Thursday, July 5, 2018

Is altruism necessarily good?

That's basically the question asked, in the context of organ donation, by this paper in the BMJ:

Law, ethics and medicine
How altruistic organ donation may be (intrinsically) bad
Dr Ben Saunders, Social Sciences, University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK;

Abstract: It has traditionally been assumed that organ donation must be altruistic, though the necessity of altruistic motivations has recently been questioned. Few, however, have questioned whether altruism is always a good motive. This paper considers the possibility that excessive altruism, or self-abnegation, may be intrinsically bad. How this may be so is illustrated with reference to Tom Hurka’s account of the value of attitudes, which suggests that disproportionate love of one’s own good—either excessive or deficient—is intrinsically bad. Whether or not we accept the details of this account, recognising that altruistic motivations may be intrinsically bad has important implications for organ procurement. One possible response is to say that we should take further measures to ensure that donors have good motives—that they are altruistic is no longer enough. An alternative is to say that, since altruistic donation need not be intrinsically good, we have less reason to object to other motivations. 

In a nutshell:

"we may think that the virtue of altruism lies between selfishness (excessive self-concern) and self-abnegation (deficient self-concern). While it is probably true that most people ought to be less selfish, if someone shows little or no concern for her own well-being, this too could be morally troublesome. This might explain worries about the motives of some altruistic donors; we may fear that they are ‘too altruistic’ or not sufficiently concerned with their own good."

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