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What are the different types of altruism?

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Wmhoerr
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What are the different types of altruism?

Post by Wmhoerr » January 4th, 2019, 11:46 pm

An “altruistic” act is often used to mean a kind or an unselfish act. But this is too simple as there are clearly different types of altruism. The most elusive, “pure” altruism, while it certainly exists, is the hardest to find.

There seems to be at least four types of altruism. The first is genetic (or kin) altruism where parents help their own children. This also allows for helping relatives to varying extents as they share many of the same genes. A component of genetic nurturing is empathy as a parent must be able to judge when help is needed and to what degree.

A second type of altruism is reciprocal altruism where people help other non-related people with the expectation of this help being reciprocated if needed. In a village all the males will group together to defend it from attack even though many of the villagers will not be related. A hunter who makes a large kill will share it with others in the expectation of sharing in the food of other successful hunters if he fails. An older person may pick up young hitchhikers on the basis that he used to do a lot of hitchhiking when young and so he is repaying his “debt” to society. A person in retirement may work for a club like “Apex” and help younger people on the basis that he was helped by the same club when he was young. Modern expressions such as “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” emphasise this type of reciprocal altruism.

A third type of altruism is “redirected altruism”. It is a by-product of the first type, genetic altruism. Imagine a couple who want children, but due to some genetic flaw are not able to have them, or a nun whose religious beliefs bar her from having children. A strong genetic urge for nurturing could be addressed by helping unrelated children or adults around them. They could adopt children or start a charity or orphanage. The redirected altruist helps non-related people. By addressing their genetic nurturing they then receive happiness as if they had helped their own children. It might not be as good as helping their own children, but it is a reasonable substitute. Therefore, driven to exercise genetic nurturing in order to remain psychologically healthy, the couple or nun has no choice but to help unrelated individuals.

All the above types of altruism would still be selfish in the sense that happiness or satisfaction would be gained. A forth type of pure altruism could come from genetic recombination or mutation. After all, there is always genetic variability in children, as anyone can observe. So pure altruism certainly exists but for how long? Inevitably, such genes should die out. People with these genes would be materially disadvantage and so after a generation or two the genes should die out. That is, any new genetic ideas for pure altruism will not persist in the population. This logic seems good for most of our evolutionary history. But with the rise of welfare, where it is unusual for anyone to die in modern times, any altruistic genes might not only survive but prosper. This could create a new type of person.

People acting altruistically from pure altruism would still be acting selfishly from their eye-view. They are now addressing new altruistic genes that did not exist before. They would get happiness from successfully addressing these genes.

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Re: What are the different types of altruism?

Post by ktz » January 6th, 2019, 1:17 am

I think the OP is overstating the influence of genetics on human behavior here, and ought to instead emphasize that behavior at the human level is an intricate interplay of biological and cultural forces. Particularly in the fourth variant, when positing the idea that "pure" altruism could come from genetic recombination -- the idea that chromosomal aberrations could cause a baby to come out of the womb ready to donate his breastmilk to charity seems a bit absurd to me -- I think it should be clear that altruistic behavior can depend significantly on the examples set by parents, peers, and cultural icons throughout the course of one's education, and the extent of one's altruistic behavior will depend on these factors quite significantly, even above and beyond one's individual genetic predispositions. Altruism, like most other human behaviors, can be taught and learned. I think it's more likely that pure altruism, at the human level, can come simply from the understanding that one is part of something bigger than oneself than any genetic source, though there may in fact be some overlap when assessing phenomena like apoptosis and the behavior of leaf-cutter ants.

