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Abstract: Psychologists have long assumed that the motivation for all intentional action, including all action intended to benefit others, is egoistic. People benefit others because, ultimately, to do so benefits themselves. The empathy-altruism hypothesis challenges this assumption. It claims that empathic emotion evokes truly altruistic motivation, motivation with an ultimate goal ofbenefiting not the self but the person for whom empathy is felt. Logical and psychological distinctions between egoism and altruism are reviewed, providing a conceptualframeworkfor empirical tests for the existence of altruism. Results of empirical tests to date are summarized; these results provide impressive support for the empathy-altruism hypothesis. We conclude that the popular and parsimonious explanation ofprosocial motivation in terms ofuniversal egoism must give way to a pluralistic explanation that includes altruism as well as egoism. Implications of such a pluralism are briefly noted, not only for our understanding ofprosocial motivation but also for our understanding of human nature and of the emotion-motivation link.
Abstract: Sober and Wilson (1998) render a valuable service by bringing together discussions of evolutionary altruism and psychological altruism. They do a disservice by interpreting the results of experiments designed to test for the existence of psychological altruism as less conclusive than the data warrant. Sober and Wilson claim that new egoistic explanations can account for the existing experimental evidence, but they only offer explanations that have already been ruled out. Insofar as I know, no plausible egoistic explanation currently exists for the experimental evidence that feeling empathy for a person in need evokes altruistic motivation. Unless Sober and Wilson can provide a plausible egoistic explanation for the existing evidence, their ‘inconclusive’ conclusion should be corrected.
Abstract: Now it is plain that such consequences as these conflict sharply with common-sense notions of morality. If we had been obliged to accept Psychological Egoism, in any of its narrower forms, on its merits, we should have had to say: 'So much the worse for the common-sense notions of morality!' But, if I am right, the morality of common sense, with all its difficulties and incoherences, is immune at least to attacks from the basis of Psychological Egoism.
Abstract: Hobbes has served for both philosophers and political scientists as the paradigm case of someone who held an egoistic view of human nature. In this article I shall attempt to show that the almost unanimous view that Hobbes held psychological egoism is mistaken, and further that Hobbes's political theory does not demand an egoistic psychology, but on the contrary is incompatible with psychological egoism. I do not maintain that Hobbes was completely consistent; in fact, I shall show that there was a continuous development in Hobbes's works away from an egoistic psychology. But I do think that the main outlines of Hobbes's political theory, i.e., his account of the laws of nature, the right of nature, the obligations imposed by laws and covenants, and the rights and duties of citizen and sovereign, are essentially the same in The Elements of Law, De Cive, and Leviathan. I thus hold that even in his earliest work, The Elements, the only one where a charge of egoism is justifiable, the political theory does not depend on egoism. But the first and most important point to be established is that Hobbes did not hold an egoistic psychology.
Abstract: Mother Teresa spends her life caring for the poor and the infirm; J. Paul Getty, Jr., spends his life making investments and directing corporations. Although we might be unhappy doing what they do, we assume they are satisfied. Mother Teresa enjoys her work and would be miserable if she had to mastermind corporate takeovers. Getty would be wretched if he had to care for lepers or become a lawn chair salesman
Abstract: In the second half of their recent, critically acclaimed book Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior , Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson discuss psychological hedonism. This is the view that avoiding our own pain and increasing our own pleasure are the only ultimate motives people have. They argue that none of the traditional philosophical arguments against this view are good, and they go on to present theirownevolutionary biological argument against it. Interestingly, the first half of their book, which is a defense of group selectionism, has received almost all of the attention of those people who have published reactions to the book. No one has published a detailed reaction to the argument of the latter half of the book. In this article, the author explains and critically discusses their evolutionary biological argument against psychological hedonism, concluding that in its current form it is not strong enough to support its conclusion. However, the author goes on to argue that despite recent criticisms of Robert Nozick’s experience-machine argument, it is still a good argument against psychological hedonism. In support of the latter point, the author responds to the objections of Sober and Wilson and to the more recent criticisms offered by Matthew Silverstein. Key Words: hedonism • psychological egoism • evolution • Robert Nozick • Elliott Sober
Abstract: Roughly, psychological egoism is the thesis that all of a person's intentional actions are ultimately self-interested in some sense; psychological altruism is the thesis that some of a person's intentional actions are not ultimately self-interested, since some are ultimately other-regarding in some sense. C. Daniel Batson and other social psychologists have argued that experiments provide support for a theory called the "empathy-altruism hypothesis" that entails the falsity of psychological egoism. However, several critics claim that there are egoistic explanations of the data that are still not ruled out. One of the most potent criticisms of Batson comes from Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson. I argue for two main theses in this paper: (1) we can improve on Sober and Wilson’s conception of psychological egoism and altruism, and (2) this improvement shows that one of the strongest of Sober and Wilson's purportedly egoistic explanations is not tenable. A defense of these two theses goes some way toward defending Batson‘s claim that the evidence from social psychology provides sufficient reason to reject psychological egoism.
