Is there such thing as a "selfish need"? Often in different contexts sexual desires are referred to as "selfish needs". The word "selfish" implies a desire that is excessive and self-indulgent or opposed to the interest of others but the word "need" implies a desire which is natural and important and therefor not excessive.

Good point. But the word "need" is also used in the sense of "strong craving". And strong cravings can be selfish both in regard to what is craved and in regard to how the craving originated. For example, someone starts going to expensive designer shops and comes to need the attention and flattery of the sales people there. Similarly, gamblers may need the next thrill, drug addicts the next fix, and so on. In such cases the word "need" does not imply a desire that is natural and important.

if you have an unethical position or emotion towards a person or issue, but never act on it, is it still unethical?

Because you take a position to be something one can act on, I interpret this in the sense of "commitment" or "disposition". So suppose a person has the deliberate disposition to "fix" student grades whenever he is offered $100 or more to do so. (This might be a professor or an administrator or a person with access to the university's computer system.) Surely this is an unethical disposition, that is, a disposition that one ought not to have, and the person so disposed is typically unethical on account of this disposition even if he never engages in any unethical conduct (e.g., because he is never offered a sufficiently large amount). It's different with emotions because these cannot be simply willed away. It is problematic, then, to characterize a person as unethical on account of an emotion that she just finds herself having, without choice. Still, we do have ways of influencing our future emotions, and there are surely emotions that we ought to try to diminish or eradicate (e.g. disgust for...

Are there any philosophers that address emotional apathy? Are there any that warn against it? I know Plato, Kant, and presumably Aquinas would argue against apathetic sentiment for political and religious reasons, but I was wondering if there are any that stress the importance of emotional zest or passion?

Nietzsche and Camus come to mind. They don't exactly address emotional apathy as a philosophical problem. But they both develop philosophical positions that, in quite different ways, combine intellectual argument with emotional engagement. You might have a look at Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Camus' The Rebel .

Today I had a big fight with my sister. We were both sulking, upset and angry. I told my father that I was really hurt and he said that it is not worth being hurt when there are people right now in Israel, Lebanon, Sudan, the Congo and elsewhere who have lost their homes, family members and futures in the blink of an eye. And that if you told those people that there were two girls in New Jersey who got to go to school every day, who had a comfortable house, an intact family and never had to worry about food or money or safety, they would think it was ridiculous how sad and hurt and angry we were being. I understand my dad's point. He is saying firstly that we should be grateful for what we have and not bitter about the small things that are not going well. And secondly that we should think of our problems in perspective in terms of what the rest of humanity may suffer. But can the above idea ever really act as consolation, or should it? It seems that you can't put emotions in perspective - does the...

That something much worse exists does not make a bad thing less bad. But it may well make you feel much less bad about it. And that's what a consolation is, really: something that makes you feel less bad. In this case, this can be achieved by gaining a broader perspective: by seeing the wrong you suffered in comparison to other wrongs (and, I might add, also in comparison to all the good times you have had, and will have again, with your sister). However big and irreparable the hurt felt at the time, it's really just a blip on a larger canvas.