HEAL Seminar Series: today, Weds 21 October 2015, with Ben Saunders speaking on ‘Why Altruistic Donation May Be (Intrinsically) Bad’

In 2015, Meetings on October 21, 2015 at 9:16 am

Today, we have the second in the 2015/16 HEAL seminar series, with Ben Saunders, Associate Professor in Political Philosophy at Southampton, speaking on ‘Why Altruistic Donation May be (Intrinsically) Bad’, on Wednesday 21 October, 4-5pm, room 4055, building 4 (Law). All welcome.

Proposals to introduce incentives for donations, including market payments, for blood, tissues, or organs are often objected to on grounds that such donations should be altruistic.[i] If donors are primarily moved by their own benefit, rather than the recipient’s, motives are often regarded as suspect. Conversely, we usually accept altruistic (other-regarding) motives as morally innocent, even commendable.

These attitudes have recently come under attack. A number of authors have argued that donations need not be motivated by altruism in order to be morally permissible.[ii] In this paper, I question the complacent assumption that altruistic giving is always good. I argue that in some circumstances excessive altruism, or self-abnegation, may be intrinsically bad. If I am right, some altruistic acts of donation may be morally problematic.
I base my argument on Tom Hurka’s account of the relative value of self-interest and altruism.[iii] Hurka holds that, while altruism (love of others’ good) itself is always good, it may be part of a package of attitudes that is on the whole intrinsically bad, where the love of others’ good is disproportionate to the love of one’s own good. Though Hurka is concerned to show that self-abnegation is not always a vice, some cases are intrinsically bad. If this is so, then altruistic donors may be acting from intrinsically bad motives, since their disproportionate concern for the good of others may reflect a lack of concern for their own good, which is itself bad.

[i] Titmuss RM. The Gift Relationship: From Human Blood to Social Policy (London: Allen & Unwin, 1971),  Naqvi A and Rizvi A. Against paid organ donation. Transplantation Proceedings 2001;33:2628.
[ii] Saunders B. Altruism or solidarity? The motives for organ donation and two proposals. Bioethics 2012;26:376-81.
Moorlock G, Ives J, and Draper H. Altruism in organ donation: an unnecessary requirement? J Med Ethics 2014;40:134-8.
[iii] Hurka T. Self-interest, altruism, and virtue. Social Philosophy and Policy 1997;14:286-307.


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