Considering this point, one missing source of human altruism from the OP is that of cultural memetics, with civic duty and religion being the most apparent examples over the past few millenia. I don't think these are encompassed by reciprocal altruism, as someone acting with patriotic or religious intentions often does so without the expectation of any explicit reciprocity. When a soldier falls on a grenade to save his foxhole buddies, I doubt he does so because he expects someone else to do so for him in the future. Nor do I buy the argument that Mother Theresa was ultimately selfish because she was acting in the interest of saving her own soul. There are many layers and dimensions by which an action exists and can be perceived, and one single selfish intention at one level of understanding ought not discredit ultimately unselfish acts of altruism requiring tremendous character and asceticism.

My primary understanding of altruism comes from the context of multilevel selection theory. As EO Wilson puts it, selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, but groups of altruistic individuals will beat groups of selfish individuals. As I stated before, I think altruism thus can be a function of the simple understanding of the connected nature of conscious beings and the adoption of a cosmopolitan point of view. The methods that one can obtain this transcendence of solipsism are quite varied, and not limited to reciprocal altruism or kin selection, also known in the literature as inclusive fitness.
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Re: What are the different types of altruism?

Post by Burning ghost » January 6th, 2019, 2:58 am

The terms “selfish” and “selfless” are the same at each extreme.

Genetics certainly playa major role in animal behaviour. If someone hurts a genetic relative then they are treated with contempt AND related to them is treated with contempt too. “Altruism” in the sense being used above sounds a lot like human “tribalism”.

Animals don’t sacrifice themselves for the good of the species anymore than humans do. It is easy to view nature as being “vicious” or “protective”. The simple truth is we just happen to view nature in such a manner because it has playedd out well for us to do so overall. There are advantages and disadvantages to this experience called “being human”.

Altruism is generally defined in terms of genetic preservation - as in immediate family.
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Re: What are the different types of altruism?

Post by Alias » January 6th, 2019, 3:12 am

Why would altruism be divided and classified?
Social animals have the ability to identify and commiserate with other of their species - and to a limited degree, with other species, as well.
The impulse to help is part of being social, for the very reason ktz cited: because a group that helps its members is far more likely to survive than a group that doesn't. So the compassionate social animals survived - and here we are, giving blood, giving food, giving money; giving time; helping friends move, babysitting for neighbours, delivering meals to invalids, travelling six thousand miles to dig total strangers out of the rubble after an earthquake, rescuing oily cormorants and raising orphaned squirrels.
I very much doubt any human state of mind, any human act, is "pure" in the sense that it has a single identifiable motivation. We're too complex. Our minds operate on several tracks at once and our emotions are are braided of so many strands that we can't carry out any premeditated act that simply.

The only "pure" acts of altruism would be instinctive reactions: jumping into the water when somebody's drowning, or pushing aside the guy who's about to hit a dog. When we have no time to reflect or calculate the consequences, we probably act on a simple motivation: to stop something bad happening to a fellow sentient being. And those pure acts are also the most primitive.

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Re: What are the different types of altruism?

Post by h_k_s » January 6th, 2019, 7:07 pm

Wmhoerr wrote:
January 4th, 2019, 11:46 pm
An “altruistic” act is often used to mean a kind or an unselfish act. But this is too simple as there are clearly different types of altruism. The most elusive, “pure” altruism, while it certainly exists, is the hardest to find.

There seems to be at least four types of altruism. The first is genetic (or kin) altruism where parents help their own children. This also allows for helping relatives to varying extents as they share many of the same genes. A component of genetic nurturing is empathy as a parent must be able to judge when help is needed and to what degree.

A second type of altruism is reciprocal altruism where people help other non-related people with the expectation of this help being reciprocated if needed. In a village all the males will group together to defend it from attack even though many of the villagers will not be related. A hunter who makes a large kill will share it with others in the expectation of sharing in the food of other successful hunters if he fails. An older person may pick up young hitchhikers on the basis that he used to do a lot of hitchhiking when young and so he is repaying his “debt” to society. A person in retirement may work for a club like “Apex” and help younger people on the basis that he was helped by the same club when he was young. Modern expressions such as “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” emphasise this type of reciprocal altruism.

