Altruism

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Altruism consists of sacrificing something for someone other than the self (e.g. sacrificing time, energy or possessions) with no expectation of any compensation or benefits, either direct, or indirect (for instance from recognition of the giving).

Quotes[edit]

  • First, the egoist calls life a war without mercy, and then he takes the greatest possible trouble to drill his enemies in war. To preach egoism is to practise altruism.
  • Non sibi sed aliis
    • English translation: "Not for self but for others", alternately "Not for themselves, but for others". It is used as the motto of Ferrum College in Ferrum, Virginia, and is translated by Ferrum as "Not Self, But Others".
  • The altruism is an instinct we've inherited from the small society where we know for whom we work, whom we serve. When you pass from this as I like to call it, 'concrete society' where we are guided by what we see to the abstract society which far transcends our range of vision, it becomes necessary that we are guided not by the knowledge of the effect of what we do but from some abstract symbols. Now, this symbol which takes us where we can tells us where we can make the best contribution is profit. And in fact by pursuing profit, we are as altruistic as we can possibly be, because we extend our concern to people who are beyond our range of personal conception. This is a condition which makes it possible to- even to produce what I call an extended order; an order which is not determined by our aim, by our knowing what are the most urgent needs, but by impersonal mechanism who by a system of communication puts a label on certain things which is calling impersonal.
  • Life has its beginning and its maturity comes into being when an individual rises above self to something greater. Few individuals learn this, and so they go through life merely existing and never living. Now you see signs all along in your everyday life with individuals who are the victims of self-centeredness. They are the people who live an eternal “I.” They do not have the capacity to project the “I” into the “Thou." They do not have the mental equipment for an eternal, dangerous and sometimes costly altruism. They live a life of perpetual egotism. And they are the victims all around of the egocentric predicament. They start out, the minute you talk with them, talking about what they can do, what they have done. They’re the people who will tell you, before you talk with them five minutes, where they have been and who they know. They’re the people who can tell you in a few seconds, how many degrees they have and where they went to school and how much money they have. We meet these people every day. And so this is not a foreign subject. It is not something far off. It is a problem that meets us in everyday life. We meet it in ourselves, we meet in other selves: the problem of selfcenteredness.
    • Martin Luther King, Jr., in his speech "Conquering Self-centeredness", delivered on 11 August 1957 at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
  • An individual has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow horizons of his particular individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. And this is one of the big problems of life, that so many people never quite get to the point of rising above self. And so they end up the tragic victims of self-centeredness. They end up the victims of distorted and disrupted personality.
    • Martin Luther King, Jr., in his speech "Conquering Self-centeredness", delivered on 11 August 1957 at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
    • Variants: (Many of MLKs' speeches were delivered many times with slight variants): An Individual has not started living fully until they can rise above the narrow confines of individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of humanity. Every person must decide at some point, whether they will walk in light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment: Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'
    • As quoted in The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Coretta Scott King, Second Edition (2011), Ch. "Community of Man", p. 3
  • And there is another way to rise above self-centeredness and that is by having the proper inner attitude toward your position or toward your status in life or whatever it is. You conquer self-centeredness by coming to the point of seeing that you are where you are today because somebody helped you to get there. And so many people, you see, live a self-centered, egocentric life because they have the attitude that they are responsible for everything and for their position in life. For everything they do in life, they feel, somehow, that they are responsible and solely responsible for it.
    • Martin Luther King, Jr., in his speech "Conquering Self-centeredness", delivered on 11 August 1957 at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
  • [Y]ou are what you are because of somebody else. You are what you are because of the grace of the Almighty God. He who seeks to find his ego will lose it. But he who loses his ego in some great cause, some great purpose, some great ideal, some great loyalty, he who discovers, somehow, that he stands where he stands because of the forces of history and because of other individuals; he who discovers that he stands where he stands because of the grace of God, finds himself. He loses himself in that something but later finds himself. And this is the way, it seems to me, to the integrated personality.
    • Martin Luther King, Jr., in his speech "Conquering Self-centeredness", delivered on 11 August 1957 at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
  • 진리를 구하자 · 허위를 버리자 · 희생하자
    • English translation: "Let us pursue the truth. Let us forsake falsehood. Let us sacrifice ourselves." Motto of the Korea Naval Academy, the naval military college of the Republic of Korea Navy, located in Jinhae, South Gyeongsang Province, South Korea.
