Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Self-interest

"Self-interest is the most ingenious and persuasive of all the agents that deceive our consciences, while by means of it our unhappy and stubborn prejudices operate in their greatest force." - William Cullen Bryant

"The world will always be governed by self-interest: we should not try to stop this: we should try and make the self-interest of cads a little more coincident with that of decent people." - Samuel Butler

"With endless patience you shall carry out your duty, and your firmness shall be tempered with tenderness for your people. Neither anger nor fury shall lodge in your mind, and all your words and actions shall be marked with calm deliberation. In all your deliberations in the Council, in your efforts at lawmaking, in all your official acts, self-interest shall be cast into oblivion. Cast not away the warnings of any others, if they should chide you for any error or wrong you may do, but return to the way of the Great Law, which is just and right. Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the earth - the unborn of the future Nation." - Constitution of the Five Nations NULL

"Self-interest, that leprosy of the age, attacks us from infancy, and we are startled to observe little heads calculate before knowing how to reflect." - Madame Émile de Girardin, Delphine de Girardin, née Gay

"Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years. People grow old by deserting their ideals. Years wrinkle the face, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, doubt, self-interest, fear, despair - these are the long, long years that bow the head and turn the growing spirit back to dust." - Watterson Lowe

"The self is the metaphoric construct of identity and agency, the hypothetical piece of turf on which we construct our strategies for survival, the notion around which we focus our instincts for self-preservation, our needs for self-approval, and the boundaries of our self-interest." - Joanna Macy, fully Joanna Rogers Macy

"It is a common sense and self-interest to refrain from lashing out immediately to avenge an injury. A higher level of humanity is entirely overcoming feelings of vengeance in one’s heart. This is the glory of the morally wise man." - Leibush Malbim, aka Malbim, Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michal "the Malbim", Meïr Leibush ben Jehiel Michel Weiser

"When he has the power to see things detached from self-interest and from the insistent claims of the lust of the senses, then alone can he have the true vision of the beauty that is everywhere. Then only can he see that what is unpleasant to us is not necessarily unbeautiful, but has its beauty in truth." -

"The principle of self-interest rightly understood produces no great acts of self-sacrificed, but it suggest daily small acts of self-denial. By itself it cannot suffice to make a man virtuous; but it disciplines a number of person sin habits of regularity, temperance, moderation, foresight, self-command; and if it does not lead men straight to virtue by the will, it gradually draws them in that direction by their habits. If the principle of interest rightly understood were to sway the whole moral world, extraordinary virtues would doubtless be more rare; but I think that gross depravity would then also be less common. The principle of interest rightly understood perhaps prevents men from rising far above the level of mankind, but a great number of other men, who were falling far below it, are caught and restrained by it." -

"The principle of self-interest rightly understood produces no great acts of self-sacrifice, but it suggests daily small acts of self-denial. By itself it cannot suffice to make a an virtuous; but it disciplines a number of persons in habits of regularity, temperance, moderation, foresight, self-command; and, if it does not lead men straight to virtue by the will, it gradually draws them in that direction by their habits. Observe some few individuals, they are lowered by it; survey mankind, it is raised." -

"Even granting the author [Rutherford]... his main principle, ‘That every man’s own happiness is the ultimate end, which nature and reason teach him to pursue’, why may not nature and reason teach him, too, to have some desire to see others happy as well as himself, or give him some delight in doing what seems fit and right, if these things do not interfere with his own happiness?... Why may he not, with the pursuit of that end, join some other pursuits not inconsistent with it, instead of transforming every benevolent affection, every moral view, into self-interest? This surely neither does honour to religion, nor justice to human nature." - Catharine Trotter Cockburn

"Self-interest makes few fortunes." -

"To say that people have a moral sense is not the same thing as saying that they are innately good. A moral sense must compete with other senses that are natural to humans - the desire to survive, acquire possessions, indulge in sex, or accumulate power - in short, with self-interest narrowly defined. How that struggle is resolved will differ depending on our character, our circumstances, and the cultural and political tendencies of the day. But saying that a moral sense exists is the same thing as saying that humans, by their nature, are potentially good." - James Q. Wilson

"As far as the stars are from the earth, and as different as fire is from water, so much do self-interest and integrity differ." - Lucan, full name Marcus Annaeus Lucanus NULL

"It is clear that property in itself owes allegiance to no particular form of government, and is bound by no dynastic or legal ties. Its politics may be summed up in a single word: exploitation, or even anarchy. It is the most formidable enemy and most treacherous ally of any form of power. In short, in its relation to the State it is governed by only one principle, one sentiment, one concern: self-interest, or egoism... That is why all governments, all utopias, and all Churches distrust property... We can conclude that property is the greatest existing revolutionary force, with an unequaled capacity for setting itself against authority." - Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

"Ultimately our moral sense or conscience becomes a highly complex sentiment – originating in the social instinct, largely guided by the approbation of our fellow men, ruled by reason, self-interest, and in alter times by deep religious feelings, and confirmed by instruction and habit." - Charles Darwin, fully Charles Robert Darwin

"The principle of competition appears to be nothing more than a partially conventionalized embodiment of primeval selfishness... the supremacy of the motive of self-interest... The Christian conscience can be satisfied with nothing less than the complete substitution of motives of mutual helpfulness and goodwill for the motive of private gain." - Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America NULL

"Let each one remember that he will make progress in all spiritual things only insofar as he rids himself of self-love, self-will and self-interest." - Ignatius Loyola, aka Saint Ignatius of Loyola

"Loyalty is in most people only a ruse used by self-interest to attract confidences." -

"It always seemed strange to me that the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first, they love the produce of the second." -

