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Altruism

ALTRUISM.

The term altruism was coined by the French philosopher and sociologist Auguste Comte (17981857). Derived from the Italian word altrui, meaning "to others" or "of others," "altruism" was introduced as an antonym for "egoism" to refer to the totality of other-regarding instincts in humans. The new terms altruism, altruist, and altruistic provided nineteenth-century thinkers with a controversial new conceptual framework within which to discuss ancient philosophical, religious, and ethical questions. In the earlier idiom of Enlightenment moralism, these had been expressed as questions about the relationship between particular self-serving passions and benevolent moral sentiments or between the principle of self-love and the authority of the conscience. It was in this earlier idiom that writers such as Thomas Hobbes and Bernard Mandeville expressed their view that all human action was ultimately driven by self-interest and that their critics, including Francis Hutcheson and Joseph Butler, expressed the contrary view that benevolence was as fundamental a principle of human action as self-interest. The conceptual history of "altruism" proper began in the 1850s and has generated its own particular set of scientific, religious, and philosophical questions.

"Altruism" and "altruistic" have been used to refer to at least three different sorts of things: intentions, actions, and ideologies. These three sorts of usage can be grouped under the headings of "psychological altruism," "behavioral altruism," and "ethical altruism." Psychological altruism is any set of inclinations or intentional motivation to help others for their own sakes. Behavioral altruism is defined in terms of consequences rather than intentions: it refers to any action that benefits others (normally with the additional condition that there is some cost to the agent). "Evolutionary altruism" or "biological altruism" is a form of behavioral altruism, since it is defined solely in terms of consequences rather than intentions: it refers to any behavior that reduces the fitness of the organism performing it and increases the fitness of another organism (see Dawkins; Sober and Wilson). Finally, ethical altruism is an ideology stating that the happiness of others should be the principal goal of one's actions. (Ethical egoism, by contrast, states that what the individual should seek above all else is his or her own happiness.)

A frequent cause of confusion has been equivocation between the first two of these three possible meaningsbetween claims about psychology and claims about behavior. The claim that there is no such thing as true altruism, for example, might be intended to convey the view that, psychologically, no one's motives are ever entirely forgetful of self, since we know that we will receive approval and pleasure as a result of our charitable actions. The reply might be that true altruism certainly exists because many people engage in charitable activities at a cost to themselves, but by shifting from the psychological to the behavioral perspective on altruism, this reply fails to rebut the initial claim. Such conceptual confusion and disagreement over the meaning of altruism marked discussions of it from the outset and persist to this day. (Blum provides one useful and concise discussion of some of the definitional and conceptual issues.)

Discussions of altruism also have revolved around fundamental empirical, ethical, and political questions. What are the real roots of human altruism? Are they biological, psychological, social, or cultural? Is altruism really the highest moral good? Are we morally obliged to extend our altruism to strangers just as much as to family and friends? Should we even behave altruistically toward nonhuman animals? In what ways can societies be arranged in order to maximize the amount of altruism? Are the best societies, in any case, really those in which altruism is maximized?

Comte and Sociology

The term altruism was coined, in French (altruisme), by Auguste Comte (17981857) in the first volume of his Système de politique positive (18511854; System of positive polity). The first uses in English followed in the 1850s and 1860s in works by British thinkers sympathetic to Comte, including George Eliot, G. H. Lewes, and John Stuart Mill (see Dixon, 2005). In the Comtean system, "altruism" stood for the totality of other-regarding sentiments. The new cerebral science of phrenology, Comte said, proved that altruistic sentiments were innate. He heralded this as one of the most important discoveries of modern science and contrasted it with what he presented as the Christian view, namely that human beings are, by nature, entirely selfish (because of the taint of original sin). Comte's hope was that through the institution of a new humanistic religion based on a scientific understanding of human nature and society, civilized nations would develop to a stage where altruistic sentiments prevailed over egoistic ones. Working out how to bring such a society about, Comte taught, was the greatest problem facing humanity. In his view, one of the keys to increased altruism was a recognition of the fact that women, because of their maternal instincts, were more altruistic than men. They therefore should have supreme moral and religious authority (although only within the domestic sphere). Thus the Religion of Humanity, as he called it, encouraged a particular emphasis on feminine moral virtues and the great sanctity of motherhood (see Wright).

Another important Comtean coinage with which altruism was initially closely associated was "sociology"the new science of society. Two of the most significant nineteenth-century theoretical treatments of altruism, other than Comte's own, were also produced by pioneering sociologists, namely Herbert Spencer (18201903) and Émile Durkheim (18581917). Durkheim, who drew on the sociological theories of both Comte and Spencer while making much greater and more sophisticated use of empirical data than either of them, made a distinction between egoistic, altruistic, and anomic types of suicide in his 1897 study of the subject. Egoistic suicide was most widespread in developed, Western nations (especially strongly Protestant ones), Durkheim said, as a result of the highly developed sense of individual autonomy such nations encouraged. Altruistic suicide, on the other hand, was particularly prevalent among primitive peoples, who had an excessive sense of social integration. The main sorts of altruistic suicide with which Durkheim was concerned were the suicides of men on the threshold of old age or stricken with sickness, suicides of women on their husbands' deaths, and the suicides of followers or servants on the death of their chief (Durkheim, book 2, chapter 4).