A third type of altruism is “redirected altruism”. It is a by-product of the first type, genetic altruism. Imagine a couple who want children, but due to some genetic flaw are not able to have them, or a nun whose religious beliefs bar her from having children. A strong genetic urge for nurturing could be addressed by helping unrelated children or adults around them. They could adopt children or start a charity or orphanage. The redirected altruist helps non-related people. By addressing their genetic nurturing they then receive happiness as if they had helped their own children. It might not be as good as helping their own children, but it is a reasonable substitute. Therefore, driven to exercise genetic nurturing in order to remain psychologically healthy, the couple or nun has no choice but to help unrelated individuals.

All the above types of altruism would still be selfish in the sense that happiness or satisfaction would be gained. A forth type of pure altruism could come from genetic recombination or mutation. After all, there is always genetic variability in children, as anyone can observe. So pure altruism certainly exists but for how long? Inevitably, such genes should die out. People with these genes would be materially disadvantage and so after a generation or two the genes should die out. That is, any new genetic ideas for pure altruism will not persist in the population. This logic seems good for most of our evolutionary history. But with the rise of welfare, where it is unusual for anyone to die in modern times, any altruistic genes might not only survive but prosper. This could create a new type of person.

People acting altruistically from pure altruism would still be acting selfishly from their eye-view. They are now addressing new altruistic genes that did not exist before. They would get happiness from successfully addressing these genes.
In Greek the love of parents for their child is agrape -- pure love. It is unselfish and self sacrificing.

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Re: What are the different types of altruism?

Post by Alias » January 6th, 2019, 7:34 pm

h_k_s wrote:
January 6th, 2019, 7:07 pm
In Greek the love of parents for their child is agrape -- pure love. It is unselfish and self sacrificing.
V. nice. Lots of people subscribe to that sentimental notion.
Abraham comes to mind...

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Re: What are the different types of altruism?

Post by h_k_s » January 6th, 2019, 8:04 pm

Alias wrote:
January 6th, 2019, 7:34 pm
h_k_s wrote:
January 6th, 2019, 7:07 pm
In Greek the love of parents for their child is agrape -- pure love. It is unselfish and self sacrificing.
V. nice. Lots of people subscribe to that sentimental notion.
Abraham comes to mind...
The Greeks define 3 types of "love" --

1 - lust

2 - friendship

3 - parental love.

The words in Greek are thousands of years old, long before English was born in 1066 AD.

It's too bad the French and English combine all three of these into one. That is foolishness.

The Greeks were right.

Has nothing to do with the Hebrews or their ancient mythical character Abraham.

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Re: What are the different types of altruism?

Post by Alias » January 6th, 2019, 10:37 pm

h_k_s wrote:
January 6th, 2019, 8:04 pm
1 - lust

2 - friendship

3 - parental love.

The words in Greek are thousands of years old, long before English was born in 1066 AD.
That doesn't make it true.
Tamil is older. So is Sanskrit, and even Hebrew, a little. What difference does that make?
Anyway, not all the Greeks of then or now agree about every philosophical categorization. They each know what kinds of love they feel and what kinds they receive from others.
Has nothing to do with the Hebrews or their ancient mythical character Abraham.
They, too, were human beings, recording their human experiences.
Have you never known an abusive parent? Or a dogmatic one who bullies and forces a child to be unfaithful to its own nature? selfish one who takes advantage? Or an egocentric one who attempts to live out their own unrealized ambitions through their child?

BTW, what's this to do with altruism? What you do for love, or for your investment in DNA perpetuation, is never selfless: you gain something that matters to you.

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Re: What are the different types of altruism?

Post by h_k_s » January 6th, 2019, 10:53 pm

Alias wrote:
January 6th, 2019, 10:37 pm
h_k_s wrote:
January 6th, 2019, 8:04 pm
1 - lust

2 - friendship

3 - parental love.

