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Human Nature and Altruism, Essay Example

Pages: 1

Words: 768

Essay

Altruism’s Role in Present Day Society

Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” I will defend the hypothesis that personal, human altruism is behavior that, contrary to argument, can be void of self-interest as well as self-destruction.

In this paper, I will defend the hypothesis by proving the following five claims. First, assume that people by nature are altruistic. Next consider that we are created for altruism, not for self-interest. Thirdly, it will be argued that selflessness is perceived as self-interest; behavior of human animals is perceived altruistically because they expect reciprocation. Altruism at an individual level is a means of self-destruction. Finally, altruism is a form of self-interest.

Auguste Comte, a French Philosopher, was where the word altruisme, originated from.  The English form, altruism, evolved a few years later. His theory supports the idea that people, by nature, are altruistic.[1] In its’ definition alone, it relates to the loving others as oneself, promoting survival of others at ones’ own personal expense, and self-sacrifice for others benefits. Comte drew the conclusion that altruism is its own reward. The second consideration is we are created for altruism not self-interest. Auguste Comte disproves of this statement in a way, by inferring that altruism is its own reward.  If a person is doing something for a reward, it then takes away the selflessness of the act. It is then being done knowing there will be personal gain.  Stanford, in his own skepticism of altruism’s nature, did counteract this theory in his belief that a handful of human behavior cannot be denoted at acts of self-interest. Stanford in some cases believes that altruism behavior can be void of self-interest and self-destruction.[2] Selflessness is perceived as self-interest; behavior of human animals is perceived altruistically because they expect reciprocation. Darwin’s viewpoint was, “natural selection leads us to expect animals to behave in ways that increase their own chances of survival and reproduction, not those of others.”[3] Supporting his theory, he used the example of the Vervet monkeys. The monkeys give a warning when predators approach, in essence heightening their change of attack.  However, other animals do practice the same consideration or altruism. It does raise the question, how did the monkeys learn to warn others? Altruism is, in fact, a characteristic that is instilled naturally.

Darwin also considered that altruism at an individual level is a means of self-destruction. By this, it is assumptive that a Vervet monkey, who chooses to warn others individually, would be at a greater risk of personal destruction. Imply that it is altruism may only be advantageous at the group level. Darwin realized: “he who was ready to sacrifice his life, as many a savage has been, rather than betray his comrades, would often leave no offspring to inherit his noble nature” [4] This theory defends the altruism is behavior that can be void of self-destruction if, in fact, it is not acted on independently of a group or others.

Finally, consider that altruism is a form of self-interest. Stanford believes that, in non-human species, any act attributed to altruism is better interpreted as selfish behavior with altruistic by-products.” [5] Many acts that individuals perform can still be lead back to the personal gain, not selflessness. However, that is not presumptively conclusive. For example, starving people who share the little food they have with others, it is not reflective of personal gain in any capacity. The individual with the food would have benefited greater by keeping it for themselves. This is just one of the many examples of how altruism can be both individual and a group act of selflessness.

With every example that philosophers like Darwin and Stanford argued about altruism, there are equal examples to prove against it, as well. With both human and animals, selflessness and the well being of others is a natural instinct, it is not learned. The findings validated the hypothesis that personal, human altruism is behavior that, contrary to argument, can be void of self-interest and self-destruction.

Work Cited

Moral Maze Model Behavior. Science Mind Body and Spirit.  Web. 24 Sept 2011

Okasha, Shamir.  Biological Altruism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. October 2008, Print.

What is Altruism? Reestablishing Altruism as a Viable Social Norm. Web.

[1] Okasha, Shamir.  Biological Altruism.  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. October 2008, Print.

[2] Moral Maze Model Behavior.  Science Mind Body and Spirit.  Web. 24 Sept 2011

[3] Okasha, Shamir.  Biological Altruism.  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. October 2008, Print.

[4] Okasha, Shamir.  Biological Altruism.  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. October 2008, Print.

[5] Moral Maze Model Behavior.  Science Mind Body and Spirit.  Web. 24 Sept 2011

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