Darwin, Spencer, and Evolution

Charles Darwin did not use the term "altruism," preferring to use older terms with which he was familiar from his reading of moral philosophy in the 1830s and 1840s, such as "benevolence," "sympathy," and "moral sense" (see Darwin; Richards). In his Descent of Man (1871), Darwin famously developed a group-selection explanation for the apparent self-sacrificing behavior of neuter insects. According to this view, communities of insects that happen to contain self-sacrificers benefit in the struggle for existence at the expense of communities made up of more selfish individuals with which they are in competition. As a result, contrary to the popular caricature of Darwinian nature as dominated by selfishness and competition, Darwin actually argued that benevolence and cooperation are entirely naturalthat they are deeply embedded in our biology. The problem of how to account for altruistic behavior, especially in insects, continued to puzzle biologists (see Lustig) and became a central topic in the new discipline of "sociobiology" founded by the entomologist E. O. Wilson in the 1970s.

In the English-speaking world of the later nineteenth century, however, it was Herbert Spencer (18201903) rather than Charles Darwin (18091882) who was celebrated as the leading exponent of the philosophy of evolution. Spencer was also one of the writers most responsible for the spread of the language of altruism (and sociology) from the 1870s onward (see Dixon, 2004). Spencer acknowledged that he had borrowed these terms from Comte. In his Principles of Psychology (second edition of 18701872) and Data of Ethics (1879), he developed his theory of how altruistic instincts could evolve and be inherited and how they would increase as social evolution progressed. He denied, however, that by doing so he endorsed Comte's views on philosophy, science, or religion. Indeed, although Spencer agreed with Comte that altruism would increase as societies evolved further, his vision of the ideal future society was in many ways the opposite of the Comtean vision. Whereas Comte envisaged a hierarchical and, in effect, totalitarian society in which individuals sacrificed personal freedom in the interests of order and progress, Spencer hoped for a society in which individual freedoms (and responsibilities) were maximized (see Richards). Spencer's hope was that people would increasingly act in altruistic ways spontaneously and voluntarily, without state intervention. Although Spencer had a very elevated reputation and a wide sphere of influence in Britain and America in the 1860s and 1870s, the scientific rejection of his belief in the heritability of acquired moral and intellectual characteristics, along with the rise of a political consensus in favor of some kind of state provision of welfare, rendered much of his thought untenable by the early twentieth century.

Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism, as discussed by its most distinguished nineteenth-century advocate, John Stuart Mill (18061873), was based on the view that a good act was one that would increase the general prevalence of pleasure over pain in the whole of society. It could thus be construed as a form of ethical altruism. In Auguste Comte and Positivism (1865), however, Mill made clear that his utilitarianism did not imply a one-sided commitment to altruism. He believed that a commitment to the general happiness was quite consistent with each individual living a happy life, and he criticized Comte for advocating an extreme sort of altruism. According to Mill's utilitarian principles, Comte's idea of happiness for all, procured by the painful self-sacrifice of each, was a contradiction; a sufficient gratification of "egoistic propensities" was a necessary part of a happy life and was even favorable to the development of benevolent affections toward others. Later in the nineteenth century Henry Sidgwick further developed the utilitarian tradition of philosophical ethics (see Schneewind). In his celebrated Methods of Ethics (1874 and several subsequent editions), Sidgwick tried to establish the proper extent of individual altruism and to show how such behavior could be encouraged while also recognizing the legitimate, independent demands of self-interest.

Christianity and Unbelief

At its inception, the concept of altruism resonated widely in a Victorian culture saturated with moral and religious earnestness (see Collini). Some were attracted to Comtean positivism and its worship of humanity as an eminently respectable form of unbelief, one that combined a commitment to the sciences with a continuing religious sense and with the strong social conscience that the positivist ideology of altruism involved (see Wright). On the other hand, some who were committed to a Christian view of morality and society saw in Comtean altruism a concept of the love of others that was detached both from an understanding of appropriate self-love and from the necessity of a love of God. There were also those who saw in humanistic celebrations of altruism simply a secularized version of the Christian ideology of service to others (see Dixon, 2004, 2005). This last view was held by both proponents and opponents of Christianity. Among the latter, one of the most trenchant was Friedrich Nietzsche (18441900). In Nietzsche's vision, Christianity was at the root of all ideologies of altruism, self-sacrifice, and pityin short, of the "slave morality" that was the exact opposite of the assertive and aristocratic ideals he celebrated (see Nietzsche and the introduction by Ansell-Pearson).

From the twentieth century onward, once the origins of altruism in Comte's atheistic philosophy had largely been forgotten, it was much more common to encounter the assumption that altruism was a term that encapsulated the heart of Christian teaching. The French philosopher Jacques Maritain (18821973), however, continued to press the point that Comte's extreme and atheistical concept of altruism differed significantly from Christian love, whether human or divine. The difference between Christian love and altruism that Maritain insisted upon could be summarized as the difference between loving one's neighbor as oneself and loving one's neighbor instead of oneself (see Maritain). Nonetheless, some Christian writers still consider altruism to be virtually identical to Christian love, or agape.

