Altruism (ethics)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Altruism (also called the ethic of altruism, moralistic altruism, and ethical altruism) is an ethical doctrine that holds that individuals have a moral obligation to help, serve, or benefit others, if necessary at the sacrifice of self interest. Auguste Comte's version of altruism calls for living for the sake of others. One who holds to either of these ethics is known as an "altruist."

The word "altruism" (French, altruisme, from autrui: "other people", derived from Latin alter: "other") was coined by Auguste Comte, the French founder of positivism, in order to describe the ethical doctrine he supported. He believed that individuals had a moral obligation to renounce self-interest and live for others. Comte says, in his Catéchisme Positiviste, that:

[The] social point of view cannot tolerate the notion of rights, for such notion rests on individualism. We are born under a load of obligations of every kind, to our predecessors, to our successors, to our contemporaries. After our birth these obligations increase or accumulate, for it is some time before we can return any service.... This ["to live for others"], the definitive formula of human morality, gives a direct sanction exclusively to our instincts of benevolence, the common source of happiness and duty. [Man must serve] Humanity, whose we are entirely."

The Catholic Encyclopedia says that for Comte's altruism, "The first principle of morality...is the regulative supremacy of social sympathy over the self-regarding instincts." Template:Ref Author Gabriel Moran, (professor in the department of Humanities and the Social Sciences, New York University) says "The law and duty of life in altruism [for Comte] was summed up in the phrase : Live for others."

Various philosophers define the doctrine in various ways, but all definitions generally revolve around a moral obligation to benefit others or the pronouncement of moral value in serving others rather than oneself. Philosopher C. D. Broad defines altruism as "the doctrine that each of us has a special obligation to benefit others." Philosopher W. G. Maclagan defines it as "a duty to relieve the distress and promote the happiness of our fellows...Altruism is to...maintain quite simply that a man may and should discount altogether his own pleasure or happiness as such when he is deciding what course of action to pursue." Template:Ref Some philosophers reject altruism, most notably Ayn Rand who advocated the moral philosophy of rational egoism.


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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Altruism (ethics)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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