Just as there are rational requirements on thought, there are rational requirements on action. This book defends a conception of ethics, and a related conception of human nature, according to which altruism is included among the basic rational requirements on desire and action. Altruism itself depends on the recognition of the reality of other persons, and on the equivalent capacity to regard oneself as merely one individual among many.
This paper is an examination of the ethical principles of effective altruism as they are articulated by Peter Singer in his book The Most Good You Can Do. It discusses the nature and the plausibility of the principles that he thinks both guide and ought to guide effective altruists. It argues in § II pace Singer that it is unclear that in charitable giving one ought always to aim to produce the most surplus benefit possible and in § III (...) that there is a more attractive set of principles than the ones Singer outlines that ought to guide effective altruists in their philanthropic practices and in their lives more generally. These principles fit better with his practical ambitions and with plausible attitudes about the limits of beneficence. (shrink)
Darwin's inner voice -- Living the virtuous life -- Of altruism and free riders -- Knowing our immediate predecessors -- Resurrecting some venerable ancestors -- A natural Garden of Eden -- The positive side of social selection -- Learning morals across the generations -- Work of the moral majority -- Pleistocene ups, downs, and crashes -- Testing the selection-by-reputation hypothesis -- The evolution of morals -- Epilogue: humanity's moral future.
Effective Altruism encourages affluent people to make significant donations to improve the wellbeing of the world’s poor, using quantified and observational methods to identify the most efficient charities. Critics argue that EA is inattentive to the systemic causes of poverty and underestimates the effectiveness of individual contributions to systemic change. EA claims to be open to systemic change but suggests that systemic critiques, such as the socialist critique of capitalism, are unhelpfully vague and serve primarily as hypocritical rationalizations of (...) continued affluence. I reformulate the systemic change objection, rebut the charges of vagueness and bad faith and argue that charity may not be worth doing at all from a purely altruistic perspective. In order to take systemic change seriously, EA must repudiate its narrowly empiricist approach, embrace holistic, interpretive social analysis and make inevitably controversial judgments about the complex dynamics of collective action. These kinds of evidence and judgment cannot be empirically verified but are essential to taking systemic change seriously. EA is thereby forced to sacrifice its a-political approach to altruism. I also highlight the importance of quotidian, extra-political contributions to perpetuating or changing harmful social practices. Radical efforts to resist, subvert and reconstruct harmful social practices, such as those involved in economic decision-making, could be just as effective and demanding as charity. But such efforts may be incompatible with extensive philanthropy, because they can require people to retain some level of affluence for strategic reasons but to repudiate both the acquisition of significant wealth and charity as is currently organized. The wealth and status of some critics of charity may indeed be incompatible with effectively contributing to social change, but the altruistic merits of charity are neither as obvious nor as easily demonstrated as EA believes. (shrink)
In recent years, the effective altruism movement has generated much discussion about the ways in which we can most effectively improve the lives of the global poor, and pursue other morally important goals. One of the most common criticisms of the movement is that it has unjustifiably neglected issues related to institutional change that could address the root causes of poverty, and instead focused its attention on encouraging individuals to direct resources to organizations that directly aid people living in (...) poverty. In this article, I discuss and assess this ‘institutional critique’. I argue that if we understand the core commitments of effective altruism in a way that is suggested by much of the work of its proponents, and also independently plausible, there is no way to understand the institutional critique such that it represents a view that is both independently plausible and inconsistent with the core commitments of effective altruism. (shrink)
A simple and general criterion is derived for the evolution of altruism when individuals interact in pairs. It is argued that the treatment of this problem in kin selection theory and in game theory are special cases of this general criterion.