Socialism and Economics

The 1880s saw a downturn in the economic prosperity of Britain and its empire. The results of this included waning confidence in the inevitability of social and economic progress and increased public awareness of the plight of the urban poor. The economic orthodoxy of laissez-faire, which emphasized the freedom and autonomy of the individual and had accompanied the optimism and success of the earlier Victorian period, also increasingly came into question. A renewed interest in altruism was now evident, not only in philosophy and religion but also in economics. A central assumption of classical political economy was that man had benevolent as well as selfish instincts, but when it came to economic activity, the rigorous application of self-interest was the most rational principle. This assumption was now subjected to more serious examination (see Pearson). Altruism became associated with political creeds of cooperation and collectivism. One commune in the United States was even named "Altruria" in recognition of the importance of altruism to this new movement. The concept of altruism was thus redefined as an ideology, in a way that brought it closer to communism than either the Comtean positivism or the Spencerian individualism with which it had earlier been associated. Altruism, for these groups, was a radical and universal denial of self in the pursuit of harmonious and egalitarian community living. In the later twentieth century, the viability of the assumption of self-interest in economics would again be called into question (see Mansbridge; Monroe).

First Half of the Twentieth Century

The closing decades of the nineteenth century, as well as seeing a new interest in "altruism" as an economic and political doctrine, witnessed an accelerated professionalization of intellectual discussions of the subject. Whereas writers like Lewes, Eliot, Mill, and Spencer had pursued their intellectual projects outside the universities (they were, to use Collini's phrase, "public moralists"), it was increasingly the case by the turn of the twentieth century that rigorous academic discussions of moral philosophy, economics, psychology, and sociology were conducted by university-based experts. The resultant discussions were thus both more detached from public political life and more fragmented. In the first half of the twentieth century the influence of the ethos of logical positivism meant that those working in the human and social sciences were inclined to avoid or even to deny the meaningfulness of questions with ethical and religious overtones. G. E. Moore claimed (in his 1903 work Principia ethica ) that any system of ethics that tried to draw moral conclusions on the basis of a scientific account of human nature and society (as the systems of both Comte and Spencer had done) committed the "naturalistic fallacy." (See Maienschein and Ruse's collection of essays investigating the possibility of founding ethics on biology.) Finally, the success of the neo-Darwinian synthesis in biology and the rejection of the doctrine of the inheritance of acquired characteristics seemed to undermine earlier theories of the gradual evolution of greater altruism. All that was left was a starkly amoral vision of nature as the domain of competition and natural selection. All of these factors meant that even though philosophers, sociologists, and economists continued to discuss concepts of altruism, the first fifty or sixty years of the twentieth century saw a reduction of academic interest in the subject.

Social Psychology, Sociobiology, and Altruism
since the 1960s

Scientific research into altruism has markedly increased since the 1960s. During the 1970s, "helping behavior" and the problem of the "unresponsive bystander" were among the most popular topics in social psychology (see Howard and Pilliavin; Latané and Darley; Wispé). Later C. Daniel Batson stimulated considerable discussion among social psychologists with a series of experiments trying to establish the genuinely altruistic motivation of some helping behavior, explaining it as the product of empathy (see Batson). Others have preferred more egoistic hypotheses, such as the theory that helping behavior is undertaken in order to alleviate the helper's own distress at the suffering of the person to be helped.

In the field of evolutionary biology, 1975 saw the publication of E. O. Wilson's controversial Sociobiology, which set out to explain all social phenomena in terms of underlying biological mechanisms. The following year Richard Dawkins's highly successful popular science book The Selfish Gene was published. It was based on mathematical models developed by William D. Hamilton to explain altruistic behaviors in terms of their benefits to genetically related individuals. Absolutely central to both these books was the puzzle of how self-sacrificing individuals could ever have been successful in the merciless struggle for existence. In short, how could Darwinian evolution produce altruism? Dawkins's straightforward answer was that it could not. According to Dawkins, human beings and other animals are blind robots programmed by their "selfish genes," and any actions that on the surface seem to be examples of "altruism" are in fact driven by the interests of the genes. The existence of apparently altruistic impulses could thus be explained by the fact that an individual who acts in the interests of close relatives (who have many of the same genes) is increasing the chances of copies of the individual's genes persisting into the next generation. Since there is no genuine altruism in nature, Dawkins concluded, the most we can do is to try to teach our children altruism in the hope that they can succeed in rebelling against their genetic inheritance.

Scientific, philosophical, and theological critiques of Dawkins's ideas have been abundant. Some have argued that the idea that genes can have "interests" or be described as "selfish" is misleadingly anthropomorphic. Dawkins has replied that these are only metaphors, but ones that help to communicate the fact that the real business of evolution goes on at the genetic level. But others have questioned whether it has really been established that selection operates exclusively, or even primarily, at the genetic level rather than at the level of individuals, groups, or species (see Sober and Wilson). And many commentators have found the view of human nature implicit in The Selfish Gene to be unacceptably cynical, fatalistic, and pessimistic.

Since the 1990s, although academic discussions have now moved on from the agenda set by sociobiology and The Selfish Gene, the topic of "altruism" has continued to attract a great deal of attention from a wide range of disciplines, including theology, philosophy, evolutionary biology, economics, social psychology, and sociology (see Batson; Mansbridge; Monroe; and for a particularly helpful collection, Post et al.). The same central questions about what science, religion, and philosophy each have to contribute to an understanding of human altruism, and about their ethical and political implications, continue to be vigorously debated.

See also Christianity: Overview ; Good ; Moral Sense ; Philanthropy ; Utilitarianism .

bibliography

PRIMARY SOURCES

Batson, C. Daniel. The Altruism Question: Toward a Social-Psychological Answer. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum, 1991.