The words in Greek are thousands of years old, long before English was born in 1066 AD.
That doesn't make it true.
Tamil is older. So is Sanskrit, and even Hebrew, a little. What difference does that make?
Anyway, not all the Greeks of then or now agree about every philosophical categorization. They each know what kinds of love they feel and what kinds they receive from others.
Has nothing to do with the Hebrews or their ancient mythical character Abraham.
They, too, were human beings, recording their human experiences.
Have you never known an abusive parent? Or a dogmatic one who bullies and forces a child to be unfaithful to its own nature? selfish one who takes advantage? Or an egocentric one who attempts to live out their own unrealized ambitions through their child?

BTW, what's this to do with altruism? What you do for love, or for your investment in DNA perpetuation, is never selfless: you gain something that matters to you.
Pure altruism is agrape.

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Re: What are the different types of altruism?

Post by Alias » January 6th, 2019, 11:57 pm

No it isn't.

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Re: What are the different types of altruism?

Post by ktz » January 7th, 2019, 1:13 am

I think I'm with Alias on this one, not least because I've always seen it transliterated as "agape". Agrape is something purple or green that is a tasty treat to eat. Anyway, I think the mention of agape doesn't add much more than an appeal to Greek authority to the conversation, seeing the OP's first reference to the parental variant of altruism, which is covered pretty extensively in evolutionary biology under the metric of inclusive fitness.

Agape, though originating with the Greeks, was later co-opted by the Christians in the context of the famous John 3:16 verse, about how God loved the world so much that he threw his only begotten son to the wolves -- not entirely unlike what our lovely Western model of paternal excellence Abraham did, so I think Alias's bit there is a bit relevant to the concept of "agape" as well. Regardless I think focusing on the historical terminology of the concept is a bit of a red herring here -- a rose by any other name etc.
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Re: What are the different types of altruism?

Post by ktz » January 7th, 2019, 1:25 am

Reconsidering, however, I think perhaps there may be some relevance of the introduction of the concept of love, especially selfless agape-type love, as a motive for altruism, seeing how all the various models of altruism save reciprocal altruism can be interpreted to have love as a motivational component -- familial love, love for one's country, love of God, love for one's adopted children, etc... Maybe the exploration of charity from Aquinas's Summa Theologiae has some relevant contribution to make here.
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Re: What are the different types of altruism?

Post by Alias » January 7th, 2019, 1:04 pm

I'm not a big fan of using "love" as a psychological motivation.
The emotional state of love itself is so varied and complex that it's impossible for one person to identify exactly what any other person feels, or what that feeling may prompt them to do.
Add to that the imprecision of the word, an all its range of descriptives and applications, and you have no reliable definition at all.

Spousal and parental love, in particular, are so bound up with both material and emotional self-interest that I can't even include them in a consideration of altruism. Other kinds of love can be categorized more accurately in different words.
For a general motivation to do good, I much prefer "empathy."
The simplest version is of a dog bringing you his wettest toy when you smell unhappy. (I had a dog once dump her kibble in my lap when I said I was hungry, but very few dogs are that smart.) He doesn't gain anything* by it; he's merely trying to cheer you up.
When we help accident victims, we don't gain anything* by it; we just identify with their plight and want to relive their suffering.

*Of course, we do gain something by every kind and decent act. We gain social solidarity, or species solidarity, which can save our collective hides. The feeling of satisfaction, self-esteem and accomplishment that rewards each altruistic action is nature's way of reinforcing social instinct.

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Re: What are the different types of altruism?

Post by Count Lucanor » January 8th, 2019, 10:41 pm

Wmhoerr wrote:An “altruistic” act is often used to mean a kind or an unselfish act. But this is too simple as there are clearly different types of altruism. The most elusive, “pure” altruism, while it certainly exists, is the hardest to find.