We begin, in section 2, with a brief sketch of a cluster of assumptions about human desires, beliefs, actions, and motivation that are widely shared by historical and contemporary authors on both sides in the debate. With this as background, we’ll be able to offer a more sharply focused account of the debate. In section 3, our focus will be on links between evolutionary theory and the egoism/altruism debate. There is a substantial literature employing evolutionary theory on each side (...) of the issue. However, it is our contention that neither camp has offered a convincing case. We are much more sanguine about recent research on altruism in social psychology, which will be our topic in section 4. Though we don’t think this work has resolved the debate, we will argue that it has made illuminating progress – progress that philosophers interested in the question cannot afford to ignore. (shrink)
I examine the relationship between evolutionary definitions of altruism that are based on fitness effects and psychological definitions that are based on the motives of the actor. I show that evolutionary altruism can be motivated by proximate mechanisms that are psychologically either altruistic or selfish. I also show that evolutionary definitions do rely upon motives as a metaphor in which the outcome of natural selection is compared to the decisions of a psychologically selfish (or altruistic) individual. Ignoring the (...) precise nature of both psychological and evolutionary definitions has obscured many important issues, including the biological roots of psychological altruism. (shrink)
In the eighth chapter of the Bodhicaryāvatāra, the Buddhist philosopher Śāntideva has often been interpreted as offering an argument that accepting the ultimate nonexistence of the self (anātman) rationally entails a commitment to altruism, the view that one should care equally for self and others. In this essay, I consider reconstructions of Śāntideva’s argument by contemporary scholars Paul Williams, Mark Siderits and John Pettit. I argue that all of these various reconfigurations of the argument fail to be convincing. This (...) suggests that, for Madhyamaka Buddhists, an understanding of anātman does not entail acceptance of the Bodhisattva path, but rather is instrumental to achieving it. Second, it suggests the possibility that in these verses, Śāntideva was offering meditational techniques, rather than making an argument for altruism from the premise of anātman. (shrink)
Reciprocity theory (RT) and costly signaling theory (CST) provide different explanations for the high status of pro-community altruists: RT proposes that altruists are positively and negatively sanctioned by others, whereas CST proposes that altruists are attractive to others. Only RT, however, is beset by first- and higher-order free rider problems, which must be solved in order for RT to explain status allocations. In this paper, several solutions to RT’s free rider problems are proposed, and data about status allocations to Ecuadorian (...) Shuar pro-community altruists are analyzed in light of RT and CST. These data confirm that perceived pro-community altruists are indeed high status and suggest that (1) community residents skillfully monitor the altruism of coresidents, (2) residents who engage in opportunities to broadcast desirable qualities are high status only to the extent that they are considered altruistic, and (3) individuals who sanction coresidents based on coresidents’ contributions to the community are themselves relatively high status. To a greater extent than CST, RT straightforwardly predicts all of these results. (shrink)
Effective altruism (EA) is a movement devoted to the idea of doing good in the most effective way possible. EA has been the target of a number of critiques. In this article, I focus on one prominent critique: that EA fails to acknowledge the importance of institutional change. One version of this critique claims that EA relies on an overly individualistic approach to ethics. Defenders of EA have objected that this charge either fails to identify a problem with EA's (...) core idea that each of us should do the most good we can, or makes unreasonable claims about what we should do. However, I argue that we can understand the critique in a way that is well motivated, and that can avoid these objections. (shrink)
The ten original studies included in this Research Topic investigate selected assumptions and predictions of parochial altruism theory in detail. We, the editors, are convinced that their highly instructive findings will help researchers interested in parochial altruism, but also in intergroup psychology more generally, to gain a much more fine-grained understanding of the interplay of altruistic and spiteful motives in human decision making in the context of intergroup relations. The broad range of disciplines represented by the authors contributing (...) to this Research Topic and the variety of methods used in their studies are representative for the current interdisciplinary interest in parochial altruism. The most important insight that, in our view, can be derived from the works collected here is that human decision making in intergroup contexts is more complex than suggested by current theory. Thus, we hope that future theorizing on parochial altruism will be stimulated by the evidence gathered in this Research Topic. In this editorial, we briefly highlight central findings reported here, which, to us, appear most informative for prospective enhancements of parochial altruism theory. (shrink)
Altruism is a malleable notion that is understood differently in various disciplines. The common denominator of most definitions of altruism is the idea of unidirectional helping behaviour. However, a closer examination reveals that the term altruism sometimes refers to the outcomes of a helping behaviour for the agent and its neighbours – i.e. reproductive altruism – and sometimes to what motivates the agent to help others – i.e. psychological altruism. Since these perspectives on altruism (...) are crucially different, it is important to use a clear terminology to avoid confusion. In particular, we show that the notion of altruism used by biologists profoundly differs from the ones used by philosophers, psychologists and economists in cross-disciplinary debates about human altruism. (shrink)
