The Virtues of Selfishness and Ethical Egoism


Selfishness is an appalling character in society. Many philosophers have researched this concept of selfishness, and they have discovered that selfishness can be advantageous when used correctly. Two scholars argue for this concept. They include Ayn Rand, who fights to show the virtue of selfishness, and Freidrich Nietzsche, who also struggles to prove the importance of self-interest or selfishness. In light of all this, the paper shall look at the similarities and differences between the ideas of these philosophers.

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The Virtue of Selfishness

The title virtue of selfishness is controversial. The title is contradictory because so many people believe that selfishness is a bad character. According to the dictionary, selfishness means having concern for one’s interest. Ayn Rand, however, argues that the dictionary does not tell if the concern for one’s interest is a good thing or a bad one. The whole of humanity has come to view selfishness as evil, which cannot be a virtue. Various philosophers have tried to explain how selfishness can be a virtue. Those who belong to the altruist thought purport that those who show any concern for self-interest are evil, regardless of the action (Rand and Branden 20).

Scholars argue that an individual should sacrifice himself for the interest of other people. When one engages in a particular task, the one who will benefit is the one who will prove if the action is selfish. If the beneficiary is different from the doer of the action, then that is not selfishness. “An industrialist who creates a fortune is seen as selfish because he did the task for his benefit” (Rand and Branden 43). The beneficiary of the action is the one who dictates if the action is selfish or not. Ayn Rand continues to argue that the altruist philosophy views the act of selfishness as moral corruption. The altruist philosophers bring about two ideas that denote why selfishness is depicted as unacceptable. The first issue has to deal with values. Thus, any action is to be taken for the benefit of others. Secondly, the one who benefits from the action should be an entirely different being. Hence, the altruist views selfishness as an action where an individual supports his effort and does not sacrifice for others.

Moreover, those that practice altruism must be ready to sacrifice for the good of everyone. Altruism does not advocate for an individual to respect himself or being a self-supporting person. The person who supports his life through his actions will be forced to sacrifice his interests for the good of others. Ayn Rand comes from an objective ethics school of thought and goes ahead to reject the altruist philosophy. She goes ahead to offer a new concept of egoism. In addition, she dismisses altruism ideas as acts of selfishness. Ayn purports the idea of rational self-interest, which occurs when an individual is concerned with his/her interests, but at the same time upholding his/her values. If the individual pursues his/her self-interest, but they are in line with the values of the society, thus it will not be viewed as selfishness. Therefore, in order for an individual not to be seen as being selfish, he must have values. The values are the ones that will determine the viability of the action.

Ayn Rand goes ahead to say that values are usually objective. The values are usually symbols of the individuals survival needs. In essence, man cannot exist by random methods, but has to look for a way to get values that will support his existence. The values give direction to an individual who in turn develop a sense of reason. After an individual develops reason, he/she starts causing things to happen. She also goes on to say that, all individuals should have moral values that will help to prevent conflicts in the society. Selfishness is usually a good quality when an individual continually wants to improve himself, and hence becomes motivated. Eventually, this will have an effect on his self-esteem. Ayn Rand also continues to say that self-interest or selfishness is important when it helps one to generate pride. It originates from the fact that man must get values to sustain his life. The more values he/she will have, the more the self-esteem will affect the pride.

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Ayn Rand also continues to highlight that in the concept of selfishness, the individual involved will benefit from his efforts. Man has every right to benefit from his action and no other person should benefit. The selfishness philosophy states that no one should be allowed to sacrifice his interest for the good of the others. A man should have the self-interest that will bring self-satisfaction. In order for man to have values, selfishness should be practiced in various ways. Firstly, by ensuring that all the people have moral values and they recognize the reason for the moral values. She concludes by saying that all those who are against selfishness are seen as being against the concept of self-esteem.

Ethical Egoism

Friedrich Nietzsche comes up with the idea of ethical egoism. Friedrich as a philosopher originates from altruist morality philosophy. The theory states that moral values should be based on self-interest. Ethical egoism is the act of benefiting oneself in any circumstance, whether the action harms or benefits the individual. According to him, many individuals have believed that any action no matter its nature is good if it is intended for one’s benefit. There are three main types of egoism. There is the universal ego that wants everybody to act for his or her benefit, the personal ego, and the individual ego where one acts for his/her benefit. The main points from this philosophy have been discussed. Firstly, he says that in the society there are “higher men” who have the responsibility of having values. The “higher” men have various qualities. In fact, they do accept reality, they know what is good for them, and they are capable of achieving what they intend to make. When such values are followed, it is only the “higher men” who will benefit. Secondly, he is opposed to the concept of universal morality. The situation occurs when all the people are allowed to practice the same ethics no matter the circumstance.

