Thursday, January 06, 2005

The problem with Altruism

Given the overwhelming generosity being shown at present by some members of our species to others, Philosophy, et cetera's consideration of altruism is timely -

Selfish Selflessness?

In evolutionary terms the problem of altruism has largely been dealt with through dividing the issue up into two -

1. Inclusive Fitness. People are inclined to help relatives since they are likely to carry similar genes.

2. Reciprocal Altruism. With non-relatives helping others is a reciprocal process where one good turn deserves another. For this we have developed innate mental abilities, such as cheater detection, to enforce the social contracts involved.

Neither form of altruism comes cheap. For reciprocal altruism to work it requires us to be a highly moralistic and judgmental species.

One related issue is being seen to be altruistic. There are social points to be scored from appearing to be selfless. But appearances can be deceptive.

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