(noun) The tendency of some people to value the health and well-being of others, often above their own self-interest.
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- Plural: altruisms
- Coined by Auguste Comte (1798–1857) in 1830.
- Egocentrism is the opposite of altruism.
- Also called:
- An (noun) altruist exhibits altruism (adverb) altruistically in an (adjective) altruistic manner.
- “Having designated as ‘egoism’ the condition in which the ego pursues its own life and is obedient only to itself, the designation ‘altruism’ adequately expresses the opposite condition in which the ego is not its own property. It is blended with something other than itself, and the goal of conduct is external to itself, that is, in one of the groups in which it participates. Thus we call the suicide caused by intense altruism ‘altruistic suicide'” (Durkheim  2004:77).
- “One fundamental question about human nature is whether people are ever capable of genuinely altruistic acts. The term altruism is typically used to reflect one of two concepts. The first is evolutionary altruism, which refers to helping behavior that benefits another at some cost to oneself. Evolutionary altruism reflects behavior caused by many different habits and motives assumed to have evolved in a species because they promote the long-term reproduction of species members’ genes. The term altruism is also used to reflect psychological altruism, which refers to a motivational state with the goal of increasing another’s welfare. Psychological altruism is typically contrasted with psychological egoism, which refers to a motivational state with the goal of increasing one’s own welfare” (Lishner and Stocks 2008:87–88)
- Durkheim, Émile. 1897. Suicide.
- Full text available at the Internet Archive.
- Jeffries, Vincent, Barry V. Johnston, Lawrence T. Nichols, Samuel P. Oliner, Edward Tiryakian, and Jay Weinstein. 2006. “Altruism and Social Solidarity: Envisioning a Field of Specialization.” The American Sociologist. 37(3): 67-83.
- Montada, Leo, and Hans Werner Bierhoff. 1991. Altruism in Social systems. Toronto: Hogrefe & Huber.
- Piliavin, Jane Allyn, and Hong-Wen Charng. 1990. “Altruism: A Review of Recent Theory and Research.” Annual Review of Sociology. 16(1): 27-65.
- Silver, Morris. 1980. Affluence, Altruism, and Atrophy: The Decline of Welfare States. New York: New York University Press.
Durkheim, Émile.  2004. “Suicide.” Pp. 65–83 in Readings from Emile Durkheim. Rev. ed., edited and translated by K. Thompson. New York: Routledge.
Lishner, David A., and E. L. Stocks. 2008. “Altruism.” Pp. 87–88 in International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2nd ed., edited by W. Darity. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA.
Abercrombie, Nicholas, Stephen Hill, and Bryan Turner. 2006. The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology. 5th ed. London: Penguin.
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How to Cite the Definition of Altruism
ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “altruism.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved December 14, 2018 (https://sociologydictionary.org/altruism/).
APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)
altruism. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/altruism/
Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “altruism.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed December 14, 2018. https://sociologydictionary.org/altruism/.
MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)
“altruism.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 14 Dec. 2018. <https://sociologydictionary.org/altruism/>.