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Levels of Altruism
Biological Theory
  • Martin Zwick, Portland State University
  • Jeffrey Alan Fletcher, Portland State University
Document Type
Publication Date
  • Altruism,
  • Cooperation,
  • Reciprocity (Psychology),
  • Kin selection (Evolution),
  • Self
The phenomenon of altruism extends from the biological realm to the human socio-cultural realm. This paper sketches a coherent outline of multiple types of altruism of progressively increasing scope that span these two realms and are grounded in an ever-expanding sense of"self." Discussion of this framework notes difficulties associated with altruisms at different levels. It links scientific ideas about the evolution of cooperation and about hierarchical order to perennial philosophical and religious concerns. It offers a conceptual background for inquiry into societal challenges that call for altruistic behavior, especially the challenge of environmental and social sustainability.

Authors' version of a paper that subsequently appeared in Biological Theory, March 2014, Volume 9, Issue l, pp. 100~107, © Springer International Publishing AG. The version of record may be found at

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 63rd Annual Northwest Philosophy Conference, Lewis and Clark, Nov 4-5, 2011, and may be found at

Persistent Identifier
Citation Information
Zwick, Martin, and Jeffrey A. Fletcher. "Levels of altruism." Biological Theory 9.1 (2014): 100-107.