Let's say that an intelligent life form develops on another world. This species is somewhat similar to us, differing only in that it doesn't have a sense of greed like us (it's not part of their nature).

In fact, they find it hard to believe that something like greed even exists, because it's not part of their world.

So my quiestion is, if their species didn't have a sense of greed, would their civilization remain primitive as they don't desire anything better, or would they find other motives in order to advance their technology and civilization?

If the answer is the second one, what could be the motives of their advancement?

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Why do you think greed leads to improvements in anything? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Aug 5, 2018 at 17:05
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Your interpretation of greed is strange to say the least... Why do you believe that beings who aren't greedy wouldn't desire anything better? Is a starving person greedy for wanting food to eat? Of course not. Are medical researchers being greedy when they want to invent cures to heal sick people? No, obviously not. There is ample room for a species to develop without having the faintest trace of greed within them. $\endgroup$
    – AngelPray
    Commented Aug 5, 2018 at 17:15
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think the majority of those drawn to e.g. science, engineering, medicine, policing, teaching and so on as well as most ordinary folk (like my late parents) are not greedy. We all seem to manage pretty well. I'd have said that greed was the problem that gets in the way of achievements in other fields, not the solution. Find me a problem in the world and I'll find someone greedy behind it is my view. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 5, 2018 at 17:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Do you differentiate between greed and intelligent self interest? I see greed as self interest taken to a pathological level. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Aug 5, 2018 at 19:20
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Could an alien species become a space faring civilization if it didn't have a sense of greed? $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 16:55

4 Answers 4


They could advance due to many factors other than greed. Greater efficiency, greater life expectancy, greater productivity, better quality of life. None of these things require greed.

Technology will advance because of curiosity, because of the desire to explore, to improve, and to discover. Greed is one possible motivation for innovation, not the only one.

If your civilization is growing, you require more food and more space. Both of these things require technological advancements to host the growing population. Construction technology, farming technology, production and manufacturing technology, advancements in husbandry, and defensive technology are several fields that would advance simply because a society is growing and needs to be able to support itself.


Your aliens are more communally minded than humans.

Motivation and world view among human cultures involve a balance between the needs and desires of the self (and family), and the needs and pressures of the community as a whole. One hears about traditional asian cultures as more of the later, where the individual considers herself second and the community as a whole first. White Americans stereotypically consider the needs of the individual first and the needs of the community second. It is a spectrum.

Your aliens are all the way out on the community side of this, to the point where compared to the aliens, traditional Koreans look like Texas ranchers. The alien collective is closer to a hive or a social insect than any human society. As Star Trek Vulcans lack emotions (or have completely repressed them) so these aliens lack a sense of self. Individuals readily sacrifice themselves for the greater good - for them the concept of "self" is even a tricky one, useful for locating an individual's body in place and time, but not particularly for the needs and drives of the individual which are completely subsumed by the needs of their group.

"Greed" necessitates a strong sense of self, and desire by the individual to exclusively own the belongings of other individuals, or exclusively own more belongings than competitor individuals. In this society, other individuals are not competitors. The aliens would understand greed, having seen animals greedy for food. It is not something they experience themselves.

If otherwise like humans, these aliens could be formidable competitors to humans. Our human competitive sense trips us up when operating as a group. These aliens will not be tripped up in that way,


War has been a large part of our story of technological advancement, our wars have always been about resource availability. Not traditionally because of greed but due to the inability to access the necessaries of survival locally, that will be a fairly constant theme in the development of civilisation on planets with scarce resources.

  • $\begingroup$ Resources is only one of the major drivers of wars. Certainly wars have been a powerful accelerant for technological development in the last century or so. But technology had reached a tipping point where it was a major factor in war. Thus leading to a feedback loop where more war led to more technological development & innovation. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 4:42
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android Resource scarcity is the only reason anyone has ever fought a war, there have been a lot of window dressing ideological reasons tact on to various conflicts, most of them religious, but there's always a resource shortfall underneath them. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 10:24
  • $\begingroup$ The three drivers of war are considered to be resources, power & ideology. It's rarely as pure as that, with a cocktail of the three as the trigger(s). Less scarcity of resources but more control of resources. Japan in WWII comes closest to waging war because of resource scarcity. Most wars are triggered by protecting existing resources or expansion to acquire more control of resources. PS: It may be tactless to point out, it's "tacked on" not "tact on". A,azing how our fingers run off when our brain bust doing important stuff. Been there myself, done that too many times to count $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android Oops, I should have spotted that, serves me right for posting without double checking. Control of resources, or rather wanting to control resources is about scarcity of resources too, just not necessarily today's resources. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 13:36

As other people have pointed out, intelligent self interest isn't the same thing as greed, and is still a powerful motivator for advancement. You do something because you're life will be noticeably better for the effort.

Other alternate motivations for advancing technology/science:

  • Fear; fear of predators, natural disasters, fear of death and disease. All of these have been powerful motivators to develop new and better technology
  • Annoyance; You ever just been really annoyed that you couldn't just "do the thing?" It seems really simple, but you current method of doing it is long and complicated, so you sit down one day and develop this better method for accomplishing the goal. You just want to make your own life simpler.
  • Boredom - another good motivation - plain old curiosity and boredom. This one gets more powerful as society moves away from agriculture and subsistence level farming and you get more free time.
  • Community/Altruism - motivated by the suffering of others to try and develop a solution

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .