Genuine altruism

September 25, 2011 at 4:08 pm (Uncategorized)

Altruism is an ethical doctrine that holds that individuals have a moral obligation to help, serve, or benefit others, if necessary at the sacrifice of self interest.
I wondered what the ingredients were for a truly altruistic act. I immediately realised that a person who believes in God, and does good unto others in God’s name, is not truly altruistic, for he is in some sense trying to satisfy and please the almighty through his deeds.
Even for atheists an altruistic act devalues if the person shares the details of the act with others, for that would sometimes mean that he seeks appreciation and a higher moral ground among his social circle.
Even if you are an atheist and have not let others know of your act of goodness, you might still live with an elevated sense of morality when walking among your peers, telling yourself that you are better than others. Even this steals the shine from the pristine goodness of the deed.
Hence a truly altruistic act is probably defined by a person who does it without linking it with his religious or divine duties, not sharing the details with anyone else subsequently and most importantly not attaching an elevated sense of self-civility to the act.
I guess pure goodness comes from doing good and not realising what you have done.

When you think about it that way you realise that only animals and unschooled children (or men who have not received moral/religious advice) are capable of true altruism.


  1. ssandeep said,

    “Pure goodness comes from doing good and not realising what you have done”. But this is not altruism either, because you were doing something totally random or something that you thought was the most obvious thing to do at that time and you did not expect that it would be a good deed. It might have somehow turned out to be good to someone else.
    And animals do things for themselves, their children or their herds, but they have their own interests to survive and thrive.

  2. debayan said,

    “…. and you did not *expect* that it would be a good deed …. ”

    The definition of *genuine* altruism does not carry expectation as one of its features. You need not expect or hope for anything. What I am saying is “Genuine Altruism != Altruism”

    I googled just now and found out that this is a standard topic that they tech in a course of philosophy around the world, and they say the same thing.

    For altruism among animals read

    You say an animal may act to protect its herd. Isnt that a truly altruistic behaviour? Why would it risk its own life to protect another life? That is counter-intuitive.

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