(noun) The tendency of some people to value the health and well-being of others, often above their own self-interest.

Audio Pronunciation: (al·tru·ism)

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Usage Notes:

  • Plural: altruisms
  • Coined by Auguste Comte (1798–1857) in 1830.
  • Egocentrism is the opposite of altruism.
  • Also called:
    • selflessness
    • unselfishness
  • An (noun) altruist exhibits altruism (adverb) altruistically in an (adjective) altruistic manner.

Related Quotations:

  • “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 [1897] 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)

Additional Information:

Related Terms: 



Durkheim, Émile. [1897] 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.


Works Consulted

Abercrombie, Nicholas, Stephen Hill, and Bryan Turner. 2006. The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology. 5th ed. London: Penguin.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 5th ed. 2011. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Brym, Robert J., and John Lie. 2007. Sociology: Your Compass for a New World. 3rd ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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Ferris, Kerry, and Jill Stein. 2010. The Real World: An Introduction to Sociology. 2nd ed. New York: Norton.

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Random House Webster’s College Dictionary. 1997. New York: Random House.

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Turner, Bryan S., ed. 2006. The Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wikipedia contributors. (N.d.) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. (

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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 June 16, 2019 (

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

altruism. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “altruism.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed June 16, 2019.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“altruism.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 16 Jun. 2019. <>.