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Altruistic emotional motivation: an argument in favour of psychological altruism
Title of the book
Philosophy of Behavioral Biology
Address of publication
Plaisance K.S., Reydon T.A.C.
Boston Studies in Philosophy of Science
In this paper, I reframe the long-standing controversy between 'psychological egoism', which argues that human beings never perform altruistic actions, and the opposing thesis of 'psychological altruism', which claims that human beings are, at least sometimes, capable of acting in an altruistic fashion. After a brief sketch of the controversy, I begin by presenting some representative arguments in favour of psychological altruism before showing that they can all be called into question by appealing to the idea of an unconscious self-directed motive. I will then point out that this argumentative strategy not only debunks the reasons for favouring psychological altruism, but also those for favouring psychological egoism; hence it is no use in settling the dispute between the two views. In the second part of the paper, I will try to break this deadlock by reframing the whole controversy, shifting it away from the concept of motive, towards the broader notion of motivation. As it turns out, this shift enables the debate to centre on altruistic emotions and their motivational power, thereby allowing evolutionary arguments to enter the debate and settle the dispute in favour of psychological altruism.
affect, emotion, motivation, motive, psychological altruism, psychological egoism, reliability argument, Sober & Wilson, unconscious
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