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Twemlow, S. (2017). Prologue: Evolution Part II: The Understated Significance of Altruism and Cooperation. Psychoanal. Inq., 37(7):433-435.

(2017). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 37(7):433-435


Prologue: Evolution Part II: The Understated Significance of Altruism and Cooperation

Stuart W. Twemlow, M.D.

Ruin is the destination towards which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest. [Hardin, 1968,]

Altruistic acts, which often are very helpful and seem altruistic to the individual, may cause enormous problems collectively. For example, when one holds a subway door open to let more people on, this may, at rush hour, cost the group almost seven hours of time when there may be as many as 2,500 people on a train (Zaki, 2009). The term altruism was coined by the French Philosopher Auguste Comte: Altruisme (Ciciloni, 1825) referred to an act which is the antonym of egoism. There are several streams of writing on altruism, which can only be mentioned here. Biologically, the term altruism refers to a sort of mindless action that might contribute to the common social good—say, a colony of worker bees—where self-sacrifice does not have associated with it the conscious or unconscious intention of helping another, as far as I know.

Biological altruism, strictly defined, requires that the altruistic actor suffer in some way, or be reduced in some way, by this altruistic action. This particular way of thinking has found a home in neuroscience and in cognitive psychology (Locy and Rachlin, 2015), although in a purely behavioral experiment, Locy indicated that there is some evidence that individual altruistic acts cannot be explained wholly by the possibility of reciprocation. So, the biological forms of altruistic writings and the cognitive psychological forms of altruism have usually taken the human self out of the picture.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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