Morality according to him is a way of judging the goodness or badness of a particular action. He says that “morality that speaks to all… speaks to none” (Nietzsche and Faber 15). Universal morality puts all the people in one group and shows them what is best for them. Thirdly, he avers that all the values originate from the nobility and should be practiced by the higher men. He adds that self-interest is the origin of the moral values. In addition, humans should be independent because all the other people are obstacles to him/her. He even believes that God does not exist and believing in Him are just illusions. Every individual should have a will of power that catapults him. Values can only be acquired if one is alive. He believes that values do not benefit man in any way. Lastly, he says that man is not a product of divine forces. According to him, a society that is civilized is a society that has higher men who are on the rise. He asserts that the exemplary person is not moved by reason but by his blood, his feelings, and his will to power. He also purports that man only has two choices to make, whether to live or to die.

The main similarities between the two theories are that both of them reject the altruist ideas. They believe that the individual should benefit from his/her actions alone. Secondly, they all believe in the importance of self-interest, and state that person should be allowed to benefit from his/her actions. They are all both naturalistic in their approach to values. In fact, they see values as originating from nature. Both of them also do not believe in God, they do not believe that a superior being created man. Nietzsche says, “Man is estranged to himself” (Nietzsche and Ludovici 72). Another similarity is the fact that in both, they are the philosophers who believe that an individual has a goal, which is the reason for the self-interest. They also agree that it is only the people who are allowed to have the self-interest. Finally, they agree that having self-interest will raise one up in the societal status.

On the other hand, the two philosophies are different in the following ways. Firstly, Nietzsche believes that morality should be subjective, and people should have their individual set of values. Thus, he rejects the concept of universal morality. He goes further to say that, universal morality can be harmful because all people are forced to acquire particular values. Hence, morality can inhibit the individual’s potential. On the contrary, Rand believes that values should be the same for all the people as well as the moral code. Nietzsche believes that reasoning includes things like intuition and emotions while Rand believes that our emotions are usually as a result of our thinking or the lack of it. Thirdly, Nietzsche believes that values eventually promote morality and sometimes the values are useless while Rand believes that values usually come from the life of the individual. Rand believes that the reasoning is the most important virtue, hence helps the individual to get his survival. However, Nietzsche believes that the whole process of reasoning eventually yields uncontrollable drives. Rand believes that man is a self-made soul, while Nietzsche believes that man is a product of biological determinism. In addition, Rand continues to argue that people are real, and they have a conscience that is used by the whole body. Nietzsche notes that humans have a significant confusion and that the conscience does not work together with the whole body. Moreover, Rand argues that all the individuals have the ability to make their decisions since they have the power of free will. Consequently, people make their decisions voluntarily in relation to various factors affecting them. Nietzsche rejects the idea and asserts that humans have no free will because other individual usually causes it. Rand also goes ahead to indicate that individuals are responsible for their actions. She also says that individuals have a right to a moral system that will be respected as the essential laws. Nietzsche rejects all the above and asserts that he is not even sure if the individual usually exists. Rand states that she is of the opinion that people should interact in order to benefit mutually from each other. She continues to say that when people interact they will be able to understand each other, thus conflicts will be minimal.

Nietzsche believes that people should not work together because it will be an obstacle towards the person’s development. He says that interacting with people will serve as a barrier and will even delay the person’s ambitions. He got this idea from the fact that people are usually jealous of each other and as such, conflicts may arise, which will cause the delay. Lastly, Rand believes that self-interest is mainly caused by values of the person while Nietzsche believes that when one struggles for his personal growth, the struggle usually comes naturally from the body. Nietzsche also has varied ideas about love and relationships. He says that when one is egoistic he/she should not let those things affect him (Nietzsche and Large 68). Ayn Rand on the hand indicate that people should value love and relationships. Lastly, Nietzsche believes that the ruling class or the “higher men” only use values. Hence, in every society we can never have equality. Rand sees values as an essential component that belongs to all people.


Notably, it is apparent that selfishness as a virtue is good. When people have self-interest, they will strive to better themselves and thus bring personal development. It is also imperative to mention that values are critical in life. In fact, values will provide a direction to be followed. In my view, I believe Ayn Rand tried to fight for the virtue of selfishness. Thus, we should also try to change our understanding of selfishness and embrace the new ideas about the issue.


Works Cited

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, and Anthony M. Ludovici. Twilight of the Idols; with the Antichrist; and Ecce Homo. Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 2007. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, and Duncan Large. Twilight of the Idols, Or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer. New York: Oxford UP, 1998. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, and Marion Faber. Beyond Good and Evil Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. New York: Oxford UP, 1998. Print.

Rand, Ayn, and Nathaniel Branden. The Virtue of Selfishness, a New Concept of Egoism. New

York: New American Library, 1964. Print.

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