Workshop on Altruism in Philosophy, Psychology, and Economic Theory

von links nach rechts: Michael Schefczik, vorne: Anita Konzelmann, hinten: Christoph Henning, Dieter Thomä, Dan Batson, Herbert Gintis, Pieter Goldie, Rebekka Gersbach, hinten: Mark Peacock, vorne: Juliette Gloor, Hans Bernhard Schmid, Gary Becker, Gebhard Kirchgässner






Ever since the days of Adam Smith, philosophers, (proto-) social scientists and (proto-) psychologists have been debating the possibility, structure, and role of altruism. While next to no-one has ever denied that people frequently act in an other-directed fashion, the following question has been at the center of much controversy: are such acts just another means of pursuing one’s own goals (e.g. by motivating other agents to reciprocate), or are at least some of them genuinely geared towards the goals of others, irrespective of the agent’s own aims? Is there, in other words, such a thing as genuine altruism? The answer to this question obviously depends on one’s concept of altruism. This workshop aims at contributing to the ongoing debate by making progress in the following three areas:

  • Altruism and society: Is it true that modern market societies can function on the basis of enlightened self-interest alone? Is altruism a motivational atavism, somewhere on the scale between superfluous and harmful? Or is it part of the vital social resources of every society, i.e. a key feature of social capital? Is altruism a virtue or a vice? Under which circumstances can altruistically motivated behavior be beneficial or harmful to societies? Where and when is altruism a condition of social stability and prosperity or an incentive to socially unproductive behavior?
  • Altruism and the structure of action: In the current debate, it is sometimes claimed that the conceptual dualism of altruism and egoism is a consequence of the overly individualistic image of action employed in most of current social science and philosophy, and that we need to embrace a more robust and less individualistic concept of identity in order to capture the full range of human non-selfish behavior. The question to be addressed is: Is the conceptual dualism between egoism and altruism sufficient to capture the full range of human behavior? Is the notion of the "self" presupposed in conceptions of self-interest and altruism plausible or do we need to reconsider critical accounts of personal identity in order to understand social interaction?
  • Psychological vs. behavioral altruism: In the last years, the debate on the existence of pure altruism received important impulses from evolutionary theory and neuro-science. The concept of altruism used in this area, however, is purely behavioral, i.e. without any appeal to the agent’s motives. The question to be debated is: can a concept of behavioral altruism be made plausible without appealing to the agents’ psychological motives? And, conversely: can the existence of pure psychological altruism (in terms of action from altruistic motives) be made plausible on the basis of evolutionary theory? Or does neurological research support psychological hedonism?

It is clear that these three topics are closely intertwined. This becomes apparent when we consider these issues in the light of recent findings concerning the role of the emotions for human action. We are confident that altruism will prove to be a challenging topic for an interdisciplinary exchange of ideas.

vlnr: Gary Becker, Gebhard Kirchgässner, Grit Hein, Nathalie Gold, hinten: Robert Frank, vorne: Fabienne Peter, Simon Gächter, Christoph Fehige, Christian Thöni



Workshop Programme

Thursday, May 31


Morning Session

10.00    Reception with Coffee & Tea

10.30    Welcome Address

10.50    Ernst Fehr: When Does Economic Man Dominate Social Behavior?
11.15    Discussion

11.40    Natalie Gold: Altruism & Market: How the freedom of some to sell can crowd out the freedom of others to give
12.05    Discussion

12.30    End of Morning Session


Afternoon Session

14.00    Robert Frank: Is the Prejudice Against Consequentialism Justified?

14.25    Comment: Simon Gächter

14.35    Discussion

15.00    Herbert Gintis: Achieving Theoretical Consistency Among the Behavioral Sciences: Some Foundational Principles

15.25    Discussion & Coffee Break

16.10    Hans Bernhard Schmid: Lending a Hand – The Intentionality of Altruistic Everyday Behavior

16.35    Discussion, Organizational Remarks

17.00    End of Afternoon Session

19.30    Workshop Diner, Restaurant Schäfli

Friday, June 1

Morning Session

10.00    Keynote ISC Robert Frank: Consumption, Resources and the Environment: The Importance of Understanding Individual
10.40    Incentives
10.45    Kevin Mulligan: Arational Egoism and Personal Values
11.10    Discussion

11.35    Peter Goldie: Anti-Empathy: Seeing the other as another
12.00    Discussion

12.25    End of Morning Session


Afternoon Session

14.00    Keynote ISC Gary Becker
14.25    Discussion

14.50    Daniel Batson: The Naked Emperor: Seeking a More Plausible Genetic Basis for Psychological Altruism
15.15    Comment: Dieter Thomae
15.25    Discussion & Coffee Break

16.10    Dominic Abrams: Altruism or Self-Extension? Social Psychological Boundaries for Kindness and Cruelty
16.35    Comment: Mark Peacock
16.45    Discussion

17.10    End of Afternoon Session

17.30    Light International Buffet

Saturday, June 2

Morning Session

08.30    Reception with Coffee & Tea

09.00    Gebhard Kirchgässner: On Minimal Morals
09.25    Discussion

09.50    Peter Schaber: Moral Motives
10.15    Discussion

10.40    Monika Betzler: Sharing Moral Values
11.05    Discussion

11.30    Roundtable

12.30    End of Conference



Organizing Committee

Prof. Dr. Hans Bernhard Schmid
Universität Basel
SNF-Förderungsprofessur Philosophie
Bernoullistr. 16
CH-4056 Basel

Dr. Michael Schefczyk
Universität St. Gallen
Kulturwissenschaftliche Abteilung
Fachbereich Philosophie
Gatterstr. 1
CH-9010 St. Gallen

Prof. Dr. Dieter Thomä
Universität St. Gallen
Kulturwissenschaftliche Abteilung
Fachbereich Philosophie
Gatterstr. 1
CH-9010 St. Gallen