Does Altruism exist?Altruism is selfishness in reverse. It is a motive to increase another's welfare without conscious regard for one's self-interest.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yes, I believe that altruism exists. If you listen to people complain or watch the news, sometimes it seems as if it is an antiquated concept. However, sometimes the best in people is seen during the worst times. In John Carpenter's movie of the '70s, entitled Starman, the alien says:

[men] are at their best when things are at their worst

Remember how people rose up to support the victims 9/11, of Katrina and then the tragedy in Haiti. Think of the "good Samaritan" stories we still hear on the news. When the Chilean miners were trapped underground recently, people around the globe were hoping and praying for their safe deliverance.

Do we see it while out Christmas shopping? Or is that guy willing to get out of his car and beat you up over a parking space, or is the woman trying to tackle you for the last "Tickle Me Elmo" doll?

Sometimes the bad news simply overpowers us in this age of instant information, with technology sitting in our hands, all day, everyday. Without computers and cell phones, we would probably not hear so much negativity so often, but it's been out there long before laptops.

With the bad comes the good, and vice versa. For all those warm and caring people we may hear about, there have to be hundreds, thousands of others who are "good-deed-doers," and never are recognized.

"Yes, Virginia, altruism still exists." (And let's hope it stays that way!)

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Of course it does--unless you frame the definition of altruism as an act that does not benefit us in any emotional way, which would deny that we are people with spirits as well as biological makeups. If feeling satisfaction in an altruistic act makes it selfish, then by definition, no act can be considered altruistic, but that narrow definition ignores the real question: Does helping someone else give us more satisfaction than helping ourselves? If the answer is "yes," then I would argue that the act is altruistic.

Our society, thankfully, is full of people who place the benefit of others before their self-interests. Just a few examples--Those who drop money in a Salvation Army kettle (no tax deduction there) or volunteer without publicity or fanfare to work in any number of charitable causes are acting out of concern for the well being of others. Teachers who stay after school to help students instead of going home on time are altruistic, as are neighbors who check on each other during bad weather. In these instances, the well being of others is deemed more important than an individual's own time and money. That, I believe, has to be considered altruism

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What an interesting question! Well, having a strong belief in human nature I would like to suggest that altruism does exist. I guess there is a possible argument for saying it doesn't and pointing towards the natural selfishness of human beings and how we will only help others if we can gain something from it ourselves - just think about the fact that we don't normally help complete strangers, if we do help someone, it is normally someone who will be in a position to help us in turn later on in life.

However, I think that there are many examples of altruism in the world, and Christians would definitely point to the death of Jesus Christ as the supreme example of altruism. I do believe that often when we think we are being altruistic there may be other motives at play, such as the desire for recognition, to make us feel better and so on, but still I want to hold on to the fact that pure altruism is possible.

You would benefit from asking this question in the discussion posting of this group to gain a wide range of responses.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I do not think that it is possible to know whether altruism exists.  This is because we cannot know why others act and we cannot really know for sure why we act.

For example, the other day we had late start for schools in our town because of icy roads.  I called a Japanese friend of mine who speaks very little English to make sure she knew about it.  Turned out she didn't and so it was very helpful to her to know that she shouldn't try to get her kid to school at the regular time.  So that increased her welfare and didn't really do anything for me.

But did I do it out of altruism?  I don't know.  Maybe it was important to me that she should think I'm nice.  Maybe I wanted my kids to see that you should be nice to other people when you can.  In both cases, it wouldn't be altruism because I'd have my own ulterior motives.

If I can't even tell for sure why I do things, how can I claim to know why others do things?  And, therefore, how can I know if altruism exists?

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Just because the selfishness and vanity and greed of humanity is more highly publicized than the selflessness of people does not adequately argue that altruism is nonexistant.  I believe that there is good in everyone.  We either choose to act on it or not.  Mother Teresa is an excellent example of altruism on earth, as is the man who rushes into a burning building to save a child he saw in the window.  Those who volunteer and work to ease the pain and suffering of matter how small the so because it makes them happy.  If that's selfish, so be it.  I choose to see that feeling of euphoria as a reward--when you treat others as you would like them to treat you, you are an example of altruism.  You are following the Golden Rule of the universe, you are living as Jesus commanded we all should, and you deserve a warm, fuzzy feeling as positive feedback. 

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would argue that it most certainly does, although it is most common on an individual level, and tends to be found more rarely in businesses and not at all in governments.

Yes, everyone acts in their own self interest much of the time, but we don't have to look too far or think too hard to come up with examples where we have, as individuals, done something altruistic in our daily lives.  There are organizations whose sole purpose is to commit a series of dedicated altruistic actions.

If we relied solely on altruism to cure society's ills, however, we would be in trouble.  This is why there is a tax incentive to donate to charities, or a benefit or service eventually given for tax deductions taken now, because humans aren't altruistic most of the time, and almost never are when their own perceived needs are not being met.

howesk eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To quote a song from the broadway musical Avenue Q-

"When you help others, you can't help helping yourself."

Helping other people makes you feel good about yourself. Does being truly altruistic require that you harm yourself in helping others? Or does it simply mean that your intention is to help others rather than benefitting yourself?

Here's an example of what I'm talking about: A girl in my graduating high school class set the goal for herself of winning the service award. She did 500+ hours of community service. Is her service to others discounted because she did it with her goal in mind?


ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps sociopaths are the only true personalities who could be altruistic by this definition. Doing something good for someone else is always rewarding for the individual regardless of whether we recognize that fact or not. If we do something nice it's because we care about human beings-that in itself is in our own self-interest.

I do, however, think there are still people who do wonderfu things without any expectation of personal gain. But that in itself is a gain isn't it?

lrwilliams eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would say that altruism does still exist in today's society. As someone else already stated it is mostly the selfishness that gets publicized and talked about. However there are still people doing things for others just because it is the right thing to do.

aroua | Student

i do believe that altruism does not exist nowadays. for instance, due to man preoccupation, man has scarcely the time to show altruism although it is innate in huamn being to be altruist to another... but nowadays with such vices altruism becomes a sort of showing off rathen thanits core meaning. i do believe in man goodness but with litlle awarness of what is happeninh in our lives from crimes to kidnapp to robbery... where there is no space to be altruist