There is a term I heard someone use to describe the idea that no none acts selflessly.

So under this belief, a mother giving some food to her child, and going hungry herself, only does so because the alternative choice, her eating and her child not, would be more distressing to her. So she makes the choice that is least distressing to her.

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    I think you got your title backwards; it sounds like you want a term for the belief that NO ONE acts selflessly. In biology, the term "selfish gene" describes the belief that animals (including humans) are predisposed to protect 1) their offspring, 2) their relatives and perhaps 3) members of their own species in order to help their genes survive. That probably isn't the term you're looking for, though. Jul 30 '17 at 2:31

The term? Psychological egoism.

  • Although this answer is correct, and although this question asks only for a term, a high quality SE answer should include at least some brief explanatory material, for instance, a summary of the information found at the link you provide (particularly since links can go dead or change info). Please see my answer for an example. Jul 31 '17 at 15:44

When expressed affirmatively and/or prescriptively as the concept that helping others ultimately helps ourselves, this is called "enlightened self interest" and is associated with the ethical philosophy of Utilitarianism.

@Gordon's answer correctly identifies "psychological egoism" as the descriptive theory that people only ever act out of self-interest (with no value judgment applied to whether that is ultimately positive or negative).

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