What is altruism
Altruism and egoism are arguably two of the most debated concepts in philosophy. For some, altruism and egoism are two opposite sides of the same coin while to others; altruism is a manifestation of egoism. More extremist views suggest that altruism and egoism are in fact not mutually exclusive concepts but rather are concordant concepts. Nevertheless, philosophical research indicates that any of these scenarios can be proven to be true depending on the circumstances and supporting evidence. However, my personal inclination is that altruism is not a form of egoism but rather a concept based on egoism. Consequently, this paper, drawing from critical thinking, argues that altruism and egoism exists on a linear scale whereby egoism lays the foundation for altruism. As such, altruism cannot take place before egoism and although this might suggest that altruism is indeed a form of egoism, this research argues otherwise.
Egoism is an ethical school of thought that treats self-interest as the underpinning factor behind morality. As such, the theory of egoism argues that everybody’s ethical and moral compass is dictated by their own interest. Bases on this premise, people’s actions and moral behavior are dictated by the extent to which their ego is dominant. That is, people who live to serve their own primal needs of hunger, aggression, and sex regardless of the outcome or consequences are immoral while those who consider their actions, environment, and societal expectations before fulfilling these needs are moral. On the other hand altruism is defined as the “unselfish concern for the welfare of others”. In this school of thought, people’s actions and moral compass is dictated by their unwavering concern for others and their well being.
Based on these definitions it becomes clear that altruistic behavior is not in any way a manifestation of egoism. Unlike egotistic behavior which is driven by self-interest, altruism has nothing to do with the self-preservation of the person offering selfless services to others. Although it might be argued that the persons self-perceived moral righteousness which drive their altruistic behavior is in fact satisfying their self-interest to be morally correct, no person is born with the self-interest to be moral. In the contrary, research has shown that concepts of morality and ethics are influenced by environment and learnt progressively from childhood to adulthood. As such, egoistic actions are predominantly for survival purposes as opposed to altruistic actions which are predominantly to satisfy artificial concepts, psychological or otherwise.
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Finally, egotism comes before altruism. Philosopher Spencer (1879) argues that both concepts exist simultaneously in a linear relationship. According to him, an individual’s self-interests of survival must always come first lest they die. For instance, if a person puts their need to eat, be happy, or procreate behind others’ needs to do so, it would mean that the individual would eventually die. As such, even when being selfless and taking care of others’ needs, ones egotistic needs must first be met. For example, consider a caretaker in a nursing home who in the traditional sense is altruistic. Rarely do they themselves become miserable because when all things are considered, they first fulfill their needs to be happy (choosing that career path) before they offer their services. As such, Altruism is not a form of egoism.