A study of altruism

Lisa K. Mastain, Ph.D.

The topic of altruism, its origin in human consciousness, its role in human relationships and even its very existence has been a subject of debate for centuries. There is very little agreement on whether altruism, in its purest form, even exists, let alone on how it should be defined, and studied. And yet, in spite of differing opinions on the topic, researchers and bystanders alike have been, and continue to be fascinated by the apparently selfless acts of service extended to others by both ordinary individuals as well as by the moral exemplars amongst us.

Paradoxically, my interest in altruism has evolved out of my abhorrence of the atrocities committed by ostensibly normal individuals to millions of men, women and children of Jewish descent during the Holocaust. The magnitude of cruelty, the lack of compassion, and the complacency of so many individuals in the face of such immense human suffering continues to be deeply disturbing to me.

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