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Human Altruism

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Introduction

Examine the usefulness of cross-cultural research in determining the causes of human altruism Ernest Leung The word "culture" as defined by the BBC English Dictionary, means either a collective of ideas, customs and art produced by a particular society, or a particular society or civilization in its entirety. The same dictionary defined "altruism" as the "unselfish concern for other people's happiness and welfare". For centuries altruism was thought to be an innate virtue of human beings; Chinese philosophers saw it as one of a few characteristics that distinguished men from beasts. The theme of altruistic acts is prevalent throughout religious texts and teachings of various cultures, and stories such as the parable of the "Good Samaritan" are known by many across the world. With the advent of Darwinism this view was refuted by most biologists, and indeed some radical philosophers of the last century had attempted to portray altruism as the result of religious indoctrination, and a thing that is in essence practiced against human nature, or put in simpler terms, hypocritical. Psychologists in the past few decades have however shed some new light onto this seemingly unnatural form of human behaviour, and they now suggest that, instead of being against human nature, altruism is an in fact an integral part of it. In the past few decades, human altruistic behaviour has mainly been interpreted from two perspectives, the evolutionary, and the psychological. The evolutionary perspective has produced various theories that seem to draw the same conclusion or are based on the same theme: that altruism is nothing more than a survival tactic, or a strategy to maximise opportunities for the propagation of genes, and that ultimately it was motivated by self-interest, the "self" being of one form or another, depending on the theory. ...read more.

Middle

Median response time for the cane victim was 5 seconds; that for the drunken man: 109 seconds. From this he attempted to conclude that people hesitate to help the drunken man because they were less sympathetic to him than to the "cane victim", that helping him is potentially dangerous and involves a high cost should the man turn violent, and that there is less reward or psychological satisfaction arising from helping a drunken man, for the drunken man is perceived to have caused his own victimisation. As has been defined at the start of this essay, the word "culture" can refer to societies in their entirety. As "melting pots of cultures", America and an increasing number of countries worldwide are effectively becoming collections of smaller societies. In New York and many more cities, foreign immigrants or the believers of certain religions often form tightly knit communities, in which they would attempt to preserve their native traditions and resist assimilation. "Pillarisation" was a serious problem in pre-war Dutch society, which was effectively split into three independent, self-sufficient societies, or "pillars", formed of Catholics, Protestants, and social democrats. This can possibly be a future problem for Britain, which in recent years has seen the establishment of Sharia Law Courts for its Muslim population, and a dramatic increase in the number of Hindu and Islamic schools. In many places across the world, social classes in their long history of confrontation against and isolation from the rest of society have produced distinctive cultures of their own. When most talk of cross-cultural research, it would seem to them that the term meant psychological experiments done on an international scale. ...read more.

Conclusion

Robert Levine's approach to analysing these cities also brings in the question of the measurability of cultures. He has attempted a statistical approach, by the use of GDP figures, and measuring average walking speeds, as tools to compare one city against another. Evidently he saw statistics as more reliable than other cultural components which cannot be measured. Does this not in the long term reduce "cultures" or "societies" into "economies", and render cross-cultural research merely as an economic, rather than a comprehensive approach, which includes the study of social, cultural and historical factors, to determining the causes of altruistic behaviour? However, if these factors cannot be measured, how should an objective standard for comparing different cultures be then established? Cross-cultural research has provided psychological theories with a much wider informational basis. Theories supported by cross-cultural research, represents what it wishes to better, than those which are not. It is, however, beset by problems. Factors such as the social composition of the experimental subjects, and the areas of the city or country where the experiments take place, will have a great effect on the outcome of these studies, but they tend to be overlooked. Cross-cultural research may be able to isolate a few possible causes, but cannot show us which one is of greater importance over another. It has to potential to favour economic statistics and bias against cultural influences that are not as clearly measurable and objective as the former. These inadequacies of cross-cultural research may have diminished its effectiveness, but we must acknowledge that throughout the past decades, it has made great contributions, in our efforts to probe into the causes of human altruistic behaviour. ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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