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The Real Difference Between Selfishness & Selflessness

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0


Objectivism is a controversial philosophy that plants its roots in individualism, capitalism, and reason. The reason it is so controversial is because it holds the doctrine of selflessness and altruism as evil. Objectivist believe that altruism means that a person has no right to live for himself and that living for others is the real purpose of man's life; so self-sacrifice is a man's highest moral duty. Objectivists see altruism as holding man as a sacrificial animal. 


This is actually true. By definition, Altruism is 'a motivation to provide something of value to a party who must be anyone but the self.' Therefore to be virtuous, you must only do things for others. Don't confuse selflessness and Altruism with kindness. This is different from kindness, which is 'the act or the state of being kind, being marked by good and charitable behavior, pleasant disposition, and concern for others.' Altruism specifically states that your actions must never be for yourself. Kindness gives you a choice. 

In Altruist ethics, you can't expect any compensation for your sacrifice. There is some debate on whether or not you can consider the gratification it gives you to help, because this is an internal benefit. But a benefit is a benefit. Objectivism would demand that you give because it makes you happy. Altruism demands that you give whether it makes you happy or not. 

Giving & Getting

In fact, the happiest people on the earth are volunteers. This isn't because of the act of giving. It's because giving makes them happy. They get pleasure out of helping. Many Altruists would consider this selfish because they are giving and getting something in return. Some would consider this selfless because they don't believe that internal benefits actually 'count.'

What counts more than your internal well-being? 

Objectivists advocate selfishness or their 'rational self-interest.' This usually outrages people because most people think that to be selfish means that you must be the kind of person to step over the bodies of dead babies to get what you want. However that's not what selfishness actually means. Selfishness is 'concerns with one's own interests.' You are selfish if you are concerned with your interests. The word selfish has been made dirty by altruists. 

It is actually impossible to practice altruism in its entirety. If the only actions you ever performed only benefitted others and not yourself, you would be dead from starvation in a month. Altruists don't specify what is ok to do for yourself. They simply state that actions taken for others are good, and actions for yourself are evil.

No wonder so many people live in a state of anxiety.  

A Case Study of Rational Self-Interest

Rational self interests means that you evaluate a situation and decide which one is the best for yourself and your concerns.

For example, if your husband is dying of cancer and the only way to save him was to sell your house and all other possessions for a surgery, the altruist answer would be to do it. The selfish answer would also be to do it. However the reasons differ. The altruist does it because none of that benefits them. The objectivist does it because those possessions mean nothing to them without the one that they love. It's a selfish act.

If your neighbors husband is dying of cancer and the only way to save him was to sell your house and all of your other possessions for his surgery, the altruist answer would be to do it. The selfish answer would be to not do it.

The altruists motivations have not changed. The objectivist holds their families welfare over the welfare of a neighbor. If this were not the case, what kind of society would we really be living in? 


An individualist is a person who recognizes individual rights above rights of society as a whole. That means that the individual respects your individual rights more than he respects the rights of a nameless and faceless group of people on the other side of the world. It means he respects the rights of an individual within that nameless and faceless crowd more than the crowd itself.

An objectivist will never ask you to sacrifice something for them. They will never ask for your pity and they will never ask to control you. They will only want to deal with you if you want to deal with them. This is because they are individualists and they honor choices and decisions made only by reasonable individuals.  

Take Away

Before dismissing everything in this article as just evil and misguided, take just a second to realize that the article is 100% factual other than one or two biased question-statements thrown in, in favor of Objectivism.

Before outright crying that someone is selfish and horrible because they wouldn't give you a break, ask yourself whether you've earned that break. Ask yourself if you would want to sacrifice yourself for someone you didn't know. Ask yourself if you would sacrifice your child in the name of something you didn't believe in.

Altruism would demand that, in order to, be good, you sacrifice your child to any benefit of others. Objectivists would demand that you protect your child no matter what others will lose by your refusal. That is the fundamental difference between Altruism and Objectivism. 



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