From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

= Altruism (pronounced: pronounced /ˈæltruːɪzəm/) is selfless concern for the welfare of others. It is a traditional virtue in many cultures, and a core aspect of various religious traditions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Sikhism, and many others. Altruism is the opposite of selfishness. [1]



Material from

"French philosopher Auguste Comte coined the word altruisme (with meaning 3) in 1851, and two years later it entered the English language as altruism. Many considered his ethical system - in which the only moral acts were those intended to promote the happiness of others - rather extreme, so meaning 1 evolved. Now universal in evolutionary theory, meaning 2 was coined by scientists exploring how unselfish behaviour could have evolved. It is applied not only to people (psychological altruism), but also to animals and even plants.

Altruists choose to align their well-being with others - so they are happy when others thrive, sad when others are suffering. Essential in establishing strong relationships, most societies acknowledge the importance of altruism within the family. By motivating cooperation rather than conflict, it promotes harmony within communities of any size. Of course, peace within communities does not necessarily herald peace between communities, and the two may even be inversely related - witness for example, the way in which social strife tends to decrease within countries at war.

Altruists broaden their perspectives in an effort to overcome the artificial categories that break up the complex web of life. Altruism is the abdication of claims of power over others. To state that "None of us are worth more and none are worth less than anyone else" is almost a truism, but modern technology has given a new urgency to all such appeals for altruism. Life on earth is being destroyed at an alarming rate, and evidence is mounting of impending disasters such ecological collapse and climate change that threaten us all. Until a fundamental shift of consciousness occurs, such disasters can only get worse. Communications technology - and WWW in particular - is boosting altruism and establishing a global consciousness. It is encouraging to see how easily individual acts of altruism can have a global impact (e.g. Wikipedia, free software, or give away websites). In spite of massive investment by the corporate world, a mentality shift in the IT sphere is well underway from scarcity to abundance.

The most effective counter to the spread of altruism is the modern money system, since it is responsible for an unnatural transactional mentality. The inherent conflict in conventional money establishes zero-sum (competitive) relationships between people and organizations - so that those who help others necessarily disadvantage themselves. Such a system places a destructive overemphasis on self which erodes true society, fuelling consumerism and accompanying depression. Our main project is therefore to help develop an alternative to centralised money. If resistant to selfish attack, an internet-wide gift economy will act as a breeding ground for altruism. Many people would love a chance to ignore money and concentrate instead on helping others. A decentralised global gift economy system would do just that. By uniting altruists everywhere, coordinating local acts of altruism in a coherent fashion, the world could finally understand the power of getting back to our altruistic roots and escaping from Win-Lose thinking.

Everything that makes it possible and enjoyable to live is a free gift. For almost all of history, humans never saw the need to buy and sell things, or even to barter. Altruism is its own reward. Positive relationships with others have always been a more natural basis for self-esteem than either material objects or illusions about money or power over others." (


Contrast between conservative and progressive altruism, via [2] :

Tec defines two forms of altruism:

  • Normative altruism: Altruism that is supported and encouraged by cultural norms
  • Autonomous altruism: Individually-based altruism that is not supported, and may even be discouraged, by cultural norms

Defining Altruism

  • Prosocial behavior: Any behavior that benefits others
  • Helping behavior: Behavior that benefits others that is performed with the anticipation of some reward
    • Focus is on the self more than on the victim
...Egoism is the dominant motive
...Donating to a charity to get a tax break
...Helping a friend so she will help you in return

  • Altruism: Selfless help that is performed without the anticipation of reward
    • Focus is on relieving the suffering of the victim and not consequences to the self
    • Empathy is the dominant underlying motive
...Anonymous donation to charity

Politically conservative individuals tend to attribute the causes for a victim's plight (e.g., poverty, homelessness) internally

  • Less sympathy is generated for the victim and consequently less help is given
  • Tendency to hold a belief in a just world (everyone gets what they deserve and deserves what they get)

Politically liberal individuals are more likely to make external attributions (e.g., to society) for a victim's plight

  • More sympathy is aroused and more helping occurs
  • Less of a tendency toward just world thinking"



The Idea Of Altruism

How does Altruism work?

Altruism is a system in which everyone tries to think of others and care for them just as they care for themselves. It has been used since time immemorial within families, close friends and religious communities etc. but has rarely been conceived as applicable on a larger scale. We believe however, that it can represent a more stable, sustainable solution than the money-focused, model of competitive capitalism.

What is new in Altruism?

The idea of 'loving one's neighbour' is old as old as human society itself, and has long been a cornerstone of moral instruction before 'human rights' were talked about. What is new is that the progress of technology means our basic needs for food and shelter can be more easily met than ever before, allowing us more time and effort for helping others. It was always possible to work for the benefit of others, but it has never been so easy. We believe that more and more people working for one another on a good will basis – either part time or even full time – may have far reaching positive effects on society.

Is the time right for altruism?

