Biology and Altruism

Essay by pittsburghkid999College, UndergraduateA+, April 2007

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Altruism is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "devotion to the welfare of others, regard for others, as a principle of action; opposed to egoism or selfishness." Altruism in this case of discussion deals with evolutionary theory and where the two come together. Evolutionary theory can be defined as follows with regard to biology, "is the change in the heritable traits of a population over successive generations, as determined by shifts in the frequencies of genes." The basic principle of evolutionary theory is that as animals, humans, insects etc, we have all evolved throughout hundreds of years based on our favorable traits. Natural selection says that our favorable traits are passed on to future generations to enable them a better chance to survive. Altruism can be debated whether or not it exists among evolutionary theory. Certainly there are arguments for and against. I would like to argue in favor of altruism based on some of the information provided and some of my own intuitions.

It is difficult to place altruism in the framework of evolutionary theory because in parts of the evolutionary theory we see that it's based on selflessness and survival of the fittest. It would seem counter-intuitive to the one who is altruistic because the other species they help will increase its fitness level thus reducing the one whom is altruistic. One might think that animals, humans etc. are constantly out for their own well being and survival. But altruism explicitly states that each organism puts others before them. Some may argue that altruism is merely a scapegoat for deeper meanings. Three main strategies have been developed to say that altruism is just an easy way out to describe certain goings on. First, altruism could be error. All organisms aren't perfectly adapted to an environment because all...