The Ethics and Self-Interest Paradox

Ethics and Self-Interest ParadoxBy Linda Fisher Thornton

There was a lively discussion on LinkedIn in response to my post “Ethics Means Acting Beyond Self-Interest.” Readers joined in the discussion and came up with a number of very interesting observations.

The Discussion

The observations taken together form a paradox. Here are some discussion highlights:

  1. “Beyond self-interest” has personal and interpersonal aspects
  2. We must let go of the idea that we already “know” in order to be open to learning what we don’t yet know
  3. We need to balance the interests of self, other and the larger environment since they are connected
  4. When fear is involved, decisions can be short-sighted, self-serving and reactive
  5. Some people refer to “beyond self-interest” as the “social contract”
  6. You don’t need to talk about “beyond self-interest” in ethics if you believe that what is good for others helps you too. In that case, you will do what is ethically right, and it will be mutually beneficial
  7. Self-interest must contain the interests of others (and vice versa)
  8. Ethics includes acting with human dignity and that always includes acting beyond self-interest
  9. At the highest level, ethics embraces self-interest as well as the interests of many other constituents
  10. A better term than “beyond self-interest” would be “enlightened self-interest” to indicate a higher level of ethical awareness that meets the needs of self and many other constituents

The Paradox

This discussion revealed that the post’s title “Ethics Means Acting Beyond Self-Interest” is true if you are thinking of ethics, yourself and your interests in isolation.

If you broaden your view enough, and use a higher level understanding of ethics, the same statement is false when you interpret ethics as being inherently mutually beneficial to self and others.

As often happens, those who commented took the conversation well beyond the scope of the article. Many thanks to all who joined the conversation!


For more, see new book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 



  1. If at times I am perceived as condescendingly judgmental, sarcastic and argumentative that is precisely my intention and in doing so provoke discussion when discourse is lost in censorship and the imbecilic notion of political correctness, I think an American innovation.


  2. All argument, all ethical thought must begin with self, self being the only true knowledge which argument may prove wrong or right, true or false in communal understanding and application or willingness at seeing external conflicting viewpoint in order to reach functional application of ethical standards applicable to societies standards of ‘one for all and all for one’ in the best knowledge that all are accountable under agreed-upon laws of universal agreement regardless of creed, Race and monetary equivalence.


Join the Conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: