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"To be stupid, and selfish, and to have good health are the three requirements for happiness; though if stupidity is lacking, the others are useless" [...] --G. Flaubert

"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest." --The Wealth of Nations (1776)

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Self-interest generally refers to a focus on the needs or desires (interests) of one's self. A number of philosophical, psychological, and economic theories examine the role of self-interest in motivating human action.


In philosophy

Philosophical concepts concerned with self-interest include:

  • Enlightened self-interest, a philosophy which states that acting to further the interests of others also serves one's own self-interest.
  • Ethical egoism, the ethical position that moral agents ought to do what is in their own self-interest.
  • Hedonism, the school of ethics which argues that pleasure is the only intrinsic good.
  • Individualism, a philosophy stressing the worth of individual selves.
  • Rational egoism, the position that all rational actions are those done in one's self-interest.

In psychology

Psychological concepts concerned with self-interest include psychological egoism, the view that humans are always motivated by self-interest and narcissism, which is an unhealthy self-absorption due to a disturbance in the sense of self.

In business

The focus on actions or activities that are advantageous to an individual or organization. For a business or individual to survive and grow, a degree of self-interest in necessary. When there is too much focus on self-interest the benefits of the group at large diminishes

  • Leadership,
    • Donald Trump would not have built a sizable net worth, or became president of the United States, if he did not built such a strong brand around his name “Trump”. He did this by using creating hotels and businesses with his name as the banner. Trump’s desire to increase his own wealth and power, also benefited many people who pay for his business’s services every day.
    • The Wells Fargo scandal, proved that top managers who were concerned about meeting their quotas encouraged employees to set up fake checking and savings accounts so that their managers could meet quotas, and thus, gain incentives. In this case, the top managers put their own self-interest, i.e. desire for money and personal gain, above the well-being of their employees, and the reputation of the company they work for.
  • Innovation
    • Samuel P. Langley’s desire to create the world’s first aircraft was based primarily on his own self-interest rather than to improve humanity. Langley was an astronomer and around the age of 50 he decided that the only way to achieve his goal of becoming one of the great figures in the history of science was to be the first to create the “flying machine”. Eventually, the Wright brothers were able to accomplish this task of creating the first flying machine in 1903. Even they were motivated by the fortune and fame that came with the feat. In this case, the brothers’ self-interest benefited humanity for decades to come.
  • Conflict of interest
    • Hiring managers are tasked with the responsibility of hiring new employees for open positions. When these managers choose to give these positions to friends or family, instead of the most qualified person for the job, it can be a result of the manager’s desire to create a better situation for people in their family thus appealing to their own self-interest.
    • Bribes, i.e. when a store manager takes a bribe from an eager sales representative to close a deal. Perhaps accepting bribes is against the store’s policy, but a store manager may make a deal because it is to his own personal benefit to do.

In biology

In Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene, self-interest was considered a major artifact in evolution, a necessary process for living organisms.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Self-interest" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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