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


Show Summary Details


This chapter uses the historical account of Victorian science, religion, and ethics as the basis for some brief reflections on philosophical problems and political pitfalls that are in some cases still associated with concepts of altruism. It was a sense of intellectual confinement that led nineteenth-century theorists such as Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer to invent new words with which to construct new scientific visions of humanity and society. Terms such as ‘sociology’ and ‘altruism’ made those new visions possible. People have now inherited the categories that they created, and those categories can themselves be confining rather than liberating. By providing accounts of the contingent circumstances in which they were created, the intellectual historian can draw attention to the provisional nature of our categories and can thus help to undermine the sense that they are inevitable, or even natural.

Keywords: Victorian ethics; altruism; Auguste Comte; Herbert Spencer; sociology; intellectual confinement

Chapter.  6509 words. 

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at British Academy »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.