Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

Charity and Altruism: Rational Requirements for Action

Topics: Epistemology, Moral Philosophy, Philosophy of action
Keywords: Altruism, Charity principle, Intention, Practical reasoning


This paper discusses the possibility of altruism based on the linguistic, and then practical notion of charity, to distinguish it from psychological and ethical selfishness. My starting hypothesis is, as Thomas Nagel argued, that altruism could be interpreted as a rational requirement for action. This hypothesis arises from a specific approach in analytical philosophy to the problem of explaining action, which combines the concepts of charity and altruism in a single interpretative framework about others. My aim is to present a common thread linking the thought of Willard Van Orman Quine, Donald Davidson and Thomas Nagel, thus contributing to a possible new interpretation of altruism as something that is distinct from ethical and psychological egoism, and which may be useful for experimental psychology. To achieve my objective, I will develop the analysis of the two concepts mentioned above.

In the last few years, there has been a growing philosophical interest in the problem of altruism and its definition (see Stich and Walmsley 2020, and Batson 2011). Recently, most of the research in this field has been devoted to giving a definition that would respect the norms of economic rationality and the traditional tendency towards expected utility by interpreting altruism as psychological and ethical selfishness. Accordingly, on the one hand the discussion has been brought into the moral, and practical realms, and, on the other, an analysis of the concept has been made in terms of…


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