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On balance, human nature is more selfish than altruistic.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 10/1/2016 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 1 week ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 432 times Debate No: 95557
Debate Rounds (5)
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Hello! This debate was my contribution to bsh1's Open Debate Topics List (, so I thought I might try it out.


Human nature: The psychological and social qualities that characterize humankind, especially in contrast with other living things. (

Selfish: Devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others. (

Altruistic: Unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others (

First round is acceptance. BoP is shared.

Looking forward to a good debate!


I accept this debate, let the fun begin.
Debate Round No. 1


Thank you for accepting this debate. I am looking forward to an interesting discussion.

Sorry I took so long, I was really busy with homework and stuff.

Humans, like all other animals, have evolved with a strong sense of self-preservation. [1] It's what keeps us alive. Self-preservation, of course, leads us to do things that are less than altruistic, often sacrificing the needs of others for the sake of ourselves. It's a biological need, and, while society and social expectations have restricted this, we still see its hand quite a bit in our daily lives and throughout history. The recent price hikes of Daraprim and the EpiPen are excellent examples of this--people ignoring the needs of others less fortunate than them to benefit themselves. They obviously are not any more respected by society for it, so why do they do it? It benefits nobody but themselves, and hurts millions of people. These actions are the very definition of selfishness, and what else can explain their actions if not human nature?

A more potent example is the siege of Leningrad. The Nazis' Operation Barbarossa surrounded the city of Leningrad(now St. Petersburg) that lasted over two years. German soldiers cut off all supply lines to the city in early September of 1941. The cold Russian winter was fast approaching and food rations soon had to be cut to 250 grams of bread per day for workers and half of that for others. In the first six months of 1942, there were over 1,200 murders for ration cards and over 2,000 cases of cannabalism. [2][3] Human nature is often revealed in the mass breakdown of social structure as seen in Leningrad.

I apologize for these rather short opening remarks. I don't have much time left, but I will expand upon them in later rounds.

Thank you and eagerly awaiting your responses!




I completely understand you being swamped with work, I frequently give quicker, shorter answers when I have debates due during the school week, but this quarter I am taking only 12 units so I’ve some free time. Understanding that you are pressed for time, I will try to keep my arguments quick and to the point.


Though you speak of the impact of the sense of self-preservation on human behavior, I wish to refute this as a whole with the example:

Humans as a race only have survived due to their reproductive habits. Having offspring is a complete withdrawal of priority of life going to the self, and instead places the priority of life on the child. We have seen this in the animal world where mothers defend their offspring with their life though they would have easily survived if they had but abandoned their offspring and fled.

I concede that your example of starvation is very strong. In so, I wish to rationally break down the event as best as I can:

A population is in a starvation period where it is guaranteed that many are likely to die. The population takes a conscious decision to fairly divide the supply of nutrients by rationing them to everyone. This in itself is a reason to believe that the population wished to act fairly and altruistically as a WHOLE.

Here is a link to a population plot of Saint Petersburg;

which shows the data based off of a few sources listed at the bottom, this being one of them;

The population as shown by these sources would have been close to 3 million at the time. As a whole, the population was committing these acts of murder and cannibalism at about

1200 + 2000 = 3200 cases/6months, 3200 / 3,000,000 = ~0.001, so about one tenth of one percent of the population suffered the atrocities.

This is minimal considering the circumstances, so I use this to prove that on balance, MORE of the population was altruistic than selfish.

The recent hikes of necessary medication is a strong argument, but I will say that it only proves that the individuals involved in the hike are the selfish ones. The number of people involved compared to the number of people outraged and seeking justice are quite low, showing that more people want altruism, or at least fairness.


Obviously the example of parenthood is my first example.

My next example is that altruism holds the “highest” form of happiness, that is, we receive the best internal reward from it. I would argue that this is a built-in response that is a necessary feature of all humans (compassion and empathy) of which has advanced us as a species.

Altruism improves a person’s subjective well-being:

"Altruistic (other-regarding) emotions and behaviors are associated with greater well-being, health, and longevity “

“Much of this research shows that unselfish individuals will find life to be more meaningful, will usually be happier than their selfish counterparts, and will often experience better mental health”

“Drawing on data from the USA, our estimates suggest that people who volunteer report better health and greater happiness than people who do not, a relationship that is not driven by socio-economic differences between volunteers and non-volunteers”

“Results provide striking empirical support for the Golden Rule in showing that selfish people were less likely to be happy than unselfish people”

My personal anecdotal evidence is that I have not found myself to be in as much disarray in life that I one was after I had resolved to set my goals to be the advancement of the happiness and well-being of others. A life that lives merely for itself becomes meaningless as we tire from what hedonistically makes us happy.

At that, I will leave you.

Debate Round No. 2


Thanks for your understanding and your great arguments!

"Humans have a race only have survived due to their reproductive habits...[which] instead places the priority of life on the child."

