The concept of “altruism” in sociology: From classical theories to practical oblivion

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The article presents a historical and theoretical analysis of the main conceptions of altruism in the classical sociological tradition. The author states that the idea of altruism and morality was crucial for theories of society developed by H. Spencer, E. Durkheim, and G. Simmel, and formed the basis of their social and ontological views. However, today the problem of altruistic behavior is quite marginal for sociologists have practically stopped using the term “altruism” (coined by the sociology’s “godfather” A. Comte) in theories and explanatory models, and the studies of altruism and altruistic behavior (more broadly - morality) have gradually “migrated” to other social and behavioral sciences that made, significant progress in explaining this phenomenon. The author argues that the dominant position of T. Parsons’s social system theory in sociology is one of the reasons for such a situation; he also critically analyzes the concept of “creative altruism” proposed by P. Sorokin. The contradiction between the crucial character of the idea of altruism in classical sociological theories and its almost total oblivion in today’s sociology is emphasized in the context of the “revival” of sociology of morality.

About the authors

A V Bykov

National Research University - Higher School of Economics

Author for correspondence.

Department of Sociology


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Copyright (c) 2015 Bykov

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