Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 547–561 | Cite as

Altruism and the Experimental Data on Helping Behavior

  • Stephanie Beardman


Philosophical accounts of altruism that purport to explain helping behavior are vulnerable to empirical falsification. John Campbell argues that the Good Samaritan study adds to a growing body of evidence that helping behavior is not best explained by appeal to altruism, thus jeopardizing those accounts. I propose that philosophical accounts of altruism can be empirically challenged only if it is shown that altruistic motivations are undermined by normative conflict in the agent, and that the relevant studies do not provide this sort of evidence. Non-normative, purely causal, psychological factors would be empirically relevant only if the notion of altruism is broadened to include the requirement that one recognize certain situations as calling for altruism. But even in that case, the relevant studies are not designed in such a way that could threaten philosophical theories of altruism.


Altruism Helping behavior Darley Campbell Good Samaritan study 



For helpful comments on previous versions of this paper, I would like to thank John Campbell, Jens Haas, Julie Kelly Szil, Brian Loar, Barbara Montero, Katja Vogt, and two anonymous reviewers for this journal. Thanks also to the audiences at the CUNY Graduate School Cognitive Science Group led by David Rosenthal and at Lafayette College, where this material was first presented.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Barnard CollegeColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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