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?

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By all means, give an exhausting response! I do it all the time.

"Selfish naturally has a negative connotation. Selfless naturally has a positive"

I suppose where we differ is really just a matter of semantics and I think this quote points it out most nicely. I don't see a negative nor positive connotation, and I certainly don't agree that there are natural connotations to words. It's only in learning about words in a specific context that we assign a connotation. In a culture dominated by religion, which almost all of us have grown up in, where sacrifice especially self-sacrifice has subtly informed our ideas of what morality should be, we do pick up and assign certain meaning to certain concepts. What I'm attempting to do is have people reconsider those concepts. 

I think we can agree that there is a selfishness that is aware of how it treats others and factors for that and a selfishness that ignores how it treats others. I say that both are acting selfishly. I think I'm right in saying that you would only consider the second as really being selfish.


Near freezing weather with 1-2 inches of ice on just about every flat surface. I walk into an office to pay my monthly rental on a storeage space, pay my bill, and as I am walking out the front door I hear the sound of a waterline/valve failing. With in seconds, water is covering the office floor, spreading to the carpet, space heaters, electric cords, etc. I run out side, I can't find the water meter cover/access under the ice. I start pulling the skirting from around the office trailer, and find the water line connection. NO secondary valve, only a heavy duty line leading from the trailer to the ice! I run back to my truck, find a big sledge hammer, run back to the trailer and break off the water line. Now I am wet, flooding the parking lot, but saving the trailer! The secretary is impressed, I get a nice thankyou, and browny points with the owner!  

Selfishness by itself is only a concept that is neither good or bad.

It is the current socially accepted standard that makes it good or bad. For example, we once had slaves which was socially accepted and a sign of wealth owning a servant.

There will always be selfish and selfless people and you should ask yourself why that is. What is the advantage of being selfish or selfless? In times of dire need what would be most advantageous for our survival? The selfish would take advantage of the situation by hoarding all the food there for safeguarding their own survival. The selfless would help each other ensuring the survival of the group.

Both have different advantages to survive. The selfish could do better individually or in small groups where as the selfless would be better in larger groups gaining strength in numbers.

To clearly answer your question. Being selfish is neither right or wrong. My personal opinion about a selfish person however is that they are to no use to my survival and should be avoided, disliked and distrusted. 

I think the issue is that selfishness has ended up becoming linked with anti-social behavior, which is clearly destructive and wrong. To avoid confusion I prefer the term rational self-interest as this is a much more descriptive term, and it also interfaces into behavioral models and philosophical constructs which I find appealing and explanatory.

I think selflessness has a risk of causing more harm than good, as it rests on an assumption that I can have good knowledge of others needs. It may work in very close relationships such as those with your partner and family, but seems as a poor mode of behavior to approach the world. Its also possible to achieve the same positive aspects that are commonly associated with selflessness through rational self interest, i.e. there is no misalignment between self-interest and supporting a maximal welfare state or volunteer work.
First, this presents as a false-dichotomy: you either have to be totally selfish, or totally selfless. There needs to be a happy medium. It benefits YOU to help others, because they'll turn around and help you in return. Cooperation allows a lot more to be accomplished. Civilization arises out of cooperation and accountability. Being totally selfish means you have to be totally self-sufficient, which isn't entirely possible.

Thinking of yourself, preserving your own health, working towards your goals are are perfectly fine. Hurting others along the way isn't even necessary to do these things. That's where people ought to draw the line. If you want to live exclusively for your own benefit, at least do the rest of the world the favor and don't ruin things for everyone else in the process. Overall, I think you'll get further if you have at least one partner whom you think of as highly as yourself.

I think pure altruism is impractical. A person cannot effectively help others if they're not properly fed, well-rested, and basic needs are taken care of. An individual can be of very little good to others if they don't bother taking an interest in their self.

I simply see that working together is the most efficient way of living. My comment to those who would like to be completely selfish: your right to swing your fist ends at my nose. You don't have a right to hurt others. Be prepared for the collective to resist when you infringe on their rights.

"If you want to live exclusively for your own benefit, at least do the rest of the world the favor and don't ruin things for everyone else in the process."

If someone is ruining things for everyone else then they are ruining it for themselves, too. It happens exactly because of this reason you point out here: "Be prepared for the collective to resist when you infringe on their rights" If someone turns everyone against her/him, then that person is certainly not acting to her/his benefit. I would consider this not "totally selfish" as you put it, but irrationally or even self-destructively selfish.

"Overall, I think you'll get further if you have at least one partner whom you think of as highly as yourself." Agreed! After all, what is love if not caring for the welfare of others as much as yourself?

So is the real question whether or not we should love and care for ourselves and others?

  If we ever get down to the real answer I bet it will be "42".

"If we ever get down to the real answer I bet it will be "42"."

I don't think I could think of anything more awesome.

"So is the real question whether or not we should love and care for ourselves and others?"

I think it is undeniable that we should care for and love ourselves. It is the only way to live a happy life. If you can't love yourself, then quite frankly I don't think you will ever be happy. If you don't care for yourself, you'll likewise be miserable. As far as others... you certainly can until they prove to you that you shouldn't. To save myself on a bit of turmoil (or a lot), I wait to care for others as equally as myself once they prove it to me that I should. Experience has taught me that few people are really worth the trouble. Maybe not love and care for others is not saying it best, but to treat others with the respect deserving of another sentient being (again until they prove otherwise) is an idea I think that most people would find hard to argue against.

For me, the one of the better questions is: should we care more for others than we do for ourselves? To which my answer is no. Equally, yes, but not more so.

Actually a lot of what you are describing here Cara, is selfishness, it is rational self interest as opposed to incredibly short-sighted gratification of (likely destructive) impulses. 

Rational self interest is not in any way living with no regard whatsoever for others.  It is the refusal to sacrifice something of great value to you for something of lesser value to you... but the key thing to remember is that other people can be a value to you!

Unfortunately both sorts of things are presently covered by the word "selfish" in our culture, so the association with the latter taints the former.

"I would argue that you must come to terms with the fact that living a selfish life will likely guarantee that you also have a small funeral. Your life and legacy may not be as significant as it could have been, and your most precious moments in life may be spent alone."

I hardly agree with this and I have to ask you: why do you think this is the most likely outcome?

That does sound sad. What sounds more sad to me is that (at the face of it at least) your grandfather didn't treat those closest to him with the respect he should have. Maybe he lost sight of the fact, or never realized, that he wasn't alone in life. I don't know, but sometimes that's the way it goes with some people.

I'd say that if he was really concerned with acting in his own self-interest, then he would have treated others with the respect and dignity due to a fellow human being regardless of familial affiliation.

I can't say from personal experience. Of the two funerals I've been to, one for my sister who we made it well known to everyone who knew her when and where we were holding the funeral and the other for my grandmother who had 11 kids so almost all of the family was there, both were for very good women. I can't say I've known anyone who's professed to living a life of rational self-interest who has died with which to compare.

I'd like to think that if I died tomorrow that there would be a good number of people at the memorial service, but I certainly can't say for sure.

I think she's proceeding under the "inconsiderate asshole" definition of selfishness, which isn't the one you are putting forward.


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