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A Phenomenological Investigation of Altruism as Experienced by Moral Exemplars

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This research study used descriptive phenomenological methods (Giorgi, 1989, Methods, 1, 39-61) to investigate and document the lived experience of altruism as described by moral exemplars. Six moral exemplars wrote descriptions of situations in which they engaged in spontaneous altruism. Altruism was defined for the purpose of this study as a motivational state with the ultimate goal of increasing another's welfare (Batson, 1991, The altruism question: Toward a social psychological answer). These descriptions were then expanded and clarified through follow up interviews. The results of this descriptive phenomenological analysis produced two structures: the structure of the lived experience of altruism as described by moral exemplars, and the structure of the lived experience of helping as described by moral exemplars. The differences between these two structures suggest that altruistically motivated pro-social behavior is more committed, extensive and effective than egoistically motivated helping, and results in a higher level of concern for the long-term well-being of the individuals helped. Although differentiated by primary motivations, altruistic or egoistic, both structures identify the motivating factors of empathy, personal historical life experiences, moral values, and personal identity as essential to the experience of assisting another individual in need.

Affiliations: 1: Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center


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