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= 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"


Discussion: 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." (

More Information


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.