Selfish or Self-centered

It took me by surprise to learn on C. S. Lewis’ autobiographic work that he distinguishes very clearly between a selfish and a self-centered action. He makes sure to emphasize the difference even though the dictionary explains both in a very similar way (both leading to some level of egoism).

A selfish person is one seeking or concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being. Being selfish is quite natural and normally expected from most people. Lewis tells he would gladly live a selfish life himself if he could for example. By selfish he means he would concentrate solely on his readings and walkings sparing some time for sleeping and eating. This is a selfish way of living: he would be focusing on his own pleasure - constantly.

Self-centered people are slightly different. A self-centered person will see himself as the focal point (the center) of everything around. Even one’s own altruism will eventually migrate onto self-pity or some priggish behavior. Self-centered people are easy to find. They tend to talk mainly about their lives and anything else matters very little. Lewis gives his father as an example. Senior Lewis would listen to his sons’ accounts and reach his own personal conclusions no matter what reality was. His own conclusions were central and more important than reality.

A person can be both (selfish and self-centered) or only one of them. Lewis briefly hypothesizes that self-centered people are intolerable while selfish ones are nice companions.

This whole distinction is not unimportant.

My question is: are there altruistic AND non-self-centered people somewhere? Can these two characteristics be combined? Where can I find it?

Tiago Luchini · 11 Mar 2008