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Embracing the Other: Philosophical, Psychological, and Historical Perspectives on Altruism

Pearl M. Oliner
Samuel P. Oliner
Lawrence Baron
Lawrence A. Blum
Dennis L. Krebs
M. Zuzanna Smolenska
Copyright Date: 1992
Published by: NYU Press
https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt9qg24m
Pages: 474
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qg24m
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  • Book Info
    Embracing the Other
    Book Description:

    All but buried for most of the twentieth century, the concept of altruism has re-emerged in this last quarter as a focus of intense scholarly inquiry and general public interest. In the wake of increased consciousness of the human potential for destructiveness, both scholars and the general public are seeking interventions which will not only inhibit the process, but may in fact chart a new creative path toward a global community. Largely initiated by a group of pioneering social psychologists, early questions on altruism centered on its motivation and development primarily in the context of contrived laboratory experiments. Although publications on the topic have been considerable over the last several years, and now represent the work of representatives from many disciplines of inquiry, this volume is distinguished from others in several ways.Embracing the Other emerged primarily as a response to recent research on an extraordinary manifestation of real-life altruism, namely to recent studies of non-Jewish rescuers of Jews during World War II. It is the work of a multi-disciplinary and international group of scholars, including philosophers, social psychologists, historians, sociologists, and educators, challenging several prevailing conceptual definitions and motivational sources of altruism. The book combines both new empirical and historical research as well as theoretical and philosophical approaches and includes a lengthy section addressing the practical implications of current thinking on altruism for society at large. The result is a multi-textured work, addressing critical issues in varied disciplines, while centered on shared themes.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6262-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. PART ONE: PREFACE AND INTRODUCTION

    • PREFACE
      (pp. 3-5)
      Janusz Reykowski

      This book was initiated at the international conference titled “Theoretical and Social Implications of Rescuing People in Extreme Situations: Another Look at Altruism” held in Radziejowice (Poland) in June 1989. The purpose of the conference was to discuss the implications of studies concerning the capability of human beings to perform brave, enduring altruistic actions. The inspiration for such an approach came from the Altruistic Personality Project—the large-scale study originated and directed by Professor Samuel Oliner. The project focuses on people who were willing, despite grave risk and consequence, to help others—to rescue Jews during the Holocaust—and it...

    • INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 6-16)
      Pearl M. Oliner

      In the summer of 1989, we met with a group of international scholars in Poland to exchange views on a particular type of altruism: the kind that some have called “heroic” altruism and that the conference organizers described as altruistic activity undertaken in extreme situations.

      The topic of the conference emerged largely from recent studies of rescue activities undertaken by non-Jews on behalf of Jews during the Nazi occupation of Europe during World War II. Rescuers, as they are popularly called, risked their lives and frequently those of their families as well to help Jews survive the Nazi Holocaust. In...

  2. PART TWO: PHILOSOPHICAL, DEFINITIONAL, AND CONCEPTUAL ISSUES

    • INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 19-21)
      Lawrence A. Blum

      In Plato’sRepublic, Thrasymachus argues that self-interest motivates all our behavior, even behavior that appears to show consideration for the interests of others. Plato rejects Thrasymachus’s view, but the controversy is still with us. The papers in this section address three questions within this controversy: (1) What is an adequate and workable definition for “altruism”? (2) What are the basic types of and motives for altruism? (3) How is altruism related to morality more generally? How well do our inherited traditions of moral thought illuminate the phenomenon of altruism?

      Krzysztof Konarzewski, a Polish psychologist, dismisses most ordinary forms of prosocial...

    • 1 EMPATHY AND PROTEST: TWO ROOTS OF HEROIC ALTRUISM
      (pp. 22-29)
      Krzysztof Konarzewski

      As the world moves away from the impersonal ideologies inherited from the nineteenth century, altruism becomes one of the least questioned educational goals and one of the most popular objects of psychological inquiry. About altruism almost everything seems to be known, and if we do not experience it in our everyday life, this is attributed only to the insufficient effort we put into preaching and striving for it. What contribution could then be made by a new book about altruism by Samuel and Pearl Oliner (1988) to the theory of character education? The answer looks straightforward. It is the authors’...

    • 2 ALTRUISM AND THE MORAL VALUE OF RESCUE: RESISTING PERSECUTION, RACISM, AND GENOCIDE
      (pp. 30-47)
      Lawrence A. Blum

      Samuel and Pearl Oliner’s bookThe Altruistic Personalityelicits our great admiration and gratitude for the few who risked so much to shelter Jews in Nazi Europe. The Oliners suggest that these individuals had “altruistic personalities” and that by studying their histories we can learn how to promote altruism in others. I will suggest that the concept of “altruism” by itself is insufficient to express the moral accomplishment of these rescuers. I will argue that there are other moral values implicated in such rescue activities that supplement and enrich—but are distinct from—the value of altruism per se. First...