"Many Americans draw the boundaries of their self-interest very narrowly. Our culture's emphasis on individualism and competition reinforces an attitude of isolation and impotence toward global problems." - Betsy Taylor

"American environmental ills at home (smog, deforestation, the loss of wetlands), as well as the degradation of vast areas of the developing world remind us that protecting the environment is the ultimate enlightened self-interest." - Bill Bradley, fully William Warren "Bill" Bradley

"A significant life - one that is more than just happy or meaningful - requires dedication to ends that we choose because they exceed the goal of personal well-being. We attain and feel our significance in the world when we create, and act for, ideals that may originate in self-interest, but ultimately benefit others." - Irving Singer

"Man - every man - is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others. He must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing other to himself; he must work for his rational self-interest, with achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life." - Ayn Rand, born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum

"All men are idolaters, some of fame, others of self-interest, most of pleasure." - Baltasar Gracián

"The worst poison of an honest heart, self-interest." - Tacitus, fully Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus NULL

"The name of virtue serves self-interest just as usefully as vices... Self-interest, though made responsible for all our crimes, often deserves the credit of our good actions." - François de La Rochefoucauld, François VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Prince de Marcillac, Francois A. F. Rochefoucauld-Liancourt

"Though indolence and timidity keep us to the path of duty, virtue often gets all the credit... Virtues lose themselves in self-interest, as rivers lose themselves in the sea." - François de La Rochefoucauld, François VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Prince de Marcillac, Francois A. F. Rochefoucauld-Liancourt

"An enlightened self-interest, which, when well understood, they tell us will identify with an interest more enlarged and public." - Edmund Burke

"Human service is the highest form of self-interest for the person who serves." - Elbert Green Hubbard

"We probably have a greater love for those we support than those who support us. Our vanity carries more weight than our self-interest... There is sublime thieving in all giving. Someone gives us all he has and we are his." - Eric Hoffer

"The working of great institutions is mainly the result of... routine, petty malice, self-interest, carelessness, and sheer mistakes. Only a small fraction is thought." - George Santayana

"Our convictions on important matters are not the result of knowledge or critical thought, nor, it may be added, are they often dictated by supposed self-interest. Most of them are pure prejudices in the proper sense of that word. We do not form them ourselves. They are the whisperings of “the voice of the herd.”" - James Harvey Robinson

"The willingness to harm or hurt comes ultimately out of fear. Non-harming requires that you see your own fears and that you understand them and own them. Owning them means taking responsibility for them. Taking responsibility means not letting fear completely dictate your vision or your view. Only mindfulness completely dictate your vision or your view. Only mindfulness of our own clinging and rejecting, and a willingness to grapple with these mind states, however painful the encounter, can free us from this circle of suffering. Without a daily embodiment in practice, lofty ideals tend to succumb to self-interest." - Jon Kabat-Zinn

"The greatest event in natural history was the birth of conscience in the human mind. That was the moment when man put aside his strongest natural instinct, which was self-interest." - Pierre Lecomte du Noüy

"Truth has many shells. Each is the truth, but each represents a different aspect, depending on the bias, self-interest, or other psychological coloration which remains on the surface. As one after another shell is removed, the picture of truth changes. Only if one can reach the core, hidden beneath the protective covering, does one feel he knows the bare truth." - Louis Nizer

"The real test of our ethics is whether we are willing to do the right thing even when it is not in our self-interest." - Michael S. Josephson

"If your imagination leads you to understand how quickly people grant your requests when those requests appeal to their self-interest, you can have practically anything you go after." - Napoleon Hill

"Happiness lies in making others happy, in forsaking self-interest to bring joy to others... To live for self is the source of all misery." - Paramahansa Yogananda, born Mukunda Lal Ghosh

"The enduring value of the relationship to the land might be best measured by the extent to which it evolves beyond self-interest. All healthy relationships entail sacrifice and are never solely about what makes one person feel good, but are about what’s also good for someone else. Relationship implies a responsibility that goes beyond one’s own dreams." - Peter Forbes

"The enduring value of the relationship to the land might best be measured by the extent to which it evolves beyond self-interest. All healthy relationships entail sacrifice and are never solely about what makes one person feel good, but are about what's also good for someone else. Relationship implies a responsibility that goes beyond one's own dreams." - Peter Forbes

"To self-interest even wisdom yields. [Even wisdom has to yield to self-interest.]" - Pindar NULL

"Persuasion deals in the coin of self-interest." - Richard Neustadt, fully Richard Elliott Neustadt

"What are these virtues of spirit? They are faith, which shows us truths entirely elevated above the senses; hope, which makes us aspire to things invisible; charity, which makes us love not of sense, not of nature, not of self-interest, but with a love pure, solid and unchangeable, having its foundation in God." - Saint Francis de Sales NULL

"The principle of self-interest rightly understood produces no great acts of self-sacrificed, but it suggest daily small acts of self-denial. By itself it cannot suffice to make a man virtuous; but it disciplines a number of person sin habits of regularity, temperance, moderation, foresight, self-command; and if it does not lead men straight to virtue by the will, it gradually draws them in that direction by their habits. If the principle of interest rightly understood were to sway the whole moral world, extraordinary virtues would doubtless be more rare; but I think that gross depravity would then also be less common. The principle of interest rightly understood perhaps prevents men from rising far above the level of mankind, but a great number of other men, who were falling far below it, are caught and restrained by it." - Alexis de Tocqueville, fully Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville

"Prejudice and passion and suspicion are more dangerous than the incitement of self-interest or the most stubborn adherence to real differences of opinion regarding rights. " - Elihu Root

"The dynamo of our economic system is self-interest which may range from mere petty greed to admirable types of self-expression." - Felix Frankfurter

"Friendship without self-interest is one of the rare and beautiful things of life." - James Francis Byrne