Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness.
  • n. Zoology Instinctive behavior that is detrimental to the individual but favors the survival or spread of that individual's genes, as by benefiting its relatives.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. Regard for others, both natural and moral; devotion to the interests of others; brotherly kindness; – opposed to egoism or selfishness.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. Regard for others, both natural and moral; devotion to the interests of others; brotherly kindness; -- opposed to egoism or selfishness.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A term first employed by the French philosopher Comte to denote the benevolent instincts and emotions in general, or action prompted by them: the opposite of egoism.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. the quality of unselfish concern for the welfare of others

Etymologies

French altruisme, probably from Italian altrui, someone else, from Latin alter, other.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
1853, from French altruisme, coined 1830 by Auguste Comte, from autrui ("of or to others") + -isme, from Old French, from Latin alteri, dative of alter ("other"), from which also English alter. Apparently inspired by French Latin legal phrase l'autrui, from le bien, le droit d'autrui ("the good, the right of the other"). Introduced into English by George Henry Lewes in 1853, in his translation Comte’s Philosophy of the Sciences, 1, xxi. (Wiktionary)

Examples

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  • US Railway Association, Standard Cipher Code, 1906: telegraphers' shorthand for "usual terms of agreement".

    January 19, 2013

  • "I sat and thought. I had lied to the police psychiatrist in saying I was fit for work and lied to Jack Schitt in saying that I wasn't. If Goliath was interested in Hades and the Chuzzlewit manuscript, it could only be for financial gain. The Goliath Corporation was to altruism what Genghis Khan was to soft furnishings."
    - Jasper Fforde, 'The Eyre Affair'.

    October 27, 2008