altruism

noun
al·​tru·​ism | \ ˈal-trü-ˌi-zəm How to pronounce altruism (audio) \

Definition of altruism

1 : unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others charitable acts motivated purely by altruism
2 : behavior by an animal that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species

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Altruism Has Roots in Latin and French

Altruism refers to a quality possessed by people whose focus is on something other than themselves, and its root reveals the object of those generous tendencies. Altruism derives from the French word autrui, meaning "other people." Autrui in turn developed from the Old French term autre, which means "other" and which itself comes from Latin alter, also meaning "other." That Latin source eventually caused a curious thing to happen. Under the influence of alter, the French autrui gave rise to the altrui- of both the French altruisme and the English altruism. The English term has been in use since at least the mid-1800s.

Examples of altruism in a Sentence

A few skimpy corporate pensions were paid, but they were offered as much as departure incentives designed to promote business efficiency as expressions of altruism. — W. Andrew Achenbaum, Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2006 Mary may have ample resources and prefer that her share pass to her children who have greater need and are in lower income tax brackets. (The progressive nature of our tax laws often fosters such altruism among family members.) — William M. McGovern, Jr. et al., Wills, Trusts and Estates, 1988 And he still chokes up when he tells the story. Even at that young age, he understood that what his aunt was doing for him was the purest act of altruism. — Gail Sheehy, New York Times Magazine, 20 Apr. 1986
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Recent Examples on the Web

Most people who donate their bodies do it out of a sense of altruism. Stephanie Innes, AZCentral.com, "Arizona is a hotbed for the cadaver industry, and potential donors have plenty of options," 10 June 2019 The seven-day trial, which went to a jury Friday, is reviving the broader debate over migrant aid: When does altruism become aiding and abetting? John Moore/getty Images, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Trial revives debate: When does border humanitarian aid become a crime?," 9 June 2019 The problem is that national behavior, including helping other nations in need, tends to be motivated more by interests and politics rather than disinterested altruism. Moisés Naím, Washington Post, "Psychotherapy can solve personal problems — why not national crises?," 7 June 2019 This work suggested that many of the social behaviors observed in people, including virtuous traits like altruism, could be attributed to natural selection. Quanta Magazine, "In Ecology Studies and Selfless Ants, He Finds Hope for the Future," 15 May 2019 Occasionally altruism is part of their motivation; there are shows every season that are there primarily because producers felt moved by the content of a show and felt others needed to see it. Barbara Isenberg, latimes.com, "Rachel Chavkin on ‘Hadestown,’ female directors and her dream of a TV miniseries," 4 June 2019 Thanks to the Black Panther Challenge, celebrities are coming out in droves to showcase their altruism and award underprivileged kids and lucky fans the opportunity to see the Marvel film. Carl Lamarre, Billboard, "11 Celebrities Who Treated Kids to Free Screenings of 'Black Panther'," 26 Feb. 2018 Effective altruism is about trying to use your time and money as well as possible to help other people. Sean Illing, Vox, "How to do good better," 14 Dec. 2018 Effective altruism can be a hard sell, even for the rationally minded. The Economist, "Can “effective altruism” maximise the bang for each charitable buck?," 2 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'altruism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of altruism

1853, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for altruism

French altruisme, from autrui other people, from Old French, oblique case form of autre other, from Latin alter

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Statistics for altruism

Last Updated

23 Jun 2019

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Time Traveler for altruism

The first known use of altruism was in 1853

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More Definitions for altruism

altruism

noun

English Language Learners Definition of altruism

: feelings and behavior that show a desire to help other people and a lack of selfishness

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