Tag Archives: altruism

Jonathan Baron & Ewa Szymanska

Altruistic behavior often leads to desirable social outcomes. We can thus assume that more altruism is better than less, other things being equal. But altruism tends to be already widely encouraged, so efforts to promote it even further may produce little noticeable change. Instead, it might be easier to do more good by improving efficiency of the altruistic behaviors already in place.

Jonathan Baron & Ewa Szymanska, Heuristics and Biases in Charity, in Daniel Oppenheimer & Christopher Olivola (eds.), The Science of Giving: Experimental Approaches to the Study of Charity, New York, 2011, p. 215

Thomas Nagel

Consider how strange is the question posed by someone who wants a justification for altruism about such a basic matter as this. Suppose he and some other people have been admitted to a hospital with severe burns after being rescued from a fire. “I understand how my pain provides me with a reason to take an analgesic,” he says, “and I understand how my groaning neighbor’s pain gives him a reason to take an analgesic; but how does his pain give me any reason to want him to be given an analgesic? How can his pain give me or anyone else looking at it from outside a reason?

This question is crazy. As an expression of puzzlement, it has that characteristic philosophical craziness which indicates that something very fundamental has gone wrong. This shows up in the fact that the answer to the question is obvious, so obvious that to ask the question is obviously a philosophical act. The answer is that pain is awful. The pain of the man groaning in the next bed is just as awful as yours. That’s your reason to want him to have an analgesic.

Thomas Nagel, ‘The Limits of Objectivity’, in Sterling McMurrin (ed.), The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, vol. 1, Cambridge, 1980, pp. 109-110

Jeremy Bentham

Take any two persons, A and B, and suppose them the only persons in existence:—call them, for example, Adam and Eve. Adam has no regard for himself: the whole of his regard has for its object Eve. Eve in like manner has no regard for herself: the whole of her regard has for its object Adam. Follow this supposition up: introduce the occurrences, which, sooner or later, are sure to happen, and you will see that, at the end of an assignable length of time, greater or less according to accident, but in no case so much as a twelvemonth, both will unavoidably have perished.

Jeremy Bentham, Constitutional Code, Oxford, 1983, vol. 1, p. 119

Stanisław Lem

ALTRUIZINE. A metapsychotropic transmitting agent effective for all sentient homoproteinates. The drug duplicates into others, within a radius of fifty yards, whatever sensations, emotions, and mental states one may experience… According to its discoverer, ALTRUIZINE will ensure the untrammeled reign of Brotherhood, Cooperation and Compassion in any society, since the neighbors of a happy man must share his happiness, and the happier he, the happier perforce they, so it is entirely in their own interest that they wish him nothing but the best. Should he suffer any hurt, they will rush so help at once, so as to spare themselves the pain induced by his. Neither walls, fences, hedges, nor any other obstacle will weaken the altruizing influence… We assume no responsibility for results at variance with the discoverer’s claims.

Stanisław Lem, ‘Altruizine; or, a True Account of How Bonhomius the Hermitic Hermit Tried to Bring About Universal Happiness and What Came of It’, in The Cyberiad, New York, 1976, p. 218