TED Conversations

This conversation is closed.

Can true altruism exist in humans?

Can people really act with 100% altruistic behaviors; in other words, can people act in a way that solely benefits another individual without any type of material or emotional personal benefit?

For example, one can suppose that a type of gift given from one individual to another is entirely for the benefit of the receiver, but then we may also suppose that the gift provides some type of benefit to the giver (good feelings, potential reciprocity expectations, etc).
Is there any way for a human to perform an act such as this with zero intentions to benefit in any way?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Oct 8 2012: Altruism speaks of motive, not of advantage gained. Altruism requires no modifiers like "real", or "100%". Either a given act is selfless, altruistic, or it is not. If the motive for an act is to improve the life of another person, or persons, that is altruism . The fact that it was altruistic is not changed when, and if, the result of such an act proves beneficial or advantageous to the person performing the act. Yes, altrusm is a reality in humans.
    • Oct 8 2012: I know that the act could benefit the performer, but what I am talking about is the intentions of the performer. I believe that they know either consciously or unconsciously the benefits that could result from the act. I propose that these perceived "benefits" alter the decision to act or not to act.
      • Oct 8 2012: At some point it becomes impossible to distinguish between doing something because it's the right thing to do and doing something because you like the feeling of having done the right thing, because believing something is the right thing to do is the same as feeling good about doing the right thing.
        • thumb
          Oct 8 2012: RE: "How can you you believe. . . "
          You cannot, nor did I say you can.
      • thumb
        Oct 8 2012: We agree! If motives are in any way selfish (like, "I will help that person who is in distress because helping them will make me feel good about myself.") the act is not altuistic. Helping a person in distress simply because they need help and you can help is altruistic. I think the issue of premeditation or forethought enter into this question.
        • Oct 8 2012: How can you believe helping someone is right without feeling good about helping someone? Doesn't your brain translate "helping = good" into "helping feels good" to make you believe that helping is good in the first place?

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.