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Self-interest generally refers to a focus on the needs or desires (interests) of one's self. Most times, actions that display self-interest are often performed without conscious knowing. A number of philosophical, psychological, and economic theories examine the role of self-interest in motivating human action.
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.
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.
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In business, self interest focuses 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 is necessary. When there is too much focus on self-interest, the benefits of the group at large diminishes.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
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