Definition: altruism (from the French altruisme, from the Latin alter – another) is a moral principle that prescribes disinterested actions aimed at the benefit (satisfaction of interests) of other people. The term was designed and put into circulation by O. Kont, who developed the traditions of the British moral philosophy of the 18th century, for fixing the concept opposite to the concept of selfishness. Altruism as a principle, according to Comte, says: “Live for others.” In the 19th century, under the influence of utilitarianism, altruism was understood as limiting personal interest for the sake of general (in some interpretations – public) interest. As a requirement for relations between people, altruism is broader than the principle of respect, which prohibits treating another as a means of achieving one’s own goals, and the principle of justice, which prohibits infringing upon the interests of another and obliging others to return what they deserve. In its essential content, the principle of altruism was embodied in the commandment of love, although it does not exhaust the Christian commandment of mercy, the content of which includes reverence and perfection; altruism is a special case of charity. However, in the New European philosophy, charity begins to be interpreted in the spirit of altruism, and the promotion of the good of the other is regarded as the basis of morality in general.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the principle of altruism became the subject of criticism of Christian, especially Orthodox, thinkers who believed that the New European altruism was unacceptable as a man-hedge (K.N. Leontiev). He rejected and as a “doctrine of bourgeois-democratic morality” (NA Berdyaev). However, VS Soloviev interpreted the principle of altruism precisely in the spirit of the commandment of love, extending it to the attitude not only of other people but also of other peoples.
In Marxism, altruism (selflessness), as well as selfishness, was considered as a historical and situational specific form of self-expression of individuals. Altruism was defined as an ideological illusion designed to camouflage such a social order that allows owners of private property to present their self-interested interest “as the interests of their neighbors.” He resolutely rejected Nietzsche’s altruism, seeing in him one of the expressions “morality of slaves”.
In the second half of the 20th century, the philosophical and ethical problems associated with altruism developed in the studies of “helping” or, more broadly, “prosocial” behavior, in which altruism is analyzed in the context of practical relations between people, on the basis of various forms of solidarity, good deeds, charity, etc. It is also rethought in the context of the ethics of caring (K. Gilligan, N. Noddings). The achievements of evolutionary genetics allowed representatives of evolutionary ethics (R.Trivers, E. Wilson) to show the biological prerequisites of altruism and the functional uncertainty of what is considered to be “personal interest”.
The real problem reflected in the dilemma of “altruism – selfishness” is the contradiction of not private and general interests, but the interests of the I and the Other. As can be seen from the definition of the term (and the etymology of the word “altruism”), it is about promoting not a common interest, namely the interest of another person (perhaps as an equal, and under any conditions – as a near), and it is specified that altruism must be distinguished from collectivism – the principle that guides people to the benefit of the community (group). Such a definition needs a normative and pragmatic specification; in particular, regarding one who judges the welfare of another, especially when the other cannot be considered fully sovereign to judge what constitutes his real interest. Addressed to the individual as a carrier of private interest, altruism presupposes self-denial, in the conditions of social and psychological isolation of people, concern for the interest of the neighbor is possible only with the restriction of one’s own interest.