• George D. Snell


In his classic, Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote “The Americans … are fond of explaining almost all the actions of their lives by the principle of self-interest rightly understood” (2). De Tocqueville was speaking of the early 1830s, approximately 150 years ago. At this time, according to his observations, the principle was widely accepted and often explicitly acknowledged and was seen by the Americans to whom he talked as guiding them toward unselfish and civicly oriented conduct. “American moralists,” he wrote, “do not profess that men ought to sacrifice themselves for their fellow creatures because it is noble to make such sacrifices, but they boldly aver that such sacrifices are as necessary to him who imposes them upon himself as to him for whose sake they are made.” In the same chapter he states his own judgment: “I am not afraid to say that the principle of self-interest rightly understood appears to me the best suited of all philosophical theories to the wants of the men of our time, and that I regard it as their chief remaining security against themselves. Towards it, therefore, the minds of the moralists of our age should turn; even though they judge it to be incomplete, it must nevertheless be adopted as necessary.”


Rational Ethic Moral Imperative Biological Survival Great Individual Diversity Fellow Creature 
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  1. 1.
    Dawkins, Richard. 1976. The selfish gene. Oxford U Pr, New York.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    de Tocqueville, Alexis. 1835. Democracy in America, Vol. II. (Translated from the French.) 1945 edition, Knopf, New York.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Lippmann, Walter. 1929. A preface to morals. Macmillan, New York.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Singer, Peter. 1981. The expanding circle: Ethics and sociobiology. FS & G, New York.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • George D. Snell
    • 1
  1. 1.The Jackson LaboratoryBar HarborUSA

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