  • Altruism itself was so insisted upon in the latter half of the nineteenth century that ... theory and practice, words and deeds, stood in liveliest contradiction. ... Everywhere a conflict rent the world in twain: it created abysses in every thinker’s scheme of things: it made its presence so unpleasantly real that the best brains gave up research and thinking, and crept for refuge into a profession, a craft, into libraries, or hid themselves in the mine-shafts of specialism.
    • Oscar Levy, The Revival of Aristocracy (1906), p. 37
  • Greatness loves itself, and all healthy instincts decline to flagellate themselves daily with the whip of altruism. What is great must will to do more than its mere duty; it must give, make others happy, and, be it at the cost of itself, its own wellbeing, its own money or life, it must will to pour forth its blessing over others, to the extent even of self-sacrifice—but not, as Christianity demands, from unegoistic motives; the impulse must come from a sense of pleasure, from overflowing energy, from need of bloodletting, so as to unburden the full heart. All acts then derived from conscience and duty, or done with a wry countenance out of obedience to the Categorical Imperative, seem to the great man, from his point of view, through this very fact contemptible, even as he has an unsurmountable prejudice against men and nations who are always prating of those words, conscience and duty.
    • Oscar Levy, The Revival of Aristocracy (1906), p. 81
  • Men have been taught that their first concern is to relieve the suffering of others. … To make that the highest test of virtue is to make suffering the most important part of life. Then man must wish to see others suffer—in order that he may be virtuous. Such is the nature of altruism.
  • The man who attempts to live for others is a dependent. He is a parasite in motive and makes parasites of those he serves.
  • As poles of good and evil, he was offered two conceptions: egoism and altruism. Egoism was held to mean the sacrifice of others to self. Altruism—the sacrifice of self to others. This tied man irrevocably to other men and left him nothing but a choice of pain: his own pain borne for the sake of others or pain inflicted upon others for the sake of self. … Man was forced to accept masochism as his ideal—under the threat that sadism was his only alternative.
  • The important thing is not the amount of welfare, it is that there should be a maximum of love among men. The act of helping is the direct and adequate expression of love, not its meaning or “purpose.” Its meaning lies in itself, in its illumination of the soul, in the nobility of the loving soul in the act of love. Therefore nothing can be further removed from this genuine concept of Christian love than all kinds of “socialism,” “social feeling,” “altruism,” and other subaltern modern things. When the rich youth is told to divest himself of his riches and give them to the poor, it is really not in order to help the “poor” and to effect a better distribution of property in the interest of general welfare. Nor is it because poverty as such is supposed to be better than wealth. The order is given because the act of giving away, and the spiritual freedom and abundance of love which manifest themselves in this act, ennoble the youth and make him even “richer” than he is.
    • Max Scheler, Ressentiment, L. Coser, trans. (1961), p. 93
  • One cannot love anybody without turning away from oneself. However, the crucial question is whether this movement is prompted by the desire to turn toward a positive value, or whether the intention is a radical escape from oneself. “Love” of the second variety is inspired by self-hatred, by hatred of one’s own weakness and misery. The mind is always on the point of departing for distant places. Afraid of seeing itself and its inferiority, it is driven to give itself to the other—not because of his worth, but merely for the sake of his “otherness.” Modern philosophical jargon has found a revealing term for this phenomenon, one of the many modern substitutes for love: “altruism.” This love is not directed at a previously discovered positive value, nor does any such value flash up in the act of loving: there is nothing but the urge to turn away from oneself and to lose oneself in other people’s business. We all know a certain type of man frequently found among socialists, suffragettes, and all people with an ever-ready “social conscience”— the kind of person whose social activity is quite clearly prompted by inability to keep his attention focused on himself, on his own tasks and problems. Looking away from oneself is here mistaken for love! Isn’t it abundantly clear that “altruism,” the interest in “others” and their lives, has nothing at all to do with love? The malicious or envious person also forgets his own interest, even his “preservation.” He only thinks about the other man’s feelings, about the harm and the suffering he inflicts on him. Conversely, there is a form of genuine “self-love” which has nothing at all to do with “egoism.” It is precisely the essential feature of egoism that it does not apprehend the full value of the isolated self. The egoist sees himself only with regard to the others, as a member of society who wishes to possess and acquire more than the others. Selfdirectedness or other-directedness have no essential bearing on the specific quality of love or hatred. These acts are different in themselves, quite independently of their direction.
