In the state of nature, there was no civilized society. The life was violent and there were no civil liberties and rights. We entered into a social contract to protect rights of the individual and live with social coordination and solidarity, thus, laying the foundation of a civil society. After entering into the social contract, we formulated laws, rules and other regulatory frameworks to govern our society and to protect the rights to which we were entitled. There was the development of many virtues such as justice, liberty, fraternity, morality etc. The human behaviour in the civil society was guided by these virtues.

In psychology, human behaviour is categorized into three major categories which are social, pro-social and anti-social behaviour. The pro-social behaviour is based on cooperation and sharing. It includes cooperation, sharing, helping, providing leadership, expressing empathy, providing verbal support or encouragement, and general friendliness or kindness.  There are a variety of types of behaviours viewed as indicating pro-social activity; Altruism is one of the pro-social behaviours which are inherent to human behaviour and necessary for the development of the society. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s dictionary in its 8th edition defines it as the fact of caring about the needs and happiness of other people more than your own. Thus, it is quite evident that altruism governs human behaviour but many times it is quite selective as to helping your family, kin and may be any stranger in the time of need. As a society striving to be inclusive, the selective altruism acts as a barrier preventing us to evolve into a singular unit and thus, maintaining the divide. At this juncture, it is imperative to say that metamorphosis is only possible when the society develops the social support structure out of altruism or social altruism. Let us discuss what we exactly mean by coining the term social altruism.

Can the question be answered well firstly by understanding the meaning of altruism? Altruism is the fact of caring about the needs and happiness of other people more than your own.  Many scholars define altruism as a cooperative behaviour by which a donor individual increases a recipient’s fitness at the cost of its own fitness.  This definition of altruism is a biological definition. In common Parlance, it is defined as concern for others in which we put our “self” aside to benefit others. It can also be termed as selflessness. It is a virtue of human behaviour in which we put our self aside and sacrifice something for the benefit of others without the expectation of any return to be received from such an act. It is a moral obligation upon the social being to be altruistic towards its fellows. Social Evolutionary theories define the term as behaviour by an individual that increases the fitness of another individual while decreasing the fitness of the actor. It is also defined as a motivational state with the goal of increasing another’s welfare.  In the Holy Bible also it is said that you should love your neighbour as you love yourself.

Therefore, in light of the above mentioned definitions of altruism we can arrive at a common viewpoint that Altruism is a virtue of human behaviour which is derived from the society as a motivational tool in which we prefer to provide benefits to others by keeping aside our self without any expectation of any return to be received from such action. It is a social fact and is inherited in human civilization from its onset. It is individualistic as well as societal in nature. Altruism like morality can be derived from society and can be used as a motivational tool to create an inclusive society. The reason is that we are not seeking any benefit in return for providing any help to the members of the society. We shall be providing social support on including the excluded member of the society. The Society shall be exhibiting the virtue of social altruism but I would not rush into the conclusion irrespective of the fact that altruism is a social fact and has societal traits with it. Therefore, before moving further I would like to define and understand what is Social Altruism?

The variable which is the basis of Social Altruism is the willingness to give something. Willingness, as defined by Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 8th edition, is a trait in a person to be ready or pleased to help and not need to be persuaded. Merriam Webster online defines willingness as cheerful readiness to do something. Basing on this variable Social Altruism is defined as the willingness of communities to commit scarce resources to the aid and comfort of their members, distinct from the beneficence of the state.  Many scholars have defined the term Social Altruism as Social Support. Francis T. Cullen (1994, p.527) defined it as “the perceived or actual instrumental and/or expressive provisions supplied by the community, social networks, and confiding partners.” Robert Schilling in his article talks about the benefits by enumerating Social support as a universal helping resource.  And these resources tend to have many positive effects on the recipient which includes increased self-esteem, self-confidence, a sense of purpose and belonging. This sense of purpose and belongings make them feel secure in the societal setup. We can derive the point that Social Altruism in society has positive effects on the recipient and  Francis T. Cullen (1994) put forth his answer in affirmative, referring to the programs and schemes run by the state machinery, saying that state is being altruistic in its approach and is sufficiently supporting to include the excluded in the mainstream society but Chamlin and Cochran (1997, p.209) negate the point by saying that the state-sponsored programmes are doing little good to the notion of social altruism because they “may not reflect the humanitarianism of localities”. This point clearly signifies the situation that merely having a state-sponsored mechanism will not fulfil the goal of inclusion as, even after implementation of inclusive programmes, the society is not including them due to lack of community helping attitude, which can only be imparted when the norms of the society are made altruistic in nature.

In the present social support remains a vague and inadequately defined concept. The definition of social support lacks universal appeal. Also, it does not contract with the present political climate. The state is defending its programmes and schemes and terming them adequately sufficient. The potential of social support is still leashed and will only be realized when it is put in motion. It is possible to build altruistic values among the individual by appealing to its enlightened self. Once we are successful in inculcating this virtue among people then regardless of their original reason they are likely to continue to repeat those behaviours and develop altruistic values. It is human tendency to seek benefit or return from its every action but by inculcating this virtue we would not only be diminishing this tendency but will be triggering them to develop altruistic values. It is still possible to nurture and develop altruistic values by developing state programme on this line. Therefore, it is conclusively said that social altruism though inadequately defined may act as a trigger in developing altruistic values among the individuals and communities which would further help in creating an inclusive society.


  1. Jeffrey A. Rosen, Elizabeth J. Glennie, Ben W. Dalton, Jean M. Lennon, and Robert N. Bozick, Noncognitive Skills in the Classroom: New Perspectives on Educational Research, p. 148, RTI Press.
  2. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 8th edition, Oxford University Press
  3. Jean-François Le Galliard, Regis Ferrière and Ulf Dieckmann, The Adaptive Dynamics of Altruism in Spatially Heterogeneous Populations, p.1, INTERNATIONAL  JOURNAL  OF  ORGANIC  EVOLUTION, vol. 57, 2003, The Society for the Study of Evolution
  4. Graham Bell, Selection: the mechanism of evolution, p. 367, 2008, Oxford University Press.
  5. International Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, 2nd edition, vol.1
  6. Levictus 19 as interpreted by St. Thomas Aquinas
  7. Mitchell b. Chamlin & John k. Cochran, Social Altruism and Crime, p.204, Criminology, vol. 35, 1997, Wiley
  8. Robert F. Schilling II, Limitations of Social Support, Social Service Review, p. 20, Vol. 61, No. 1 Mar., 1987, The University of Chicago Press
  9. Featured Image Source: