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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: March 2020

10 - The Problem of Altruism and Future Directions

from Part IV - Group Living


Augustes Comte first coined the term “altruism” as a cornerstone for his ethic doctrine Positivism, describing it as selfless concern for another’s welfare (Sutton, 1982). The existence of altruism and basic human kindness has been heavily debated throughout history, permeating through psychological, philosophical, and theological fields. Early philosophical and religious figures discussed concepts such Saint Augustine’s theory of conscience – that basic human kindness was an innate human feature (Fortin, 1996) – or Thomas Aquinas’ synderesis rule, which states that humans desire to be good and can innately distinguish between right and wrong (Davies, 2014). While these speculations have little or no empirical basis, they do have something in common with more recent research: they view altruism as having an innate component. Augustine and Aquinas attributed God as the innate origin of human altruism. Evolutionary psychologists view altruism as genetically influenced, having arisen, in part, from the Darwinian selective forces of natural and sexual selection.