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

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 service 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
Recent Examples on the Web To work, such an entity must be built on more than simple altruism of the big for the small, but on self interest. Tom Mctague, The Atlantic, 4 Apr. 2022 And McHugh Stamos, who married Stamos in 2018, says she was also deeply touched by the altruism of good friend Bob Saget, John's longtime pal and former Full House costar who died suddenly in January. Aili Nahas,, 24 Mar. 2022 As the flashback reveals, Trevor’s sense of altruism ends up affecting his wardrobe in the afterlife. Jazz Tangcay, Variety, 31 Mar. 2022 For example, someone may be for altruism, while the other person is for cash profit. Maria Wu, Forbes, 7 Mar. 2022 The collapse of civilization turns life into a war of all against all, a relentless battle that leaves no room for altruism. David Faris, The Week, 13 Jan. 2022 Discovering this mythic-level altruism was physically miserable. Washington Post, 21 Mar. 2022 In 2014, GiveWell, one of the first effective altruism nonprofits, developed a new framework for evaluating the best charities. Michael Thomas, Quartz, 25 Jan. 2022 In a 2017 study of psychological resilience among American military veterans, higher levels of altruism and a sense of purpose predicted resiliency. New York Times, 10 Mar. 2022 See More

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.

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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The first known use of altruism was in 1853

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Last Updated

2 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Altruism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 May. 2022.

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