Comte, Auguste. System of Positive Polity; or, Treatise on Sociology, Instituting the Religion of Humanity. Translated by Edward Spencer Beesly et al. 4 vols. London: Longmans, Green, 18751877.

Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. 1871. Edited and with an introduction by James Moore and Adrian Desmond. London: Penguin, 2004.

Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Durkheim, Emile. Suicide: A Study in Sociology, 1897. Translated by John A. Spaulding and George Simpson, edited with an introduction by George Simpson. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1952.

Latané, Bibb, and John M. Darley. The Unresponsive Bystander: Why Doesn't He Help? New York: Appleton-Century Crofts, 1970.

Mill, John Stuart. Auguste Comte and Positivism. London: Trübner, 1865.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy of Morality, 1887. Translated by Carol Diethe, edited with an introduction by Keith Ansell-Pearson. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Sober, Elliott, and David Sloan Wilson. Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behaviour. Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Wispé, Lauren, ed. Altruism, Sympathy, and Helping: Psychological and Sociological Principles. New York and London: Academic Press, 1978.

SECONDARY SOURCES

Blum, Lawrence. "Altruism." In Encyclopedia of Ethics, edited by Lawrence C. Becker and Charlotte B. Becker. New York and London: Routledge, 2001.

Collini, Stefan. "The Culture of Altruism." In Public Moralists: Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain, 18501930. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.

Dixon, Thomas. "Herbert Spencer and Altruism: The Sternness and Kindness of a Victorian Moralist." In Herbert Spencer, 18201903: Founding Father of Modern Sociology, edited by Greta Jones. London: Galton Institute, 2004.

. "The Invention of Altruism: Auguste Comte's Positive Polity and Respectable Unbelief in Victorian Britain." In Science and Beliefs: From Natural Philosophy to Natural Science, 17001900, edited by David Knight and Matthew Eddy. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2005.

Lustig, Abigail. "Ants and the Nature of Nature in Auguste Forel, Erich Wasmann, and William Morton Wheeler." In The Moral Authority of Nature, edited by Lorraine Daston and Fernando Vidal. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Maienschein, Jane, and Michael Ruse, eds. Biology and the Foundation of Ethics. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Mansbridge, Jane, ed. Beyond Self-Interest. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Maritain, Jacques. Moral Philosophy: An Historical and Critical Survey of the Great Systems. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1964. Chapters 11, 12.

Monroe, Kristen Renwick. "A Fat Lady in a Corset: Altruism and Social Theory." American Journal of Political Science 38 (1994): 861893.

Pearson, Heath. "Economics and Altruism at the Fin de Siècle." In Worlds of Political Economy, edited by Martin J. Daunton and Frank Trentmann. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Post, Stephen G., et al., eds. Altruism and Altruistic Love: Science, Philosophy, and Religion in Dialogue. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Richards, Robert. Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. Especially chapters 47.

Schneewind, J. B. Sidgwick's Ethics and Victorian Moral Philosophy. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977.

Spencer, Herbert. The Data of Ethics. London: Williams and Norgate, 1879.

Wright, Terence R. The Religion of Humanity: The Impact of Comtean Positivism on Victorian Britain. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Thomas Dixon

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Altruism

Altruism


Altruism is a modern concept attributed to Auguste Comte, a French philosopher who founded the field of sociology in the mid-nineteenth century. The idea of altruism has antecedents in the early modern discussion of benevolence and in such ancient religious notions as Buddhist compassion and Christian agape. An important difference is the explicit focus in altruism on the other as the object of concern, which, in turn, reflects the sharper focus on the self that is characteristic of modern self-consciousness. For Comte, altruism identified the concern for others that he expected would characterize the positive religion of humanity that was destined to replace the false religion of the prescientific, theological, and metaphysical eras. Although Comte would have been disappointed with the extent to which altruism has actually flourished, his concept has become an enduring, if ambiguous, staple of modern Western understanding.


Altruism in biology and sociobiology

The notion of altruism has been accorded a significant role in biology, and especially in the refinements of sociobiology, where the term has a technical meaning that narrows the conventional sense of concern for others in terms of the biological concentration on reproduction. As, from a biological perspective, the point of life is reproduction, altruism acquires the meaning of actions that diminish the reproductive prospects of the altruist, while enhancing those of the recipient of the action. For biology and sociobiology, altruism represents something of an anomaly. Because evolution favors the development of inclusive fitness, altruism should have been selected out of existence. But it is firmly present, in the strictest biological sense, in whole classes of nonreproductive workers like ants and bees. Sociobiology has resolved this anomaly by defining altruism out of existence. What may look like altruism on the behavioral level may turn out to be decidedly selfish on the gene level if the recipient of the altruistic behavior is a relative of the putative altruist and so shares the same genes. The concept of kin altruism thus explains the sacrifice of reproductive prospects for those who share the same genes. Cases where the beneficiary has no identifiable relation are covered by the notion of reciprocal altruism. Here again, what appears to be altruistic behavior is really selfish because it is done with the expectation, genetically speaking, of reciprocal aid that may be required by the altruist in the future. The imperialism of selfish genes thus destroys any semblance of altruistic behavior at the biological level.


