How Altruistic by Nature?
In this chapter I distinguish between two basic forms of altruism, which I call biological and psychological altruism, and explain how dispositions to emit each type evolved in the human species. Biological forms of altruism are defined in terms of the consequences of helping behaviors. They contribute to the survival and reproductive success of recipients at a cost to the survival and reproductive success of donors. Psychological forms of altruism are defined in terms of the motives and intentions of actors. They are aimed at improving the welfare of recipients as an end in itself. A form of conduct that has been labeled reciprocal altruism does not really qualify as biologically altruistic because it produces return benefits to donors. Mental mechanisms that evolved through kin selection are not very precisely designed. When people help others who resemble their kin, they may behave in biologically and genetically altruistic ways. Evolutionary theorists disagree about how mental mechanisms that dispose people to help strangers anonymously with no possibility of return benefits evolved. Researchers have concluded that in some contexts, people may be genuinely motivated to help others as an end in itself. Studies have produced the following findings. People are willing to help others in emergencies without any apparent concern for their own welfare. Empathy engenders the motive to help victims as an end in itself, rather than as a means of reducing vicariously-experienced distress, enhancing one’s public image, making one feel good about oneself, and so on. Identifying with a groups disposes people to sacrifice their interests for the sake of the group. People experience moral emotions that engender altruistic motives. Higher order cognitive abilities interact with more primitive emotional responses to structure moral emotions such as sympathy in ways that give rise to increasingly effective forms of altruism.
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