Egoism is the philosophy that it is moral to act in one's own self-interest. Egoists who follow this therefore go throughout their life practicing this philosophy, just like all other people who hold other philosophies. This would mean the egoists:

  • manipulate others for their own personal gain,
  • do not utilise empathy and remorse (dehumanize others) since pure benevolence without expecting reciprocation would be immoral according to their egoistic philosophy,
  • deceive others if it meant they would gain something from it (short-term or long-term),
  • invalidate their own negative emotions (anxiety, guilt, anger) since they would promote behaviours that do not align with what would logically lead to their own personal gain and
  • hold themselves as more important than everybody else since that would convince them that they are not responsible for their actions and further motivate self-interest.

The listed traits above align with high-functioning psychopathy/sociopathy as well.

What is the difference between the philosophy and the condition?

  • 3
    A psychopath need not have any philosophy at all, they can just act on psychological dispositions. And while psychopathy is one way to pursue self-interest, it is hardly the only one. "Self-interest" and "personal gain" do not mean anything in particular, they are determined by what the self/person is like. Empathy and remorse may be part of it, then exercising them will be in self-interest. Deceit and manipulation in reasonable amounts may be gainful, but those called psychopaths often go overboard with them and create more problems for themselves than they gain, hence are not egoists, etc.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 12:56
  • So do you think egoism would be more correlated to Machiavellianism? What would the difference between these two be?
    – user63990
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 12:57
  • 2
    Your conclusions (the bullet points) about egoists are mostly non-sequiturs. Egoists can simultaneously prioritize their own values and desires whilst having values and desires that are of value to others. Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 12:59
  • 1
    The OP question seems to be a bit of hyperbole, and fails to note the distinction, in English, between egoism and egotism, where the latter is closer to the concept of sociopathology (or antisocial personality disorder), whereas psychopathy, while similar, carries overtones of berserk actions (a chittering, twitching serial killer, say). So also the presentation of the question comes across as a psychological strawman argument, not so much a philosophical analysis. Note also the availability of terms like narcissism (with qualifications like malignant narcissism, etc.). Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 14:28
  • 2
    And how about the idea that any person is never "100% egoist" or "0% egoist"? Maybe over time or depending on circumstances, people will exhibit this or that behavior.
    – Frank
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 23:26

5 Answers 5


Most variants of philosophical egoism recognize that human beings are embedded in (and dependent on) societal systems that both provide things the egoist desires and deter things the egoist dislikes. They therefore recognize that a significant portion of being self-interested involves being socially conscientious: supporting the interests and welfare of others so long as it does not directly conflict with self-interest, and seeking out mutual agreements where others' interests do directly conflict. In other words, an egoist knows that his own success, happiness, and satisfaction rests in part of the success, happiness, and satisfaction of others, and acts accordingly.

A psychopath lacks or suppresses that sense of mutual interdependency, treating others as objects to be used in the achievement of the psychopath's own interests, or as mere ciphers to be dismissed or disposed of. Psychopaths have no understanding of or interest in the internal lives of others — whether those others are happy, sad, joyful, miserable, etc — but see such emotions only as external levers that can be worked to achieve goals. In the psychopath's world, only one person has meaningful emotions — the psychopath him/herself — and those emotions are absolute demands that must be satisfied.

In short, an egoist believes that self-interest is satisfied through influence (convincing others), while a psychopath believes that self-interest is satisfied through raw power (dominating others). One can think of psychopathy as a pathological or deranged version of egoism, and in fact it is clearly a spectrum with intermediary stages such as the partial or group psychopathy of racism or nationalism.

  • Thanks for the answer, this is really good. No being pinnickity with definitions - straight to the point, love it.
    – user63990
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 23:53

My two cents.

The basic difference is that (philosophical) "egoism" is not necessarily incompatible with (genuine) altruism, when altruism might be the best way to promote self-development (and this is true in various aspects of human life). On the other hand, a "sociopath" is (by definition) incapable of altruism, even if it is in one's best self-interest. This difference is what makes "sociopathy" a pathological condition.

PS: one can argue that a "functional sociopath" is a contradiction of terms. A "functional sociopath" must necessarily exhibit "altruism" in such ways that contradict the term "sociopath" over the long term.

