Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 61-68

First online:

On the relationship between evolutionary and psychological definitions of altruism and selfishness

  • David Sloan WilsonAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, State University of New York

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I examine the relationship between evolutionary definitions of altruism that are based on fitness effects and psychological definitions that are based on the motives of the actor. I show that evolutionary altruism can be motivated by proximate mechanisms that are psychologically either altruistic or selfish. I also show that evolutionary definitions do rely upon motives as a metaphor in which the outcome of natural selection is compared to the decisions of a psychologically selfish (or altruistic) individual. Ignoring the precise nature of both psychological and evolutionary definitions has obscured many important issues, including the biological roots of psychological altruism.

Key words

Altruism evolution group selection selfishness