Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Why use the Word “Selfishness” explanation only gets you half way there

Rate this topic


freestyle
 Share

Recommended Posts

I just came across the below video…
Why Use the Word “Selfishness”? YouTube TheObjectivistStandard C. Biddle

And this is something I’ve been kicking around for about 12 years now… and I still don’t have a good answer. 

Biddle does a solid job of explaining and reiterating what Rand said at the start of TVOS.   While understanding that is important, there is a very important aspect of the question that the explanation misses.

I  have found that most people (even altruists) understand this relatively easily as a “different definition of selfishness” than they typically perceive  (whether in whole or in part).

I have been looking for the word that describes the negative/destructive conception of the “selfish” that they continue to conceive even after understanding why we use that word.
 
The guy who pushes past a buffet line and takes ALL the chicken wings for himself leaving none for others.  
 
The woman who holds up traffic at a green light because her makeup isn’t finished and she has an important meeting.  
 
We would explain by using  additional descriptions to explain this is not “rational” or “long term” selfishness. Or redefine (in thier opinion)  to say that this is not actually in one’s self interest so therefore it isn’t selfishness as we are defining it. 
 
But then what is the broad concept or word for those behaviors? (The broadest word to define the concept)
 
I’m not looking for the specific word to define those specific examples.  I’m suggesting that many hold those examples as their primary conception of the word selfish. And all we do is tell them, no, that’s not selfish, that is… [what]?
Link to comment
Share on other sites

No one word can capture all "they" mean when they say selfish.  It is a combination of a whole host of possible vices combined with appearing to act for oneself (at least superficially).  There is a misidentification of what the long term self interest is, so it is self-sabotage, misguided selfishness, shortsightedness, ignorance, idiocy?

How to sum up a simpleton's selfishness?... no easy task.

Rather than try to come up with a different word, it suffices to point out that "selfishness" in not the proper characterization and the specific instance is better described by [insert particular short term vice here].

Edited by StrictlyLogical
Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, freestyle said:

just came across the below video…
Why Use the Word “Selfishness”? YouTube TheObjectivistStandard C. Biddle

And this is something I’ve been kicking around for about 12 years now… and I still don’t have a good answer. 

Biddle does a solid job of explaining and reiterating what Rand said at the start of TVOS.   While understanding that is important, there is a very important aspect of the question that the explanation misses.

I  have found that most people (even altruists) understand this relatively easily as a “different definition of selfishness” than they typically perceive  (whether in whole or in part).

I have been looking for the word that describes the negative/destructive conception of the “selfish” that they continue to conceive even after understanding why we use that word.
 
The guy who pushes past a buffet line and takes ALL the chicken wings for himself leaving none for others.  
 
The woman who holds up traffic at a green light because her makeup isn’t finished and she has an important meeting.  
 
We would explain by using  additional descriptions to explain this is not “rational” or “long term” selfishness. Or redefine (in thier opinion)  to say that this is not actually in one’s self interest so therefore it isn’t selfishness as we are defining it. 
 
But then what is the broad concept or word for those behaviors? (The broadest word to define the concept)
 
I’m not looking for the specific word to define those specific examples.  I’m suggesting that many hold those examples as their primary conception of the word selfish. And all we do is tell them, no, that’s not selfish, that is… [what]?

response above

Link to comment
Share on other sites

9 hours ago, freestyle said:
The guy who pushes past a buffet line and takes ALL the chicken wings for himself leaving none for others.  
 
The woman who holds up traffic at a green light because her makeup isn’t finished and she has an important meeting.  

I would agree that there is no one term that would do it justice but I got comfortable with the following:

The vice is "social unawareness" or "social blindness" where a person is not aware of the benefits of the people around them. In the examples you put, it is objectively NOT to the benefit to anyone of us to be consistently be like that. And in terms of rational egoism, if something is NOT to your benefit, it isn't selfish. So these behaviors to an Objectivist would not be considered selfish.

I notice many Objectivists around me get hurt if someone calls them selfish. I never went through that. So I am okay with being called selfish. I can see multiple people in my past be completely shocked when they called me selfish and I said "and ?". As in of course I'm selfish.

A socially blind person will act as if no one matters, or no one is around when people are around, which can be dangerous to everyone concerned.