Proposals for increasing organ donation are often rejected as incompatible with altruistic motivation on the part of donors. This paper questions, on conceptual grounds, whether most organ donors really are altruistic. If we distinguish between altruism and solidarity – a more restricted form of other-concern, limited to members of a particular group – then most organ donors exhibit solidarity, rather than altruism. If organ donation really must be altruistic, then we have reasons to worry about the motives of (...) existing donors. However, I argue that altruism is not necessary, because organ donation supplies important goods, whatever the motivation, and we can reject certain dubious motivations, such as financial profit, without insisting on altruism.Once solidaristic donation is accepted, certain reforms for increasing donation rates seem permissible. This paper considers two proposals. Firstly, it has been suggested that registered donors should receive priority for transplants. While this proposal appears based on a solidaristic norm of reciprocity, it is argued that such a scheme would be undesirable, since non-donors may contribute to society in other ways. The second proposal is that donors should be able to direct their organs towards recipients that they feel solidarity with. This is often held to be inconsistent with altruistic motivation, but most donation is not entirely undirected in the first place (for instance, donor organs usually go to co-nationals). While allowing directed donation would create a number of practical problems, such as preventing discrimination, there appears to be no reason in principle to reject it. (shrink)
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria pose a serious threat to our health. Our ability to destroy deadly bacteria by using antibiotics have not only improved our lives by curing infections, it also allows us to undertake otherwise dangerous treatments from chemotherapies to invasive surgeries. The emergence of antibiotic resistance, I argue, is a consequence of various iterations of prisoner’s dilemmas. To wit, each participant (from patients to nations) has rational self-interest to pursue a course of action that is suboptimal for all of us. (...) The standard solutions to prisoner’s dilemma look to realign cost-benefit such that individuals’ interests match those of the collective. However, the lack of a global organization to enforce an effective carrot-and-stick system makes it unlikely that we can solve the antibiotic resistance problem this way. I argue that our best chance might be an attempt to teach altruism and convince individuals to act not out of their self-interests. (shrink)
Leftwing critiques of philanthropy are not new and so it is unsurprising that the Effective Altruism movement, which regards philanthropy as one of its tools, has been a target in recent years. Similarly, some Effective Altruists have regarded anti-capitalist strategy with suspicion. This essay is an attempt at harmonizing Effective Altruism and the anti-capitalism. My attraction to Effective Altruism and anti-capitalism are motivated by the same desire for a better world and so personal consistency demands reconciliation. More (...) importantly however, I think Effective Altruism will be less effective in realizing its own ends insofar as it fails to recognize that capitalism restricts the good we can do. Conversely, insofar as anti-capitalists fail to recognize the similarity in methods which underlie Effective Altruism thinking about the world, it too risks inefficiency or worse, total failure in replacing capitalism with a more humane economic system. I first argue that Effective Altruism and anti-capitalism are compatible in principle by looking at similarities between Effective Altruist theory and some Marxist writing. I then go on to show that the theoretic compatibility can be mirrored in practice. I demonstrate this by considering and replying to objections to anti-capitalism as they might be raised by Effective Altruists and by replying to objections to Effective Altruism as they might be raised by anti-capitalists. I conclude by suggesting that their reconciliation would lead to better outcomes from the perspective of a proponent of either view. In short, an “Anti-Capitalist Effective Altruism” is not just possible, it’s preferable. (shrink)
When it comes to caring about and helping those in need, our imaginations tend to be weak and our motivation tends to be parochial. This is a major moral problem in view of how much unmet need there is in the world and how much material capacity there is to address that need. With this problem in mind, the present paper will focus on genetic means to the enhancement of a moral capacity—a disposition to altruism—and of a cognitive capacity (...) that facilitates use of the moral capacity: the ability to grasp vividly the needs of individuals who are unknown and not present. I will address two questions, with more extensive attention to the first question. First, assuming we had excellent reason to believe that the enhancements were safe, effective, and available to all who desired them, would seeking these enhancements be inherently morally acceptable—that is, free of inherent wrongness? Second, would it be wise for a society to pursue these enhancements? I will defend an affirmative answer to the first question while leaving the second question open. (shrink)
The study of reciprocal altruism, or the exchange of goods and services between individuals, requires attention to both evolutionary explanations and proximate mechanisms. Evolutionary explanations have been debated at length, but far less is known about the proximate mechanisms of reciprocity. Our own research has focused on the immediate causes and contingencies underlying services such as food sharing, grooming, and cooperation in brown capuchin monkeys and chimpanzees. Employing both observational and experimental techniques, we have come to distinguish three types (...) of reciprocity. Symmetry-based reciprocity is cognitively the least complex form, based on symmetries inherent in dyadic relationships (e.g., mutual association, kinship). Attitudinal reciprocity, which is more cognitively complex, is based on the mirroring of social attitudes between partners and is exhibited by both capuchin monkeys and chimpanzees. Finally, calculated reciprocity, the most cognitively advanced form, is based on mental scorekeeping and is found only in humans and possibly chimpanzees. (shrink)