Anti-capitalist demonstrators show that the young are unhappy with the status quo, but lack any cohesive alternative vision of a post-capitalist world. Two opposed tendencies are becoming increasingly clear. On one hand a profit-focused drive towards the creation of a global monoculture under control of the world's super rich. On the other are local movements away from the 'free market' towards community, ethical and environmental considerations. We may not yet be ready to abandon capitalism, but more and more people are understanding that we should strive to work together with one another and not in competition.

Is altruism a revolution?

No, it’s more of an evolution. It’s not about forcing anyone to do anything. Capitalistic and altruistic citizens can coexist within a society, just as employed and unemployed people can coexist within a family. Altruism is a gradual letting go of the old value 'What is best for me?' and an embracing of a new one 'What is best for us?'

What is necessary for an altruistic society?

Legislation can only go so far to shape public life, and usually follows rather than leads social change. Laws will mean nothing if people aren't willing to change the aims of their lives - and if they are, it won't be pieces of paper that inspire them to change their approach to life. We have a vision of redressing the balance of economic factors over social ones. The more people share this, the sooner it will come about.

Are people getting more altruistic?

We believe so. Many people, especially the young, are interested in helping the developing world and are spending time working as volunteers. Of course, others frantically pursue wealth, working long hours in meaningless jobs, moving house with little regard to family and friends. The greedy and selfish may get rich, but often end up lonely, stressed, depressed and ultimately unfulfilled. For such people, a life of material abundance and spiritual poverty is the experience necessary to make them question their values. Those who listen to their heart know that they must do what they can for others, those who follow the 'wisdom' of those around them have to learn the hard way.

What’s the timescale here?

An evolution is a set of gradual changes and needn’t necessarily involve a fast realignment. Accumulating material wealth - even at the expense of others - is a time-honoured survival strategy in times of scarcity. This idea is still an important legacy with the older generation, who are currently in positions of power. The younger generation, brought up in a world of abundance, are increasingly able to live and think altruistically, trusting in personal relationships rather than in money. Old and young alike share a frustration with the institutionally entrenched selfishness of modern society, but are still struggling to understand the nature of the problem. We believe that altruistic input from kind souls worldwide has the potential to overcome people's emotional investment in the capitalistic status quo, maybe only gradually at first but probably with increasing speed." (

Degrees of Altruism

Jay Weinstein:

"Degrees of Altruism in the Work of Sorokin and Monroe

We have reviewed some of the literature on altruism principally to stress the importance of learning and teaching about it, and the ways in which we might approach practicing it in the real world. Of course, many people are already altruistically inclined; but the philosophy and techniques of altruism are rarely if ever part of our formal education. Even more serious is the fact that most people, even those who study sociology, have not had the opportunity to reflect on the phenomenon. One gets the impression that when people hear about altruism, they either disregard it as unimportant, or they believe that it is unattainable.

Taken as a whole, Sorokin, Monroe, and the research literature on the subject, in general, strongly indicate that various degrees of altruism exist; and much human behavior can be explored along the diverse range encompassed by the concept and phenomenon. This, in turn, suggests the need to invent more effective techniques for ennobling human beings, and, through these perfected techniques and increased knowledge, it will become possible to develop appropriate strategies for planned social change (Sorokin 1948: 234). Finally, in order for our techniques and plans to be truly effective, we must show not only that they are important to pursue, but also that they work. Although we have seen that much research and related work remain to be done, considering the centrality of the concept of altruism in the social science tradition and the current state of affairs in the world, it seems well worth the effort.

The observation that there are degrees of altruistic behavior – that might be measured along a continuum – is tied to a contrast between the "rational" actors of classical economic theory and altruists. Monroe has pointed out that rational choice theories, which equate seemingly altruistic behavior with acts pursued solely for extrinsic rewards, cannot account for altruism. Not all normal human behavior consists of the pursuit of individual self-interest. You will recall that, based on her research, the factor that best explains altruism is a cognitive orientation, one that is not considered in rational choice or related theories: the perception of a common humanity.

While there are clear cognitive influences on altruism, the influence does not take the form traditionally suggested in the literature. Instead, the relevant cognitive component centered more on altruist's world views and canonical expectations about what constitutes normal behavior and on their perceptions of a shared humanity (Monroe 1996: 197, our emphasis).

Monroe's ideas about what it means to perceive a shared or common humanity should sound a familiar note by now. A worldview is "important to the extent to which it provides a sense of connectedness to others ... a perception of self at one with all mankind ... a different way of seeing things."

It is not any mystical blending of the self with another; rather it is a very simple but deeply felt recognition that we all share certain characteristics and are entitled to certain rights, merely by virtue of our common humanity. It constitutes a powerful statement about what it means to be a common humanity (Monroe 1996: 206).