The issue that Rand was attacking was selflessness, AKA altruism.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Another way of describing this is as a violation of rules you have implicitly agreed to by entering a situation.  If you take food from a buffet, you are implicitly agreeing to a rule about sharing the food.  If you drive on a road that is not your private road, you implicitly agree to a number of rules, including not obstructing traffic.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)
18 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

No one word can capture all "they" mean when they say selfish.  It is a combination of a whole host of possible vices combined with appearing to act for oneself (at least superficially).  There is a misidentification of what the long term self interest is, so it is self-sabotage, misguided selfishness, shortsightedness, ignorance, idiocy?

How to sum up a simpleton's selfishness?... no easy task.

Well this is the crux of my post-- I'm not satisfied that the concept does not exist in the English language.  My sense is that it must, I (we) just haven't discovered or identified it... yet.

I may have "buried the lede" to some degree in my initial post.   Indeed I have come up with two working terms that I feel do a better (but not completely satisfactory job) of communicating the concept that relates to the specific part of selfishness that Objectivists do not consider as selfish (but so many others do, and even may consider it the primary type of example).  

My best working terms are:

  • Self-Absorption
  • Self-Obsession

Both of these terms seem to satisfy as descriptors for the examples of behaviors in my original post (chicken wing guy and make-up lady).  However, I'm still not completely comfortable using those terms because, "obsession" and "absorption," while typically associated with negatives, may be a "package-deal," similar to the trick used by those who exploit the words "extreme" or "extremism." (See Extremism: Or The Art of Smearing - A.R.)   I'd prefer not to further muddy the concept if possible.  Perhaps obsession with or absorption in "the good," isn't bad. 

18 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Rather than try to come up with a different word, it suffices to point out that "selfishness" in not the proper characterization and the specific instance is better described by [insert particular short term vice here].

Quote

Let me remind you that the purpose of a definition is to distinguish the things subsumed under a single concept from all other things in existence: and, therefore, their defining characteristic must always be that essential characteristic which distinguishes them from everything else. - Ayn Rand (See Extremism: Or The Art of Smearing - A.R.)

This is why I do not think it suffices and why I'm seeking a definition.   We (Objectivists, rational thinkers, etc...) will continually endeavor to educate that the type of examples commonly held by so many about this term are not truly examples of selfishness.   As the title of this post states, this only gets us half way... We must be able to explain what that distinction is, and DEFINE it in a clear way that shows it is NOT "subsumed" under the single concept of "selfishness."   Yes, I can do this with a lot of words.... But I want to do it with the overarching concept.

This distinction is important.   A rational person knows those behaviors are negative, yet we have not unentangled them from the word "selfish," and as long as those examples are packaged with selfishness, it will continually be difficult to communicate selfishness as a virtue.  Those types of examples require a new home.

9 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

I would agree that there is no one term that would do it justice but I got comfortable with the following:

The vice is "social unawareness" or "social blindness" where a person is not aware of the benefits of the people around them. In the examples you put, it is objectively NOT to the benefit to anyone of us to be consistently be like that. And in terms of rational egoism, if something is NOT to your benefit, it isn't selfish. So these behaviors to an Objectivist would not be considered selfish.

[...]

A socially blind person will act as if no one matters, or no one is around when people are around, which can be dangerous to everyone concerned.

The issue that Rand was attacking was selflessness, AKA altruism.

You are correct, and I assume most of us who understand Rand and Objectivism concur.  But again, it doesn't identify and define this greater concept (that I'm looking for). 

Those terms, "social unawareness" or "social blindness," would surely soften the negativity and destructive nature (to one's self).  They make it seem like an oversight or an accident.   Whereas, in truth, those behaviors are more than "not selfish", they are, in the long term, self-destructive.

1 hour ago, Doug Morris said:

Another way of describing this is as a violation of rules you have implicitly agreed to by entering a situation.  If you take food from a buffet, you are implicitly agreeing to a rule about sharing the food.  If you drive on a road that is not your private road, you implicitly agree to a number of rules, including not obstructing traffic.

True.   And you can get very specific (and that's what we usually do) for any of these typical misunderstandings of "selfishness."