The phenomenon of altruism extends from the biological realm to the human sociocultural realm. This article sketches a coherent outline of multiple types of altruism of progressively increasing scope that span these two realms and are grounded in an ever-expanding sense of “self.” Discussion of this framework notes difficulties associated with altruism at different levels. It links scientific ideas about the evolution of cooperation and about hierarchical order to perennial philosophical and religious concerns. It offers a conceptual (...) background for inquiry into societal challenges that call for altruistic behavior, especially the challenge of environmental and social sustainability. (shrink)
The question “Why should I be moral?” has long haunted normative ethics. How one answers it depends critically upon one’s understanding of morality, self-interest, and the relation between them. Stephen Finlay, in “Too Much Morality”, challenges the conventional interpretation of morality in terms of mutual fellowship, offering instead the “radical” view that it demands complete altruistic self-abnegation: the abandonment of one’s own interests in favor of those of any “anonymous” other. He ameliorates this with the proviso that there is no (...) rational basis for morality’s presumption of precedence, leaving it up to each person to decide when and whether they prefer self-interested concerns to more stringent moral requirements. I counter Finlay’s radical altruism with fair egalitarianism, a more congenial interpretation of moral normativity that repudiates self-abnegation and holds instead that ceteris paribus everybody’s interests are equal. As a result, supererogation and moral sainthood become more intelligible, and the choice between self-interest and morality becomes one between different decision procedures, the particular advantage of morality being others compatible results. (shrink)
To understand the human capacity for psychological altruism, one requires a proper understanding of how people actually think and feel. This paper addresses the possible relevance of recent findings in experimental economics and neuroeconomics to the philosophical controversy over altruism and egoism. After briefly sketching and contextualizing the controversy, we survey and discuss the results of various studies on behaviourally altruistic helping and punishing behaviour, which provide stimulating clues for the debate over psychological altruism. On closer analysis, (...) these studies prove less relevant than originally expected because the data obtained admit competing interpretations – such as people seeking fairness versus people seeking revenge. However, this mitigated conclusion does not preclude the possibility of more fruitful research in the area in the future. Throughout our analysis, we provide hints for the direction of future research on the question. (shrink)
This study explores the ability of career satisfaction to mediate the relationship between corporate ethical values and altruism. Using a sample of individuals employed in a four-campus, regional health science center, it was determined that individual career satisfaction fully mediated the positive relationship between perceptions of corporate ethical values and self-reported altruism. The findings imply that companies dedicating attention to positive corporate ethical values can enhance employee attitudes and altruistic behaviors, especially when individuals experience a high degree of (...) career satisfaction. (shrink)
Kin selection, reciprocity and group selection are widely regarded as evolutionary mechanisms capable of sustaining altruism among humans andother cooperative species. Our research indicates, however, that these mechanisms are only particular examples of a broader set of evolutionary possibilities.In this paper we present the results of a series of simple replicator simulations, run on variations of the 2–player prisoner's dilemma, designed to illustrate the wide range of scenarios under which altruism proves to be robust under evolutionary pressures. The (...) set of mechanisms we explore is divided into four categories :correlation, group selection, imitation, and punishment. We argue that correlation is the core phenomenon at work in all four categories. (shrink)
Although volunteering is the most organized and formal manner of altruism, the two subjects are rarely connected in literature. In this article reviewed is the egocentric approach that is found in four social disciplines: psychology, sociology, economics and socio-biology , and the way that studies on altruism are based on Utilitarian philosophy and on the homo economicus perception of man. All of the above have influenced the study of volunteerism: the research questions, the study areas, and the conclusions (...) on the essence of volunteering. We then review a different approach based on Deontological philosophy: the alter-centric approach, already influencing the study of altruism. New directions of approaching and studying volunteerism are suggested. (shrink)
Sober and Wilson have recently claimed that evolutionary theory can do what neither philosophy nor experimental psychology have been able to, namely, "break the deadlock" in the egoism vs. altruism debate with an argument based on the reliability of altruistic motivation. I analyze both their reliability argument and the experimental evidence of social psychology in favor of altruism in terms of the folk-psychological "laws" and inference patterns underlying them, and conclude that they both rely on the same patterns. (...) I expose the confusions that have led Sober and Wilson to defend a reliability argument while rejecting the experimental evidence of social psychology. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
Genuine altruism would appear to be incompatible with evolutionary theory. And yet altruistic behavior would seem to occur, at least on occasion. This article first considers a game-theoretical attempt at solving this seeming paradox, before considering agroup selectionist approach. Neither approach, as they stand, would seem to render genuine, as opposed to reciprocal, altruism compatible with the theory of evolution. The article concludes by offering an alternative game-theoretical solution to the problem of altruism.
