<ethics> selfless concern for other people purely for their own sake. Altruism is usually contrasted with selfishness or egoism in ethics. As a theoretical position, it is the view according to which the happiness of others ought to be given greatest importance in the agent's ethical decisions. Altruism could give rise to forms of eudaimonism, e.g. when there is only one individual, the agent, involved, or when the agent's happines coincides with the happiness of all the others. In practice, eudaimonism is always a kind of individualism or egoism. Some forms of altruism put the emphasis more on duty or moral law rather than on the actual interests of other people, for example Kantianism and various other forms of deontologism. Obviously, altruistic forms of utilitarianism and pragmatism put a practical emphasis on consequences (see consequentialism), that is, on helping or having regard for the welfare of other people, rather than on some sort of abstract formulation like "moral law". Altruism is often taken to be a positive thing, especially by the average citizen. However, one has to tread carefully here, because in this common usage, "altruism" does not always refer to self-sacrifice, but sometimes only to an attitude of benevolence toward others (for example, dictionaries often define "altruistic" as "benevolent"). As always, but especially in this case, it is best to get the other person to clarify what he means before you "go on the offensive". Technical philosophical definitions do not always agree with any given individual's understanding of altruism. (References from collectivism,communism, consequentialism, deontologism, hedonism, humanism, and utilitarianism). Recommended Reading: Thomas Nagel, The Possibility of Altruism (Princeton, 1979); Altruism, ed. by Jeffrey Paul, Ellen F. Paul, and Fred D. Miller, Jr. (Cambridge, 1993); Matt Ridley, The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation (Penguin, 1998).
Based on the [Ethics Glossary] and [The Ism Book] [A Dictionary of Philosophical Terms and Names]
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