The ABCs of Altruism

Elliott Sober

in Altruism and Altruistic Love

Published in print April 2002 | ISBN: 9780195143584
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199848119 | DOI:
The ABCs of Altruism

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The term altruism for biologists means something different to psychologists and ordinary people. A trait is said to be evolutionarily altruistic by virtue of the effects it has on fitness. Psychological altruism is a property that applies only to individuals who have minds. The controversy about psychological altruism concerns whether these desires are ultimate or merely instrumental. Altruistic love entails an altruistic motive or desire or preference on the part of the lover. The most famous game analyzed in game theory is the prisoners' dilemma. When the prisoners' dilemma is formulated as a problem about rational deliberation, it turns out that natural selection does not inevitably lead to universal selfishness when the game is transposed to an evolutionary context. Human history is filled with cases of group competition. Altruistic ultimate desires involve a concern that this or that individual do well. Moral principles are general and impersonal in what they say.

Keywords: evolutionary altruistic; psychological altruism; prisoners' dilemma; morality; game theory

Chapter.  6223 words. 

Subjects: Social Psychology

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