battle on the semantic river

altruism |ˈaltroōˌizəm|

unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others regardless of the costs or benefits
a selfless act without potential reward or consequence, regardless of intention or motivation

During our final theories class yesterday, we encountered a discussion over altruism, which I found is not an uncommon debate as of late, rather, as of the origination of the word in 1851.

A portion of our class concurred with the former definition, that altruism is a selfless act performed without the intention of receiving a benefit in return. Therefore, the foundation of the definition rests upon the motivation of the selfless act.

The remainder of the class united with the later definition. These students found that the cause of any good behavior warranted a positive effect, thus deeming it beneficial and no longer altruistic. This cause-effect blunder resulted in a further disbelief in the existence of a indubitably altruistic act of kindness.

It was an interesting debate, yet I hold to the understanding that if you remove benevolent, philanthropic and humanitarian acts from the corresponding emotion of compassion or empathy simply on the understanding of motivation, one can neither act sacrificially on behalf of another without the corresponding concern of receiving a proportional benefit, be it a reward or an emotion nor can the individual perform such an act without the calculation of the proportionally representative benefits.

I am a social worker. I believe in altruism.


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