Monday, 12 December 2016

Is Altruism An Illusion?

by Isabelle Sambles



Altruism is a selfless concern for the wellbeing of others. Immediately you might think of characters who perform apparent altruistic acts like Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela; both individually infamous for their acts of love and peace worldwide. But could you go as far as to say they did these acts because they were selfish? For one, Mother Teresa was a nun and thus by performing these kind acts it would guarantee her into heaven so what were the motive behinds her actions? Equally Nelson Mandela’s actions lead him to become the South African president. In this article I aim to figure out if we can ever call an act altruistic or are we all egoists?

There is an ethical theory called ethical egoism, which deals with this exact concept. An ethical egoist would look at how consequences of ones actions would benefit them. For instance, if a child disobeyed his parents, he would make a decision on whether to tell them or not based on the best interest for him.

Moreover, an egoist would define a good action as being the action that benefits the moral agent. Thus, an Ethical egoist would argue that we all have an obligation to do good in this world which is why we act selfishly. Even the actions that appear altruistic are in fact egotistical. For instance, if a firefighter were to save a family from the burning house, on the surface this would seem like a very selfless action as he is putting his own life at risk to save others. However, as being a firefighter is his job, he would have trained to access the risks and so he would be aware that it would be safe to go and save them, as well as, by saving the family, he would be regarded as a hero and gain respect of people as well as a possible promotion at work for his actions which would improve his standard of living. Therefore, this shows his actions were based on his self-interest rather than altruism.

This is clearly a very negative theory and whatever anyone’s intentions are, if their act can inspire a whole nation or change the life of a person. They are a good person and that is all that counts.

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