Altruism Is Ultimately Selfish

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Discuss the proposal that pure selfless altruism does not exist. Bartel (1976) defines prosocial behaviour as ‘behaviour that intentionally helps or benefits another person’. Batson (1987) defines altruism as ‘helping another person for no reward, and even at some cost to oneself.’ This definition of altruism seemingly depicts the behaviour as selfless, however there is a wealth of research which suggests that this is not the case. Dawkins (1976) also provides evidence that altruism is ultimately selfish. He separated individuals into three categories in regards to prosocial behaviour displayed. These were grudgers, cheats and suckers. Grudgers were deemed to be the most evolutionary stable category, as they could control and ‘punish’ cheats (who seek out and accept the help of others without returning the help) and could coexist with suckers (who indiscriminately provide others with help). This therefore provides support for the sociobiological view of prosocial behaviour, that it is ultimately selfish as its aim is to promote gene survival. However, this theory can only work if we know one’s altruistic or egoistic behaviour, and so Many studies have shown that we will only help others if we believe they would also help us. Clutton-Brock and Palmer (1995) found altruism to be conditional, which suggests that it therefore cannot be selfless. However, this can only work if we know one’s altruistic or egoistic behaviour, and so cannot benefit evolution if we do not (Mifune et al. 2010) This view is supported by the Social Norm approach. The Social Norm approach argues that altruism is based on reciprocity and equity. Equity theory states that we consider interactions to be fair if the outcomes are equally proportionate to the inputs (Wagstaff, 2001). A limitation of this theory is that Buunk et al (2012) found it difficult to apply to intimate relationships. A further limitation is that positive inputs could yield negative results, which is not fair or just...
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