Traditional morality typically presents the individual with two false alternatives in regards to one’s relationship with other human beings: sacrificing others to benefit oneself (what is falsely called egoism) or sacrificing oneself to benefit others (altruism). In her novels, philosopher Ayn Rand refers to this choice as “the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on mankind.”
In regards to one’s relationship with others, rational self-interest is opposed to sacrificing one’s interests for others(what philosopher Auguste Comte coined as altruism or “otherism”, where “altru” is the prefix for “other”). Rational self-interest holds that it is immoral to sacrifice a higher value (such as one’s self, beloved wife, or friends) for a lessor or non-value (an enemy or stranger). In cases where helping a stranger does not sacrifice one’s values, rational egoism does not prohibit such behavior, but sees it as an act of generosity and good-will (and not as a “duty”).
Quoting philosopher Ayn Rand on the nature of altruism (altru meaning other), in her essay “Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World,” published in Philosophy: Who Needs It:
“The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value. “Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good. “Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: ‘No.’ Altruism says: ‘Yes.’ “
Neither does, rational self-interest mean sacrificing others for oneself (what is smeared as “selfishness”), such as when a thief attempts to get something for nothing by robbing a bank, or a con man attempts to commit fraud either in business or in one’s relationships. Rational self-interest holds that such irrational, dependent behavior is not in one’s self-interest but is, inprinciple, self-destructive.
According to rational egoism, there is a third way, known as the trader principle.