Enlightened self-interest

Enlightened self-interest

Enlightened self-interest is a philosophy in ethics which states that persons who act to further the interests of others (or the interests of the group or groups to which they belong), ultimately serve their own self-interest. [ [http://www.adti.net/toc_book/ch2_08.htm Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy in America (Ch. 8)] ] [ [http://web.missouri.edu/ikerdj/papers/Rethinking.html Rethinking the Economics of Self-Interests] ] [ [http://criticalmastiff.blogspot.com/2005/07/enlightened-self-interest-vs-communal.html "Enlightened Self-Interest" vs. Communal Responsibility] ]

It has often been simply expressed by the belief that an individual, group, or even a commercial entity will "do well by doing good". [ [http://money.cnn.com/popups/2006/biz2/howtosucceed_dowell/ Howard Schultz: Dare to Be a Social Entrepreneur] ] [ [http://www.volunteermatch.org/corporations/resources/docs/GH_CCS_2005.pdf Doing Well by Doing Good 2005: The Trajectory of Corporate Citizenship in American Business] ] Enlightened self-interest might be considered to be unrealistically idealistic and altruistic by detractors and practically idealistic and utilitarian by proponents.

Related concepts

Unenlightened self-interest

In contrast to enlightened self-interest is simple greed or the concept of "unenlightened" self-interest", in which it is argued that when most or all persons act according to their own myopic selfishness, that the group suffers loss as a result of conflict, decreased efficiency because of lack of cooperation, and the increased expense each individual pays for the protection of their own interests. If a typical individual in such a group is selected at random, it is not likely that this person will profit from such a group ethic.

Some individuals might profit, in a material sense, from a philosophy of greed, but it is believed by proponents of enlightened self-interest that these individuals constitute a small minority and that the large majority of persons can expect to experience a net personal loss from a philosophy of simple "unenlightened" selfishness.

Unenlightened self-interest can result in the tragedy of the commons.

Deferred gratification

Enlightened self-interest also has implications for long-term benefits as opposed to short-term benefits to oneself. [Marilynn Brewer. Individual Self, Rational Self, and Collective Self. Pscyhology Press UK 2001, p. 84] When an individual pursues enlightened self-interest that person may sacrifice short-term interests in order to maximize long-term interests. This is known as deferred gratification.

An individual may choose to forsake pursuing immediate gratification by supporting and not interfering with others' pursuit of self-interest. An individual may have to sacrifice his immediate self-interest for the purpose of a positive relationship to a group of individuals to which he relates. For example, a merchant likely will maximize profit over the long term if she chooses to be generous to her customers in a manner beyond the requirement of policy, say, in accepting returns and refunding the purchase price when not required to by the letter of the law. By doing so, she may lose short-term gain but likely will eventually profit from increased business volume as she gains a reputation for being reasonable, honest, and generous.

Rational selfishness

Rational selfishness is a term generally related to Ayn Rand's objectivist philosophy, refers to a person's efforts to look after their own well-being, to cultivate the self and achieve goals for the good of the self. The focus in rational selfishness might be considered to be more self-directed (where the benefit to the group or society is a desirable by-product) than the focus of enlightened self-interest which is more group-directed (and the benefit to oneself might be more of the by-product).


Enlightened self-interest is also different from pure altruism, which calls for people to act in the interest of others often at the expense of their own interests and with no expectation of benefit for themselves in the future. Some advocates of enlightened self-interest might argue that pure altruism promotes inefficiency as well.


*Adam Smith and the Invisible Hand of the market

*E. E. "Doc" Smith, in his science fiction book "Subspace Explorers", posited an economic formula that would control profits and bonuses, which he referred to as "The principle of enlightened self-interest".

Notes and references

ee also

*Thomas Hobbes
*Alexis de Tocqueville
*Adam Smith and the Invisible Hand

External links

* [http://www.learningtogive.org/papers/index.asp?bpid=23 J.B. Steenbergen: "Enlightened self-interest in Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America"]
* [http://www.ssu.missouri.edu/faculty/jikerd/papers/Rethinking.html J. Ikerd: "Economics of Enlightened Self-Interest"]
* [http://users.ox.ac.uk/~jrlucas/ethecon/ethecon.html M.R. Griffiths & J.R. Lucas: "Ethical Economics"] particularly [http://users.ox.ac.uk/~jrlucas/ethecon/chap13.pdf Chapter 13]
* [http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1280120 Enlightened self-interest@Everything2.com]
* [http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/Spring02/Holt/enlightened.html Enlightened self-interest business model]
* [http://www.strategy-business.com/press/16635507/05309 Daniel Yankelovich: The Thought Leader Interview]
* [http://www.objectivistcenter.org/showcontent.aspx?ct=984&h=53 David Kelley: Generosity and Self-Interest]
* [http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/Spring02/Holt/enlightened.html Public Relations Ethics: Enlightened Self-interest Model]
* [http://www.principalvoices.com/2006/collaboration/introduction.html The age of the responsible corporation]
* [http://www.smartrecovery.org/resources/library/Articles_and_Essays/Self-Acceptance/enlightened_selfinterest.htm Enlightened self-interest from a perspective of self-help (Smart Recovery)]

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