Egoism and Altruism
The term ‘egoistic altruism’ is made from the two words, i.e., egoism and altruism. To understand egoistic altruism, Let us first understand these two words.
Egoism refers to the quality of being extremely self-centred, i.e., an egoistic person is someone who always looks for his/her own benefits in every act that he/she does. An egoistic person may find it easy to indulge in the activities that involve the self-benefit even at the cost of helping others even if the act involves harming the other person. It can be said that the person indulges in egoism when an egoist the person does feels that he/she is not morally obliged to the others. Let us understand it through an example. A married man decides to leave his children because he thinks that he is unable to do their upbringing due to financial problems. The man finds it difficult to manage this situation and simply thinks of leaving the problem. In this scenario, the man is not considering the dependency his family has on himself and he is only thinking about his problem. He is not feeling morally obliged toward his wife and children. Some claims that it is the human tendency to be egoistic, this statement is also supported by a philosopher named Thomas Hobbes.
Altruism is the opposite of egoism. Altruism can be defined as the unselfish behaviour of a person. An altruistic person tends to think about the needs and the benefits of others before his/her own needs. For example, a mother who does not step back from risking something for the wellness of their children, and military personnel who is always ready to sacrifice their life for their nation. Unlike egoism, a person forgets about the self-benefits in the case of altruism. An altruistic person thinks that he has very strong moral obligations toward others which motivates him/her to indulge in altruistic acts. There are various theories proposed by the researchers to explain the reason that motivated people to show altruistic acts.
Key Differences in Egoism and Altruism
- Egoism involves extremely self-centred behaviour while altruism involves the selfless behaviour of the person.
- Both Egoism and Altruism are two extreme natures of human beings.
- Egoistic behaviour looks for its own benefits in every situation, while the altruistic person ignores the self-benefits for the wellness of the others.
- Altruistic people feel morally obligated to help others while egoistic people do not feel any moral obligation towards others, which is why they find it easier to focus on the self-benefits only.
Understanding Egoistic Altruism
As we have discussed above, both the qualities, i.e., egoism and altruism are the exact opposite of each other. Egoism is based on the intention of personal benefits only. On the other hand, altruism does not involve seeking any rewards or benefits; an altruistic person is motivated to show the helping act only for the benefit of others. This means that an altruistic person can never be described as selfish. However, if we apply the game theory to evolution, it shows that there exist some actions that seem altruistic but also provide benefits to the individuals displaying the altruistic acts. If we view altruism from the perspective of evolutionary biology, altruism is defined as an action of an individual that promotes the growth or survival of the other organism but at its own cost. This means that in terms of the evolutionary perspective, altruism has a different meaning than it has otherwise. In an evolutionary sense, an act is considered altruistic if an individual sacrifices his/her benefits for the other members of the group with similar genes. Also, according to the biological perspective, it is not required, to consider an act as altruistic one should be consciously aware of helping the other individuals, whether an action is altruistic or not is described on the basis of the consequences of the action performed by the helper.
However, the altruistic acts that are observed raise a question, i.e., How will the genes of the altruistic person survive if the survival of the altruistic gene is not as crucial as the survival of the others? If the altruistic genes will always be willing to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of the egoistic genes (individuals) then as per the evolution principles, the altruistic genes will be eliminated and only the selfish genes will survive. This question has confused the researchers for quite a long time. Kin selection is one of the other important theories that try to explain this concept. This theory states that altruism can only be viewed from the evolutionary perspective if an individual performs altruistic acts toward a closely related member-only, i.e., an altruistic gene shows altruism towards the other altruistic genes. In practice, this kinship represents the relatives, as they generally share similar genes. Let us try to understand this theory through a popular example called the Prisoner’s Dilemma. This example involves two players and each player has two strategies. One strategy involves being altruistic (A) and the other strategy involves being selfish (S). In this case, the mixed pair, i.e., the selfish and the altruistic strategy (S, A) will be favourable to the selfish player, while it will be non-favourable to the altruistic player. However, the altruistic-altruistic pair (A, A) will be more beneficial than the selfish-selfish (S, S) pair to both partners. To describe that altruism can be understood through the evolutionary sense, we need to evaluate which of the pairs of the strategies will be more favourable to natural selection.
