The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd


  • Peter J. Hammond
Reference work entry


The French term ‘altruisme’ was introduced by Auguste Comte (1830–42) to signify devotion to the welfare of others, especially as a principle of action. It is closely related to concepts such as benevolence and unselfishness. It has long attracted the interest of moral philosophers (see e.g. Nagel 1970; Milo 1973; Roberts 1973; Collard 1978; Margolis 1982). Rescher (1975, p. 11) categorizes it as one of the ‘modalities’ of unselfishness. Numerous social scientists in many fields, including sociobiology, have been interested in altruistic behaviour as helping to assure species and gene survival (Becker 1976; Collard 1978, ch. 5). While some economists have participated in such research, more have naturally concentrated upon the implications of altruism for economic outcomes–in particular, the allocation of resources and the distribution of income.

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Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter J. Hammond
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