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I'm looking for a word that can describe a person who does nice things for other people (e.g holding the door open, carrying someone's things) but only for self gain; this person only does nice things to make themselves look good in the eyes of others, but doesn't actually care about the well-being of the people they're helping.

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Hi! Welcome to EL&U SE. Please see the single-word-requests tag info to know more about asking SWR questions. To ensure your question is not closed as off-topic, please be specific about the intended use of the word. YOU MUST INCLUDE A SAMPLE SENTENCE DEMONSTRATING HOW THE WORD WOULD BE USED. Is there an example sentence you could add to the question?* – BiscuitBoy Feb 15 at 7:06
    
Would the person be aware of their behavior? – rath Feb 15 at 9:41
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That person can be called a human; depending on which philosophical stance you take in your life. – MonkeyZeus Feb 15 at 13:38
    
Philanthropist? – AJFaraday Feb 15 at 15:47
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@Ejaz, Not heard of "Psychological egoism"? "Psychological egoism is the view that humans are always motivated by self-interest, even in what seem to be acts of altruism. It claims that, when people choose to help others, they do so ultimately because of the personal benefits that they themselves expect to obtain, directly or indirectly, from doing so." ...... – Pacerier Feb 16 at 11:33

13 Answers 13

up vote 9 down vote accepted

If you had said two words I would have then suggested 'smug samaritan' which would have been rather close to your need. But if that is a mouthful, then what about sanctimonious or self-congratulatory.

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I think sanctimonious fits best, but doesn't automatically imply Samaritan type behavior. – zenbike Feb 15 at 13:06
    
sanctimonious was a good one, thank you – potluck Feb 15 at 23:40

This might be difficult to pin down, but this might be close: Self-satisfying

Reference.com has it as:

Self-satisfying

adjective

  1. effecting satisfaction to oneself.
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That sounds different from what OP has described, i.e., a person who only wants to look good to others, no talk of self/conscience satisfaction. Actually it could be that he doesn't feel good at all doing those deeds but he wants to have a false social image nevertheless. – Ejaz Feb 16 at 4:07
  • disingenuous

oxforddictionaries - disingenuous : Not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does

ie. they are being disingenuous by feigning their concern for others

It might be a bit broad in its precision here but is not incorrect.

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I'd lean toward one of the senses of false:

  1. not genuine; counterfeit.

or fake:

  1. designed to deceive or cheat; not real; counterfeit.

I'd use it to modify another adjective if I were given two words:

  • falsely accommodating
  • falsely chivalrous
  • fakely polite

Either can also be used on its own as well:

  • She is false (but may be archaic, see below)
  • She is so false (seems more modern somehow)
  • He is fake / He is so fake
  • He is a fake

...but it doesn't say what about the person is false/fake. Using false in that sense may also be somewhat archaic; the phrase "false person" seems to have peaked in about 1823 and to my ear "She/he is false" sounds quite Austin-like. :-)

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A similar option would be phony, though like false it's a dated term (though only by a few decades) – Adam Martin Feb 15 at 14:13

Consider, image-conscious

Concerned about the general impression that one presents to other people. ODO

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Hi, Elian, I fixed one typo and please take a look. – Rathony Feb 15 at 9:57
    
@Rathony Hi, Rathony. Thanks for the correction. :-) – Elian Feb 15 at 20:37

Self-aggrandising, perhaps (to increase one's power, status, or wealth (OED))

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I would rather use hypocrite for such a person as they are actually different privately than they struggle to convince people they are.

Hypocrite: a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements. - Source:http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hypocrite

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Consider selfishly beneficent

Beneficent
* (of a person) generous or doing good.

and

Selfish
* (of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for other people;
* concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure.

Depending on the level of selfishness or consciousness towards their behavior, you might swap selfish with non-altruistic:

Altruistic
* Showing a disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others; unselfish.

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I immediately thought of pretentious.

  1. Claiming that or behaving as if one is important or deserving of merit when such is not the case: a pretentious socialite.
  2. Showing or betraying an attitude of superiority: made pretentious remarks about his education.
  3. Marked by an extravagant or presumptuous outward show; ostentatious: a pretentious house.
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None of the points apply to the behavior described by the OP. The behavior discussed has nothing to do with deserving merit or superiority or (much less) pretentiousness; what is described is someone beneficent without being altruistic. – rath Feb 15 at 9:46

Opportunist - Opportunists are people who see a chance to gain some advantage from a situation, often at the expense of ethics or morals. An opportunist seizes every opportunity to improve things for himself.

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"Patronage"

"Patron"

It is a word(s) with a somewhat different meaning these days but historically a patron was someone wealthy who supported the arts or artists. It is something that has generally come to mean altruistic in todays usage but altruism is a separate thing from patronage which would have been seen as a symbol of power, wealth and even apparent kindness.

Where an altruist would provide food to the poor, a patron would commission a famous artist to paint a pretty picture for their feasting hall. While it doesnt specifically refer to the callousness of the "altruistic" act, patronage is used to refer to kindness that is very visible and that returns some sort of boon for its patron.

In just a single word it is difficult to find a precise match, I single out "patronage" simply because it encompasses all of the ideals of being outwardly generous while really it returned plenty of quid pro quo and was often used in the fashion which you describe.

It does not however cover the description of the underlying motivation of doing something good to only look good.

"Pretentious"

This comes close but that is more about embellishing the truth.

"Pander"

"Pander" is also close but it means to do these things to please others rather than solely to effect peoples opinions of the person, though that is a grey area.

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Assuming your audience is familiar with the Judeo-Christian ethic, the word "Pharisee" would convey the idea you're driving at.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woes_of_the_Pharisees

Jesus portrays the Pharisees as impatient with outward, ritual observance of minutiae which made them look acceptable and virtuous outwardly but left the inner person unreformed.

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You can use the word genteel in this context. It primarily describes gentlemanly/lady-like behavior but with the connotation of being a facade.

: pretending or trying to have the qualities and manners of people who have high social status
Merriam-Webster

I often associate genteel with southern hospitality, which is sometimes criticized as being largely superficial (although I personally give individuals the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise).

Southern hospitality has been examined by sociologists and other social scientists, sometimes characterizing the practices as designed to cover deficiencies in southern culture, such as slavery, discrimination, and widespread poverty.
Wikipedia

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