Psychological altruism vs. biological altruism: Narrowing the gap with the Baldwin effect

Acta Biotheoretica 53 (3):217-239 (2005)
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This paper defends the position that the supposed gap between biological altruism and psychological altruism is not nearly as wide as some scholars (e.g., Elliott Sober) insist. Crucial to this defense is the use of James Mark Baldwin's concepts of “organic selection”and “social heredity” to assist in revealing that the gap between biological and psychological altruism is more of a small lacuna. Specifically, this paper argues that ontogenetic behavioral adjustments, which are crucial to individual survival and reproduction, are also crucial to species survival. In particular, it is argued that human psychological altruism is produced and maintained by various sorts of mimicry and self-reflection in the aid of both individual and species survival. The upshot of this analysis is that it is possible to offer an account of psychological altruism that is closelytethered to biological altruism without reducing entirely the former to thelatter.


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Mahesh Ananth
Indiana University South Bend

Citations of this work

Explaining human altruism.Michael Vlerick - 2020 - Synthese 199 (1-2):2395-2413.
The Scientific Perspective on Moral Objectivity.Catherine Wilson - 2017 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 20 (4):723-736.

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