Altruism in social science and ethics

The assumption of the primacy of self-interest that dominates sociobiology has been questioned in the social sciences with research into altruism and helping behavior, and yet here too the self-interest assumption remains strong. The favored alternative to a self-interest reading involves a calculative or caring mutuality, for which expectations of altruism may be more detrimental than self-interest. Altruism represents a morality of service and self-sacrifice. Critics point out that such a noble and self-deprecating approach has often been expected of other people; even when its advocates have taken it seriously themselves, it can constitute an individualistic heroism that deflects attention and action from the real possibilities of mutuality inherent in the actual social relations in which people find themselves. Approaches as diverse as the justice procedures of John Rawls (which challenge one to imagine one is designing a society in which one does not know where one will be placed so that one will have to take into account the state of those on the lowest rungs of the social and economic ladders because one might be one of those people) and the alternative stance of feminist care morality (which sees a focus on individual moral action, even, and perhaps especially, the most heroic, as misguided neglect of the social relations of give and take that daily lives actually involve) agree on the superiority of social mutuality over allowance for, much less expectations of, altruism.


Limitations of the concept

Altruism does carry the liabilities of its origins. As a social concept, meant to counterbalance the excesses of self-interest, altruism is finally only intelligible in relation to the self-interest with which it is contrasted; it is concern for others, rather than what is taken to be the natural and virtually inevitable concern for self. Because it carries this legacy, altruism bears the liability of undermining itself through its own deliberateness. Deliberate focus on the other as the object of one's concern may represent an implicit interest in the self as the source of this concerna consideration that prompted the nineteenth-century American writer Henry David Thoreau to allow that he would run for his life if he knew that someone was coming to see him with the deliberate intention of doing him good. It is this lack of attention and openness to the other that bothers many contemporary critics of the loss of mutuality in the focus on altruism. That such dangers warrant a dismissal of the whole notion, however, is another matter. Without the moral heroism that altruism entails, reliance on the mutuality of social relations may amount to a frightening leveling down of moral expectations and results. The saints, the philosopher William James contended, are the impregnators of culture, raising it to higher levels through their risking ways of living that hold no obvious benefit for themselves. The philosopher and ethicist Edith Wyschogrod has nominated altruists as the saints of secular culture.


Religious altruism

Suspicion of altruism may be a reflection of the secularization of contemporary culture, and the concept itself may be indicative of a lingering religious sensibility in Comte, who still expected a religion of humanity to develop. As such, it suggests that concern for others is finally only feasible through the deliverance from self that is offered by and celebrated in religion. This allows for the indirection that makes the aims of altruism possible, without the short-circuiting of a focus on altruism itself, and hence on the altruist. Of course, this in no way entails that devotees of religion exemplify the reality to which altruism points. Fortunately, religion also offers forgiveness along with the altruistic vision. This could represent the counsel of complacency that advocates of mutuality fear, but it could also represent the heroic initiative and extravagant saintliness that the realism of social mutuality threatens to undermine.


see also anthropology; behaviorism; christianity; evolution; self; selfish gene; sociobiology


Bibliography

dawkins, richard. the selfish gene. london: granada, 1978.

grant, colin. altruism and christian ethics. cambridge, uk: cambridge university press, 2001.

kittay, eva feder, and myers, diana t., eds. women and moral theory. totawa, n.j.: rowman and littlefield, 1987.

mansbridge, jane j., ed. beyond self-interest. chicago: university of chicago press, 1990.

paul, ellen frankel; miller, fred d., jr.; and paul, jeffrey, eds. altruism. cambridge, uk: cambridge university press, 1993.

rawls, john. a theory of justice. cambridge, mass.: harvard university press, 1971.

wyschogrod, edith. saints and postmodernism: revisioning moral philosophy. chicago: university of chicago press, 1990.

colin grant

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Altruism

ALTRUISM

Freud refers to the concept of altruism approximately ten times in his work, most often in a social or cultural context. In "Thoughts for the Times on War and Death" he writes:

Throughout an individual's life there is a constant replacement of external by internal compulsion. The influences of civilization cause an ever-increasing transformation of egoistic trends into altruistic and social ones by an admixture of erotic elements. In the last resort it may be assumed that every internal compulsion which makes itself felt in the development of human beings was originallythat is, in the history of mankind only an external one. Those who are born to-day bring with them as an inherited organization some degree of tendency (disposition) towards the transformation of egoistic into social instincts, and this disposition is easily stimulated into bringing about that result. (1915b, p. 282).

In other cases, Freud uses the term most frequently against a background of what he called, in an exchange with Oskar Pfister, his "joyous pessimism." After pointing out that except when in love, "the opposite of egotism, altruism, does not, as a concept, coincide with libidinal object-cathexis" (1916-17a [1915-17], p. 418), he added, rather laconically, in Civilization and Its Discontents, "the development of the individual seems to us to be a product of the interaction between two urges, the urge towards happiness, which we usually call 'egoistic', and the urge towards union with others in the community, which we call 'altruistic'. Neither of these descriptions goes much below the surface. In the process of individual development, as we have said, the main accent falls mostly on the egoistic urge (or the urge towards happiness); while the other urge, which may be described as a 'cultural' one, is usually content with the role of imposing restrictions" (1930a [1929], p. 140).

