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Can Love Be Selfish?

September 22, 2017 by Armin A. Zadeh

Is it possible to see the act of loving as selfish? Those who reject the idea of selfless love like to point out that there are obvious rewards for being loving. Some even claim that a person only loves in order to be loved in return. The constellation of motives for loving is indeed interesting. Devoting ourselves to love with the intent of advancing our own happiness is arguably self-serving. However, as soon as we engage in loving — in its true sense, which does not seek reciprocity — we are behaving selflessly.


On the other hand, if we don’t behave selflessly, we are not truly loving. Therefore, while our initial intention to love may be motivated by the pursuit of our own happiness, the act of loving, by definition, has to be a selfless act. It is a perfect Catch-22—albeit in a positive sense. Even if people initially engage in loving to gain an advantage for themselves, e.g., to be loved in return, they benefit only if they act in a truly loving, i.e., selfless, manner (and then — ironically — pay no attention to the rewards). Thus the argument of “psychological egoism” is insufficient to explain or describe ideal love.

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