The theoretical heuristic of assuming distinct alleles (or genotypes) for alternative phenotypes is the foundation of the paradigm of evolutionary explanation we call the Modern Synthesis. In modeling the evolution of sociality, the heuristic has been to set altruism and selfishness as alternative phenotypes under distinct genotypes, which has been dubbed the “phenotypic gambit.” The prevalence of the altruistic genotype that is of lower evolutionary fitness relative to the alternative genotype for non-altruistic behavior in populations is the basis of (...) the “paradox of altruism.” I show in this article that the assumption of contrasting genotypes for altruism and selfishness in our “phenotypic gambit” is inconsistent with the empirical data when viewed in the light of today’s post-Mendelian understanding of gene expression. I demonstrate that however nuanced and sophisticated the models may have become today, they are still rooted in that fundamentally problematic assumption. I then offer a genetic conception of altruism that best fits the field data. (shrink)
Phenomena like meat sharing in hunter-gatherers, altruistic self-sacrifice in intergroup conflicts, and contribution to the production of public goods in laboratory experiments have led to the development of numerous theories trying to explain human prosocial preferences and behavior. Many of these focus on direct and indirect reciprocity, assortment, or (cultural) group selection. Here, I investigate analytically how genetic relatedness changes the incentive structure of that paradigmatic game which is conventionally used to model and experimentally investigate collective action problems: the public (...) goods game. Using data on contemporary hunter-gatherer societies I then estimate a threshold value determining when biological altruism turns into maximizing inclusive fitness in this game. I find that, on average, contributing no less than about 40% of individual fitness to public goods production still is an optimal strategy from an inclusive fitness perspective under plausible socio-ecological conditions. (shrink)
I develop a distinction between two types of psychological hedonism. Inferential hedonism (or “I-hedonism”) holds that each person only has ultimate desires regarding his or her own hedonic states (pleasure and pain). Reinforcement hedonism (or “R–hedonism”) holds that each person's ultimate desires, whatever their contents are, are differentially reinforced in that person’s cognitive system only by virtue of their association with hedonic states. I’ll argue that accepting R-hedonism and rejecting I-hedonism provides a conciliatory position on the traditional altruism debate, (...) and that it coheres well with the neuroscientist Anthony Dickinson’s theory about the evolutionary function of hedonic states, the “hedonic interface theory.” Finally, I’ll defend R-hedonism from potential objections. (shrink)
This paper discusses the relations between three forms of altruism: behavioural, evolutionary and motivational. Altruism in a behavioural sense is an act that benefits another person. It can range from volunteering to a charity and helping a neighbour, to giving money to a non-profit organisation or donating blood. People often dedicate their material and nonmaterial resources for the benefit of others to gain psychological, social and material benefits for themselves. Thus, their altruistic acts are driven by egoistic motivation. (...) Also, the final goal of an altruistic act may be the increase in the welfare of a group or adherence to a certain moral principle or a social norm. However, at least sometimes, the welfare of others is the ultimate goal of our actions, when our altruistic acts are performed from altruistic motivation. In evolutionary sense, altruism means the sacrifice of reproductive success for the benefit of other organisms. According to evolutionary theories, behaviour which promotes the reproductive success of the receiver at the cost of the actor is favoured by natural selection, because it is either beneficial for the altruist in the long run, or for his genes, or for the group he belongs to. However, altruism among people emerges as a distinctly human combination of innate and learned behaviours. Not only do we benefit the members of our own group, but we are capable of transcending our tribalistic instincts and putting the benefit of strangers at our own personal expense as our ultimate goal. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