To simplify this question, let’s assume that the altruistic individuals will produce the altruistic offspring and the selfish individuals will produce the selfish offspring.
Following is the table that represents the payoff values of both the players.
The values are taken from one of Stanford’s articles.
The fitness of the selfish genes, i.e., the number of offspring it can produce, can be considered as the average of the payoff when it is paired with the selfish type and pay off when it is paired with the selfish type. Hence, selfish type fitness, W(S), can be described as follows,
W(S) = 5*probability of selfish partner + 20*probability of altruistic partner
In this same manner, altruistic type fitness will be,
W(A) = o*probablity of selfish partner + 11*probability of altruistic partner
This shows that when the statistical correlation is there between the partners then it favours the altruistic individuals, i.e., if the altruistic ones are paired with another altruistic one, and selfish ones are paired with the other selfish ones, with a higher probability than the arbitrary. This means that natural selection can result in altruism only if the individuals who are recovering the benefits from the other altruistic individual are also altruistic themselves. This means that, from a biological perspective, one can get more benefits by being altruistic rather than selfish. This is known as egoistic altruism. But, the condition is that the altruistic individuals should only be altruistic to the other altruistic individuals. Since organisms generally tend to be similar to the ones that share the same genes, this situation tends to happen naturally. It is generally considered that human beings tend to be selfish naturally due to evolution. However, as we have discussed above in this article, this case seems quite different. A professor in the philosophy department at the University of Wisconsin, Elliot Sober also claims that,
natural selection would have favoured humans who genuinely do care about helping others.”
Egoistic Altruism Examples
1. Vampire Bats
Vampire bats feed on the blood of different animals such as horses, cattle, and pigs. Especially, Desmodus rotundus, a bat species, is known for displaying extreme helpful behaviour towards the other bats which may or may not be closely related to them. Bats are often seen sharing the regurgitated blood with the other hungry members of the group who were unable to get the food for some reason. It is to be mentioned that bats can not live without the food for more than 2 to 3 days. To deeply analyse this behaviour of bats research was conducted at the University of Maryland. In this study, the experimenter provided food to some bats in the group, while the other bats were not provided with the food. Later, the researcher observed the actions of the bats. They found that after some time the well-fed bats were observed giving the regurgitated meal to the hungry bats. It was also claimed by the researchers that the hungry bats were not seemed demanding the meal from the well-fed meals, yet the well-fed helped the hungry bats, this shows that due to the influence of egoistic altruism, the well-fed helped the hungry bats to ensure the survival of their species for their own benefit.
2. Chimpanzees Act of Egoistic Altruism
Chimpanzees are considered among the animals who are highly likely to show acts of altruism. A study was conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany by the psychologist, Sebastian Grünesien and Martin Schmelz to analyse the altruistic behaviour of the chimpanzees. In this experiment, the researchers trained the six chimpanzees of the Leipzig zoo to play a sharing game. All the male chimpanzees were paired with their respective partners and they have to choose one out of the four options. The first option will give the banana pallet to the chimpanzee, The second option will give the banana pallet to the partner of the chimpanzee who is naming the choice, and the third choice will give the banana pallets to both the chimpanzee who is making the choice and also to the partner, and the fourth choice will allow the partner of the chimpanzee to chooses out from all the given options. The chimpanzees were taught to choose one of the four ropes to choose an option. Without the awareness of the chimpanzees (subject), Tai, the female chimpanzee, was trained by the researchers to always choose the fourth option, i.e., allowing the partner to choose from the given options. In this choice, Tai is giving up her turn and also making a risky choice. According to Tai’s partner, Tai is sacrificing for her partner as by choosing the fourth option she is losing the chance of getting all the banana pallets, instead, she is at the risk of losing all the banana pallets. The experiments were conducted several times, and when the result was analysed it was found that in 75 per cent of the total trials the partner’s chimpanzees chose the third option, i.e., both the partners will receive equal pallets of bananas when their respective partner choose the fourth option. This