Last modified on 6 December 2014, at 14:06


Altruism consists of sacrificing something for someone other than the self (e.g. sacrificing time, energy or possessions) with no expectation of any compensation or benefits, either direct, or indirect (for instance from recognition of the giving).


  • First, the egoist calls life a war without mercy, and then he takes the greatest possible trouble to drill his enemies in war. To preach egoism is to practise altruism.
  • Altruism itself was so insisted upon in the latter half of the nineteenth century that ... theory and practice, words and deeds, stood in liveliest contradiction. ... Everywhere a conflict rent the world in twain: it created abysses in every thinker’s scheme of things: it made its presence so unpleasantly real that the best brains gave up research and thinking, and crept for refuge into a profession, a craft, into libraries, or hid themselves in the mine-shafts of specialism.
    • Oscar Levy, The Revival of Aristocracy (1906), p. 37
  • Greatness loves itself, and all healthy instincts decline to flagellate themselves daily with the whip of altruism. What is great must will to do more than its mere duty ; it must give, make others happy, and, be it at the cost of itself, its own wellbeing, its own money or life, it must will to pour forth its blessing over others, to the extent even of self-sacrifice—but not, as Christianity demands, from unegoistic motives; the impulse must come from a sense of pleasure, from overflowing energy, from need of bloodletting, so as to unburden the full heart. All acts then derived from conscience and duty, or done with a wry countenance out of obedience to the Categorical Imperative, seem to the great man, from his point of view, through this very fact contemptible, even as he has an unsurmountable prejudice against men and nations who are always prating of those words, conscience and duty.
    • Oscar Levy, The Revival of Aristocracy (1906), p. 81
  • Men have been taught that their first concern is to relieve the suffering of others. … To make that the highest test of virtue is to make suffering the most important part of life. Then man must wish to see others suffer—in order that he may be virtuous. Such is the nature of altruism.
  • The man who attempts to live for others is a dependent. He is a parasite in motive and makes parasites of those he serves.
  • As poles of good and evil, he was offered two conceptions: egoism and altruism. Egoism was held to mean the sacrifice of others to self. Altruism—the sacrifice of self to others. This tied man irrevocably to other men and left him nothing but a choice of pain: his own pain borne for the sake of others or pain inflicted upon others for the sake of self. … Man was forced to accept masochism as his ideal—under the threat that sadism was his only alternative.
  • The important thing is not the amount of welfare, it is that there should be a maximum of love among men. The act of helping is the direct and adequate expression of love, not its meaning or “purpose.” Its meaning lies in itself, in its illumination of the soul, in the nobility of the loving soul in the act of love. Therefore nothing can be further removed from this genuine concept of Christian love than all kinds of “socialism,” “social feeling,” “altruism,” and other subaltern modern things. When the rich youth is told to divest himself of his riches and give them to the poor, it is really not in order to help the “poor” and to effect a better distribution of property in the interest of general welfare. Nor is it because poverty as such is supposed to be better than wealth. The order is given because the act of giving away, and the spiritual freedom and abundance of love which manifest themselves in this act, ennoble the youth and make him even “richer” than he is.
    • Max Scheler, Ressentiment, L. Coser, trans. (1961), p. 93
  • There is a completely different way of stooping to the small, the lowly, and the common, even though it may seem almost the same. Here love does not spring from an abundance of vital power, from firmness and security. Here it is only a euphemism for escape, for the inability to “remain at home” with oneself (chez soi). Turning toward others is but the secondary consequence of this urge to flee from oneself. … Modern philosophical jargon has found a revealing term for this phenomenon, one of the many modern substitutes for love: “altruism.” This love is not directed at a previously discovered positive value, nor does any such value flash up in the act of loving: there is nothing but the urge to turn away from oneself and to lose oneself in other people’s business. We all know a certain type of man frequently found among socialists, suffragettes, and all people with an ever-ready “social conscience”—the kind of person whose social activity is quite clearly prompted by inability to keep his attention focused on himself, on his own tasks and problems.
    • Max Scheler, Ressentiment, L. Coser, trans. (1961), pp. 95-96
  • In ressentiment morality, love for the “small,” the “poor,” the “weak,” and the “oppressed” is really disguised hatred, repressed envy, an impulse to detract, etc., directed against the opposite phenomena: “wealth,” “strength,” “power,” “largesse.” When hatred does not dare to come out into the open, it can be easily expressed in the form of ostensible love—love for something which has features that are the opposite of those of the hated object. This can happen in such a way that the hatred remains secret. When we hear that falsely pious, unctuous tone (it is the tone of a certain “socially-minded” type of priest), sermonizing that love for the “small” is our first duty, love for the “humble” inspirit, since God gives “grace” to them, then it is often only hatred posing as Christian love.
    • Max Scheler, Ressentiment, L. Coser, trans. (1961), pp. 96-97
  • If you begin by sacrificing yourself to those you love, you will end by hating those to whom you have sacrificed yourself.
  • Altruism is a brief phase through which some adolescents must pass. It is rather like acne. Happily, as with acne, only a few are permanently scarred.
    • Gore Vidal, “Growing Up With Gore Vidal,” Point to Point Navigation (2007), p. 27
  • Now and then, in the course of the century, a great man of science, like Darwin; a great poet, like Keats; a fine critical spirit, like M. Renan; a supreme artist, like Flaubert, has been able to isolate himself, to keep himself out of reach of the clamorous claims of others, to stand “under the shelter of the wall,” as Plato puts it, and so to realise the perfection of what was in him, to his own incomparable gain, and to the incomparable and lasting gain of the whole world. These, however, are exceptions. The majority of people spoil their lives by an unhealthy and exaggerated altruism—are forced, indeed, so to spoil them. They find themselves surrounded by hideous poverty, by hideous ugliness, by hideous starvation. It is inevitable that they should be strongly moved by all this. The emotions of man are stirred more quickly than man’s intelligence. … It is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought.
    • Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” Complete Works (New York: 1989), p. 1079, ¶ 2

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