, Volume 52, Issue 3, pp 155-172

Altruism, Altruistic Punishment and Social Investment

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Abstract

The concept of altruism is used in very different forms by computer scientists,economists, philosophers, social scientists, psychologists and biologists. Yet, in order to be useful in social simulations, the concept “altruism” requires a more precise meaning. A quantitative formulation is proposed here, based on the cost/benefit analysis of the altruist and of society at large. This formulation is applied in the analysis of the social dynamic working of behaviors that have been called “altruistic punishments”, using the agent based computer model Sociodynamica. The simulations suggest that “altruistic punishment” on its own cannot maintain altruistic behaviors. “Altruistic behavior” is sustainable in the long term only if these behaviors trigger synergetic forces in society that eventually make them produce benefits to most individuals. The simulations suggest however that “altruistic punishment” may work as a “social investment” , and is thus better called “decentralized social punishment”. This behavior is very efficient in enforcing social norms. The efficiency of decentralized social punishment in enforcing norms was dependent on the type of labor structured of the virtual society. I conclude that what is called “altruistic punishment” emerges as a type of social investment that can evolve either through individual and/or group selection, as a successful device for changing or enforcing norms in a society. Social simulations will help us in better understanding the underlying dynamic working of such devices.