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Deconstructing the Moral Animal Stigma: A Study of the Scholarly Conversation on Biological Altruism


  • Sav Buist


Forms of altruism such as kin selection, reciprocity, and group-selection
altruism exist in a biological sense—but the question of whether “real”
altruism, based on good intentions, exists in a measurable manner and is a
human-exclusive trait, remains to be seen. Based on observations of primitive
empathetical contagion behavior in mice, nonreciprocal interspecies altruism
in cetaceans, and theory of mind behavior in Eurasian blue jays, certain
nonhuman animals could be capable of complex empathetical acts that do
not fall under the “standard” biological umbrella alongside kin selection,
reciprocity, and group-selection. In reviewing these phenomena, this paper
seeks to change the general societal understanding of empathetical cognition
and emotional capacity in nonhuman animals, and to redefine the conceptual
parameters of biological altruism.