As I typed it above, I thought, "self-destructive" is another term that seems to work for this entire category/concept of behaviors incorrectly described as selfish.   But it does not define a single concept OUTSIDE of selfishness that distinguishes itself.   It would be too broad to simply say that it is the "opposite" of selfish, because that would place it in the category of altruism, which isn't not where it belongs either.  

image.gif

Edited by freestyle
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)
12 minutes ago, Doug Morris said:

Another possible description is "sacrificing others".  This gets at a key confusion in popular concepts of "selfishness".

That's pretty great!  Is there a word that means "sacrificing others"?  

I did a quick google search and saw a suggestion of "utilitarian"...   But I'm certain the Utilitarian would disagree.  🙂 

Edited by freestyle
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The problem may stem from a linguistic / grammatical 'lack' in English .

There is probably a German word that expresses the nuances in difference between the usages ; O'ist/ non-oist vocabulary.

I'm pretty sure there is a German-word(quasi phrase) that describes riding a bicycle to a market to buy rolls as opposed to riding a bicycle to a market where they sell rolls. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 hours ago, tadmjones said:

The problem may stem from a linguistic / grammatical 'lack' in English .

Yeah, it feels like that... but I am still convinced that it must be out there. 🤔

Link to comment
Share on other sites

5 hours ago, Doug Morris said:

Another possible description is "sacrificing others".  This gets at a key confusion in popular concepts of "selfishness".

Another reason I like this so much is that it takes the focus OFF of the self, while also illustrating sacrifice as a negative.   That helps unpackage it from selfishness very nicely and in line with Rand's philosophy.   And you did it in two words... good stuff!

Quote

He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. (from Atlas Shrugged)

Rand, of course, used this phrase often but usually related to the sacrificing to one's self.   But in fact, this negative behavior that people generally lump together with "selfishness" is not necessarily always to service one's self (whether rationally or irrationally).   Think of the do-gooder who is ok sacrificing others for "the good of society."

This makes me think there is another possible strong contender for the word... although I'm not sure yet whether this also comes with baggage.  What about:

  • Victimizer
  • Victimization

I can imagine it being a cleaner and a more clear explanation to say something along the lines of, "Yes, I'm always in favor of selfishness, but I'm never in favor of victimization." 

...still trying to figure this out... 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What I'm seeing here is that you want a single word that covers the false part of the conventional package deal meaning of selfishness.  Let me try something:

Selfishness = acting to benefit yourself through indifference, negligence or malice towards others.  

Is there one single word to subsume the red part?  

....

You present quite a challenge.

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, Craig24 said:

What I'm seeing here is that you want a single word that covers the false part of the conventional package deal meaning of selfishness.  Let me try something:

Selfishness = acting to benefit yourself through indifference, negligence or malice towards others.  

Is there one single word to subsume the red part?  

....

You present quite a challenge.

Yes.   To put a finer point on it, I'm looking to identify the concept being packaged with selfishness which contradicts and/or confuses.    I want to extricate it so that those non-related packaged associations have their proper place.

I continue to find it hard to accept that those things (like indifference, negligence and malice towards others) are not already contained in a well established concept.   (And especially a commonly understood word or concept)

If not, it would be quite telling that those behaviors are only packaged in a way that includes an assumed un-earned benefit only to the self.    Tricky! 

While looking at some other threads about this... I saw a post where @Grames mentioned these types of things as "a kind of metaphysical solipsism in practical everyday action."  

With the given examples, yes, that would apply.  But it still packages the negative actions in service of the self...  

This thread has helped me refine my focus to the willingness to "sacrifice others" through "indifference, negligence, or malice," but REGARDLESS and INDEPENDENT of who benefits. 

 

Edited by freestyle
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think Ayn Rand's point was that, first, whether something is in your self-interest or not is a question of fact, not of one's desires, whims, or feelings, and second, that sacrificing others to oneself is never in one's self-interest -- not if one wants the life appropriate to a rational being.

Therefore, there is no package deal to be teased apart here. Actions that altruists hold as "selfish" are actually self-sacrificial, while actions that are actually "selfish" don't hurt anybody else.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

9 hours ago, necrovore said:

Actions that altruists hold as "selfish" are actually self-sacrificial, while actions that are actually "selfish" don't hurt anybody else.

