Altruism and Human Reciprocity the Term Paper

  • Length: 11 pages
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  • Subject: Business - Ethics
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #85127295

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Unlike hardcore altruism, no assumption of relatedness is necessary. Soft-core altruism is directed beyond kin as a simple exchange of favors. (Gachter & Falk, 2002, pp1-25) Unlike hardcore altruism, the soft-core variety is less firmly triggered by the spontaneous calculus of the genes and more "deeply influenced by the vagaries of cultural evolution. (Yamagishi, 1992, pp267-87) Unlike the hardcore species in which the altruistic act is genuinely directed at others even though one's own genes are benefited, soft-core altruism is ultimately more selfish and dependent upon reciprocation as a condition for its arousal. (Bingham, 1999, pp133-69) Unlike hardcore altruism which is largely "irrational," soft-core altruism requires calculation, "often in a wholly conscious way, to ensure one's needs are served, even though emotive mechanisms like deceit and pretense may also inform this behavior. Wilson's term "softcore" app11es to the principle of reciprocal altruism first outlined in a paper by R. Trivers in 1971.

According to Trivers, the kin selection and parental manipulation models (hardcore varieties) are insufficient to explain examples of apparently altruistic acts which occur among unrelated individuals and even among members of different species. The concept Trivers introduces is meant to account for these latter occurrences. (Bowles, 2001, pp155-90) by reciprocal altruism Trivers refers to a straightforward process by which one individual performs an act which is beneficial to another, though perhaps potentially harmful to him, when he can establish with some certainty that the favor will be returned in kind. (Bowles, 2001, pp155-90)

Thus, reciprocal altruism involves the direct trading of a favor for the promise or expectation of some return in kind, either immediately or in the near future. As with the kin selection model, some estimate of cost and benefit must be established by the organism before warranting the risk taking which altruistic behavior entails. Similarly, inclusive fitness is used as the yardstick to establish the measurement of such costs and benefits. (Luke, 2000, pp27-33) as Barash points out: "The basic requirement in order for altruism to evolve via reciprocity is that performance of altruistic behavior must result in a return of altruistic behavior toward the original altruist such that the ultimate benefit in units of inclusive fitness is greater than the cost." (Gachter & Falk, 1999, pp341-69) Thus, altruistic behavior should occur among unrelated individuals only when the eventual benefits from an altruistic act contribute more to the inclusive fitness of the altruist than the risk costs. Gains and losses must be traded along selfishly motivated lines, each party ultimately gaining in the bargain and the inclusive fitness of each maximized. (Luke, 2000, pp27-33) One case which illustrates the operation of reciprocal altruism across species, and thus among unrelated individuals, is the case of cleaner fish and their hosts. Several species of fish have been discovered which act as "cleaners" by picking parasites off larger fish. (Yamagishi, 1992, pp267-87) the host reciprocates for this apparently altruistic behavior by refraining from eating the fish once they have completed their work, even though the "cleaners" are about the same size as their usual prey. (Bowles, 2001, pp155-90)

Though the behavior of each appears to be altruistic, a close examination of costs and benefits shows that each party gains fitness directly and in accord with the principles of reciprocal altruism. The "cleaners" benefit by feasting upon the parasites which constitute their natural food. The host fish benefits by having these parasites which would cause infection removed from his body. (Bewley, 2000, pp80-96)

The cost to the "cleaners" in terms of risk seems to be warranted by their experience with hosts which leave good cleaners unmolested. Meanwhile, the host, by sacrificing a meal of cleaners ensures the return of proven groomers, a return which empirical studies seem to confirm. (Gachter & Falk, 2002, pp1-25) the example of cleaning symbiosis just described involves direct and immediate returns. But can the reciprocal altruism model account for instances of delayed benefit and what evidence it produce of such instances? Trivers extends his model to account for cases of delayed reciprocity by identifying the preconditions necessary for such a pattern to evolve. (Andreoni, 1995, pp891-904)