In directly addressing the question of degrees of altruism, Monroe (1996:7) observes that "the world is not divided into altruists and non-altruists." Rather, pure self-interested behavior and pure altruism are the two poles of her continuum, and normal behavior generally occurs at some point between them. Some people "engage in quasi-altruistic behavior, in other words, without being altruists." And, in her analysis, quasi-altruistic behavior is normal behavior that exhibits some but not all of the defining characteristics of altruism. Based on a series of intense, in-depth interviews with several ordinary people and "good-neighbors," she delineated three broad categories of quasi-altruistic motivation: (1) spontaneity, (2) lack of choice, and (3) the constancy and universality of the altruistic bond (Monroe 1996: 234).

Similarly, Sorokin (1950: 39) found that "...the majority of 'good-neighbors' have a similar attitude toward the whole world and humanity."

They are not notable altruists; but all in all they are seemingly above the average in their altruistic activities and "good-neighborliness." Most of them do not look heroic in their good deeds. Their altruism is plain and fairly ordinary. It is however, real...their plain good deeds make the moral foundation of any society (Sorokin 1950: 7-10).

These findings bear on recent and future research in sociology and other fields. For example, we might narrow our focus to the study of particular degrees of altruism (from "pure" egoism to "pure" altruism) and various behavioral patterns (spontaneity, lack of choice, constancy, and universality) along Monroe's continuum. Also, we might concentrate on specific social contexts. Thus, on the high end of the scale of Monroe's altruism, we might study authentic heroes. Or, on the low end, we may prefer to focus on the type of persons who we are more likely to encounter in day-to-day interactions."



Jay Weinstein:

"Comte coined the terms whereby we still refer to these contrasting modes of action: altruism and egoism. Using Comte's word, then, the Golden Rule and the categorical imperative counsel altruism. Thus the essential connection was made between altruism, on one hand, and the movement toward species consciousness."

- "Comte considered altruism and egoism to be two distinct motives within the individual. He did not deny the existence of self-serving motives, even for helping; the impulse to seek self-benefit and self-gratification he called egoism. But Comte believed that some social behavior was an expression of an unselfish desire to "live for others." It was this second type of motivation to benefit others that he called altruism."



Jay Weinstein:

"Although a complete and perfect program has yet to be created, applied sociology today is well on its way to developing a commonly accepted set of ethical dimensions and/or moral imperatives that feature altruism.10 In fact, a framework for this task has already been established.

The framework to which we refer was first proposed by the sociologist, Pitirim A. Sorokin (1880-1968), whose work was mentioned earlier.

Sorokin was the first Chair of the Department of Sociology at Harvard University, and he served as President of the American Sociological Association in 1964. Among the key concepts introduced by him are sensate and ideational culture types, creative altruism, and integralism. Since Sorokin's death, several studies have supplemented his approach, some with explicit reference to him but, because his contributions were generally ignored, most lacking such citations.

Among the works that do cite him are those of Kristen Monroe, especially in relation to her discovery of the important cognitive orientation, perception of a common humanity."


More Information


The Heart of Altruism. Kristen Monroe

Jay Weinstein:

"Political psychologist Kristen Monroe has provided a significant contribution to the literature on altruism. In The Heart of Altruism: Perceptions of a Common Humanity, she defines altruism as "behavior intended to benefit another, even when this risks possible sacrifice to the welfare of the actor." Monroe examines the possible influences that encourage altruism and highlights the importance of separating this discussion from a rational choice perspective. As a staunch advocate of the plausibility of altruism as part of human nature, Monroe succinctly argues against the limitations provided by rational choice theorists. (As noted above, the key to their argument is that egoism is normal behavior, even in the performance of apparently other-directed acts.)

Monroe's work is based on an in-depth study of individuals whose behavior can be placed along a continuum from altruistic to egoistic and which includes several points in between. As in the work of Fogelman (1994) and Oliner and Oliner (1988), Monroe argues that the most altruistic individuals are rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust. In addition to the rescuers, along the continuum from more-toless altruistic are heroes, philanthropists, and entrepreneurs. For Monroe, entrepreneurs display the least altruistic behavior. Using these categories, she contrasts research findings with theoretical assumptions based on both rational choice and altruistic theories. Her conclusion is that rational choice theories cannot account for the behavior of altruists.

Monroe originally believed that the roots of altruism might be traced to factors such as parental modeling, education, and religion; but her findings did not support this. Rather, she discovered that what sets the more altruistic subjects apart from the others is a shared general perspective, a "cognitive orientation." She concluded that the perspective itself, and not the specific factors, consistently accounted for altruism.

For Monroe, the altruistic perspective is best understood in philosophical and psychological terms, although she uses principles from other social sciences as well. In fact, the perspective is quite complex and consists of several components: cognition and cognitive processes, expectations, worldviews, empathy, and views of self."



This institute of Humboldt State University was founded in 1982 to study both heroic and conventional altruism and to try to promote altruism and prosocial behavior in society. It conducts workshops, conferences and research into altruism.

This site has material on different angles of what it means to be human. It is intended to encourage interfaith dialogue, faith in human nature and to encourage altruistic living.

This institute has so far donated over $2 million in support of research into the power of unlimited love and creative altruism. It favours a scientific approach, but does not deny the importance of religious perspectives.