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Altruism refers to both a practice or habit (in certain philosophies, a virtue) as well as a philosophical doctrine.

Altruism the doctrine is the view that one's actions ought to further the interests or good of other people to the total exclusion of one's own interests. The word was coined by Auguste Comte, the French founder of positivism. Altruism is distinguished from ethical egoism, according to which one's actions ought to further one's own interests.

Altruism, in practice, is the performance of duties to others with no view to any sort of personal gain for one's efforts. The act of doing valuable work for others and receiving nothing of personal value in exchange.

If one performs an act beneficial[?] to others with a view to gaining self-esteem, affection, respect, reputation, feelings of security, or any form of gratitude or remuneration then it is not an altruistic act. It is in fact a selfish[?] act because the principal motivation was to reap some benefit for oneself. The desire of this benefit exists equally whether it is psychological, emotional, intellectual, or material - each form of desirable benefit is philosophically identical as a motivation.

Hence, people may be seen participating in what externally appears to be altruistic behaviour. In fact it is frequently not the case that the behaviour is altruistic. The behaviour, in most cases, may be termed rational selfishness[?]. Rational selfishness appears as if it is altruism to an observer, but in fact it is driven by a rational desire to benefit and follow ones own personal system of values.

According to psychological egoism, while one can be outwardly altruistic in the practical sense, one cannot have altruistic motivations. That is, while one might very well spend one's life helping others, one's motive for doing so is always the furthering of one's own interests. One claiming to be an altruist might derive great pleasure, for example, from helping others. That pleasure is both the motive and the resulting benefit one gets from the act.

On the other hand, individuals instilled with a belief that serving others is their "duty" may, contrary to the idea of psychological egoism, begin the habit of performing truly altruistic actions out of this sense of duty only. These individuals derive no personal satisfaction from these acts of altruism, and frequently begin to resent those for whom they are performing their duties. Their motive is the sense of duty, and their own personal benefit is, by necessity, nonexistant. This is the face of true altruism.

In the science of ethology (the study of behaviour), altruism refers to behaviour by an organism which appears to benefit another. This would appear to be counter-intuitive if one accepts natural selection. Analysis of apparently altruistic behaviours in animals shows that they are not inconsistent with natural selection due to the following mechanisms:

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