Reference Work Entry

International Encyclopedia of Civil Society

pp 21-26


  • Anne Birgitta PessiAffiliated withUniversity of Helsinki


Altruism as a form of helping behavior forms the cornerstone of societal cohesion, the everyday well-being of individuals and the central manifestation of human values. Still, much research views humans and humanity in a way best described in David Hume's words as “homo homini lupus.” Altruism is thus often neglected as a secondary ad hoc explanation, as its explanatory power compared to selfishness is considered to be less. This, however, need not − nor should it − be the case with altruism. Appreciation of various forms of altruism can bring considerable benefit for the understanding of the interaction between people both in theoretical considerations and empirical studies.

Altruism, an essential and pivotal part of humanity, can be regarded as a universal phenomenon, since it is found in all known societies. However, the forms of altruism vary greatly between and within societies and probably between different eras in the same societies. Today's societal conte ...

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