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Extra info for Altruism (Concepts in the Social Sciences)
Marcia Baron (1987) distinguishes explicitly between altruistic acts that are obligatory, and those that are permissible and supererogatory. Some instances of altruism are a matter of duty. If I witness a road accident, and I am a qualified first aider, I have a moral obligation to help (Fabre 2004). Even if I am not so qualified, I ought at least to call an ambulance and give such assistance as I can until it arrives. This latter duty is underwritten by good Samaritan laws in some countries where one can be penalized for failing to help.
Evolutionary altruism has to do with the reproductive consequences of behaviour, not with the proximate mechanisms (psychological or otherwise) that guides that behaviour. (Sober 1998: 462) In recent years, much attention has been devoted to explaining evolutionary perspectives on selfish and unselfish behaviour in countless books that popularize the philosophy of biology and evolutionary theory. The main debate surrounding the issue of altruism concerns whether or not there is room for truly unselfish behaviour in evolutionary theory, especially the kind of (vernacular) altruism that is required for moral behaviour.
Faced with a choice between selfish desire and moral duty ‘Homer renounces fishing celebrity for family’, declaring ‘I gave up fame and breakfast for our marriage’ (Lawler 1999: 149). The general point, to return to Kant, is that while an emotional state may hold someone back from being altruistic, or indeed from pursuing any morally worthwhile goal, reason can, in principle, motivate us to act. Reasons (as motives) for altruism can in principle override emotion and desire. A duty to behave altruistically means one has a powerful reason to do so, and it is the reason itself which prompts the act.
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