I remember seeing this fancy word last week that describes people who act opposite or contrary to their self-interest. I can't remember the word and it is driving me insane.

The word "akrasia" seems like it might have been it.

  • 2
    Provide more context. Adverb or adjective; positive or negative connotation?
    – user98990
    Jun 9, 2015 at 5:13
  • "Self-destructive"? "Suicidal?"
    – Oldbag
    Jun 9, 2015 at 6:40
  • kamikaze, 1) a Japanese pilot trained in World War II to make a suicidal crash attack, especially upon American ships; 2) a person or thing that behaves in a wildly reckless or destructive manner
    – user109460
    Jun 9, 2015 at 9:37
  • 1
    Akrasia, but that refers to a state of mind > The state of mind in which someone acts against their better judgement through weakness of will. oxforddictionaries.com/fr/definition/anglais/akrasia
    – Jaro
    Jun 9, 2015 at 12:18
  • "Altruistic" is a term for acting in an unselfish manner.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 10, 2015 at 1:56

4 Answers 4


Is "altruist" the word you're looking for?

  • An altruist acts in the interest of others, but that is not that same as acting contrary to one's own. Some philosophers even argue that altruism is actually serving self-interest.
    – oerkelens
    Jun 9, 2015 at 7:53
  • 2
    Hi, and thanks for taking the time to post under this question. It's great that you want to help. However, this answer doesn't really seem to be a full answer. When answering it's best, in the case of single-word-requests, to give a good explanation why the word you're suggesting is a good one. If necessary quote and reference a dictionary. Jun 9, 2015 at 9:27
  • "Altruist" would be my choice too. Certainly it would be the term Ayn Rand would suggest.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 10, 2015 at 1:31

Akrasia is, in fact, a reasonable word to describe self-defeating behavior, as it approaches a central interpretation self-interest:


[MASS NOUN] chiefly Philosophy
The state of mind in which someone acts against their better judgement through weakness of will.

Akrasia applies appropriately because our better judgment is generally more consistent with our real self-interest, but the word actually denotes a lack of moral power that inhibits our better judgment:


Early 19th century: from Greek, from a- 'without' + kratos 'power, strength'. The term is used especially with reference to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.

Aristotle discussed akrasia (translated incontinence by W. D. Ross) in Book VII of Nicomachean Ethics:

Let us now make a fresh beginning and point out that of moral states to be avoided there are three kinds-vice, incontinence, brutishness ...
while we have discussed vice before we must now discuss incontinence and softness (or effeminacy) ...
the incontinent man, knowing that what he does is bad, does it as a result of passion ...
Now we may ask (1) how a man who judges rightly can behave incontinently ...
the continent man abides by his resolutions more and the incontinent man less than most men can.
Emphasis added

As an external pattern of behavior that reveals an internal ethical ambivalence--the inability to do what one knows is better, or refrain from what one knows is worse--akrasia manifests in self-defeating and self-destructive behavior.

For example, an overwhelming cultural warning against the destructive nature of smoking cigarettes has prevailed with explicit scientific evidence and implicit emotional manipulation for an entire generation. If we find a child or even a teen smoking cigarettes, we recognize the ignorance at the root of their choice. Against our better judgment, we adults may legitimately enjoy the fleeting pleasures of our established habit with no remorse, but for most of us, it remains an akratic addiction: every puff immediately reduces the physiological capacity of our hearts and lungs, consequentially inhibits the strength of our minds and bodies, and ultimately diminishes our life expectancy, but we haven't the power to stop.


I have read literature on "self-sabotage" or "self-saboteurs", for people who sabotage their own efforts or ruin their own chances. There is another word-"imposter"-whch is used in organizational or psych literature to mean someone who does not feel like they really belong in their position, as if they didn't deserve or earn it.

  • welcome to ELU @jlrose , nice answer, if you could provide some reference,quote or source it would be even better.
    – P. O.
    Jun 9, 2015 at 12:41

The single word may be 'self-abnegation' which means denial or invalidation of one's own needs, interest etc. in the sake of another's; the setting aside of self interest.

'Akrasia' suggested in the question actully means lack of self control or intemperance.

  • Self-abnegation seems to be the closest to an opposite :)
    – James P.
    Dec 4, 2016 at 0:58

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