However, in the third part of The Ego and the Mechanism of Defence (1936/1937), Anna Freud provides an example of two types of defense, namely, "identification with the aggressor" and "a form of altruism." And in connection with the mechanism of projection, she conceives of "altruistic surrender" (altruistische Abtretung, according to the expression used by Edward Bibring):

The mechanism of projection disturbs our human relations when we project our own jealousy and attribute to other people our own aggressive acts. But it may work in another way as well, enagling us to form valuable positive attachments and so to consolidate our relations with one another. This normal and less conspicuous form of projection might be described as 'altruistic surrender' of our own instinctual impulses in favour of other people (p. 133).

Using a clinical example, Anna Freud analyzes the transference of the subject's own desires to others, a transference that enables the subject to participate in the instinctual satisfaction of another person through projection and identification. In speaking of this process, she refers to Paul Federn's comments concerning identification through sympathy.

The section of the book devoted to the study of two mechanisms of defense is is placed between a chapter on the preliminary stages of defensethe avoidance of unpleasure in the face of real dangers (negation through fantasy, negation through acts and words and withdrawal of the ego)and a chapter on the phenomena of puberty and the defenses arising from fear associated with the intensity of instinctual processes. To Anna Freud, the mechanisms of identification with the aggressor and altruism can be conceived as intermediary stages of defense, centered on the transition from anxieties arising from external dangers to subsequent anxieties arising from internal dangers.

This explains the projection inherent in both types of defense and the role of the superego in the genesis of altruistic surrender: "Analysis of such situations shows that this defensive process has its origin in the infantile conflict with parental authority about some form of instinctual gratification" (p. 141). Other passages in her work support this view: "Her early renunciation of instinct had resulted in the formation of an exceptionally strong super-ego, which made it impossible for her to gratify her own wishes. . . . She projected her prohibited instinctual impulses on to other people, just as the patients did whose cases I quoted in the last chapter. . . . In most cases the substitute has once been the object of envy" (pp. 135-36, 136, 141). She also points out that altruistic surrender is a means for overcoming narcissistic humiliation.

Finally, for Anna Freud, altruism could involve libidinal impulses as well as destructive impulses and, moreover, could affect either the realization of desires or their renunciation. Her analysis of the mechanism of defense finishes with an approach to its connection with the fear of death, by examining the bonds between the hero Cyrano de Bergerac and his friend Christian. Anna Freud provides a concluding note on the similarity between the conditions needed to initiate altruistic surrender and those present during the formation of masculine homosexuality.

Anna Freud's position was subsequently revisited with respect to such concerns as the psychodynamics of anorexic adolescents.

Bernard Golse

See also: Antinarcissism; Burlingham-Tiffany, Dorothy; Identification with the aggressor; Reaction-formation.

Bibliography

Freud, Anna. (1937). The ego and the mechanisms of defence. London: Hogarth. (Original work published 1936)

Freud, Sigmund. (1915b). Thoughts for the times on war and death. SE, 14: 275-300.

. (1916-17a [1915-17]). Introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 15-16.

. (1930a [1929]). Civilization and its discontents. SE, 21: 64-145.

Bibliography

Freud, Anna. (1936). A form of altruism. In Writings of Anna Freud (Vol. 2, pp. 122-134).

McWilliams, Nancy. (1984). The psychology of the altruist. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 1, 193-214.

Seelig, Bud, et. al. (2001). Normal and pathological altruism. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 49, 933-960.

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Golse, Bernard. "Altruism." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. 28 Sep. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Altruism

Altruism

Altruism, defined as an action that benefits the receiver but comes at some cost to the performer, is one of the four types of social interactions that can occur between animals of the same species. Figure 1 summarizes these four interactions. Cooperation, where both actor and receiver benefit, and selfishness, where the action benefits the actor at the expense of the receiver, are by far the most common of the four interactions in nature. Spite, where both actor and receiver are harmed, and altruism are very rare.

The prevalence of cooperation and selfishness over altruism and spite is explained by the rules of natural selection . The currency of natural selection is offspring. Any anatomical, physiological, or behavioral trait that enhances an individual's ability to produce more offspring will be favored, and the trait will be selected regardless of the effects on others. For example, seagulls sometimes steal food from nesting neighbors to feed themselves and their chicks. This behavior clearly increases the fitness of the actor while decreasing the fitness of the receiver; it is selfish. Imagine an altruistic seagull that willingly provided food for its neighbors. This trait would not last very long in the population because the helpful gull would not be able to feed many of its own offspring.

Reciprocal Altruism and Kin Selection

Despite the odds against altruism evolving, it does exist in nature. Some biologists, however, consider these instances to be examples of pseudoaltruism, and insist that true altruism has yet to be found. Pseudoaltruistic acts appear to be altruistic, but "in the long run" are actually beneficial to the actor. There are two types of pseudoaltruismreciprocal altruism and kin selection.

Reciprocal altruism.

This occurs when the actor acts altruistically in expectation of having the same done in return at a later time. Many animals that live in groups will post sentinels to watch for predators while the rest forage for food. The sentinel changes several times daily, so the animal "on duty" is assured of being protected later when it is his turn to forage. Vampire bats provide another example. If, when the group returns from hunting, one individual has not found food, a neighbor will regurgitate a portion of its meal for the hungry one. The next evening, the helpful bat may be the hungry one and need the favor returned.

Kin selection.

