Tag Archives: altruism

Is pure altruism possible?

On altruism, Professor Judith Lichtenberg (Philosophy at Georgetown University) explains…

Common sense tells us that some people are more altruistic than others. Egoism’s claim that these differences are illusory — that deep down, everybody acts only to further their own interests — contradicts our observations and deep-seated human practices of moral evaluation.

Altruists should not be confused with people who automatically sacrifice their own interests for others. We admire Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager who saved over 1,000 Tutsis and Hutus during the 1994 Rwandan genocide; we admire health workers who give up comfortable lives to treat sick people in hard places. But we don’t admire people who let others walk all over them; that amounts to lack of self-respect, not altruism.

Altruism is possible and altruism is real, although in healthy people it intertwines subtly with the well-being of the agent who does good. And this is crucial for seeing how to increase the amount of altruism in the world. Aristotle had it right in his “Nicomachean Ethics”: we have to raise people from their “very youth” and educate them “so as both to delight in and to be pained by the things that we ought.”

Source: New York Times