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  • Altruism

    Altruism is the principle and moral practice of concern for happiness of other human beings and/or animals, resulting in a quality of life both material and spiritual. It is a traditional virtue in many cultures and a core aspect of various religious traditions and secular worldviews, though the concept of "others" toward whom concern should be directed can vary among cultures and religions. In an extreme case, altruism may become a synonym of selflessness which is the opposite of selfishness.

    The concept has a long history in philosophical and ethical thought. The term was originally coined in the 19th century by the founding sociologist and philosopher of science, Auguste Comte, and has become a major topic for psychologists (especially evolutionary psychology researchers), evolutionary biologists, and ethologists. Whilst ideas about altruism from one field can affect the other fields, the different methods and focuses of these fields always lead to different perspectives on altruism. In simple terms, altruism is caring about the welfare of other people and acting to help them.

    Hunters widely sharing the meat has been seen as a costly signal of ability and research has found that good hunters have higher reproductive success and more adulterous relations even if they themselves receive no more of the hunted meat than anyone else. Similarly, holding large feasts and giving large donations has been seen as ways of demonstrating one's resources. Heroic risk-taking has also been interpreted as a costly signal of ability.

    Women have been found to find altruistic men to be attractive partners. When looking for a long-term partner, altruism may be a preferred trait as it may indicate that he is also willing to share resources with her and her children. It has been shown that men perform altruistic acts in the early stages of a romantic relationship or simply when in the presence of an attractive woman. While both sexes state that kindness is the most preferable trait in a partner there is some evidence that men place less value on this than women and that women may not be more altruistic in presence of an attractive man. Men may even avoid altruistic women in short-term relationships which may be because they expect less success.

    Every single instance of altruistic behavior need not always increase inclusive fitness; altruistic behaviors would have been selected for if such behaviors on average increased inclusive fitness in the ancestral environment. This need not imply that on average 50% or more of altruistic acts were beneficial for the altruist in the ancestral environment; if the benefits from helping the right person were very high it would be beneficial to err on the side of caution and usually be altruistic even if in most cases there were no benefits.

    The study of altruism was the initial impetus behind George R. Price's development of the Price equation, which is a mathematical equation used to study genetic evolution. An interesting example of altruism is found in the cellular slime moulds, such as Dictyostelium mucoroides. These protists live as individual amoebae until starved, at which point they aggregate and form a multicellular fruiting body in which some cells sacrifice themselves to promote the survival of other cells in the fruiting body.

    There has been some debate on whether or not humans are truly capable of psychological altruism. Some definitions specify a self-sacrificial nature to altruism and a lack of external rewards for altruistic behaviors. However, because altruism ultimately benefits the self in many cases, the selflessness of altruistic acts is brought to question. The social exchange theory postulates that altruism only exists when benefits to the self outweigh costs to the self. Daniel Batson is a psychologist who examined this question and argues against the social exchange theory. He identified four major motives for altruism: altruism to ultimately benefit the self (egoism), to ultimately benefit the other person (altruism), to benefit a group (collectivism), or to uphold a moral principle (principlism). Altruism that ultimately serves selfish gains is thus differentiated from selfless altruism, but the general conclusion has been that empathy-induced altruism can be genuinely selfless. The empathy-altruism hypothesis basically states that psychological altruism does exist and is evoked by the empathic desire to help someone who is suffering. Feelings of empathic concern are contrasted with feelings of personal distress, which compel people to reduce their own unpleasant emotions. People with empathic concern help others in distress even when exposure to the situation could be easily avoided, whereas those lacking in empathic concern avoid helping unless it is difficult or impossible to avoid exposure to another's suffering. Helping behavior is seen in humans at about two years old, when a toddler is capable of understanding subtle emotional cues.

    Studies have also been careful to note that feeling over-taxed by the needs of others has conversely negative effects on health and happiness. For example, one study on volunteerism found that feeling overwhelmed by others' demands had an even stronger negative effect on mental health than helping had a positive one (although positive effects were still significant). Additionally, while generous acts make people feel good about themselves, it is also important for people to appreciate the kindness they receive from others. Studies suggest that gratitude goes hand-in-hand with kindness and is also very important for our well-being. A study on the relationship happiness to various character strengths showed that "a conscious focus on gratitude led to reductions in negative affect and increases in optimistic appraisals, positive affect, offering emotional support, sleep quality, and well-being.".

    In the context of larger ethical discussions on moral action and judgment, Buddhism is characterized by the belief that negative (unhappy) consequences of our actions derive not from punishment or correction based on moral judgment, but from the law of karma, which functions like a natural law of cause and effect. A simple illustration of such cause and effect is the case of experiencing the effects of what one causes: if one causes suffering, then as a natural consequence one would experience suffering; if one causes happiness, then as a natural consequence one would experience happiness.

    Many biblical authors draw a strong connection between love of others and love of God. 1 John 4 states that for one to love God one must love his fellowman, and that hatred of one's fellowman is the same as hatred of God. Thomas Jay Oord has argued in several books that altruism is but one possible form of love. An altruistic action is not always a loving action. Oord defines altruism as acting for the other's good, and he agrees with feminists who note that sometimes love requires acting for one's own good when the other's demands undermine overall well-being.

    Judaism defines altruism as the desired goal of creation. The famous Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook stated that love is the most important attribute in humanity. This is defined as bestowal, or giving, which is the intention of altruism. This can be altruism towards humanity that leads to altruism towards the creator or God. Kabbalah defines God as the force of giving in existence. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto in particular focused on the 'purpose of creation' and how the will of God was to bring creation into perfection and adhesion with this upper force.