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Goldberg, A. (1976). A Conceptual Approach to the Understanding of Generous Acts. Ann. Psychoanal., 4:185-199.

(1976). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 4:185-199

A Conceptual Approach to the Understanding of Generous Acts

Arnold Goldberg, M.D.

The debate about the origin of altruistic behavior in human beings (Gould, 1976) is centered upon whether such behavior is under genetic control in a specific sense, or whether it is but one form of behavior of which human beings are capable, with no specific genes being involved in the required program. Although one might think that psychoanalysis would be on equally friendly footing with either position, it is probable that the more biologically determined stance would correlate best with our instinct theory. In fact, when Freud (1905) stated that the sexual function becomes altruistic when it is subordinated to the reproductive function, he pointed the way for seeing such behavior as fundamentally derived from more basic biological drives. However, as human activity becomes more autonomous, it is viewed as a broad repertoire of behaviors with a multiplicity of functions, sources, and goals. Thus, one task for psychoanalysis is to aid in an approach to comprehending and explaining the acts of generosity we see which might be more congenial to the nongenetic explanation and still remain on a scientifically credible foundation. This, then, is the purpose of the paper: to present a way of looking at generous acts.

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