  • No... I haven't heard anywhere that psychopaths were unwilling to even pretend to help others. As far as I know, they will help others if they know it will reciprocate somehow and benefit them.
    – user63990
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 23:33
  • This pretending does not last long enough to be called "functional". It soon breaks down
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 6:38
  • Else if one is capable of altruism when conditions call for it the term "sociopath" is an exaggeration.
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 6:53

Beyond the answers that the question may receive, you should know that there are multiple conceptualizations of psychopathy.

See: Criticism of current conceptions, Other PCL-R findings and controversy, PPI Criticism

Also "Psychopathy" is not the official title of any diagnosis in the DSM or ICD; nor is it an official title used by other major psychiatric organizations. The DSM and ICD, however, state that their antisocial diagnoses are at times referred to (or include what is referred to) as psychopathy or sociopathy.


The OP blurs some terms.

Psychopathy is a dis-regulation of certain specific aspects of personality. It is usually characterized by antisocial behavior, lack of empathy, disinhibition, and egotistical traits.

Egotism must be carefully distinguished from egoism. An egotist has an overwhelming sense of their own centrality, and typically over estimates their own virtues in multiple aspects. This can lead to rage when their supposed superiority is challenged.

Egoism does not have the innate degree of over-estimation of one's virtues. It is a concern for self and development of self.

Selfishness is acting to do that which is good for oneself.

Note that psychopathy is incompatible with selfishness. Psychopathy acts to prevent an individual from having healthy stable relationships. It causes the person to act impulsively and in an unbalanced incommensurate fashion. Someone bumps into a psychopath and they may pull a knife to seek violent revenge.

Psychopaths do poorly across a broad range of tasks.

  • Forming and keep relationships, both romantic and friends
  • Raising families
  • Keeping a job or running a business

Selfishness means you want to live in the kind of society that is good for you. Part of such a society is people who do not behave like psychopaths. A properly selfish person will therefore model the type of behavior he wants to increase. He will do this because it is good for him.

This extends to huge numbers of aspects of society. He will advocate for the kind of society that allows him to improve his own life. And this type of society is the one with maximal freedom. The political form is capitalism.

However, selfishness also recognizes that it is possible to fail. It is possible to fetch up in the gutter and need help. Thus, a properly selfish person will also give to charity. This is, again, because he sees it as creating the kind of society he wants to live in. Charity, note, not government welfare programs.

  • "Overestimation of ones virtues" why do you objectively appoint virtue, isn't that a subjective concept, who is to decide that? Also, the psychopath may not want a healthy relationship, or a family in the first place, you cannot use parameters that normal people seek to imply that psychopaths are somehow failing at a goal they themselves don't work towards.
    – user63990
    Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 0:06
  • @AshtonDowling Yep. I don't believe in nihilism.
    – Boba Fit
    Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 13:26

Self interest is a very general mindset in our capitalistic economy because of competitiveness model where people tend to care about their goods and own interest, (f.e.:You reach the job of your dream. Would you wish to give it to a random individual who you dont know a single thing?) and, people with "psychopath" behaviors are only a small part of people with this "general mindset". Meaning that "psychopath" are people with self interest tendancies but the reverse proposition is NOT true.

Your point "do not utilise empathy and remorse" is link to the egotism feature meaning your tendancie to only adopt your way to think when you communicate. Nothing about self-interest.

Your point "deceive others if it meant they would gain something from it (short-term or long-term)" is a very personal judgement depending to whom and about what events we refer. Some could says it is a disappointment, for the others, a sucess. The culture interfere with this point where self interest is not interfered by culture. So this point is invalid for self interest.

Your point "hold themselves as more important than everybody else since that would convince them that they are not responsible for their actions and further motivate self-interest." rely on self-esteem and the way you deal with other opinion about you. It's a matter of reputation and how important you care about it. It's seem that there are no similarity between importance to reputation and seeking your own profit. So, this point is invalid for self interest.

The others points you said can be assimilated to self-interest where the one i said do not belong. So there are the differences between self-interest and "psychopathy".

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    You don't answer the question. You don't explain what is self interest, what is psychopathy, nor what is the difference.
    – Boba Fit
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 17:37

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