The Terms Of Egoism And Altruism

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Thus, the alternatives of our initial moral choice are asymmetrical by definition: choosing the path to Other we are finding ourselves; choosing self-affirmation against Other, we are losing everything – Other and ourselves.

Hence, our choice between good and evil, morality and amorality, is also asymmetric and uneven. For indication of the initial collision of the moral choice can be used different terms. The most transparent and usable among others are the terms of ‘Egoism’ and ‘Altruism’.

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The word ‘egoism’ derived from the Latin Ego, ‘I’, appeared in late 18th century, meaning doing or seeking of that which affords pleasure or advances interest. On the contrary, the word ‘altruism’ comes from the Latin Alter, ‘Other’, and was used for the first time in 19th century by founder of positivism and one of the sociology’ fathers, a French philosopher Auguste Comte. Altruism, according to Comte, suggest ‘the elimination of selfish desire and of egocentrism, as well as leading a life devoted to the well-being of others.’ (find a reference).

The meaning of these two terms is clear enough in contrast: egoism – concentration on self-interest and self-affirmation as the biggest value; altruism – concentration on others and affirmation of them as the highest value. Because of this simplicity, the opposition between egoism and altruism appears less relevant or even overcame by contemporary society. However, main fundamentals never lose their validity, especially, when the main dimension of human’s identity is in the focus. Moreover, this modern indifference to the opposition ‘egoism vs altruism’ is asymmetric in the application: if the term ‘altruism’ is devaluated and usually omitted in modern society, the term ‘egoism’ is quite popular and sometimes elevated in a positive way. Against this tendency it is important to recognize real asymmetry in the confrontation of egoism and altruism. This asymmetry shows, as mentioned earlier, how altruism help us to find the way to I and to save it, moreover how to save others. In the meantime, egoism, in fact, is a non-fruitful and non-grateful life approach, useful only for those who are thinking in a short-term way and making money on the cult of chaotic consumerism of undeveloped human masses. It is easy to see that the strictest egoists as individuals or companies, with equality of other conditions, have the lowest culture of I.

To define the conceptual distinction between egoism and altruism the American psychologist Daniel Batson argues that it is important to see the difference between egoistic and altruistic motivation for helping. According to him, egoistically motivated helping is direct toward the end-state goal of increasing the helper’s own welfare. In contrast, a person helping is altruistic to the degree that he or she helps from a desire to reduce the distress or increase the benefit of the person in need. That is, altruistically motivated helping is directed toward the end-state goal of increasing the Other’s welfare.

This conceptual distinction between egoism and altruism leads to three observations: (a) Helping, as a behavior, can be either egoistically motivated; it is the end-state goal not the behavior, that distinguishes an act as altruistic. (b) Motivation for helping may be mixture of altruism and egoism; it need not to be solely or even primarily altruistic to have an altruistic component. (c) Increasing the Other’s welfare is both necessary and sufficient to attain an altruistic end-state goal. To the degree that helping is altruistically rather that egoistically motivated, increasing the other’s welfare is not an intermediate, instrumental response directed toward increasing one’s own welfare; it is an end in itself. Although one’s welfare may be increased by altruistically motivated helping (for example, it may produce feelings of personal satisfaction or relief), personal gain must be an unintended by-product and not the goal of the behavior. This conception of altruism and of the distinction between it and egoism seem quite consistent not only with Auguste Comte’s initial use of the term, but also with modern dictionary definitions, for example, ‘unselfish concern for the welfare of Others’. (Batson. Alrtuism as a threat?)

If to talk about altruism separately from egoism, the definition is not so simple. Matthieu Ricard in his book Altruism is trying to define if ‘altruism is a motivation, a momentary state of mind that aims at accomplishing the good of others’, or ‘a disposition to care for others in a benevolent way, pointing to a more lasting character trait’.

Thomas Nagel, the American philosopher, defines altruism as ‘a willingness to act in consideration of the interests of the other person, without the need of ulterior motive.’ (Nagel Thomas, The Possibility of Altruism, Princeton University Press, 1978, p.79).

Daniel Batson, who made numerous researches about altruism, points out that ‘altruism is a motivational state with the ultimate goal of increasing other’s welfare.’ (Batson, C.D. (2001), op.cit., p.20)

Professor of political science and philosophy at the University of Irvine at California Kristen Monroe, in her book The Heart of Alrtuism, mentions that term ‘altruism’ usually used for actions with a precise goal – contributing to the well-being of Other. She also emphasizes that motivation for an action is more important that result of it. (Monroe, Kristen Renwick, The Heart of Altruism: Perceptions of a Common Humanity, Cambridge University Press, 1996, p.6). It means that we cannot judge action separately from motivation for this action and vice versa.

Furthermore, for Monroe, an action can be described as altruistic only if it causing a risk and has a ‘cost’ for the one who performs it. If to consider the movement from I to Other as a risk of renouncing oneself it makes sense. On the other hand, non-all behavior that occur the risk for the one who performs it can be called as altruistic, or a behavior can be purely driven by benevolence, without taking any apparent risk.

Altruism require a benevolent motivation and does not require a personal sacrifice: it can even lead to personal benefits, provided that those benefits do not constitute the ultimate goal of one’s behavior but are secondary consequences of it.

Valuing the Other and being concerned about his situation are two essential components to altruism. When this attitude prevails in us, it manifests itself in the form of benevolence toward Others, and it is translated into an open-mindedness and a willingness to take care of them (M.Ricard, p19)

At the same time, altruism should be enlightened by lucidity and wisdom. It is not a question of inconsiderately gaining access to all the desires and whims of others.

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