In the sense that altruism is defined as unselfish giving, as giving without self-benefit or reward, you could say that selfishness excludes altruism.
However, it has been pointed out that altruism is often undertaken with a desire for various kinds of self-reward: some “moral reward” for being good. Karma, heaven. This is not a motive for all, but what about the social reward? The benefit to us of others seeing us as good! Surely only the most secretive and clandestine of givers can avoid this. People know us in how we give ourselves, and people perceived as giving and unselfish are known by others these ways. They are seen as good. To pretend they do not receive the benefit of this is spurious.
The clincher, though, is this: it feels good to be good, to do well. It feels rewarding. This is selfish reward – how not? It is the reward of good being, good doing. The reward of making and shaping better self.
Unless there is an altruist out there who claims good they do does not feel good, it would seem altruism is excluded entirely.
- So what?
So what, though? All it really proves is that the person who feels good by doing or being good has something in them that wants and rewards goodness. Some essential good nature, or personal good inclination.
What is proved in this examination is not that altruism is bad because it is selfish. It is that selfishness is essentially good. Seeking own good is good, because seeking well is good.
Selfishness is only ever bad when we seek our own good at the expense of others’ good, and we A) do not care about their risk, harm or loss caused by us. This is callousness. Or we B) actively enjoy being the cause of others’ harm or loss. This is cruelty.
Selfishness is good when we seek our own good harming no one. Selfishness is good when we seek our own good in others, in mutual good – not only because it benefits us both, but because we have discovered that the greatest part of our own good is others’ good. Selfishness is good when we seek our own good in the greater good of humanity, abstract or individual. All of this is our own good, because to be the best being we can be is our own good. Who else’s? Well, as many as we can reach and touch. As much as we can give.
- Bring it on home.
Circling back to altruism, we can say altruism does exist. Because the kind of selfishness described just above is not really what people call selfishness. Even though it is selfish. Even though it is most definitely, deeply and highly involved in benefit to the self. But people only tend to call it “selfishness” when it is pursued at the expense of others.
Which is just what altruism doesn’t do; seeks never to do. So it fits. There is and can be unselfish giving – in the common parlance use of what “selfishness” means.
The real essential core of what selfishness is: a seeking of own well, is no opposite of altruism. It is in fact its driving engine.
Callousness and cruelty, though: the abuse and misuse of selfishness. These could be described as antithetical to altruism. Not really opposite. Just opposed.