    • 3 RESCUE, RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND MORALITY
      (pp. 48-66)
      Victor J. Seidler

      Can our moral theory help us illuminate the darkness of the holocaust? This remains a disturbing and haunting question for those of us who have been educated in philosophy, psychology, and sociology departments in the 1950s and 1960s. This central event in the history and experience of Western culture has largely been passed over in silence. Our prevailing moral theories, still largely shaped within a Kantian or utilitarian tradition, have continued to present themselves as viable, even if they seem powerless to illuminate what seems most important to us. The period of Nazi rule and the extermination of European Jewry...

  3. PART THREE: SOCIOBIOLOGY AND MORAL ALTRUISM

    • INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 69-72)
      Dennis L. Krebs

      Evidence of altruism, defined as behavior that enhances the biological fitness of another at the expense of the biological fitness of a helper, is paradoxical in the theory of evolution because it seems inconsistent with the principle of natural selection. In the “struggle for existence,” altruists (and their altruistic genes) should, by definition, fare poorly in competition with individuals possessing genes that favor more selfish behavior, and thus they should become extinct. In the past, theorists have tended to resolve this paradox either by assuming that all animals are fundamentally selfish by nature, but that some species, such as humans,...

    • 4 ALTRUISM AND HUMAN NATURE: RESOLVING THE EVOLUTIONARY PARADOX
      (pp. 73-103)
      Ian Vine

      Almost every society values altruism in some shape or form, and seeks to induce children to acquire relevant dispositions. Yet Western concepts of its moral value hinge upon the assumption that we freely choose to help others for their own sake. Moralists are accordingly uneasy about the role of our biology in either facilitating altruism or hindering it. In fact, the vast majority of psychological attempts to account for prosocial conduct are determinist, and are reductionist in seeing it as ultimately selfish (Batson 1987; Wallach and Wallach 1983). But most students of human nature prefer to gloss over the moral...

    • 5 ALTRUISM AND THE EVOLUTION OF CIVIL SOCIETY
      (pp. 104-130)
      Ronald Cohen

      The question of what people did in the Holocaust to protect Jews and why—how individuals reacted altruistically to that horror—contains vital information for our survival as a species. What I wish to do in this chapter is to ask whether, as so many argue, this feature is an inbuilt quality of our genetic heritage. If it is, we have little to worry about. The “selfish genes” can be depended upon for behavioral instructions that predetermine our ennobling and sacrificial choices in order that the gene pool be provided with the most efficient stochastic search for biochemical durability through...

  4. PART FOUR: THE DEVELOPMENT AND ENACTMENT OF ALTRUISM

    • INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 133-141)
      Dennis L. Krebs and M. Zuzanna Smolenska

      As the title suggests, the chapters in this section concern the growth of altruism over the life span and the internal and external factors that mediate altruistic behavior. In chapter 6, Krebs and Van Hesteren advance a “developmental-interactional” approach to altruistic personality that, they claim, counteracts the problems of past approaches. Krebs and Van Hesteren maintain that the patterns of altruistic behavior people display stem from and are shaped by the stages of development they have achieved, and that the forms of prosocial behavior that stem from higher stage structures are more altruistic than the forms that stem from lower...

    • 6 THE DEVELOPMENT OF ALTRUISTIC PERSONALITY
      (pp. 142-169)
      Dennis L. Krebs and Frank Van Hesteren

      Social scientists from several theoretical orientations have adduced evidence that some individuals possess an “altruistic personality”—a pervasive disposition to help others (“alters”), more or less as an end in itself. We will open this chapter with a critique of these approaches, then outline a model we feel counteracts their limitations. We will propose that individuals normally acquire the capacity to perform increasingly adequate types of altruism as they develop, and that individual differences in altruism stem from the interaction between the stage structures individuals have acquired and the opportunities and demands of the social contexts they create and encounter....

    • 7 THE SELF IN MORAL AGENCY: TOWARD A THEORETICAL MODEL OF THE IDEAL ALTRUISTIC PERSONALITY
      (pp. 170-193)
      Frank Van Hesteren

      In their chapter (this volume), Krebs and Van Hesteren outline a model of the development of altruistic personality based on a hierarchy of stage-based types of altruism. Within their developmental-interactional perspective, true, or pure, altruism is construed as an ideal associated with the final stages of personal and social development. Building upon this work, an attempt will be made in this chapter

      1. to flesh out the description of the pinnacle of altruistic personality—the most highly developed, ideal type—in terms of the end-stage characteristics of a variety of developmental theories;

      2. to explain the coordination and integration of these characteristics...