Abstract: In philosophy, egoism is the theory that one’s self is, or should be, the motivation and the goal of one’s own action. Egoism has two variants, descriptive or normative. The descriptive (or positive) variant conceives egoism as a factual description of human affairs. That is, people are motivated by their own interests and desires, and they cannot be described otherwise. The normative variant proposes that people should be so motivated, regardless of what presently motivates their behavior. Altruism is the opposite of egoism. The term “egoism” derives from “ego,” the Latin term for the English word “I”. “Egoism” should be distinguished from “egotism,” which means a psychological overvaluation of one’s own importance, or of one’s own activities.
Abstract: In recent attempts to characterize the cognitive mechanisms underlying altruistic motivation, one central question is the extent to which the capacity for altruism depends on the capacity for understanding other minds, or ‘mindreading’. Some theorists maintain that the capacity for altruism is independent of any capacity for mindreading; others maintain that the capacity for altruism depends on fairly sophisticated mindreading skills. I argue that none of the prevailing accounts is adequate. Rather, I argue that altruistic motivation depends on a basic affective system, a ‘Concern Mechanism’, which requires only a minimal capacity for mindreading
Abstract: Egoism can be a descriptive or a normative position. Psychological egoism, the most famous descriptive position, claims that each person has but one ultimate aim: her own welfare. Normative forms of egoism make claims about what one ought to do, rather than describe what one does do. Ethical egoism claims that it is necessary and sufficient for an action to be morally right that it maximize one's self-interest. Rational egoism claims that it is necessary and sufficient for an action to be rational that it maximize one's self-interest.
Abstract: We address the following issues raised by the commentators of our target article and book: (1) the problem of multiple perspectives; (2) how to define group selection; (3) distinguishing between the concepts of altruism and organism; (4) genetic versus cultural group selection; (5) the dark side of group selection; (6) the relationship between psychological and evolutionary altruism; (7) the question of whether the psychological questions can be answered; (8) psychological experiments. We thank the contributors for their commentaries, which provide a diverse agenda for future study of evolution and morality. Our response will follow the organization of our book, distinguishing between evolutionary issues that concern fitness effects and psychological issues that concern motives.
Abstract: The hypothesis of group selection fell victim to a seemingly devastating critique in 1960s evolutionary biology. In Unto Others (1998), we argue to the contrary, that group selection is a conceptually coherent and empirically well documented cause of evolution. We suggest, in addition, that it has been especially important in human evolution. In the second part of Unto Others, we consider the issue of psychological egoism and altruism -- do human beings have ultimate motives concerning the well-being of others? We argue that previous psychological and philosophical work on this question has been inconclusive. We propose an evolutionary argument for the claim that human beings have altruistic ultimate motives.
Abstract: We begin, in section 2, with a brief sketch of a cluster of assumptions about human desires, beliefs, actions, and motivation that are widely shared by historical and contemporary authors on both sides in the debate. With this as background, we’ll be able to offer a more sharply focused account of the debate. In section 3, our focus will be on links between evolutionary theory and the egoism/altruism debate. There is a substantial literature employing evolutionary theory on each side of the issue. However, it is our contention that neither camp has offered a convincing case. We are much more sanguine about recent research on altruism in social psychology, which will be our topic in section 4. Though we don’t think this work has resolved the debate, we will argue that it has made illuminating progress – progress that philosophers interested in the question cannot afford to ignore.
Abstract: Sober and Wilson have propose a cluster of arguments for the conclusion that “natural selection is unlikely to have given us purely egoistic motives” and thus that psychological altruism is true. I maintain that none of these arguments is convincing. However, the most powerful of their arguments raises deep issues about what egoists and altruists are claiming and about the assumptions they make concerning the cognitive architecture underlying human motivation.