Altruism across disciplines: one word, multiple meanings

Biology and Philosophy 28 (1):125-140 (2013)
Abstract
Altruism is a deep and complex phenomenon that is analysed by scholars of various disciplines, including psychology, philosophy, biology, evolutionary anthropology and experimental economics. Much confusion arises in current literature because the term altruism covers variable concepts and processes across disciplines. Here we investigate the sense given to altruism when used in different fields and argumentative contexts. We argue that four distinct but related concepts need to be distinguished: (a) psychological altruism , the genuine motivation to improve others’ interests and welfare; (b) reproductive altruism , which involves increasing others’ chances of survival and reproduction at the actor’s expense; (c) behavioural altruism , which involves bearing some cost in the interest of others; and (d) preference altruism , which is a preference for others’ interests. We show how this conceptual clarification permits the identification of overstated claims that stem from an imprecise use of terminology. Distinguishing these four types of altruism will help to solve rhetorical conflicts that currently undermine the interdisciplinary debate about human altruism.
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DOI 10.1007/s10539-012-9317-3
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References found in this work BETA
Leviathan.Thomas Hobbes - 2004 - Clarendon Press.
The Sciences of the Artificial.Herbert A. Simon - 1969 - [Cambridge, M.I.T. Press.
Evolution and the Levels of Selection.Samir Okasha - 2006 - Oxford University Press.

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Citations of this work BETA
Can Altruism Be Unified?Grant Ramsey - forthcoming - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences.
Altruism and the Golden Rule.Jonathan Goodman - 2014 - Zygon 49 (2):381-395.
The Evolution of Utility Functions and Psychological Altruism.Christine Clavien & Michel Chapuisat - forthcoming - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences.
Altruism, Egoism, or Neither: A Cognitive-Efficiency-Based Evolutionary Biological Perspective on Helping Behavior.Armin W. Schulz - forthcoming - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences.

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