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What Altruism Means, What Is Its Origin, Types And Examples [2022]

What does altruism mean? Discover its origin, types and examples to understand why a person is altruistic.

What does altruism mean?

The history of philanthropy brings together concepts as old as altruism.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines altruism as follows:

“Willingness to do things that bring advantages to others, even if it results in disadvantage for yourself”.

What is the origin of altruism?

Many theories and documents point to Auguste Comte as the creator of the term altruism.

The Biblioteca Nacional de España (BNE) notes the following about French:

“Comte’s social theories culminated in his Religion of Humanity, which heralded the development of non-theistic religious humanist and secular humanist organizations in the 19th century. He may also have coined the word altruisme (altruism)”.

What is altruism according to Comte?

The Revista Empresa y Humanismo takes Comte ‘s Egoísmo-altruismo as the common thread of its publication.

The summary of the edition the concept of altruism is developed, according to Comte:

“In Comte’s definition of altruism there are only two extreme positions: egoism or altruism. Plato’s definition of egoism there is an immense space. Most of the activities through which each man fulfills himself are neither altruistic nor selfish. […] As a method of researching altruism, a comparison with the definition of selfishness has been used. […] Altruism does not replace justice, it perfects it. The free society is taken as the best social model. While there is freedom, there is also selfishness, as a fact of social life shows: justice is not enough to neutralize the injustices caused by selfishness. Social prudence must promote altruism. Justice is the benchmark for building a more altruistic society”.

What are the types of altruism?

In the following sections, Roberto Isaías explains the types of altruism, taking as a source the publication of the National Library of Medicine (NIH).

What are the types of altruism Roberto Isaías


“Protoaltruism has biological roots and can be observed in animals. In humans, protoaltruism includes maternal and paternal nurturing and protectiveness”.

Generative altruism

“Generative altruism is the nonconflictual pleasure in fostering the success and/or welfare of another”.

Conflicted altruism

“Conflicted altruism is generative altruism that is drawn into conflict, but in which the pleasure and satisfaction of another (a proxy) is actually enjoyed”.


“Pseudoaltruism originates in conflict and serves as a defensive cloak for underlying sadomasochism”.

Psychotic altruism

“Psychotic altruism is defined as the sometimes bizarre forms of caretaking behavior and associated self-denial seen in psychotic individuals, and often based on delusion”.

What is altruism in biology?

Roberto Isaías defines biological altruism, taking Stanford University as a reference:

“In evolutionary biology, an organism is said to behave altruistically when its behaviour benefits other organisms, at a cost to itself. The costs and benefits are measured in terms of reproductive fitness, or expected number of offspring. So by behaving altruistically, an organism reduces the number of offspring it is likely to produce itself, but boosts the number that other organisms are likely to produce”.

10 examples of altruism

Roberto Isaías explains examples of altruism from different times and parts of the world.

The first two, recognized by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR):

  • The anonymous donor who traveled to Ethiopia;
  • Altruistic clowns for refugee children.

Below, in detail, are both stories.

The anonymous donor who traveled to Ethiopia

In 2017, an anonymous donor traveled from Madrid (Spain) to Ethiopia to see first-hand the situation in the country and, above all, the problem of the child population.

Their contribution was generated through nutrition programs for children.

Altruistic clowns for refugee children

A caravan with altruistic clowns travels through refugee camps around the world to brighten the lives of the little ones.

At Clown Me they strive to transform the atmosphere of the place and make the children smile.

Isaías Brothers

The Isaías brothers are part of an altruistic and philanthropic family.

Roberto Isaías and his brothers have continued with the legacy of their uncle, which gives its name to the Nahím Isaías Foundation.

This charitable association focuses on improving the Ecuadorian population’s health and quality of life.

It has three medical centers in Guayaquil and Milagro, which serve more than 270,000 people each year.

Isaías Brothers Roberto Isaías

In addition, the Isaías family has also contributed to the culture and art of Ecuador, through the Nahím Isaías Museum.

Norman Bethune

Norman Bethune was a Canadian doctor, known for his altruistic work in various wars, such as the Spanish Civil War.

He is considered one of Spain’s pioneers of the blood transfusion service.

A BBC report collects his figure as a hero around the world:

“Norman Bethune is still a hero in China. One of the few Westerners to whom streets, statues or parks and even an army medical unit are named after him”.

Baxter workers

The Government of Mexico takes up the example of philanthropy of the Baxter company.

The company’s workers voluntarily contribute money to purchase products and devices to benefit vulnerable people in the population.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The Bill and Melinda Gates philanthropic foundation, created in 1994, fights poverty, disease and inequality worldwide.

They work alongside businesses, governments, and nonprofits to accelerate progress.

In 2020, the total funding of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was $5.822 billion.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Roberto Isaías

Fundación Gigante

Based in Mexico, Fundación Gigante is a private, altruistic institution dedicated to developing actions related to people’s well-being in the fields of health, education and attention to natural disasters.

Ayuda en Acción

The organization, Ayuda en Acción, accompanies people from childhood until they can take charge of their lives and transform their communities.

One of the stories told by Ayuda en Acción exhibits its empathetic and driving values: two of the foundation’s collaborators sponsored a child in Ecuador and visited Bambil Collao and other communities.

“What we had never been able to imagine was the reception that awaited us. We never thought we were worthy of so much in exchange for so little”, says one of the protagonists.

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan

In 2015, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan founded the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

The association helps solve some of society’s toughest challenges, from eradicating disease and improving education to addressing the needs of local communities.

Warren Buffett

Currently, Warren Buffett is, without a doubt, the most critical philanthropist in the world.

According to Forbes, the total donation, throughout his life, amounts to $42.8 billion.

Warren Buffett Roberto Isaías

The ‘Oracle of Omaha’ has pledged to donate 99% of its assets to charitable foundations.

Advantages of being an altruistic person

To indicate the advantages of being an altruistic person, Roberto Isaías takes the Programa de apoyo de beneficio social (PABS) as a reference:

  • It makes us more optimistic and improves our confidence;
  • Decreases negative feelings and sensations;
  • Reduce stress by helping others;
  • It provides a different perspective on our life;
  • Develop empathy in us;
  • Satisfaction of sharing with others;
  • It encourages our kindness, understanding and solidarity.

Similarly, the benefits of altruism are subjective and those who know how solidarity and altruism improve their lives.

Why is a person altruistic?

Altruistic people have a common goal: to help others.

On its website, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation explains that its mission is to create a world where every person has the opportunity for a healthy and productive life.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative indicates that the organization’s mission is to build a more inclusive, fair and healthy future for all.

For example, the Nahím Isaías Foundation aims to help and improve the health of Ecuadorians.

What is the relationship between altruism and happiness?

To answer this question, you can read the study by the University of Lübeck published in Nature.

The motive for altruistic behavior is increased happiness.

Experimental subjects who spent their money on others showed more activity in an area of the brain linked to happiness.


Through this article, you have discovered what altruism means, what its origin is, types and examples.

From this text, the following conclusions can be drawn:

  • Different theories point to Auguste Comte as the creator of the term, altruism;
  • This concept is connected to the biology and behaviors of living beings;
  • The typology of altruism includes protoaltruism, generative altruism, conflictive altruism, pseudoaltruism, and psychotic altruism;
  • Bill and Melinda Gates or Ayuda en Acción are some of the examples of altruism that exist.

In Ecuador, the Isaías family is a case of altruism due to its help, for generations, to the most disadvantaged groups in the country.