  • There is a completely different way of stooping to the small, the lowly, and the common, even though it may seem almost the same. Here love does not spring from an abundance of vital power, from firmness and security. Here it is only a euphemism for escape, for the inability to “remain at home” with oneself (chez soi). Turning toward others is but the secondary consequence of this urge to flee from oneself. … Modern philosophical jargon has found a revealing term for this phenomenon, one of the many modern substitutes for love: “altruism.” This love is not directed at a previously discovered positive value, nor does any such value flash up in the act of loving: there is nothing but the urge to turn away from oneself and to lose oneself in other people’s business. We all know a certain type of man frequently found among socialists, suffragettes, and all people with an ever-ready “social conscience”—the kind of person whose social activity is quite clearly prompted by inability to keep his attention focused on himself, on his own tasks and problems.
    • Max Scheler, Ressentiment, L. Coser, trans. (1961), pp. 95-96
  • In ressentiment morality, love for the “small,” the “poor,” the “weak,” and the “oppressed” is really disguised hatred, repressed envy, an impulse to detract, etc., directed against the opposite phenomena: “wealth,” “strength,” “power,” “largesse.” When hatred does not dare to come out into the open, it can be easily expressed in the form of ostensible love—love for something which has features that are the opposite of those of the hated object. This can happen in such a way that the hatred remains secret. When we hear that falsely pious, unctuous tone (it is the tone of a certain “socially-minded” type of priest), sermonizing that love for the “small” is our first duty, love for the “humble” inspirit, since God gives “grace” to them, then it is often only hatred posing as Christian love.
    • Max Scheler, Ressentiment, L. Coser, trans. (1961), pp. 96-97
  • If you begin by sacrificing yourself to those you love, you will end by hating those to whom you have sacrificed yourself.
  • These Things We Do, That Others May Live
    • Motto of the United States Air Force Pararescue, a branch of the U.S. Air Force that specializes in combat search and rescue, and has carried out missions ranging from extracting downed air crews from hostile territory to retrieving NASA astronauts in water landings.
  • Non sibi sed patriae
    • English translation: "Not for self but for country". Unofficial motto of the United States Navy.
  • Altruism is a brief phase through which some adolescents must pass. It is rather like acne. Happily, as with acne, only a few are permanently scarred.
    • Gore Vidal, “Growing Up With Gore Vidal,” Point to Point Navigation (2007), p. 27
  • This odd little woman is attempting to give a moral sanction to greed and self interest, and to pull it off she must at times indulge in purest Orwellian newspeak of the "freedom is slavery" sort. What interests me most about her is not the absurdity of her "philosophy," but the size of her audience (in my campaign for the House she was the one writer people knew and talked about). She has a great attraction for simple people who are puzzled by organized society, who object to paying taxes, who dislike the "welfare" state, who feel guilt at the thought of the suffering of others but who would like to harden their hearts. For them, she has an enticing prescription: altruism is the root of all evil, self-interest is the only good, and if you're dumb or incompetent that's your lookout.
  • For to justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil. For one thing, it is gratuitous to advise any human being to look out for himself. You can be sure that he will. It is far more difficult to persuade him to help his neighbor to build a dam or to defend a town or to give food he has accumulated to the victims of a famine. But since we must live together, dependent upon one another for many things and services, altruism is necessary to survival. To get people to do needed things is the perennial hard task of government, not to mention of religion and philosophy. That it is right to help someone less fortunate is an idea which has figured in most systems of conduct since the beginning of the race. We often fail. That predatory demon “I” is difficult to contain but until now we have all agreed that to help others is a right action. […] Ayn Rand’s "philosophy" is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society. To justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil.
  • Now and then, in the course of the century, a great man of science, like Darwin; a great poet, like Keats; a fine critical spirit, like M. Renan; a supreme artist, like Flaubert, has been able to isolate himself, to keep himself out of reach of the clamorous claims of others, to stand “under the shelter of the wall,” as Plato puts it, and so to realise the perfection of what was in him, to his own incomparable gain, and to the incomparable and lasting gain of the whole world. These, however, are exceptions. The majority of people spoil their lives by an unhealthy and exaggerated altruism—are forced, indeed, so to spoil them. They find themselves surrounded by hideous poverty, by hideous ugliness, by hideous starvation. It is inevitable that they should be strongly moved by all this. The emotions of man are stirred more quickly than man’s intelligence. … It is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought.
    • Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” Complete Works (New York: 1989), p. 1079, ¶ 2

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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