The accidental altruist

Biology and Philosophy 17 (1):71-91 (2002)
Operational definitions of biological altruism in terms of actual fitness exchanges will not work because they include accidental acts as altruistic and exclude altruistic acts that have gone awry. I argue that the definition of biological altruism should contain an analogue of the role intention plays in psychological altruism. I consider two possibilities for this analogue, selected effect functions and the proximate causes and effects of behavior. I argue that the selected-effect function account will not work because it confuses the explanation of some altruistic behavior with the definition of all of it and the information needed to justify a selected effect account of function is too often inaccessible. Close attention to the proximate explanations of a behavior is all that is needed to determine if an act is biologically altruistic, returning biological altruism to descriptive ethology, where it belongs.
Keywords altruism  ethology  function  intention
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DOI 10.1023/A:1012918406437
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