Hobbes brings up an interesting point about human nature when he discusses why people perform good deeds. According to Hobbes, people perform good deeds not because they are actually trying to help out someone else, but rather because it makes them feel good to do so. From this point of view, altruism does not actually exist. Now, this can be taken in a couple of ways. On the one hand, it coincides with Hobbes cynical point of view about people in general, so it is easy to just dismiss it as Hobbes being overly critical and illogical. However, on the other hand, he could just be saying that it does not happen to be possible for altruism to exist. As opposed to just saying that people are bad and that no one wants to do anything good, he could merely be stating that people just so happen to enjoy doing good things. Anyway, my main question about this is, does true altruism (which I am defining as doing nice things just for the sake of helping others) exist?
As I stated above, Hobbes would argue that altruism does not exist. In society, there are many examples supporting this claim. For instance, one action that people perform that is normally perceived to be altruistic is giving money to a homeless person. This almost directly relates to Hobbes’ main example, which is that the actor donates money because it makes them feel good to do so, rather than to benefit the person who is receiving the money. This is the main justification for the argument that there is no actual altruism, since most generous actions yield a good feeling for the actor. Another example pertains to a scenario where a person saves someone by removing them from a dangerous situation (such as pushing them out of the way of a moving car). Hobbes would likely argue that the saver in this scenario is acting because they have been conditioned to believe that saving the stranger is the right thing to do. While they do not necessarily receive a good feeling from this situation (although they might as a result of doing the right thing), they are acting due to an impulse. On the contrary, a truly altruistic action would be a result of thinking through the action and then performing it for the benefit of someone else (and only someone else).
The argument in favor of true altruism existing is based around the opinion that a good feeling is the byproduct of a selfless action. Rather than giving money to a homeless person for the good feeling that it evokes, an altruistic person would argue that he/she unwittingly received the good feeling after completing the reaction. Therefore, the actor’s intent would be purely altruistic. Next, someone in favor of altruism would agree that the impulse to push someone out of the path of a moving car is instinctual; however, they would claim that those instincts are formed around previously formed, altruistic beliefs. The gray are that exists is whether instincts are based on beliefs or merely what people are told. Overall, what do you all think? Does true altruism exist? Why or why not? And, if so, to what extent?