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Specific word to replace one common definition of 'selfish'

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I would like to go back to the original conversation and provide a summary. There were a few words suggested as alternatives, and I would like to rescue them. First of all, we cannot let 'selfish' fall into the pejorative. It leads to contradictions if it used like the way Merriam-Webster defines it. You cannot look out for your long-term interest if you behave without regard for others since humans are social creatures. Also, being narcissistic is a virtue. How can you lead a good life if you don't love yourself?

I think 'elitist' would be a good term to describe any one who is being irrationally selfish. To think that your needs are objectively more important is irrational and against the Objectivist theory of value. Taking all the shrimp at that party is elitist because the guy who took them obviously did not deserve or need them. Other good words include mooch, jerk, predatory, inconsiderate, any swear word, and parasite.

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I'm looking at this somewhat differently. I think Rand made a mistake in taking words and tweaking their commonly-used definition. The MErriam-Webster definition of selfish is: 1: concerne

Also, being narcissistic is a virtue. How can you lead a good life if you don't love yourself?

I disagree about what you say about narcissism. It isn't really about self-love as much as it is thinking you're the greatest person to grace the planet. Maybe not necessarily that extreme, but the point is that narcissism is not simply self-love, but also vanity and feeding off of attention. Self-esteem already well indicates a rational self-love, plus a sense of efficacy with your mind. Elitism is still different, since elitism is about thinking that a set of people or you yourself are better than another person and that it is therefore morally permissible to control or manipulate the inferiors.

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He was lecturing his players on the sideline saying "Don't be a selfish ballplayer. When we give you the ball, do your job. When we don't give you the ball, do your job again."

Anyone remember this? Try substituting a better word for "selfish" in that one and see how that sounds.

The correct word would be the complete opposite--unselfish. Only an irrational and unselfish player would purposely do things that hurt the team but only help themselves instead.

Edited by EC
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  • 9 months later...

Thinking about this topic some time, I have come to agree that 'narcissistic' is the appropriate word or concept here. There is a definition for narcissism which is self-love in the physical, almost sexual, sense. That's part of healthy self-esteem, but to be fair this is referred to as 'healthy narcissism'. There is another definition which refers to a different concept. This would be 'unhealthy narcissism'. That is the concept I will be discussing.

From answers.com, secondary definition:

"A psychological condition characterized by self-preoccupation, lack of empathy, and unconscious deficits in self-esteem."

The problems with a narcissist begins with the quality on the left, and unravels to the right. The cause of narcissism is right to left. And so the core problem is a lack of self-esteem. This problem is compounded as the person constructs a false reality around that lack of self-esteem. This is the source of all trouble with people, I think.

There are two types of narcissism that I have been reading about: narcissism and inverted narcissism (or co-dependency). I believe that the narcissists are the "Atillas" and the Co-dependents the "Mystics" of Ayn Rand's view of history. Let me explain that I am no expert, but I know that even the experts haven't developed a completely clear understanding of narcissistic personality disorders. That said, many of the characteristics of regular and inverted narcissists are the same. What unifies them is the constant construction of a false reality to compensate for an unapproachable lack of self-esteem. What distinguishes them is that regular narcissism involves constant efforts to control the social environment, while inverted narcissism involves constant efforts to establish victimhood in order to bring prestige to the narcissist.

I will make no effort at psychohistory (the psychoanalysis of historical societies), I will not attempt to speculate on what causes all of this - people to be narcissists or inverted narcissists.

I can say that the general cure is more easily obtained.

1) Accept reality, and carefully evaluate the evidence. Live by truth, and self-deny relative to the truth. That is, let rational self-interest be your guide. In other words, reject the irrational ego reject irrational pride. This would require "self-denial" until the narcissism is defeated and the irrational self is deconstructed and reduced to the core self-esteem issue.

2) Rebuild self-esteem. Having 'self-denied' and 'let-go' of the false self, one can construct a self-image based on reality. You might be pathetic, by certain standards - ugly, unintelligent, and so forth - but as a human being with a functional mind you will be capable of something and you have every right to take deep pride in that something. Thus self-esteem is built, reality is properly perceived, and one can live according to rational self-interest

While this has been a fun exercise for me, my overall point is mainly that the problem with most people in the world IS their ego! But it is an irrational ego, that is the problem.

The problem is narcissism.

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  • 2 years later...

There is one common use of the word selfish, which I hope to find a good word or phrase as replacement. I will first give an example of the word, then attempt to give a good definition.

For my example, I'm going to use Medicare. I was watching a politically conservative commentator who was interviewing a group of 'tea-party' senior citizens. After many of them proclaimed how wrong it was for government to grow, for everyone to pay for everyone's medical care, for bailouts, and so forth, somebody said, "And they're cutting our medicare benefits?"