This other type of pseudoaltruism, kin selection, was proposed by British scientist W. D. Hamilton in 1964. He realized that an individual could not only increase his fitness by having its own offspring, but it could also help a close relative raise its offspring, since they share genes. The combination of individual fitness and fitness through kin selection is inclusive fitness. Hamilton argued that if the benefits the actor receives by helping its relatives outweighs the cost of the action, then altruism can evolve. This concept can be expressed mathematically through Hamilton's Rule : br c, where b is the benefit to the actor, r is the relatedness of the actor to the receiver, and c is the cost to the actor. Relatedness is measured by the proportion of genes that are identical between two individuals. Because of Mendelian inheritance, half of a diploid individual's genes are shared with each of its parents, siblings, and children. Diploid grandparents share one-quarter of their genes with their grandchildren, and cousins share one-eighth of their genes with each other. An individual who helps two of its siblings, four of its grandchildren, or eight of its cousins is just as fit as the individual who helps only itself.

Kenyan bee-eaters of the bird genus Merops, have evolved behaviors by kin selection. Male bee-eaters will typically forgo reproducing when they are young, instead opting to help more mature birds raise their young. These young males help relatives more often than nonrelatives, thus raising their inclusive fitness. Young males that attempt to have their own offspring actually fare worse than helpers because their territories are too poor to raise more than one chick.

Conclusion

The classic example of altruism occurs in the eusocial bees. Honeybee workers rarely reproduce, letting the queen provide all the offspring. An unusual chromosome condition, called haplodiploidy , produces unusual relatedness among the bees in a hive. Workers are actually more related to their sisters (eggs laid by the queen) than their own offspring! Although honeybees are considered the classic example of altruism, they really practice a form of kin selection. True altruism has not yet been found in nature, and some scientists believe that true altruism can be found only in human populations.

see also Social Animals.

Jes Marie Creech

Bibliography

Alcock, John. Animal Behavior, 6th ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 1997.

Pfennig, David W., and Paul W. Sherman. "Kin Recognition." Scientific American 272, no. 6 (1995): 98-103.

Sherman, Paul W., and John Alcock. Exploring Animal Behavior: Readings from American Scientist, 2nd ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 1998.

Wilson, Edward O. Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975.

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altruism

altruism Behaviour which takes account of the interests of others, usually treated as in opposition to egoism, selfishness, and individualism. There are extensive theoretical and empirical research literatures in social psychology, economics, political behaviour, and sociobiology (as well as sociology) on altruism, its sources and consequences, and on whether altruistic behaviour is ultimately reducible to and explained by egoistic motives. Research on altruism is also relevant to exchange theory and rational choice theory, public policy-making, and the voluntary sector. Studies have focused on blood donation; acts of bravery in wars and other conflicts; spontaneous acts of helping strangers in public situations compared to help offered to family and friends; the willingness of citizens to tax themselves for the benefit of others; participation in voluntary non-profit organizations; and giving money to charities.

Research seems to confirm that altruism is part of human nature. People do have regard to the interests and needs of others, make sacrifices for their children and even non-kin, and contribute to public goods. Some research suggests there is a hereditary component in altruism. Other social animals display altruistic behaviour, for example birds give predator alarms. Sociobiologists have identified selection processes that lead to the establishment and perpetuation of ‘altruistic’ genes in populations. In addition, socialization in the family and community encourages people to adhere to public-spirited values and engage in helping behaviour. People who do voluntary work generally give altruistic reasons for becoming involved in such activities (such as a desire to help others). But self-oriented reasons are often simultaneously present, such as the desire to gain work experience, enjoyment of social contacts, and an interest in the particular activity in question. For some people, involvement in charity work confers the prestige, power in the community, and self-fulfilment that others obtain from employment. Similarly, studies of corporate philanthropy conclude that charitable donations are good for business, with enlightened self-interest rather than altruism being the driving factor in firms' public activities. In many cultures, gift-giving is used to enhance prestige, or even defines a person's social status.

Economists are concerned with the ‘free rider’ problem in the provision or use of public goods, such as the problem of the person who benefits from public TV but does not contribute his or her share of the costs through taxes, or the country that regularly exceeds its allocated fishing quota and so depletes fish stocks for all other countries fishing in the same seas. Sociologists are concerned rather with the development of trust and co-operation in relationships, and the impact of social norms and group identity on decision-making in social dilemmas. These issues are often studied through decision-making in the Prisoner's Dilemma game, with variable results from short-term studies.

Research based on simulations with the Prisoner's Dilemma game has shown that, in the long run, altruism and selfishness are not always or necessarily mutually exclusive choices. In his Evolution of Cooperation (1984) R. Axelrod showed how co-operation can evolve in a society of completely self-interested individuals, in effect that altruism and individualism are not necessarily in conflict in human society where public goods are of benefit to all, including people who do not use them directly. Axelrod carried out a series of computer simulations to assess the effectiveness of various strategies in the Prisoner's Dilemma game, an issue which is usually studied with laboratory experiments of short duration. Strategies were submitted to the tournament by sixty-two players in six countries from the fields of psychology, economics, political science, mathematics, and sociology. Contrary to expectation, one of the simplest strategies, named TIT FOR TAT, emerged repeatedly as the winner, owing to a combination of being nice, retaliatory, forgiving, and clear. By using computer simulations of the competing strategies, the game could be run for a much longer time and with a larger number of diverse players than in laboratory experiments, thus approximating to evolution in the long term. For a useful overview of relevant literature see J. A. Piliavin and and H.- W. Charng , ‘Altruism’, Annual Review of Sociology (1990)
. See also GIFT RELATIONSHIP; SUICIDE.

