Altruism and Reciprocity strengthen our Society

Kashmir Magazine

Noor ul Shahbaz


The concept of society has progressed by a moment from status to contract. It is an expression of the general will, an entity distinct from that of the individual will of a member of society. It is an entity both distinct from a superior to the individuals who compose it. There can be no society without a permanent and definite organization of individual members but a temporary and casual union of individuals does not constitute society in a broader context. The present era of development has taken its birth gradually from time immemorial whence the human race followed a change from individualism to collectivism. The symbol of development and welfare of society has commenced from the change from “I to We”. It is an accepted principle that, “change in an individualistic reason leads to the change in society”. This expression gives a firm belief that it is an individual who changes the society, it is his spirit and reason that becomes a force for an era of social welfare and Bentham’s Utilitarianism. When every member of society plays his own role in maintaining the balance of interests (claims, desires, wants, expectations) it is a sign that society will prosper and endure. We cannot attribute many of the problems in our society or nation to public servants from PM to peon; there are certain lacunas that we can fill up collectively. This statement does not relieve the public authorities, they are the primary servants of the common masses for whom they have to work and minimize the problems. The things which are beyond our reach at a certain time cannot be fulfilled by any one of us individually but a chase via collectivism or unity will lead us to overcome those issues and problems. The collective efforts of all of us, whether they are of a personality as a human being in his natural capacity or of a legal personality attributed by law as a juristic person, they by conscious intention will exclusively be the foundation of the constant and strong institutional and structural development of our society. Utilitarianism, in normative ethics, is a tradition stemming from the late 18th- and 19th- century English philosophers and economist Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill according to which action (or type of action) is right if it tends to promote happiness or pleasure and wrong if it tends to produce unhappiness or pain- not just for the performer of the action but also for everyone else affected by it. Utilitarianism is in opposition to egoism, the view that each person should pursue his or her own self-interest, even at the expense of others, and to any ethical theory that regards some actions as right or wrong independently of their consequences. The nature of Utilitarianism is an effort to provide an answer to the practical question “what ought a person to do?” the answer is that a person ought to act so as to maximize happiness or pleasure for himself and other people as well and to minimize unhappiness or pain. When we conjoint an individual’s act as a component of society with other beings living with him in the same society it is in reverse giving effect or strengthening the roots of collectivism and welfare for all. The concept of society or state has emerged only for the purpose of general welfare or good for all. Our society can no longer exist if self-interests or individual interests will be promoted. The reason I have to promote the overall good is the same reason anyone else has to promote the good for all. It is not peculiar only to me. Your morally right action is the action that will produce the best. That morally appropriate behaviour or conduct or action will not harm others but instead, increase ‘happiness or utility. If an individual ceases to promote the general good and is deficient in his actions towards the public welfare, that means he actually ceases to promote his own happiness and welfare in a long run. For a particular time, his actions with a self-interested approach can yield some relief for him but in the future course of his living he will definitely feel the pain but that time he cannot revert those actions done in past. Actions are significant evidence of the character of an individual as well as of a system that governs us, they reveal the identity of both and one can measure from the above yardstick whether your actions are virtues or vices. According to Emile Durkheim, “interdependence between individuals forms the basis of social solidarity”. Solidarity is a shared recognition of a common good that holds a group together. There are two important concepts while we discuss the concept of solidarity and collectivism and they are “altruism” and “reciprocity”. Altruism refers to behaviour that reflects an unselfish desire to live for others. It is considered to be the opposite of selfishness and involves placing what is good for others above what is good for oneself. It comprises a moral obligation to sacrifice oneself- or time, energy, or possessions for the collective good. Pure altruism contains no expectation of receiving something in return. Altruistic behaviour is voluntarily and intentionally performed. Emile Durkheim has argued that altruism and shared values should lie at the base of social solidarity to avoid selfish behaviour; he has argued that individuals should consider not only their own interests but also their duties to the community. Altruism needs a base of trust before being instituted. While another concept of reciprocity is assistance to an individual or a group provided by another individual or group under the assumption that the favour may be returned in the future. This concept differs from altruism in the way that reciprocal action comprises expectations of future rewards, whereas altruism does not have these expectations. Reciprocity is a strong determinant of behaviour and contributes to equal relationships. It can produce an obligation to return the favour in the future, which enhances a continued relationship. An act of an individual in a reciprocal system is a combination of “short-term altruism” and “long-term self-interest”. Reciprocal behaviour comprises a willingness to contribute to the collective good and to reprimand those who refrain from contributing. Reciprocity promotes solidarity and shared interests by fostering repeated interactions among community members. It has been used to explain the continuation of collective action in situations where instant incentives are absent.




Lecturer and former acting Principal at Sopore Law College



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