The accidental altruist

Biology and Philosophy 17 (1):71-91 (2002)
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Operational definitions of biological altruism in terms of actual fitness exchanges will not work because they include accidental acts as altruistic and exclude altruistic acts that have gone awry. I argue that the definition of biological altruism should contain an analogue of the role intention plays in psychological altruism. I consider two possibilities for this analogue, selected effect functions and the proximate causes and effects of behavior. I argue that the selected-effect function account will not work because it confuses the explanation of some altruistic behavior with the definition of all of it and the information needed to justify a selected effect account of function is too often inaccessible. Close attention to the proximate explanations of a behavior is all that is needed to determine if an act is biologically altruistic, returning biological altruism to descriptive ethology, where it belongs.



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Citations of this work

Altruism as a thick concept.Michael Schefczyk & Mark Peacock - 2010 - Economics and Philosophy 26 (2):165-187.
What, If anything, Is Biological Altruism?Topaz Halperin & Arnon Levy - forthcoming - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
Altruism and the golden rule.Jonathan Goodman - 2014 - Zygon 49 (2):381-395.

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References found in this work

The possibility of altruism.Thomas Nagel - 1970 - Oxford,: Clarendon P..
Functional analysis.Robert E. Cummins - 1975 - Journal of Philosophy 72 (November):741-64.
Sociobiology: The New Synthesis.Edward O. Wilson - 1975 - Harvard University Press.

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