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Altruism

Altruism

BIBLIOGRAPHY

One fundamental question about human nature is whether people are ever capable of genuinely altruistic acts. The term altruism is typically used to reflect one of two concepts. The first is evolutionary altruism, which refers to helping behavior that benefits another at some cost to oneself. Evolutionary altruism reflects behavior caused by many different habits and motives assumed to have evolved in a species because they promote the longterm reproduction of species members genes. The term altruism is also used to reflect psychological altruism, which refers to a motivational state with the goal of increasing anothers welfare. Psychological altruism is typically contrasted with psychological egoism, which refers to a motivational state with the goal of increasing ones own welfare.

There has been much debate about whether humans possess the capacity for psychological altruism. One claim that assumes psychological altruism exists is the empathy-altruism hypothesis, which states that feelings of empathic concern for a person in need evoke an altruistic motive. Feelings of empathic concern have been contrasted with feelings of personal distress. Feelings of personal distress are assumed to evoke motivation to reduce these unpleasant emotions by either escaping continued exposure to the persons suffering or by helping, whichever happens to be the least costly option in the situation. Consistent with these claims, research suggests that people feeling empathic concern tend to help even if they can easily escape exposure to the victims suffering, whereas people feeling personal distress tend to help only when escape from continued exposure to the persons suffering is difficult or impossible.

The tendency for an observer to help a needy other as a result of evolutionary altruistic or psychological altruistic processes is also influenced by factors that affect helping behavior more generally. For example, research demonstrates that observers are more likely to help a person if they (1) notice the person and (2) recognize that the person is in need. Even then, help is likely only if observers (3) assume personal responsibility for reducing the persons need. Research also suggests that the number of observers witnessing the need situation can actually reduce the likelihood that any one observer will offer help (i.e., the bystander effect ). However, observers who experience psychological altruism may be immune to this diffusion of responsibility because empathy may promote feelings of responsibility for the victim regardless of the number of additional bystanders present in the situation.

In development, helping behavior appears to emerge as early as two years of age in humans. However, the cause of these behaviors (e.g., evolutionary altruistic versus psychological altruistic processes, or neither) has been debated. There is also debate about the extent to which evolutionary altruistic or psychological altruistic processes influence, or are influenced by, an individuals personality characteristics. Some research shows that people scoring high on personality measures that assess altruism-relevant characteristics (e.g., perspective-taking, emotionality, and responsibility for others welfare) are more likely to help than people scoring low on these measures. Again, it is unclear whether such behavior reflects evolutionary altruistic processes, psychological altruistic processes, or neither. Future research will almost certainly address, and hopefully answer, these and other questions about the existence of altruism in humans.

SEE ALSO Altruism and Prosocial Behavior; Empathy; Evolutionary Psychology; Sociobiology

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Batson, C. Daniel, and Laura L. Shaw. 1991. Evidence for Altruism: Toward a Pluralism of Prosocial Motives. Psychological Inquiry 2 (2): 107-122.

Sober, Elliot, and David Sloan Wilson. 1998. Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

David A. Lishner

E. L. Stocks

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altruism

altruism Behaviour by an animal that decreases its chances of survival or reproduction while increasing those of another member of the same species. For example, a lapwing puts itself at risk by luring a predator away from the nest through feigning injury, but by so doing saves its offspring. Altruism in its biological sense does not imply any conscious benevolence on the part of the performer. Altruism can evolve through kin selection, if the recipients of altruistic acts tend on average to be more closely related to the altruist than the population as a whole. See also alarm signal; inclusive fitness.

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altruism

al·tru·ism / ˈaltroōˌizəm/ • n. the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others: some may choose to work with vulnerable elderly people out of altruism. ∎  Zool. behavior of an animal that benefits another at its own expense. DERIVATIVES: al·tru·ist n. al·tru·is·tic / ˌaltroōˈistik/ adj. al·tru·is·ti·cal·ly adv.

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altruism

altruism Sacrifice, if necessary of life itself, so that others, commonly offspring or otherwise genetically close younger relatives, may survive or otherwise benefit. On the face of it this seems to reduce the adaptive value of the altruist. However, by saving offspring at the cost of its own life, the altruist may ‘save’ more of its own genes than if the situation were reversed, particularly if the reproductive potential of the altruist is exhausted, or nearly so.

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altruism

altruism (ăl´trōōĬz´əm), concept in philosophy and psychology that holds that the interests of others, rather than of the self, can motivate an individual. The term was invented in the 19th cent. by the French philosopher Auguste Comte, who devised it as the opposite of egoism. Herbert Spencer and John Stuart Mill, English contemporaries of Comte, accepted the worth of altruism but argued that the true moral aim should be the welfare of society, rather than that of individuals.

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altruism

altruism Sacrifice, if necessary of life itself, so that others, commonly offspring or other genetically close younger relatives, may survive or otherwise benefit. On the face of it this seems to reduce the adaptive value of the altruist. However, by saving offspring at the cost of its own life, the altruist may ‘save’ more of its own genes than if the situation were reversed, particularly if the reproductive potential of the altruist is exhausted or nearly so.

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altruism

altruism devotion to the welfare of others. XIX. — F. altruisme, f. autrui somebody else (infl. by L. alter other).
Hence altruist, altruistic XIX.

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T. F. HOAD. "altruism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. 1996. Encyclopedia.com. 28 Sep. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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