Last night I attended an event at the Lyceum in Edinburgh, during which Richard Dawkins and Aubrey Manning discussed Dawkins' memoir, An Appetite for Wonder. As part of a more general discussion about determinism in animal behaviour Dawkins made a binary distinction between altruistic and egoistic behaviours, stating that these were in direct opposition to one another. Whilst I am aware that this conclusion has been premised upon biological reasonings rather than philosophical ones, it falls rather short of lending itself to a more nuanced discussion about the part that personal agenda might play in the human process of decision making. Does altruistic behaviour not stem from a selfish (egoistic) desire to be viewed in a positive light or to be rewarded at a later date? If we work from the premise that a subject (a human being whose existence is at once constitutive of and constituted by her personal experiences) will necessarily consider herself first, then we must accpet that a seemingly altruistic decision will have been derived from egoism. Thus, we can begin to appreciate that the two concepts cannot be easily dichotomised.
What are people's thoughts on the subject?