As an act of altruism, I donated a sum of money to Commit2Africa. This is a charity which helps children in Africa to access education (Clover, 2010). However, I gained pleasure from knowing that my money was going to help other people. I also knew that I would feel this before I made the donation and, therefore, it was not a truly selfless act.
“Altruism is helping behaviour that is motivated by a selfless concern for the welfare of another person” (altruism). Altruism differs from personal and social responsibility as both of the latter are motivated by a sense of duty. Altruism focuses on a desire to help others with no reward (altruism). Co-dependency is, again different, as the motivation for helping the other person is that they will reciprocate. In this comparison, my donation to charity appears to be an act of altruism. I will receive nothing in return and, as I have no links to this organisation, I felt no duty to donate to them. I looked at their website and wanted to help the Cameroonian children. Nevertheless, there are other points to be considered.
A central area of moral psychology involves the intrinsic selfishness of humans (Fieser, 2003). A British philosopher of the seventeenth century, Tomas Hobbes, claimed that most, if not all, human actions are motivated by selfish wants. He believed that even an act such as donating to charity actually has selfish roots. This understanding is called psychological egoism (Fieser, 2003). A view called psychological hedonism is also closely related to this, and refers to the pleasure from helping someone as being the motivation for the act. Joseph Butler, an eighteenth century British philosopher, argued that although natural selfishness and pleasure direct much of our behaviour, we also have an integral psychological capacity to demonstrate generosity towards others. This view is called psychological altruism and upholds that some actions, at least, are motivated by “instinctive benevolence” (Fieser, 2003).
Altruism is an essential concept in moral philosophy and also in socio-biology (Kunz, 2000). However, this concept is problematical and limited. In moral philosophy it establishes the heart of what is referred to as morality whereas, in the context of socio-biology, altruism as a justification of human behaviour fades. Altruistic behaviour is instead explained by “kin selection, reciprocity, and extensions of reciprocity, and these biological explanations leave little room for a behaviour to be classified as altruism in a strict sense” (Kunz, 2000).
It is arguable that there are no professional or personal responsibilities related to altruism, as with responsibilities come a sense of duty. A medical student upholds that, “Altruism often requires putting the interests of patients ahead of self-interest, but patients have infinite needs, and there are an infinite number of patients we could try to treat, or for whom we could advocate” (Work-Life, 2002). However, this notion of putting a patient’s interests first is motivated purely by a sense of ethical duty within the medical profession.
The future of society, particularly in the West, doesn’t lend itself to a growth in altruism. Motivations amongst humans are often focused on the acquisition of money or self-development. Many people work in order to earn money for their families. However, this could be seen as sense of duty, rather than a truly selfless act.
According to Hobbes, my donation to Commit2Africa was even driven by an intrinsic selfishness. It is true that I felt pleasure and a sense of pride from donating, and therefore hedonism was an essential element, and it cannot have been strictly altruistic.
Altruism Definition. Psychology and Society. Retrieved from http://www.psychologyandsociety.com/altruismdefinition.html
Clover, C. (2010). Our Work and Objectives. Commit2Africa. Retrieved from http://www.commit2africa.org/page_workandobjectives.html
Fieser, J. (2003). Ethics. International Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.iep.utm.edu/ethics/#SSH1b.i
Kunz, M. (2000). Sociobiology, Anabaptism, and the “Problem” of Altruism. Direction Journal. Retrieved from http://www.directionjournal.org/article/?1034
Work-Life Balance. (2002). Professionalism Module. Retrieved from http://medcolleges.washington.edu/icm2/sites/default/files/Work-Life%20Balance.pdf