Selfish means someone who doesn't care about others' needs.

Unselfish means the one who is willing to put others' wishes before her own.

These two adjectives are radically opposite. What adjective does describe the one who prefers her own desires, but she does not completely ignore others'?

Background: In a multi-agent system, if an agent only cares about reaching its own target, it is called selfish. Instead, if it prioritizes the reachability of its neighbors and completely ignores its own, it is called unselfish. Now, I need to define an agent which still prioritizes itself, but also careful about its neighbors' reachability. So, it cannot be completely "balanced" or "objective" as it is still inclined to itself a bit.

  • 1
    Balanced, objective, thoughtful, measured, logical, utilitarian, fair? What exactly are you looking for? It could be any number of words. Please provide an example sentence with a space for the word you want—and explain the meaning you want to get out of it more. Sep 24, 2019 at 0:43
  • @JasonBassford: Please check the background section I added to the question.
    – Pinton
    Sep 24, 2019 at 10:23

3 Answers 3


People can be categorized by countless criteria: age, sex, height, hair color, intelligence, (un)selfishness, friendliness etc.

From the point of view of (un)selfishness, the people can be either selfish, or unselfish. There are no gradual in-betweens.

The only amendment to this is that people can be (un)selfish depending on context, so the following can be used as a surrogate of "grading":

  • occasionally (un)selfish;
  • terribly selfish;
  • usually (un)selfish;

and others following this spirit.

The key to understanding is already written in your definitions:

who is willing to put

This translates to:

  • if it is the case / needed, the person will help others;
  • the person will not help others when it is not needed. Example: The person will not help an old lady cross the street, when the lady does not want to cross the street.
  • Can you please have a look at the background which I added to the question?
    – Pinton
    Sep 24, 2019 at 10:24
  • Even with the background, the answer stands. If the agent helps others in his own detriment, then the agent is either unaware of the reality, or he is willingly sacrificing. However, it is still unselfish, but at the extreme. So a scale could be: selfish - unselfish - sacrificing.
    – virolino
    Sep 24, 2019 at 10:50

It’s a difficult question to answer, as it takes words/ideas that can be highly subjective and somewhat philosophical, and applies them to what sounds like some kind of logical/linear/technical context.

The best I can do in your given context would be:


To be charitable, one usually first accumulates via healthy self-interest, and then chooses to give some of what they have obtained to others.

In a somewhat abstract sense, I think this could be applied to the system you describe.

You might also consider synonyms such as “generous”.


I like both Chris Mack’s and Virolino’s answers.

I would like to propose another point of view. The state of being you describe needs no adjective or descriptor. If a person is neither selfish nor unselfish, they are simply a person. You must find another quality with which to describe them.

One possible term is “team-player”. But that can only be used in the context of a team. Although, being part of the team means that you are being both selfish and unselfish. Because, when the team wins, they win (there is no “I” in team).

Another form of this is a “Win-Win Mentality”. This means that, in the grand scheme of things, we both must win if either of us is to truly win (or not lose). This implies a symbiotic relationship.

Another possible term is “conscientiously.

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