    • 8 SELF, WE, AND OTHER(S): SCHEMATA, DISTINCTIVENESS, AND ALTRUISM
      (pp. 194-212)
      Maria Jarymowicz

      Altruistic involvement is frequently explained by psychologists in terms of lack of psychological distance—cognitive and affective closeness—between self and others. On a cognitive level, psychological closeness is conceptualized as the degree of perceived similarity between a person and other people with regard to such qualities as age, social status, and personality. On an affective level, it relates to feelings of “we-ness” and group membership. A spate of studies has found that perception of similarity evokes positive attitudes and altruistic behavior (cf. Byrne 1969; Karylowski 1975; Reykowski 1979). In this chapter we will argue that altruistic involvement is based...

    • 9 MOTIVATIONS OF PEOPLE WHO HELPED JEWS SURVIVE THE NAZI OCCUPATION
      (pp. 213-225)
      M. Zuzanna Smolenska and Janusz Reykowski

      One of the most intriguing questions for those who encounter acts that seem genuinely altruistic concerns their motivation. What could instigate some people to sacrifice not only their effort, time, and money, but also their lives, for other human beings? This is a question often asked by recipients of altruistic aid. In the present paper, we would like to discuss this issue on the basis of data collected in the framework of the Altruistic Personality Project—an extensive study of a large sample of people who helped Jews survive the Nazi occupation in Europe. The project was originated in the...

    • 10 PREDICTING PROSOCIAL COMMITMENT IN DIFFERENT SOCIAL CONTEXTS
      (pp. 226-252)
      Leo Montada

      Research on altruism is concerned with highly different predicaments and, consequently, with very different activities. Prosocial behavior may involve readiness to give away a small coin, donating bone marrow, helping a car driver with a flat tire, consoling people in pain and sorrow, or rescuing the politically persecuted. Schneider (1988) lists forty-four different actions used in empirical research on helping that are quite different with regard to costs incurred as well as riskiness.

      It might be that all altruistic acts are based on a common facet of motivation and a common basic attitude toward other people in need. Some definitions...

    • 11 HELPING IN LATE LIFE
      (pp. 253-276)
      Elizabeth Midlarsky

      This is a chapter about altruism and helping in late life. Helping is used here as a general term referring to all instances in which one individual comes to the aid of another. Altruism, on the other hand, is viewed as a subcategory of helping, in which the behavior is voluntary—and is motivated by concern for others rather than by the anticipation of rewards.

      What do we know about altruism and helping in older adults? In the literature of gerontology, burgeoning in response to the recent, dramatic increases in longevity, the importance of helping is often cited. Pairing of...

  5. PART FIVE: EMBRACING THE “OUTSIDER”

    • INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 279-281)
      Lawrence Baron

      In situations where the dangers facing a person or group are the result of state-sanctioned policies, individual and collective attempts to aid those in peril have broad political and sociological implications. The historical context of this kind of rescue determines the risks involved in helping the victims and how legitimate their persecution seems to the general population. In turn, these factors affect the incidence of rescue, first by providing common positive or negative reasons either for protecting or abandoning those in need, and second by facilitating or inhibiting rescue based on the perceived and real dangers it might entail. Moreover,...

    • 12 THE QUESTION OF ALTRUISM DURING THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE OF 1915
      (pp. 282-305)
      Richard G. Hovannisian

      Intervention and altruism during the Armenian Genocide of 1915 is a subject that has received little attention. Although many survivors have related incidents of external intervention that saved their lives, these episodes have always been parts of much larger stories of cruelty, suffering, trauma, and seemingly miraculous personal escape from the fate that befell most Armenians in the Ottoman or Turkish Empire during World War I. In the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide, the survivors, barred from returning home, scattered around the world, while the perpetrator regime and all successive Turkish governments engaged in unrelenting campaigns of denial and rationalization....

    • 13 THE DUTCHNESS OF DUTCH RESCUERS: THE NATIONAL DIMENSION OF ALTRUISM
      (pp. 306-327)
      Lawrence Baron

      Shortly before her arrest in 1944, Anne Frank reacted to rumors about Dutch gentiles turning against the Jews by writing the following entry in her diary: “I hope one thing only, and that is that this hatred of the Jews will be a passing thing, that the Dutch will show what they are after all, and that they will never totter and lose their sense of right.”¹ The minority of Dutch men and women who rescued Jews like the Franks clearly lived up to the high expectations Anne had for her fellow citizens. Yet was their moral courage derived from...

    • 14 THE ROLE OF POLISH NUNS IN THE RESCUE OF JEWS, 1939–1945
      (pp. 328-334)
      Ewa Kurek-Lesik

      If we look at it from a certain perspective, the history of humankind can appear to be predominantly a history of evil. It can be seen as generally a struggle for power: to rule, to impose one’s religion or ideology on an enemy, or to conquer more territory. Such conflicts can understandably result in war, blood, tears, and humiliation. Indeed, it can be suggested that countries either inflicted suffering on their foes or endured the suffering inflicted on them. The history of Poland and of the nations living within its borders may not seem to be significantly different from this...