WHAT THE HELL? Why can't a senior say, "Yeah, you know, I voted for Medicare supporting politicians, I relied on Medicare, and I was wrong. I deserve to reap the consequences of my immoral and irrational years of evading reality." ?

Along those lines, why the hell should we send troops to stabilize regions with oil so we can buy it from the area's dictator's? We're not entitled to that oil (there's a broader argument about whether we can appropriate it directly, but lets ignore that).

Normally, these examples are of something that our modern culture calls 'selfishness'. Yes, technically, the issue at hand is self-interest. The seniors benefit from not having to cover their own medical expenses (above and beyond anything they ever paid into Medicare). But it's not rational self-interest.

So what's a good word/phrase for: a character trait that pursues self-interest in a manner that requires for its successful completion an objectively improper exploitation of others through a violation of their rights.

This is characterized too by a paranoid, vicious sense of entitlement. If I feel like I've really worked for something, I'll defend my right to it - if reality is on my side. But this sort of 'selfishness' involves a sense of entitlement to whatever might be available - only because it's available.

Another example: People with pre-existing conditions who ride mild thrill rides, and get injured, and sue. Their suits have nothing to do with the proper functioning of the ride, and are merely about "they have money, I want money, I got lucky because I got hurt". WHAT THE HELL?

So, what's the word?

I would say 'entitlement princess', but it doesn't have a ring, and barely connotes viciousness. 'terrified by reality' is maybe another. 'spiritually void'. Help me out here.


I've been thinking about this a lot.  For this example, I think "self-entitled" is the accurate derogatory term.  "Entitled" can imply that there is an element of expecting the "unearned".  


Oh my...I was actually thinking about this last night. I went to a party and they served chips or something, and this guy came and pretty much took hold of everything, without giving a damn about anyone else in the room. Everyone was so upset and started talking about how selfish he was and everything, but I was just looking for some other word. Maybe this isn't a good example, but I was basically looking for something to replace "irrational self-interest" too. Something that can also fit your examples.


Here I would go with "self-absorbed" (while self-entitled still works too).  "Absorbed" here can imply a short-sighted individual who is what Rand might call a whim worshiper, as opposed to a "self-interested" person who is rationally concerned with themselves in a wider, full context, long-term view.

Edited by freestyle
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'Self-interest' easily replaces 'selfish' without the negative edge that, perhaps, Rand intended.


More to the point: Spinoza spoke of 'conatus', saying that all people want to have their own way. Democratic govenments, therefore. are agreed-upon collectives in which the individuals decide that more can be done better together (in certain endeavors!) than apart.


Nietzsche also spoke of 'Will- to- power', as Deleuze spoke of humans as 'desiring machines'.


In this regard, Nietzsche can be looked upon as a precursor to Rand, squeezing people into a belief-system of natural charity just causes more serious problems.


For his part, deleuze spoke of individuals constructing their own subjectivity by breaking out of society's mold, in a discernable 'line of flight'. ...

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A person who is uncooperative believes that others' achievements would somehow get in the way of his own, and in group activities requiring cooperation, would try to make sure he gets his own way, at the expense of what specific arrangements others make to make group activities (for example, being in a meeting or living in society in general) work. But I don't think the word is strong enough for all cases.

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  • 4 weeks later...

But really, don't you think that these word definitions (and changes thereof) have caused a lot of confusion among objectivists? Especially when the definitions have totally opposite meanings?

Yes.  The meaning has remained factually identical, though; what Rand redefined were its connotations, and for very specific reasons.  Any Objectivist who isn't willing to attempt such redefinitions, within their own mind, should not bother with them for very specific reasons.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
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The essential difference between "good selfishness" and "bad selfishness" is introspection.  Rand's selfishness is primarily about your self and your rationally validated self-respect.  A looter's selfishness is only made possible by deliberate introspective evasion.


When a mugger goes to rob someone, some part of him must know that his victim is another person just like him; if he did not know this then he could not communicate with them as he would be severely autistic.  So how does he harm members of his own species without the slightest bit of remorse?

Aside from hating the good, the only possibility is that he is refusing to know how he truly feels.  This allows him to escape the knowledge of his own guilt, but by the same mechanism he abdicates his own pride, joy and the love of his own life; if continued for long enough he forgets what values ever felt like and any subsequent actions are chosen out of habit, like the reflex actions of a fresh corpse.


That is how pragmatists commit moral suicide.


While this is certainly not "selfishness", however, "selflessness" is properly used to refer to altruism.  A typical altruist certainly values; they feel pride and guilt and joy, but in irrational and ultimately self-destructive ways.  For the altruist, self-destruction is the inevitable consequence which they failed to avoid.  For the pragmatist, self-destruction is the goal.


It is not selfishness and it is far more than selflessness.  It is what Rand referred to in "selfishness without a self" and while I do not know what to call it yet, I think the appropriate analogy is something like self-cannibalism.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
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