This research study used descriptive phenomenological methods to investigate and document the lived experience of altruism as described by moral exemplars. Six moral exemplars wrote descriptions of situations in which they engaged in spontaneous altruism. Altruism was defined for the purpose of this study as a motivational state with the ultimate goal of increasing another's welfare . These descriptions were then expanded and clarified through follow up interviews. The results of this descriptive phenomenological analysis produced two structures: (...) the structure of the lived experience of altruism as described by moral exemplars, and the structure of the lived experience of helping as described by moral exemplars. The differences between these two structures suggest that altruistically motivated pro-social behavior is more committed, extensive and effective than egoistically motivated helping, and results in a higher level of concern for the long-term well-being of the individuals helped. Although differentiated by primary motivations, altruistic or egoistic, both structures identify the motivating factors of empathy, personal historical life experiences, moral values, and personal identity as essential to the experience of assisting another individual in need. (shrink)
Rapid tissue donation (RTD) is an advancing oncology research procedure for collecting tumors, metastases, and unaffected tissue 2–6 h after death. Researchers can better determine rates of progression, response to treatment, and polymorphic differences among patients. Cancer patients may inquire about posthumous body donation for research to offer a personal contribution to research; however, there are barriers to recruiting for an RTD program. Physicians must reassure the patient that their treatment options and quality of care will not be compromised due (...) to participating in RTD. In this commentary we discuss how theories of altruism may explain cancer patients’ desire to participate in an RTD program, the ethical concerns of health care professionals and patients and the use of altruism as a recruitment strategy. We offer recommendations for examining the cultural and ethical climate of the institution prior to initiating such a program such as examining the relationship of healthcare professionals and patients, identifying ethical concerns, and examining ways to promote acceptance and buy-in across professionals, patients, and families. (shrink)
Separated from its anchorage in religion, ethics has followed the social sciences in seeing human beings as fundamentally characterized by self-interest, so that altruism is either naively idealistic or arrogantly self-sufficient. Colin Grant contends that, as a modern secular concept, altruism is a parody on the self-giving love of Christianity, so that its dismissal represents a social levelling that loses the depths that theology makes intelligible and religion makes possible. The Christian affirmation is that God is characterized by (...) self-giving love, then expected of Christians. Lacking this theological background, the focus on self-interest in sociobiology and economics, and on human realism in the political focus of John Rawls or the feminist sociability of Carol Gilligan, finds altruism naive or a dangerous distraction from real possibilities of mutual support. This book argues that to dispense with altruism is to dispense with God and with the divine transformation of human possibilities. (shrink)
Can economics, which is based on the notion of individual optimization, really model individuals who have a sense of exteriority? This question, derived both from Marcel Mauss's sociological analysis of the social norm of gift-giving and from Emmanuel Levinas's phenomenological analysis of the idea of 'otherness,' leads to the problem of whether it is possible to model altruism with the tool of optimization. By investigating the ways in which economic theory can address this challenge, and by introducing a postulate (...) of methodological altruism following Levinas's theory of the constitution of subjectivity through otherness, this paper uncovers an alternative foundation for the very notion of optimizing calculation - no longer as a self-centered initiative, but rather as an other-centered response. This makes it possible to clarify the implicit content of usual economic individualism, and to see on the basis of which ethical arguments the economic method of optimization may be upheld. The paper studies the consequences of this renewed foundation of optimization for the organization of a fair and efficient interaction between altruists. (shrink)
This paper shows that altruism may be beneficial in bargaining when there is competition for bargaining partners. In a game with random proposers, the most altruistic player has the highest material payoff if players are sufficiently patient. However, this advantage is eroded as the discount factor increases, and if players are perfectly patient altruism and spite become irrelevant for material payoffs.
