Altruistic Emotional Motivation: An Argument in Favour of Psychological Altruism

In Katie Plaisance & Thomas Reydon (eds.), Boston Studies in Philosophy of Science. Springer Press (2012)
In this paper, I reframe the long-standing controversy between ‘psychological egoism’, which argues that human beings never perform altruistic actions, and the opposing thesis of ‘psychological altruism’, which claims that human beings are, at least sometimes, capable of acting in an altruistic fashion. After a brief sketch of the controversy, I begin by presenting some representative arguments in favour of psychological altruism before showing that they can all be called into question by appealing to the idea of an unconscious self-directed motive. I will then point out that this argumentative strategy not only debunks the reasons for favouring psychological altruism, but also those for favouring psychological egoism; hence it is no use in settling the dispute between the two views. In the second part of the paper, I will try to break this deadlock by reframing the whole controversy, shifting it away from the concept of motive, towards the broader notion of motivation. As it turns out, this shift enables the debate to centre on altruistic emotions and their motivational power, thereby allowing evolutionary arguments to enter the debate and tilt the balance in favour of psychological altruism.
Keywords motivation  psychological altruism  emotion
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Christine Clavien & Michel Chapuisat (forthcoming). The Evolution of Utility Functions and Psychological Altruism. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences.

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