There seems to be at least four types of altruism.
Some problems with this. First, dividing altruism in types only suggests a classification, which cannot address by itself the issue of the correct meaning or use of the word. Classifications are often quite arbitrary or dependent of selection criteria which are arbitrary, so they don't say much about the essential properties of the object studied.

So what does "altruism" mean? It is never dealt with. Is its true meaning to be found in the act itself, or in the motivations behind the act, or in the general natural tendency or an urge to act in a specific way, or is it to be found in all of these combined? Is it related to the species or the individual?

The introduction of the adjective "pure" does not help to clarify the issue and confirms the confusing nature of classifications. By "pure" it's meant the true, real one, in this case: real altruism, against which all other types of said altruism become unreal, false, that is, non-related to altruism. Therefore, just by looking at the classifications, we could dismiss them in helping to find what altruism is. It seems as if they were just types of behavior that resemble altruism, even though they are not. And yet, altruism has not been defined.
Wmhoerr wrote:All the above types of altruism would still be selfish in the sense that happiness or satisfaction would be gained. A forth type of pure altruism could come from genetic recombination or mutation.
This goes to what I said about whether the meaning of altruism is to be found in the motivations (happiness or satisfaction to gain) behind acts or in a general natural tendency (genetic makeup) to act in some way. If the latter, what would prevent these acts from not making people happy or satisfied? Wouldn't this put them back again into the classification field of non-altruism?

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Re: What are the different types of altruism?

Post by boywonderlord » January 11th, 2019, 7:00 pm

Alias wrote:
January 7th, 2019, 1:04 pm
I'm not a big fan of using "love" as a psychological motivation.
The emotional state of love itself is so varied and complex that it's impossible for one person to identify exactly what any other person feels, or what that feeling may prompt them to do.
Add to that the imprecision of the word, an all its range of descriptives and applications, and you have no reliable definition at all.

Spousal and parental love, in particular, are so bound up with both material and emotional self-interest that I can't even include them in a consideration of altruism. Other kinds of love can be categorized more accurately in different words.
For a general motivation to do good, I much prefer "empathy."
The simplest version is of a dog bringing you his wettest toy when you smell unhappy. (I had a dog once dump her kibble in my lap when I said I was hungry, but very few dogs are that smart.) He doesn't gain anything* by it; he's merely trying to cheer you up.
When we help accident victims, we don't gain anything* by it; we just identify with their plight and want to relive their suffering.

*Of course, we do gain something by every kind and decent act. We gain social solidarity, or species solidarity, which can save our collective hides. The feeling of satisfaction, self-esteem and accomplishment that rewards each altruistic action is nature's way of reinforcing social instinct.
Sorry, I'm quite new to this, so I just ended up quoting the entire thing. You seem like a very optimistic person. I think its pretty easy to rationalize why a dog might dump a kibble in your lap, and I think its because your pup wants some food. Dogs are smart, but I don't think it would be smart to desire to make you feel better for no rational reason. Assuming your brain wasn't just fabricating a connection and your dog really could tell that you were sad, then I think its pretty safe to say he wanted food. They have been domesticated to look cute and beg. In fact a study was released recently that dogs feel no guilt, they just fake it REALLY well in order to look even cuter and get more food. Everything serves a purpose, survival. Theres nothing wrong with the simple nature of every species, but I don't see a reason to try to make altruism more than it is. Have you ever read Nietzsche's "genealogy of morality"? He paints a pretty sad picture of the whole "good-bad" equation, along with the "bad conscience". Its quite interesting, and sheds a really introspective light at a topic I think many of us actively try to avoid for a skewered perspective of something that is really quite simple and mechanical in nature, even while it gets lost and mixed up in the nitty gritty's of our weirdly orchestrated brains.

This topic seems pretty strange to me. Maybe I'm just crazy? Perhaps there is more to this, and human beings have evolved to have "altruism" since we were holding beatings at weddings, chopping arms off as debts, and generally enjoying the suffering of others. Idunno guys. Idunno.

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