If doing good deeds makes us feel good and forces us to do more good, are we now doing it for our own feelings or for the actual good? If the former, then are we being selfish?

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    A very similar question was just asked recently: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/56754/…. Maybe some of those answers and the resulting discussions might help. Commented Nov 3, 2018 at 22:05
  • Read about psychological egoism and psychological altruism. There already is a bunch of literature on topic.
    – rus9384
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 11:22
  • Yes, best to check out the previous version of the question.
    – user20253
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 13:03
  • The first question has a questionable antecedent, and the consequence doesn't really follow. If we get reward X from doing something, that doesn't mean we're doing it just to get X. The second can't be answered without a definition of "selifsh", and one that includes doing good things for other people would appear to be absolutely useless Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 17:06

7 Answers 7


Yes every act you do is selfish even if it is for altruistic purposes. If you help a homeless person by giving that person money or donate money to a charity you can say that is altruistic, but you probably get a good feeling from doing that. Which is why perhaps you would do such a action again because it causes you to have a benefit ie feeling good rather then bad. So unless you can find a example in which you do something that benefits someone else that does not give you some sort of benefit then we can say all actions upon other are in some way selfish.

  • I wonder if you have references to those who take a similar view. I would like to look into the perspective in more detail. I wonder if Peter Singer would agree or not with your viewpoint. Welcome to this SE! Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 21:00
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    I don't particular like this view but this is a idea implied from Objectivism and from the way the narrative of the Fountainhead by Ayn Rand played out. Howard Roark the perfect character Rand creates does not take to his critics and stands firm against what might be called the 'altruists' those who live for other and cannot create there own ideas. The courtroom speech from the book spells this out workthesystem.com/getting-it/howard-roarks-courtroom-speech. We always act selfishly whether blatantly or subversively to feed our needs and wants. Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 21:21
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    I think Peter singer may agree with the idea that being altruist in a way is still selfish but you have to define what altruism and selfishness is and in what scenarios. Being selfish does not always mean evil, is it selfish to try to look after yourself instead of other? Is it truly altruistic to just look after others before looking after your own needs if altruistism is perceived to being the idea of helping others without any benefit can you find a situation where a altruist does not get any benefit ie a good feeling from a action? Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 21:30
  • Thanks for the reference. I agree with you about Singer. I already up-voted. Best wishes and, again, welcome. Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 21:36

Man does not seem able to “help” his selfishness; it seems to come from his animal nature. [1]

Freud discovered that each of us repeats the tragedy of the mythical Greek Narcissus: we are hopelessly absorbed with ourselves. If we care about anyone it is usually ourselves first of all. [1]

Human beings not being selfish is an unrealistic idealism. "I am selfish because i want to feel good and i earn this good feeling by helping others" is the best man be in terms of benefit to others.

[1] The denial of death (1973), Ernest Becker


Every action is done with a purpose. If there is craving or expectations from any actions then it's ego. Ego is created or observed whenever there's an outcome of the actions. Suppose while playing ping pong the nature of the player would be to score every time & win the game. Instead playing the game without intention would be more joyful than the sense of happiness over winning the game. The happiness & sadness are part of the ego. Another example is, preparing for exams to score good grades, that takes the focus from understanding the subjects to scoring well in the exams. The essence of playing ping pong is joy, while that of exams is to know how well the e subjects are understood. The purpose always has to be staying in stable state of mind, then the deeds are done automatically, without knowing or labelling them as good or bad.


Depends on your definition of selfish.

Man has a limited time of existence. Any deed he performs must be valued against other deeds that may be performed at the same time. Once a particular point in time has gone, he can no longer act upon an action at that given time. He must decide and place a value upon differing actions that he may undertake at a given point in time.

Do I want to do this now, or that now? Whichever one decides, is the one decision one valued more, at a particular time.

Is the valuation of actions and acting on the most valued action considered selfish?


Perhaps if you sacrificed your life in an attempt to save another that could be classed as a truly "good" deed in the sense that you mean. In this case of ultimate sacrifice you wont be around to reap the personal benefits of your deed such as feeling good about it.


All creatures are seeking pleasure/happiness in one way or another throughout their life. Even sadists seek pleasure; but they get it by hurting another person. If so, why didn't you say bad deeds are also a part of selfishness?

Those who seek stability of mind are less in number. I am saying so because most people will have a tendency to seek pleasure even when their mind is in a 'stable state' even it is only for a short time.

You may define the word 'selfish' as Someone who thinks only of their own advantage: According to the meaning given, a selfish person does not think of others' advantage. (The word--'only' implies so.) But good deeds of people are done thinking of others also. So it is not sensible to call such persons selfish.

The meaning of the word 'own' in the given meaning (of 'selfish') becomes fully subjective and often makes big differences if you try to define it. Some people see others as their (own) fellow beings. And some others see their own self everywhere. See Geetha 13.28. When we view such people from a low level we may say so. But there are people who are in a higher level than what we think. In their case there is nothing to increase or decrease. They are beyond good and bad, happiness and sadness etc. So, in their case your opinion fails. Anyway it is not good to say good deeds selfish even though there is a scope for saying so.


I attempt to write an answer from a different angle from the other answers already supplied here. The issue is to do with language.

There is the term enlightened self-interest. Then there is the term selfish.

Most/all good deeds are indeed self-interested. Some ethical systems often purport a reward for ethical behaviour at some point; pleasure, in whichever form, is rewarded/given at some point.

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Do note that "negative hedonism" / Stoicism is very different from standard hedonism.

"Negative hedonism" is the practice of avoiding pain in your own life, for want of a better term.

However, the term "selfish" is more ambiguous and can mean both [a] self-interested and [b] unethically serving one's self. Also, the term is generally taken to have strong negative connotations.


Traditional ethics teaches us that the distinction between self (self-interest) and others (selflessness) is not sharp: You are supposed to love your neighbour as you would love yourself.


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