Over the past generation much attention has been paid to the disadvantaged in our society. Public and private programs have been developed to alleviate poverty and allow the underprivileged into the mainstream of society. While much more needs to be done, many of these programs have been highly successful.Unfortunately, many social programs have had perverse consequences for the intended beneficiaries. One example is the debate over differential tuition at State University of New York (SUNY) colleges. Advocates of uniform tuition at (...) SUNY colleges take a position that at first glance appears compassionate, but upon closer examination may actually work against the interests of the low- income students it is meant to help. The purpose of this paper is to show how altruism without rigorous analysis can be dangerous to those in need of assistance. What is important is the effectiveness of public policy initiatives, not their method of delivery. (shrink)
'Altruism' was coined by the French sociologist Auguste Comte in the early 1850s as a theoretical term in his 'cerebral theory' and as the central ideal of his atheistic 'Religion of Humanity'. In The Invention of Altruism, Thomas Dixon traces this new language of 'altruism' as it spread through British culture between the 1850s and the 1900s, and in doing so provides a new portrait of Victorian moral thought. Drawing attention to the importance of Comtean positivism in (...) setting the agenda for debates about science and religion, this volume challenges received ideas about both Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer as moral philosophers. Darwin saw sympathy and love, not only selfishness and competition, throughout the natural world. Spencer was the instigator of an Anti-Aggression League and an advocate of greater altruism in Britain's dealings with the 'lower races'. It also sheds light on the rise of popular socialism in the 1880s, on the creation of the idealist 'altruist' in novels of the 1890s, and on the individualistic philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche, Oscar Wilde, and G. E. Moore - authors considered by some to be representative of fin de siècle 'egomania.' This wide-ranging study in the history of ideas is highly relevant to contemporary debates about altruism, evolution, religion, and ethics. (shrink)
According to Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta, a subject who has freed himself from the bondage of individuality is necessarily compassionate, and his action, necessarily altruistic. This article explores the paradoxical aspects of this statement; for not only does it seem contradictory with the Pratyabhijñā’s non-dualism (how can compassion and altruism have any meaning if the various subjects are in fact a single, all-encompassing Self?)—it also implies a subtle shift in meaning as regards the very notion of compassion ( karuṇā, kr̥pā (...) ), since according to the two Śaivas, compassion does not result from the awareness of the others’ pain ( duḥkha )—as in Buddhism—but from the awareness of one’s own bliss ( ānanda ). The article thus shows that in spite of their radical criticism of traditional ethical categories such as merit ( dharma ) and demerit ( adharma ), the two Śaiva philosophers still make use of ethical categories, but not without pro- foundly transforming them. (shrink)
This study investigates an example of human altruism which is neither kin-directed nor reciprocal: giving to a panhandler. Data were collected on the proportions of passers-by who gave to panhandlers in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Three hypotheses were tested, each predicting that passers-by should behave “selfishly,” capitalizing on opportunities that, in an evolutionarily appropriate context, could increase mating success. Male passers-by, when alone, gave disproportionately to female panhandlers. Male passers-by, when in the company of a female partner, disproportionately avoided (...) giving to female panhandlers. Male passers-by in the company of a female partner did not “show off” by giving disproportionately to male panhandlers. (shrink)
The distinction between egoistic and altruistic motivation is firmly embedded in contemporary moral discourse, but harks back too to early modern attempts to found morality on an egoistic basis. Rejecting that latter premise means accepting that others’ interests have intrinsic value, but it remains far from clear what altruism demands of us and what its relationship is with the rest of morality. While informing our duties, altruism seems also to urge us to transcend them and embrace the other-regarding (...) values and virtues constitutive of a good life. This rather wide conception of morality may strike us today as too demanding. At the same time, however, currently popular impartialist accounts of morality can disrupt much everyday altruism in their insistence that each person’s interests are weighed precisely equally. Having sketched this problematic of altruism, the second half of this Introduction outlines the arguments of the four papers and review essay in this collection, each of which, in a different way, negotiates the difficult relationships between egoism, altruism, morality and impartiality. (shrink)
Philosophical accounts of altruism that purport to explain helping behavior are vulnerable to empirical falsification. John Campbell argues that the Good Samaritan study adds to a growing body of evidence that helping behavior is not best explained by appeal to altruism, thus jeopardizing those accounts. I propose that philosophical accounts of altruism can be empirically challenged only if it is shown that altruistic motivations are undermined by normative conflict in the agent, and that the relevant studies do (...) not provide this sort of evidence. Non-normative, purely causal, psychological factors would be empirically relevant only if the notion of altruism is broadened to include the requirement that one recognize certain situations as calling for altruism. But even in that case, the relevant studies are not designed in such a way that could threaten philosophical theories of altruism. (shrink)
