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Selfishness is being concerned excessively or exclusively, for oneself or one's own advantage, pleasure, or welfare, regardless of others.[1][2]

Selfishness is the opposite of altruism or selflessness; and has also been contrasted (as by C. S. Lewis) with self-centeredness.[3]

Divergent views

The implications of selfishness have inspired divergent views within religious, philosophical, psychological, economic, and evolutionary contexts.

Classical

Aristotle joined a perceived majority of his countrymen in condemning those who sought only to profit themselves; but he approved the man of reason who sought to gain for himself the greatest share of that which deserved social praise.[4]

Seneca proposed a cultivation of the self within a wider community – a care for the self which he opposed to mere selfishness in a theme that would later be taken up by Foucault.[5]

Medieval/Renaissance

Selfishness was viewed in the Western Christian tradition as a central vice – as standing at the roots of the seven deadly sins in the form of pride.[6]

Francis Bacon carried forward this tradition when he characterised “Wisdom for a man's self...[a]s the wisdom of rats”.[7]

Modernity

With the emergence of a commercial society, Bernard Mandeville proposed the paradox that social and economic advance depended on private vices – on what he called the sordidness of selfishness.[8]

Adam Smith with the concept of the invisible hand saw the economic system as usefully channelling selfish self-interest to wider ends;[9] while John Locke based society upon the solitary individual, arguably opening the door for later thinkers like Ayn Rand to argue for selfishness as a social virtue and the root of social progress.altruism or selflessness; and has also been contrasted (as by C. S. Lewis) with self-centeredness.[3]

The implications of selfishness have inspired divergent views within religious, philosophical, psychological, economic, and evolutionary contexts.

Classical

Aristotle joined a perceived majority of his countrymen in condemning those who sought only to profit themselves; but he approved the man of reason who sought to gain for himself the greatest share of that which deserved social praise.[4]

Seneca proposed a cultivation of the self within a wider community – a care for the self which he opposed to mere selfishness in a theme that would later be taken up by Foucault.[5]

Medieval/Renaissance

Selfishness was viewed in the Western Christian tradition as a central vice – as standing at the roots of the seven deadly sins in the form of pride.[6]

Francis Bacon carried forward this tradition when he characterised “Wisdom for a man's self...[a]s the wisdom of rats”.[7]

ModernityAristotle joined a perceived majority of his countrymen in condemning those who sought only to profit themselves; but he approved the man of reason who sought to gain for himself the greatest share of that which deserved social praise.[4]

Seneca proposed a cultivation of the self within a wider community – a care for the self which he opposed to mere selfishness in a theme that would later be taken up by Foucault<

Seneca proposed a cultivation of the self within a wider community – a care for the self which he opposed to mere selfishness in a theme that would later be taken up by Foucault.[5]

Selfishness was viewed in the Western Christian tradition as a central vice – as standing at the roots of the seven deadly sins in the form of pride.[6]

Francis Bacon carried forward this tradition when he characterised “Wisdom for a man's self...[a]s the wisdom of rats”.[7]

ModernityFrancis Bacon carried forward this tradition when he characterised “Wisdom for a man's self...[a]s the wisdom of rats”.[7]

With the emergence of a commercial society, Bernard Mandeville proposed the paradox that social and economic advance depended on private vices – on what he called the sordidness of selfishness.[8]

Adam Smith with the concept of the invisible hand saw the economic system as usefully channelling selfish self-interest to wider ends;Adam Smith with the concept of the invisible hand saw the economic system as usefully channelling selfish self-interest to wider ends;[9] while John Locke based society upon the solitary individual, arguably opening the door for later thinkers like Ayn Rand to argue for selfishness as a social virtue and the root of social progress.[10]

Roman Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain opposed the latter view by way of the Aristotelian argument that framing the fundamental question of politics as a choice between altruism and selfishness is a basic and harmful mistake of modern states. Rather, cooperation ought to be the norm: human beings are by nature social animals, and so individual persons can only find their full good in and through pursuing the good of the community.[11]

Lack of empathy has been seen as one of the roots of selfishness, extending as far as the cold manipulation of the psychopath.[12]

The contrast between self-affirmation and selfishness has become a conflictual arena in which the respective claims of individual/community are often played out between parents and children[13] or men and women, for example

The contrast between self-affirmation and selfishness has become a conflictual arena in which the respective claims of individual/community are often played out between parents and children[13] or men and women, for example.[14]

Psychoanalysts favor the development of a genuine sense of self, and may even speak of a healthy selfishness,[15] as opposed to the self-occlusion[16] of what Anna Freud called "emotional surrender".[17]

Self-centeredness was marked as a key feature in a phenomenological theory of criminality named "The Criminal Spin" model. Accordingly, in most criminal behaviors there is a heightened state of self-centeredness, that differently manifests itself in different situations and in different forms of criminality.[18]

See also