Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/65

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55
ALTRUISM ECONOMICALLY CONSIDERED.

it may be proper and it may be improper. The term does not imply either propriety or impropriety. Let the word self-interest stand for justifiable egoism, and the word selfishness represent unjustifiable egoism.

Egoism, then, was once a necessity, and, while it was a condition to existence, it was justifiable, whatever its effects on others may have been. When things changed so as not to render egoism a necessity, man was still as prone to practice it as before. He was acting under the acquired impulses of ages. It was an extremely difficult thing for him to repress his egoism; it was perhaps even more difficult for him to understand that he ought to do so. And yet the change of circumstances had produced a change in its moral quality. From the practice of self-interest he had passed to the practice of selfishness, and he had so passed unconsciously, for the change was in environment and not in him. The same act that had been a virtue was now a vice. Of course, centuries were needed for this idea to develop and to be disseminated, but at length it came. Although the terms were not in use, the differentiation had taken place. The terms came when needed to express existing ideas.

Long after egoism had differentiated into self-interest and selfishness, came the idea of doing something for others. Man's powers were then so limited that this was not much. Even when he became capable he was slow to discover it and slower to act upon it. Heredity bound him. To loosen him was the mission of religion. Whatever its votaries may claim as to its history and purpose, the one great and overwhelming power that religion has had upon the world is this—it has developed doing for others. It has turned man's attention away from himself to those not himself. A most excellent term to use for this is altruism—a term first employed only about fifty years ago by Auguste Comte to signify devotion to others or to humanity. Percy Smith, in his "Glossary of Terms and Phrases," defines it as "the doing to another as one would be done by; opposed to egoism."

Such terms as benevolence and charity have been generally used to cover the idea of altruism, but in the mind of every one benevolence and charity involve the moral quality of goodness. It is of the greatest importance to have a word like altruism which does not imply any moral quality, and which covers all we do for others regardless of the consequences, just as egoism covers all we do for self regardless of consequences or of moral quality.

That mankind has thus far regarded all altruism as good is undeniably shown by the fact that neither the English nor any other language has words to distinguish proper from improper altruism. This distinction has not been well developed. It was early seen that the motives were of importance. If we do something