Document Type


Publication Date



Altruism, Cooperation, Reciprocity (Psychology), Kin selection (Evolution), Empathy


The phenomenon of altruism extends from the biological realm to the human sociocultural realm. This paper sketches a coherent outline of multiple types of altruism of progressively increasing scope that span these two realms and are grounded in an ever-expanding sense of "self." Discussion of this framework notes difficulties associated with altruisms at different levels. It links scientific ideas about the evolution of cooperation and about hierarchical order to perennial philosophical and religious concerns. It offers a conceptual background for inquiry into societal challenges that call for altruistic behavior, especially the challenge of environmental and social sustainability.


Paper presented by the authors at the 63rd Annual Northwest Philosophy Conference, Lewis and Clark, Nov 4-5, 2011.

An updated and expanded version of this presentation was published in Biological Theory, March 2014, Vol. 9, Issue 1. DOI 10.1007/s13752-013-0145-8

Persistent Identifier