Kant)- imagine if everyone was selfish. We all would always try for what we want and not necessarily what society needs. With this, the society would not be able to surviving long term. Assuming we were still selfish after that, everyone would probably be trying to kill everyone all the time, which would cause the human race to end. Thus, selfishness could be no more. Selfishness leading to its own end creates a contradiction. Thus, selfishness is unethical.

  5. Hedonistic altruism- we're all selfish, but it can be used practically towards a good and moral end.

There probably is a prespective from Hobbes, Freud, Rousseau, etc. that could be looked at as it relates to their specific philosophy/rhetoric, but I believe this covers a broad look at several approaches that can be taken. Overall, I find the Aristotle definition to be the most practical and psychologically real of all of them.


Neitzche purposely attacks the notion that selfishness is unethical on two fronts:

1) It saves us from modernism and detachment -- In works like 'The Gay Science' and 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra' he diagnoses the loss of vigorous attachment to religion and philosophy in Europe after the advent of modern science as the effect of the accumulated weight of a morality that undercuts selfishness.

As modernism progresses, we are betraying the natural animal attachment to power and becoming abstractly alienated from reality. Real productive power seems to appear in our lives only to the degree we stop thinking so much about it.

The common interpretation is that we have overthought things and discovered that life is inescapably complex, and decisions need to be calculated with a cooler head. But that is just calumny against thinking.

Instead, this is because the intelligent have chosen the good of the whole over real investment in our own individual lives, and an abstract 'long-term quality of life' consistent with a 'rising tide that lifts all boats' over investment in enjoying the moment.

2) It corrects for the excesses of Christian humanism -- In 'The Genealogy of Morals' he points out that the motivation for the origin of a philosophy based upon the value of selflessness is itself an indirect form of selfish violence.

It is the psychological revenge of the previously losing class, who traditionally had little chance of gaining usable power. By allowing Christianity, based upon support of the poor and informed by monastic asceticism, to elevate poverty to a virtue, and also allowing the poor more voice in government, we have attacked natural selfishness too stridently. (We should only have done one or the other.)

So, in fact, the position is deeply hypocritical and wastes our effort supporting pointless lies and internal contradictions, instead of living.


You will find the answer to your question varies greatly from philosopher to philosopher. My preferred answer to the question is to redefine the problem. Arne Naess did this in his philosophy of Deep Ecology. In Deep Ecology, he challenged the typical definitions of "self," involving the body and mind, pointing out places where they did not quite line up with how we use the word "self." He then suggested a different definition, which he argued is more consistent with our use of the word: the ecological self. The ecological self, he argued, is that which the self relates to.

In his philosophy, he argued that selfishness is not unethical at all. In fact, he argued that altruism is actually a special case of selfishness. He gave Mother Teresa as an example of someone who, according to the definition of the ecological self, was extremely selfish, but she related to so much of humanity that her ecological self was very broad and deep. Thus, simply by doing what her self wanted (selfishness), she helped a great many people. This choice of definition helps avoid the issue of self-sacrifice that typically comes up when exploring altruism. Instead of treating altruism as giving up one's self to support another, it is treated as a widening of the self to include another.


According to Aristotelian virtue ethics, one always should find the so-called golden mean between too much of action A and too much of the opposite of action A.

In other words, if you are to altruistic (self-sacrificing), then it is not good because this means that you sacrifice to much of your own happiness for that of others, and that can be considered unethical to yourself. If you are to selfish, then you are not caring about others, which is also unethical.

So according to Aristotle's virtue ethics, you should care about others, but not so much that you can't fullfill any of your own interests or wishes.

  • This is not a very good account of Aristotle's ethics. The golden mean is the middle between two extremes -- but the extremes relate to human nature before they relate to actions.
    – virmaior
    Mar 28 '16 at 5:37

Aristotles ethics is based on the unity of opposites; and hence sometimes it is right to care for others and also for yourself; the degree to which this is possible is constrained by your own circumstances.

It's not an ethical monism where ethics is reduced solely to pure selfishness or pure selflessness; it take the mean; or rather it's unity.

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