Thomas Dixon

in The Invention of Altruism

Published by British Academy

Published in print May 2008 | ISBN: 9780197264263
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734816 | DOI:

Series: British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship Monographs


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Prior to 1852, nobody used the word ‘altruism’ to refer to moral sentiments, actions, or ideologies. In that year the philosopher and critic G. H. Lewes approvingly introduced the term to a British readership in an article in the Westminster Review about the latest work by the atheistic French thinker who was credited with its coining—Auguste Comte. The creation and acceptance of this new word made it possible to experience oneself and the world in new ways, to communicate new ethical concepts, and to create new moral and religious identities. This book explains how and why the language of altruism was imported, adopted, resisted, and finally accepted between its first introduction as a strange and unwelcome neologism and its successful naturalization as a ‘traditional term’ in ethical discourse around the turn of the twentieth century.

Keywords: Auguste Comte; altruism; religious identity; atheism; ethical discourse; neologism

Chapter.  5094 words. 

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