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Sociobiological and Social Constructionist Accounts of Altruism: a Phenomenological Critique

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Much theorizing about altruism has been undertaken within a naturalistic and deterministic sociobiological framework that has sought to explain altruistic action in terms of underlying genetic selfishness. Recently, however, social constructionist thinkers have developed an alternative to such theorizing which suggests that human action arises out of fundamentally open-ended and malleable social relationships. This paper intends to show, however, that a reductive egoism is nonetheless still at work in such accounts, typically taking the form of an underlying concern for matters of personal status and social recognition. As a response, this paper will briefly outline the work of the French phenomenologists Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Emmanuel Levinas as an example of non-reductive and fundamentally Other-oriented alternatives to both sociobiological and social constructionist accounts of altruistic action.

Affiliations: 1: Brigham Young University

10.1163/156916299X00084
/content/journals/10.1163/156916299x00084
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/content/journals/10.1163/156916299x00084
1999-01-01
2017-02-27

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