analysis describes that the chimpanzees valued the thing that their partners have made the risky decision by allowing them to make the choice. The partners felt obliged to make the choice that will benefit both them and their partner as they owe it because their partner allowed them to make the choice. The researcher also made certain changes in the experiment to check how the decision of the chimpanzees changes when this altruistic act will cost them something. In the modified version of this experiment, when the female chimpanzee give up their turn, their partner was left with only two choices, and they have to choose one of them. If the partner chooses the first choice it will give them the 4 banana pallets, while if the partner chooses the second option it will provide the one who made the choice and its partner 3 pallets each. The findings of this experiment showed that 44 per cent of the time, the chimpanzees chose the option of sacrifice, i.e., they chose the option that gave them and their partner 3 banana pallets instead of choosing the option in which they could easily get the four banana pallets comparatively to the 17 per cent of the time when the experimenter made the first choice instead of Tai. This experiment clearly showed that the chimpanzees felt obliged to help their close partners when they have chosen the sacrificial option even when this act cost them something. This experiment represents that the chimpanzees exhibit egoistic altruism because they care for the benefits of their partners with the hope that their partner will also care for their wellness in future.
Ants are considered among the most dedicated and organized species. They show extreme concern for the wellness and the safety of the other ants in their colony. The worker ants of the colony take care of and feed all the kids in their colony. Ants unite together and tackle the problems with unity in case of an attack on their colony.
Workers’ bees seemed to follow the selfish gene theory, i.e., they seemed to exhibit both kin selection and altruism. Workers bees perform the selfless acts that benefit the queen bee, and it decreases its own fitness. Worker bees do not reproduce and only take care of the offspring of the queen bee.
5. Vervet Monkeys
It is often seen that vervet monkeys give the signals to the other members of their groups in case of the attack of the predators by providing them with warning calls. When they give the warning calls they themselves put their survival at risk because their warning calls grab the attention of the predators to them, and they become more probable of getting attacked by the predators. Vervet monkeys can be easily seen helping each other in removing the parasites from each other’s bodies. This may seem like altruistic acts, but actually, it would be appropriate to consider it an example of egoistic altruism.
Harpagifer Bispin, a specific fish species is generally found in the Antarctic Penisula. These species live in colonies and they often indulge in acts of altruism to help or protect other fishes in the colony. For example, if the parents are not around the nest to take care of the eggs or offspring, then the other fishes take care of the eggs or the offspring. This shows the egoistic altruism as fishes help the other fishes or their offspring with the hope that the other will also do the same for them in future. The fishes even prevent the accumulation of any fungus in the nest of the other members and also protect their offspring from the predators’ attacks.
Mongooses are often seen helping the babies of the other members of the group when their parents are not there to take care of them. They also help the older or injured mangoes by sharing their meals with them. Another egoistic altruism behaviour they show is that when the mongoose is busy eating their meals one of the members of the group of mongooses guards and signals the others in case of any predators’ attack.
8. Massai Herders
Massai Herders are popularly known for their helping culture towards the other members of their group. Massai herders reside on the Serengeti plain and their survival is quite unpredictable due to the frequent occurrence of natural disasters in that area. They manage their survival through their only source of earning, i.e., their livestock such as sheep, cattle, and goats. In case they lose their livestock in the natural disasters or any other cause it can put their survival at risk. It is generally seen that the Massai herders usually share or donate their livestock to the other members of their group, in case they have lost theirs, without expecting any reward. This culture of Massai herders is popular by the name ‘Osotua.’ This behaviour of the Massai herders can be considered an example of egoistic altruism because the Massai herders know that they may also need the other members to help them in future in case they lose their livestock. This means that if they show the act of altruism toward others, it will eventually benefit them. Other similar examples would be Fijians and Texas cattle ranchers.