Constructed altruism

Attempts to derive altruism from a base in self-interest leave any semblance of altruism thus derived vulnerable to this origin. So much is this the case that it is dubious whether the term altruism can be legitimately used at all in this context. The observation that Christopher Jencks makes about the sociobiological version of altruism is apt. “What Trivers calls reciprocal altruism is not really altruistic in my sense of the term; rather, it is a matter of 'enlightened self-interest. '”1 In this state, the enlightenment may be sacrificed to the self-interest at any moment. As a recent advocate of evolutionary ethics admits, something more is needed. “If an evolutionary ethics is based on kin selection and altruism, then it will require supplementation to be complete, because rationality must be added to biology and evolution. 2 The altruism referred to here is the widest form recognized in biology, reciprocal altruism, the kind that we have just suggested is not deserving of the name. By the same token, the rationality that is to be added might be equally inadequate if it is the instrumental rationality exemplified by Gauthier's rational expansion of self-interest. If reason means the cleverness to calculate what is in my self-interest, even the cleverness to see that some approximation to altruism might be in my self-interest, this is more a refinement on enlightened selfinterest than an endorsement of altruism, and still leaves the

Christopher Jencks, “The Social Basis of Unselfishness, in The Gift: An Interdisciplinary Perspective, ed. Aafke E. Komter (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1996), p. 183.
Lewis Petrinovich, Human Evolution, Reproduction and Morality (New York: Plenum Press, 1995), p. 175.


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Altruism and Christian Ethics


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