This essay addresses recent claims about the compatibility of the sociobiological theory of reciprocal altruism with standard Western formulations of the Golden Rule. Derek Parfit claims that the theory of reciprocal altruism teaches us to be “reciprocal altruists,” who benefit only those people from whom we can reasonably expect benefits in the future. The Golden Rule, on the other hand, teaches us to benefit anyone regardless of their intention or ability to return the favor, or as Parfit puts (...) it, the Golden Rule teaches us to be “suckers.” I argue that this distinction is founded on a misconception of the nature of the theory of reciprocal altruism, which is sociobiological as opposed to moral, and that this distinction accordingly confuses is with ought. Sociobiological theories may explain underlying psychological motivations in individuals (and perhaps even in populations), but these theories do not prescribe any sort of moral behavior. Furthermore, the theory of reciprocal altruism does not imply mental states of which agents are aware. The unconscious motivations assumed by this theory are in fact compatible with certain formulations of the Golden Rule; I will accordingly argue for the view that certain words with moral content related to the Golden Rule—such as “altruism” and “selfishness”—exist only insofar as they are social tools, which can further the self-interests of an individual in any group. (shrink)
"The chief problem of human life", wrote Auguste Comte, is "the subordination of egoism to altruism". This collection examines the nature and value of altruism as a moral virtue, restoring it to its proper place at the centre of our moral and political thinking. The first five essays in the collection explore the relationship between altruism and other moral concepts such as self-interest, autonomy, community and impartiality. The five essays in the second part show how altruism (...) is invoked in practical moral problems, including aid to developing countries, the market for human body parts, multiculturalism and the politics of recognition, and medical ethics. Through these discussions, the central role of altruism in moral thinking is brought into sharper focus. (shrink)
Numerous studies show that humans tend to be more cooperative than expected given the assumption that they are rational maximizers of personal gain. As a result, theoreticians have proposed elaborated formal representations of human decision-making, in which utility functions including “altruistic” or “moral” preferences replace the purely self-oriented "Homo economicus" function. Here we review mathematical approaches that provide insights into the mathematical stability of alternative ways of representing human decision-making in social contexts. Candidate utility functions may be evaluated with help (...) of game theory, classical modeling of social evolution that focuses on behavioral strategies, and modeling of social evolution that focuses directly on utility functions. We present the advantages of the latter form of investigation and discuss one surprisingly precise result: “Homo economicus” as well as “altruistic” utility functions are less stable than a function containing a preference for the golden rule or for the common welfare that is only expressed in social contexts composed of individuals with similar preferences. We discuss the contribution of mathematical models to our understanding of human other-oriented behavior, with a focus on the classical debate over psychological altruism. We conclude that human can be psychologically altruistic, but that psychological altruism evolved because it was generally expressed towards individuals that contributed to the actor’s fitness, such as own children, romantic partners and long term reciprocators. (shrink)
I first argue against Peter Singer's exciting thesis that the Prisoner's Dilemma explains why there could be an evolutionary advantage in making reciprocal exchanges that are ultimately motivated by genuine altruism over making such exchanges on the basis of enlightened long-term self-interest. I then show that an alternative to Singer's thesis — one that is also meant to corroborate the view that natural selection favors genuine altruism, recently defended by Gregory Kavka, fails as well. Finally, I show that (...) even granting Singer's and Kavka's claim about the selective advantage of altruism proper, it is doubtful whether that type of claim can be used in a particular sort of sociobiological argument against psychological egoism. (shrink)
Nietzsche often appears, especially in his writings from the middle period, to endorse psychological egoism, namely the claim that all actions are motivated by, and are for the sake of, the agent’s own self-interest. I argue that Nietzsche’s position in Human, All Too Human should not be so understood. Rather, he is claiming, more weakly and more plausibly, that no action is entirely unegoistic, entirely free of egoistic motivations. Thus some actions might be motivated both by egoistic and unegoistic motives, (...) on his view. Nietzsche’s argument may, in other words, be understood to be directed specifically against Schopenhauer’s portrayal of moral motivation, as pure, entirely unalloyed altruism, to show that this sort of action is impossible, not to rule out the possibility of any altruistic motive whatsoever. In light of Schopenahuer’s moral psychology, to which Nietzsche to some extent adhered at that time, I develop a concept of motivation and recon.. (shrink)
The life of George Price (1922-1975), the eccentric polymath genius and father of the Price equation, is used as a prism and counterpoint through which to consider an age-old evolutionary conundrum: the origins of altruism. This biographical project, and biography and history more generally, are considered in terms of the possibility of using form to convey content in particular ways. Closer to an art form than a science, this approach to scholarship presents both a unique challenge and promise.