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Is the concept of reciprocal altruism a legitimate one?

asked Feb 11 '11 at 20:22

Fareed's gravatar image


edited Feb 11 '11 at 22:46

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

It is as legitimate as the concept of reciprocal slavery.

(Feb 12 '11 at 09:19) nicholascloud nicholascloud's gravatar image


That seems to be similar to Ambrose Bierce's definition of marriage.

Marriage, n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two.

AMBROSE BIERCE, The Devil's Dictionary

(Feb 12 '11 at 16:08) c_andrew ♦ c_andrew's gravatar image

Reciprocal altruism is an anti-concept. It is a false integration of opposing concepts.

People classify selfish (self-interested) actions as "reciprocal altruism" because they are using a false definition of altruism. Altruism as commonly understood is associated with kindness, generosity, charity, and overall well regard for others. However this is a false integration of altruism's true nature. The concept altruism as intended by its originator Auguste Comte meant literally other-ism, concern for others. Comte envisioned an ethics where the individual would sacrifice for other people with no concern for their own interest. So altruistic actions don't benefit your neighbor and yourself but rather the beneficiary is only other people at the expense of yourself. This is not the rosey picture of altruism most people think about and yet that is the real meaning. In fact kindness, generosity, charity, and goodwill between individuals is only possible in a rational, selfish society.

So basically when people perform actions that benefit others as well as themselves this is not altruism in any sense. It is selfishness because given that others are a value to that individual they take into account the whole context within a long range to perform that action which benefits others and themselves. This is not the false concept selfish most people are used to. It is not for the brute to be selfish in the true sense. The only reason the anti-concept reciprocal altruism gets any traction is because is relies on the false outdated dichotomy between selfishness and altruism. It is also why people come to false interpretations about scientific data for example psychological case studies when they use the concept altruism in its incorrect meaning.

For more elaboration on this I recommend The Virtue of Selfishness specifically the introduction.

answered Feb 19 '11 at 22:33

mcaution's gravatar image

mcaution ♦

There is a substantial article on "reciprocal altruism" on Wikipedia. Evidently it is a long established concept in evolutionary biology, where organisms sometimes do things for other organisms that biology classifies as altruistic, but which actually result in future benefits for the acting organism, from the beneficiary of the organism's action. For non-human organisms, the seemingly self-sacrificial actions are performed automatically, without conscious expectation of future benefits, but the future benefits may nevertheless serve teleologically (as that concept is developed by Harry Binswanger in The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts) to shape the behavior of the organisms involved.

I had never heard of "reciprocal altruism" before. I had always thought of it as "beneficial parasites."

If the question is prompted in any way by any attempt to recast "reciprocal altruism" into a human context, I can think of several possible motives for doing so -- such as trying to claim (fallaciously) that trade is merely a form of "reciprocal altruism." Such motivation could apply to either altruists seeking to denigrade and reshape trade, or those seeking to engage in it while apologetically deflecting the wrath of altruists.

answered Feb 13 '11 at 01:28

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

I came to the conclusion that it is an anti-concept and that it was trying to obliterate tit-for-tat (trader principle). The nature of reciprocity and the nature of altruism are diametrically opposed. The reason I mentioned it is because one guy tried to justify altruism on this biological basis as opposed to a religious one

(Feb 13 '11 at 04:30) Fareed Fareed's gravatar image

George Gilder is another one who tries to cast economic decisions in the reciprocal altruism mode although he calls it "Gifting." For instance, a banker "gifts" you startup capital and in return you "gift" him the principle and interest after you succeed.

This is the kind of contortions that the xtian-altruists will go to in their attempt to "support" the free market without reference to selfishness. Just listen to Rush Limbaugh try to split the difference between "self-interest" and selfishness to get an idea of how terrifying the notion of selfishness is to the xtian capitalist types.

(Feb 13 '11 at 11:22) c_andrew ♦ c_andrew's gravatar image

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Asked: Feb 11 '11 at 20:22

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Last updated: Feb 19 '11 at 22:33