Altruism is Possible and Altruism is Real

I read a fascinating article in the New York Times called “Is Pure Altruism Possible?” The article’s author, Judith Lichtenberg, is a professor of philosophy at Georgetown University who is writing a book on charity and her interest seems to be in part to discover ways to increase altruism in the world today.

While much of the current thinking is squared back to the yet unproven theory of evolution, the logical structures used to explain the whys and wherefores of altruism remain quite intriguing. Whether pure altruism is possible or not, whether “no strings attached” giving is possible or not, all sides of the ongoing debate about the true nature of altruism is beneficial, for as they say, “Any PR is good PR.”

I am yet to be convinced that egoism lies at the root of all human function. Neither am I eager to swallow – hook, line and sinker – the theory of evolution in its entirety for it is yet to be proven in toto. Any scientist worth his salt leaves room for other explanations and does not form his worldview based on blind faith, neither does he adhere fanatically to a theory. A true, unbiased and objective scientist must work to prove or disprove it, without prospect of gain for himself.

I find it hard to explain away the deep inner drive to help others that I have witnessed over and over again in friends and associates. In some cases it is clear that the individual is doing so for approbation or to satisfy a shallow concern to feel better about oneself, but in others I cannot help but think that something deeper is compelling the selfless acts performed with no obvious concern for results.

If that is simply a reflection of the value system instilled in the individual through his socialization, well, we need more of it. If it is something else, something deeper, then we need to find ways to access its source.

I continue to make room for the idea that there is greatness inherent in each one. I also feel that the right conditions must be set around the individual to prime the pump which allows the deep and pure waters of excellence to be expressed in thought, word and deed. Whether this is due to an evolutionary drive based in self-interest or due to the radiant influence of a core of inner perfection, the point is clear: we create our tomorrows by nature of the decisions we make in relation to today’s harvest.

The sooner we realize this and give more freely of our talents and unique expression, the better.

10 thoughts on “Altruism is Possible and Altruism is Real

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  2. Foxglove

    I appreciate your critical and unbiased view of this topic. It’s one that I am also currently deep in thought with, and I get swayed back and forth in the attempt to form a cohesive world view and context for our lives. The biological versus the, for lack of better term, spiritual context of evolution. Of course there must be the real way from which our history has evolved, and if we hold fast to any ‘confirmation bias’, then all will appear to be nails if we only hold a hammer.
    Where does goodness and virtue come from? I think there have been many occasions in history where there was no social context provided, yet still those characteristics came about, right? Wars, severe oppression, brutal and violent upringings – still there were folks who came through. Genetics, environment both contribute powerful forces that help shape the biology of life. And then I ask myself, as in Goethe’s Faust, “[Words] must flow out from the heart.
    And, when the soul is touched with passion’s flame,
    We look around and ask – Who burns the same?”
    I think there is room for the two.


  3. Colin

    Altruism is something that exists in the world today. I know that, despite all the good things done for PR reasons, some things are done because they’re the right thing to do. I would love to see altruism grow exponentially in my lifetime. It is nowhere near where it needs to be. All it will take is the right spark at the right time, and enough people who are willing to make a change. Once people feel the feeling true altruism brings, hopefully the changes will come.


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  5. Mary

    I would rather spend my life believing that pure altruism is alive in the hearts of present day humanity, no matter how hard to see, then take one last breath that did not contain any hope that the evidence of greatness was still not available to man. For without the opening of hope there is no opening for us as people to grow and evolve not as a souless mass, but as individuals that thrive and live in harmony both with ourselves and with other people.


  6. Krista

    I love the thought provoking content of this post!!
    This certainly places the responsibility of handling the question of narcissistic behavior as an “in fashion” quality right back on us as the American public. Between reality t.v.and celebrity gossip the quest for true altruism in America never has to be a reality at all. I just wonder how much of this current trend is how people anesthetize themselves from having to truly deal with the question of where honest altruism is both in themselves and others in the present day world?


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