Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Bioaltruism reconsidered

  • 27 Accesses

  • 3 Citations

Abstract

Altruistic behavior is often regarded as sociobiology's most central theoretical problem, but is it? Altruism in biology, bioaltruism, has many meanings, which can be grouped into two categories. The first I will callcommon bioaltruism. It is primarily of ethological relevance. The second,evolutionary bioaltruism, is a special category in evolutionary respects in that it may indeed pose a problem for evolutionary theory. These categories are logically independent. Moreover, both of them are logically different from altruism in its everyday psychological or moral sense. Sociobiological examples of bioaltruistic behavior concern bioaltruism in the first sense only, so the theoretical problem ‘altruism’ is supposed to pose, is indeed nothing but a theoretical problem and the bioaltruism that actually occurs has no evolutionary relevance. Nevertheless, evolutionary theory is relevant to our understanding of the possibility of common bioaltruism, and that possibility — even though bioaltruism is conceptually different from ethical altruism — is relevant for ethicists: it sheds light on what we can ask people to do or not to do.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References

  1. Beatty, J.: 1984, ‘Chance and Natural Selection,’Philosophy of Science 51, 183–211.

  2. Caplan, A.L. (ed.): 1978,The Sociobiology Debate, Harper and Row, New York.

  3. Dawkins, R.: 1982,The Extended Phenotype: the Gene as the Unit of Selection, Freeman and Co., Oxford.

  4. Dominey, W.J.: 1984, ‘Alternative Mating Tactics and Evolutionary Stable Strategies’,American Zoologist 24, 385–396.

  5. Hamilton, W.D.: 1964, ‘The Genetic Evolution of Social Behavior I’,Journal of Theoretical Biology 7, 1–16.

  6. Maynard Smith, J.: 1982,Evolution and the Theory of Games, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

  7. Nitecki, M.: (ed.) forthcoming,Evolutionary Ethics, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

  8. Sober, E.: 1988, ‘What is Evolutionary Altruism?,’Canadian Journal of Philosophy 14, 75–99.

  9. Sober, E.: 1992, ‘The Evolution of Altruism: Correlation, Cost and Benefit,’Biology and Philosophy 7: 177–187.

  10. Sober, E.: forthcoming, ‘Evolutionary Altruism, Psychological Altruism, and Morality: Disentangling the Phenotypes,’ In: Nitecki (ed.) forthcoming.

  11. Trivers, R.L.: 1971, ‘The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism’,Quarterly Review of Biology 46, 35–47.

  12. Trivers, R.L.: 1985,Social Evolution, Benjamin/Cummins Publ. Co., Menlo Park.

  13. Voorzanger, B.: 1984, ‘Altruism in Sociobiology: a Conceptual Analysis’,Journal of Human Evolution 13, 33–39.

  14. Voorzanger, B.: 1987, ‘No Norms No Nature — The Moral Relevance of Evolutionary Biology’,Biology and Philosophy 2, 253–270.

  15. Wilson, E.O.: 1975,Sociobiology, the New Synthesis, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass.

Download references

Author information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Voorzanger, B. Bioaltruism reconsidered. Biol Philos 9, 75–84 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00849915

Download citation

Key words

  • Altruism
  • ethics
  • ethology
  • evolution
  • sociobiology