It is not easy to distinguish between self-interest (virtue) and selfishness (vice). In Adam Smith's philosophy self-interest is a virtue that underpins industry, self-reliance, and individual responsibility. It would be difficult to support and defend yourself, your family, and your friends, if you didn't care about your own interests including the welfare of those you love. Selfishness is a different matter, because it implies being ok with the suffering of others who are not connected to you, and caring nothing for the welfare of those not in your own intimate circle.
The desire to avoid selfishness therefore leads to a situation where the value of self-interest is overlooked. Yet the idea of self-interest explains why we get up each morning and go forth into the world to try and be of some use to others. Everybody has heard the one about Adam Smith and the baker who bakes bread not from a desire to feed the hungry but from his own self-interest, given that baking is what he likes to do and that's how he earns his living. He is actually in the bread business to make money from it, not from an other-regarding desire to ensure that we all have nice bread to eat.
These days, nobody will announce that they are acting out of self-interest because it sounds almost like admitting to being selfish.
But the 'selfishness' of the baker is not the type of selfishness that causes a moped rider to stab passers by in the back so they can steal their iPhones. It is more the type of selfishness that causes you to work hard so you can improve your own material conditions.
It's not clear that 'selfish' is really the right word for this virtue, since we tend to think of selfishness purely as a vice, and it has become a very nuanced word because of its connectedness to the words 'me' and 'mine'. These are the words that denote a selfish person (a 'me me me' person) but they are also the words that are a prerequisite for thinking about your own goals and how to achieve them, which is surely your highest calling.
This nuance lies behind the Parable of the Selfish Baker:
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