    • 15 POLITICAL ALTRUISM: A CASE STUDY
      (pp. 335-360)
      Rachel Hertz-Lazarowitz

      The present chapter is a case study of Dov Yirmiya, a man who can best be described as a political altruist. Yirmiya’s life is best characterized by his altruistic deeds carried out within the Israeli political context. Dov has been described as a “pessimistic dogooder” and an “Arab lover,” tying together the public-political and personal-altruistic facets of his personality.

      The chapter is comprised of five sections: The first, “Dov Yirmiya: A Life Story,” recounts the major events in Yirmiya’s life. The second part, “Personal versus Public Dimensions of Altruism,” describes Dov’s altruistic actions during the Lebanon War (June 1982–end...

  6. PART SIX: PROMOTING ALTRUISTIC BONDS

    • INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 363-368)
      Samuel P. Oliner

      This section of the book addresses the factors and processes that help promote a more altruistic and caring society. In these introductory remarks, we shall describe the connectedness and the central message contained in the five chapters.

      It is clear that each of the chapters deals with the promotion of prosocial behavior and concern for the other. The Oliners address the theoretical concept called extensivity, which was introduced in their bookThe Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe(New York: Free Press, 1988). Extensivity implies attachment and commitment to one’s family as well as including diverse others and...

    • 16 PROMOTING EXTENSIVE ALTRUISTIC BONDS: A CONCEPTUAL ELABORATION AND SOME PRAGMATIC IMPLICATIONS
      (pp. 369-389)
      Pearl M. Oliner and Samuel P. Oliner

      Since the publication of our study of rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust (Oliner and Oliner 1988), we have had the opportunity to discuss our findings with many groups. Almost inevitably, we are confronted with questions regarding its practical implications. What people want to know is what they can do to promote a more caring society. This chapter is an attempt to suggest some parameters for promoting altruism in society at large.

      The phenomenon of rescue provides a particularly rich source for inducing such parameters because of its nature and scope. Rescue was not only an altruistic behavior but also...

    • 17 THE ORIGINS OF CARING, HELPING, AND NONAGGRESSION: PARENTAL SOCIALIZATION, THE FAMILY SYSTEM, SCHOOLS, AND CULTURAL INFLUENCE
      (pp. 390-412)
      Ervin Staub

      What kind of socialization is required to raise caring, cooperative, helpful persons? What kinds of experiences are necessary for the development of characteristics that help people deal with crises by turning toward rather than against others, by inclusion rather than exclusion? What will help them resist movements, ideologies, and group influences that lead to confrontation and violence? How can they become self-assertive, able to stand up for their own rights and pursue their own goals, but also consider the rights, needs, and goals of others? What kind of socialization is required to develop people who are willing to make sacrifices...

    • 18 ALTRUISM AMONG ALCOHOLICS
      (pp. 413-419)
      Daniel M. Boland

      In practice altruism means giving more to others than we are expected to give while taking less for ourselves than we’re allowed to take. Expressions of this kind of practical altruism vary from everyday gestures of courtesy to selfless, heroic action. Altruism can mean accepting simple inconveniences for the benefit of loved ones or giving one’s life for one’s friends. Altruism motivates kindness to strangers and aid to weary colleagues, food and shelter for the needy and care for the friendless. Altruism inspires our concern for troubled others whose wisdom is less tested, whose temperament is less stable, and whose...

    • 19 ALTRUISM AND EXTENSIVITY IN THE BAHÁ’Í RELIGION
      (pp. 420-432)
      Wendy M. Heller and Hoda Mahmoudi

      Throughout history, religion has often been the cause of bitter, violent, and seemingly insolvable conflicts between groups of people. Yet religion also has the potential to transcend other group affiliations in uniting people into a community. Although religion has often been cited to justify prejudice and hostility against other groups, religious scriptures have furnished inspiring appeals to altruism and enduring exhortations to embrace the “other.” This chapter will examine some of the ways in which one religious system, the Bahá’í faith, combines the unifying function of religion with altruism in its aspiration to develop an altruistically oriented global society.

      Located...

    • 20 ALTRUISM IN THE SOCIALIST WORLD
      (pp. 433-454)
      Wiktor Osiatynski

      The subject of this discussion is “ordinary” altruism, that is, acts of disinterested help rendered to others. I interpret “altruism” as voluntary help rendered by an individual to another individual or group who does not arouse in that individual the biological instinct of help and care. Culture may encourage or discourage it, but the final choice whether to help or not rests with the individual. The actual motivation of that help is less important here. I leave it for the reader to appraise to what extent the opinions represented here may apply to the saving of people in extreme situations....