Among those conditions which unambiguously contribute to reciprocity rather than other models of altruism are: 1) a long lifetime, long enough to ensure that the same two individuals will encounter many situations in which mutual assistance may be required; 2) a low dispersal rate to ensure that the same individuals will likely interact repeatedly with each other; 3) a high degree of mutual dependence to keep members of a species close to one another for defense, hunt, or other purposes; 4) an absence of a strong linear dominance hierarchy to increase opportunity for altruistic behavior. (Jean, 1964, pp12-16) in general, these conditions argue for the development of reciprocal altruism only among the "more intelligent, closely integrated social species in which opportunities for reciprocity and individual recognition would be greatest. (Thomas, 1970, pp24-37)

Aside from the case of man, for whom these conditions are obviously met, there is little evidence to show that these conditions result in reciprocal relations among other animal species. Trvers admits that although many species probably meet and display these conditions, it is hard to produce evidence which distinguishes the reciprocal model from other explanatory modes especially in those cases where reciprocity is directed toward other members of the same species. (Falk et al. 2002, pp117-28)

Motivational Source Concerns

One of the major problems arising from our philosophic discussion of the nature of altruism, a problem for which we have been searching for some empirical resolution, has been the question of whether altruism emerges from a conscious source or from some emotive base. Although holding conflicting positions on the true direction of altruism, both Hobbes and Rousseau agree on the emotive spring of such behaviors; while Kant, emphasizing rationality as a distinguishing feature of man, holds altruism only to be genuine when emerging from conscious deliberation. (Andreoni et al., 1998, pp818-60) Having found that no definitive answer to this question emerges from psychological accounts, we now turn our attention to the nature of the sociobiological response to our philosophic query concerning motivational source. As with the responses to other philosophic concerns we have reviewed, the sociobiological account of the motivational source of altruism is fraught with ambiguity. (Foster et al. 2001, pp229-38) Part of this stems from a strong strand in sociobiology to ignore or discount the role of consciousness in human behavior. (Yamagishi, 1992, pp267-87)

In light of the importance generally attributed to this property in philosophy, it is most surprising to find that Wilson in Sociobiology virtually ignores the role of conscious human faculties C.H. Waddington, in his review of Wilson's magnum opus notes: "In the index covering more than thirty pages of three columns each, there is no mention of mind, mentality, purpose, goal, aim, or any other word of similar connotation. Given the wide scope of Wilson's work as well as its grandiose claims, Waddington finds such an omission surprising. (Andreoni et al., 1998, pp818-60)

But Wilson appears to have made amends for this shortcoming in his later volume, on Human Nature, where he does speak of the property of human consciousness, albeit in less than thorough manner. "Consciousness," says Wilson, "consists of simultaneous and coordinated, symbolic representations by participating neurons in the brain and neocortex. In materialist fashion, he equates consciousness with "the action of organic machinery. (Bingham, 1999, pp133-69)

Yet, Wilson warns that despite his own mechanistic description of consciousness, we should not "underestimate its power. In what appears to be only a partial listing of such mental powers, Wilson includes the ability to recreate reality from sense impressions, to stimulate realty by recall and fantasy, the ability to invent stores and to run imagined and remembered events back and forth through time. Using Sr. Charles Sherrington's metaphor, he describes the center of conscious activity as an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern.


The ambiguity over the true direction of altruism, sociobiology's ambivalence on the extent to which altruism is reducible to genetic function, and its near exclusive concentration on the functional aspects of human behavior for genetic fitness are all signs of an uncomfortable fit between the issues which confront sociobiology and those which remain largely philosophic. This lack of fit arises at least in part because sociobiology on the one hand and philosophy and social science on the other speak to different orders of phenomena at different levels of organization. (Gachter & Falk, 1999, pp341-69)

Whereas, philosophy and the social sciences are predominantly concerned with issues of proximate causation, i.e., those like motivation which express the immediate antecedents of behavior, sociobiology deals best with matters of ultimate causation, those which set preconditions for behavior by equipping the organism with abilities found adaptive over the course of evolutionary history. (Keser & Van, 2000, pp23-39) Similarly, whereas human behavior is the immediate unit of study or phenomenological event with which philosophy and the social sciences deal, the genes are the…

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