Re: Trivers' Reciprocal Altruism

From: Liz Lee (
Date: Thu Oct 30 1997 - 10:58:46 GMT

Trivers presents a strong case for reciprocal altruism being the
foundation of human behaviour, specifically, for interactions with
others. Concepts such as friendship, sympathy and hypocrisy are
accounted for as well as the emotions of guilt and anger. He suggests
that we are genetically programmed to behave altruistically, and that
this is a stable state which, although may be mimicked, will
ultimately triumph.

By altruism, Trivers is referring to any act committed which is of more
benefit to the recipient than the cost to the benefactor. These are not
necessarily high profile acts (saving lives) but may also be
food/tool/knowledge sharing which are of some benefit to another. The
reciprocal part is that at some stage in the future we expect our kind
act to be repaid, if not by the individual himself, then by A.N. Other
(possibly his relatives in the case of his death). Explanations for
altruistic acts had previously been explained in terms of kin selection
or group selection (Hamilton and Maynard-Smith),

Trivers uses examples of cross-species altruism (wrasses cleaning
groupers) and non-kin altruism (warning cries of birds who are known to
have a high dispersal rate and therefore are unlikely to be warning
their kin of nearby predators) to dispute this. It seeems plausible
that we should have our own best interests at heart ( Selfish Gene) and
that any altruistic act is done for some ulterior motive, not
consciously, but all the same because we will ultimately recieve
recompense in one form or another.

The objections expressed to this suggestion are, I believe, based on
our dislike of the underlying assumption that we are self-interested
over everything else.

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