Exactly as the title says. Tell me why being selfish is wrong.

I'm not of the opinion that a rational, considered self-interest is wrong. I think it's usually the best way to go. In fact, I would say it's kind of like our default setting, but I've seen quite a few people post recently about how being selfless is good. I disagree.

Why do you think that selflessness is good? Why do you think that selfishness is bad? Do you think it's the other way around? Or maybe neither is good nor bad?

Tags: Selfish, bad, good, morality, selfless

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I think it's bad because I'm not a republican, and have empathy for those less fortunate.

Way to try to shut down a conversation by implicitly insulting anyone who dares to disagree with you.

So, "republican" is an insult?  

Telling people they lack empathy if they don't agree with you is an insult, then you went on to imply that that applies to all Republicans.

Sorry Steven, That may be the way you read it, but it was not my intent.  Irony is wasted on some.

I'll leave the political reference aside...

So you would consider empathy to be a good thing and not having empathy as being a bad thing?

Consider a situation for a moment. Someone is starving. He gathers together what ever meager bit of money is still lying around and manages to get... let's say $3 and some change. While walking to get some food, he passes a homeless man with a sign: Please help, hungry. Would it be a bad thing to do if he walked on by then spent the last of his meager resources on himself rather than giving any of it to the homeless man who was in a worse position? That would be a selfish act. Survival at its very essence is a selfish act; is there anything bad about fulfilling the basic requirements of surviving from day to day?

I'm not saying that we shouldn't have empathy, because quite frankly we will. Unless someone is a psychopath, they will at times feel for the plight of others. I am saying that we should not always act with generosity to every empathic impulse.

There is a difference between selfishness and self-interest. Feeding yourself is basic self interest, and no one will call you selfish for feeding yourself before someone else. 

Selfishness is self-interest taken to its absurd extreme; it's when you put your own interests ahead of the interests of others in a way that contradicts the notion of having respect for our society's manner of living. For example, when someone is in need and you are living above your means, helping him out is a way of respecting society as a whole. In other words, it is your privilege that has gotten you as far as you have gotten, and you could easily be in this other guy's shoes. Helping him is a way of saying "thank you" to the system. This is assuming, of course, that the man in need is in need because of societal reasons and not because of his own lack of merit; in practice this can be impossible to discern.

It also makes you feel good to help people out, so acting selflessly can actually be in your own self-interest. This is the paradox of charity; does anyone really do something for a selfless reason? Some philosophers say no, and for the most part I tend to agree with them.

Andrew, I've been pondering this thread, wondering how to condense my thoughts into a readable bite-sized chunk - and here you are saying exactly what I may never have been able to condense adequately.  Bravo!

I'm not of the opinion that a rational, considered self-interest is wrong. I think it's usually the best way to go.

This statement will mean a lot of different things to a lot of people.  Some see the word "selfish" and imagine a brute walking over dead bodies if necessary to grab an extra cookie.  Some just imagine it meaning "inconsiderate and rude."  Some imagine it meaning a hedonist who is only into short-term self gratification.

I am going to go out on a limb and figure you probably don't mean any of that.  You probably imagine someone who plans ahead for the long term in pursuit of his values, often finds other people (but not just any other person) of value to him and can be generous under those circumstances, and is willing to make mutually beneficial exchanges with others.  And will not under any circumstances lie, cheat or steal to get a value, he believes in earning them.  Your selfish person is looking out for his or her self, but realizes that he or she best prospers by offering value to other people.

Am I right?

Agreed

I suggest you read "The Virtue of Selfishness" by Ayn Rand. She writes about this exact topic.

The meaning ascribed in popular usage to the word “selfishness” is not merely wrong: it represents a devastating intellectual “package-deal,” which is responsible, more than any other single factor, for the arrested moral development of mankind.

In popular usage, the word “selfishness” is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.

Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is: concern with one’s own interests.

This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.

From the Virtue of Selfishness.

"There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."

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