Oakley Barbara - Pathological altruism

Authors : Oakley Barbara - Knafo Ariel - Madhavan Guruprasad - Sloan Wilson David
Title : Pathological altruism
Year : 2011

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Foreword. My dictionary (Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition) defnes altruism as “unselfsh regard to or devotion to the welfare of others.” Te dictionary adds a second defnition: “behavior by an animal that is not benefcial to or may be harmful to itself but that benefts others of its species.” Tis second defnition relates to “biological” altruism, which applies to all animals and makes explicit what is implied by “unselfsh” in the frst defnition - namely, that the agent need not beneft and, indeed, may be harmed by the behavior. Biological altruism is assayed in reproductive terms. Human altruism has a broader scope, “the welfare of others,” and it does not necessarily connote action, but simply “regard” or “devotion.” Te target of the regard or the behavior is, in both defnitions, the welfare or the beneft of others. If such is the case, it would seem that “pathological altruism” might be a contradiction in terms. It is not so, precisely because human altruism, which is the subject of the present book, necessarily denotes only regard or consideration of others, not necessarily action benefcial to them. A person’s actions may harm others who are held in high regard by that person, because of misjudgment, or because the intended benefciaries are some third party, not the immediate targets of the action. Tink of suicide bombers. Te terrorists that destroyed the New York Twin Towers surely thought that they were acting for the beneft of Islam. All these issues and many more are extensively and profoundly explored in Pathological Altruism. I offer here the simple points made in the previous paragraph, because I presume many potential readers may react to the book’s title as I did when I was frst introduced to this book. I was puzzled. Why “pathological” altruism? Is it not the case that altruism bespeaks benefts to others and virtuous intentions by the altruist ? Upon reflection, I imagined that instances of pathological altruism might sometimes occur. I read the manuscript and discovered that pathological altruism is not an aberration that might occasionally be the case, but rather a behavior that overwhelmingly occurs in human social intercourse. ...

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