Psychological egoists maintain that all human action is ultimately self-interested; psychological altruists agree that much action is ultimately self-interested, but they insist that sometimes people behave altruistically—their actions are motivated by “ultimate” desires for the well-being of others. Firstly, this chapter explains why the debate between psychological egoists and psychologists is important for both moral theory and political philosophy. Secondly, it clarifies the debate by explaining two crucial notions: (i) ultimate desire and (ii) desire for the well being of others. Next, the focus is on recent attempts to use evolutionary arguments to resolve the debate. Most of these arguments try to show that considerations drawn from evolutionary theory make it very unlikely that humans are psychological altruists. On the other side, Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson have argued that evolutionary considerations show that humans probably are sometimes motivated by ultimate desires for the well-being of others. It is argued that all of these arguments are unconvincing, and that evolutionary theory offers little prospect of advancing the debate between psychological egoism and psychological altruism. Finally, the chapter looks at research on the social psychology of altruism, focusing on the work of Daniel Batson and his colleagues. It offers detailed accounts and assessments of a number of Batson's studies. It argues that Batson and colleagues have shown conclusively that the methods of experimental psychology can move the debate forward.
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