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[al-troo-iz-uh m] /ˈæl truˌɪz əm/
the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others (opposed to egoism).
Animal Behavior. behavior by an animal that may be to its disadvantage but that benefits others of its kind, as a warning cry that reveals the location of the caller to a predator.
Origin of altruism
1850-55; < French altruisme, equivalent to autru(i) others (< Vulgar Latin *alterui, oblique form of Latin alter other (> French autre), with -ui from cui to whom; -l- restored from Latin alter) + -isme -ism; popularized through translation of A. Comte, who perhaps coined it, on the model of égoisme egoism
Related forms
hyperaltruism, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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British Dictionary definitions for altruism


the principle or practice of unselfish concern for the welfare of others
the philosophical doctrine that right action is that which produces the greatest benefit to others
Compare egoism See also utilitarianism
Derived Forms
altruist, noun
altruistic, adjective
altruistically, adverb
Word Origin
C19: from French altruisme, from Italian altrui others, from Latin alterī, plural of alter other
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for altruism
n .

1853, "unselfishness, opposite of egoism," from French altruisme, coined or popularized 1830 by French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798-1857), from autrui, from Old French altrui, "of or to others," from Latin alteri, dative of alter "other" (see alter). Apparently suggested to Comte by French legal phrase l'autrui, or in full, le bien, le droit d'autrui. The -l- is perhaps a reinsertion from the Latin word.

There is a fable that when the badger had been stung all over by bees, a bear consoled him by a rhapsodic account of how he himself had just breakfasted on their honey. The badger replied peevishly, "The stings are in my flesh, and the sweetness is on your muzzle." The bear, it is said, was surprised at the badger's want of altruism. ["George Eliot," "Theophrastus Such," 1879]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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altruism in Science
Instinctive cooperative behavior that is detrimental or without reproductive benefit to the individual but that contributes to the survival of the group to which the individual belongs. The willingness of a subordinate member of a wolf pack to forgo mating and help care for the dominant pair's pups is an example of altruistic behavior. While the individual may not reproduce, or may reproduce less often, its behavior helps ensure that a close relative does successfully reproduce, thus passing on a large share of the altruistic individual's genetic material.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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altruism in Culture
altruism [(al-trooh-iz-uhm)]

A selfless concern for others.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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