In some cases a self destructive action might be called selfish but don't altruists actually agree with us on great variety of what's actually selfish while disagreeing with us on the morality?   The profit motive comes to mind.  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, Craig24 said:

In some cases a self destructive action might be called selfish but don't altruists actually agree with us on great variety of what's actually selfish while disagreeing with us on the morality?   The profit motive comes to mind.  

Yes, my mistake, I should have said some actions that altruists hold as "selfish."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I thought I would create a venn diagram to describe the mainstream vs Objectivist view of selfishness.  There is disagreement on what selfishness is and some agreement as well as disagreement on what is selfish.  Of course a portion of the mainstream does support capitalism but does not define it correctly or support for the right reasons.

selfishvenn.png.c3a5e34bc0af1d7be1fa8150e2deddbf.png

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Considerate Selfishness" may exclude the foul element of concern.

I don't much care for it, however, because it is defensive right out the gate and not getting at what Rand was illustrating in The Fountainhead, which was various sorts of characters whose behaviors are commonly regarded as selfish, but are not, due to absence of definite self or are not because they are, furthermore, predatory, which is not self-sufficient. In contrast to those, she has a model selfishness of Howard Roark, which, for one having read the novel and not for other people, could sensibly be called "model selfishness" / "genuine selfishness" / "objective selfishness." These are what Nathaniel Branden was getting at in his writings "Counterfeit Individualism," in his answer to the question Isn't everybody selfish? and in his distinction between being selfish and being self-centered. And Rand's preference for "egoistic" over "egotistic" and her later essay "Selfishness without a Self."

Edited by Boydstun
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)
7 hours ago, Boydstun said:

"Considerate Selfishness" may exclude the foul element of concern.

I don't much care for it, [...]

That is kinda like "compassionate" conservative... And you're right that it sends the wrong message.

I think it is more about communicating as clearly as possible that selfishness is not the equivalent to the disregarding of rights.   People tend to assume selfishness must include a victim.  It does not.

In future discussions, I'll try using something along the following lines when somebody uses an improper example of selfishness:    "No, that's not a selfish person, that's a victimizer.  I'm just as much anti-victimization as I am pro-selfishness."  

We'll see how that goes...  🧐

Edited by freestyle
Link to comment
Share on other sites

8 hours ago, Craig24 said:

I thought I would create a venn diagram to describe the mainstream vs Objectivist view of selfishness.  There is disagreement on what selfishness is and some agreement as well as disagreement on what is selfish.  Of course a portion of the mainstream does support capitalism but does not define it correctly or support for the right reasons.

selfishvenn.png.c3a5e34bc0af1d7be1fa8150e2deddbf.png

Is that really all that would be overlapping?  Hmmm... I'd have to think about that for a while... I think there is a big distinction on the timeframe and whether or not something LEGITIMATELY is beneficial to individual.     Mainstream probably actually thinks being selfish is bad for the self.... i think...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...
Posted (edited)

 

On 6/26/2022 at 1:45 PM, freestyle said:

...

This makes me think there is another possible strong contender for the word... although I'm not sure yet whether this also comes with baggage.  What about:

  • Victimizer
  • Victimization

I can imagine it being a cleaner and a more clear explanation to say something along the lines of, "Yes, I'm always in favor of selfishness, but I'm never in favor of victimization." 

...still trying to figure this out... 

Also, oppressor and/or oppression is another English word for this concept which is not inherent to selfishness.  

Edited by freestyle
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 months later...
On 7/12/2022 at 8:07 PM, freestyle said:

 

Also, oppressor and/or oppression is another English word for this concept which is not inherent to selfishness.  

I would steer clear of the 'oppressor' language, both because it has other political connotations, and because there is no real power dynamic in either of the situations OP raises.

Sacrificing others to oneself seems like the best description. (Thanks @Doug Morris) Maybe there are even other ways of seeing these kinds of actions as wrong?:

> The woman is not paying attention to the task at hand, she is making others dependent on her, she is blocking their freedom of movement unnecessarily, she is placing the lower value of applying makeup above the higher value of getting where she's going, she is endangering herself and the rights of others by stopping her car on an open motorway... (there may also be things leading up to this situation that were irrational/unethical: Why is she doing her makeup in the car?)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...