This is certainly true about the mothers, but you forget about the male population. The mother spends so much of her time and energy so that the child may live, sometimes even giving her life. And this is certainly altruistic, but what about the evolutionary role of males? The biological role of any male animal is to mate with as many females as possible and then leave the female to support the offspring. [1] This is quite obviously not altruistic.

Obviously, societal perceptions of reproduction and parenting are not like this--we have (in most cases) a system in which both parents contribute altruistically for the good of the child. But is this human nature? You make an evolutionary rather than societal argument about altruism in parenting, so I have responded in kind.

"The population takes a conscious decision to fairly divide the supply of nutrients by rationing them to everyone."

They do initially. However, as time goes on, supplies dwindle and it becomes clear that there will not be relief for several more months, there is inevitably fighting over rations. What happens in a situation where rations are so low that if they were to be doled out equally, everyone would starve? In a situation such as this, there will always be fighting and even killing over rations.

"This is minimal considering the circumstances..."

An excellent point. But is inaction really proof of altruism? Most families would simply stay in their apartments trying to stay warm. Many would starve and some did not have the strength to go out for food. You may be correct, but you have not proven that this was a result of altruism.

"The number of people involved compared to the number of people outraged and seeking justice are quite low..."

I have to concede this point.

"...altruism holds the 'highest' form of happiness..."

This is also likely true. However, this seems to me to be more of a societal impulse than one resulting from nature. Of course all people should strive for altruism and compassion, but this directly contradicts the evolutionary law of self-preservation. Thus I am inclined to infer that this is a happiness derived from the fulfillment of social values rather than human nature itself.

Again I apologize for my rather short arguments. Hopefully as the weekend approaches I can elaborate a bit more. You've made some great arguments and I look forward to your responses!




"The biological role of any male animal is to mate with as many females as possible and then leave the female to support the offspring. This is quite obviously not altruistic"
This true part of this is that the male seeks to spread his genetic line as far as it may go. However, the latter I hold disagreement with. In the animal kingdom, a vast amount of males take time out of their lives to put forth the effort in both defending and supplying their offspring so that they may have the greatest odds of survival. The point of the species of the male is not merely to have the children born, its built-in biological response seeks to have success of its offspring so that they may spread their genetic influence even further.
That is my evolutionary argument in kind to your response in kind of my first. Heh.

You respond with a rebuttal, but in the same response you concede that in most cases, the parents altruistically contribute for the good of the child. I will consider this a victory for the strength of this example in the altruistic nature of humanity. However, my struggle does not end there. I must still prove to you that human nature, aside from those who are parents, still is more altruistic than selfish.

Your second rebuttal argues that there will always be violence in a time of starvation. Though this statement is rather absolute, I will not dispute that in most cases there is. However, humans have shown to have put forth conscious effort to distribute resources in ration in hopes of it being fair for all, a decision it in itself shows to be a strive for altruism over selfishness.

I wished to show you an example using the Donner party to draw sticks over who would be sacrificed in order to be eaten for the good of all, but I was unfortunately only able to find a claim that stated that only the youngest of the children were given the meat. I will not make unwarranted claims, though I believe to have been told this from an appropriate source of perhaps a history book in my academia, so I will say that the choice to give it to the small children is but another example of altruism.

Ordeal by Hunger: The Story of the Donner Party, page 32 states this with the source of one of the members of the Donner party. Good luck finding a pdf or something.

Martyrs throughout history show us the implications of altruism on a society. Most of the prominent religions hold tales/historical accounts of those who have sacrificed for the greater good, and not just for the reason of making us believe that one did. It is a reflection on the structure of our society and the value it places on altruistic act itself. Martyrs are just like ethical military personnel, police officers, investigative muckraking journalists, holy leaders, prominent politicians, your own mother (in a sense). These people risk their well-being for the benefit of something greater than themselves, and it has helped us as a societal whole. Why else would you explain the prominence of non-profits and the like of the characters that "sacrifice" in modern media? We love those who are altruistic, and it stems from a love for all, not the love for self.

I hope your work clears up. Thank you for reviving this lovely topic, I do enjoy clashes between two different philosophies.
Debate Round No. 3


Thank you.

"In the animal kingdon, a vast amount of males take time out of their lives to put forth the effort in both defending and supplying their offspring..."

My source refers to the biological causes of human behavior. You talk about various examples throughout the animal kingdom, but these are mostly irrelevant. Different reproductive strategies exist for different animals, and the natural human male strategy appears to be to impregnate as many females as possible.

I have conceded that modern parents will contribute to help their children. This seems to be because the aforementioned strategy is no longer acceptable or feasible in our society, and parents therefore work together to help raise their children. The biological, and therefore natural, reproductive actions seem to be more reflective of human nature than our modern structure.

"I wished to show you an example using the Donner party to draw sticks over who would be sacrificed in order to be eaten for the good of all..."

I believe these scenarios prove my point. Imagine if you were placed in a situation like this: a random person would be killed in order to help the others to live. Each person, of course, prays that they are not the one chosen. This is a perfectly natural response, of course, but it is certainly selfish. If people were fundamentally altruistic in situations as these, you would see people volunteering to give up their lives for the common good. Most people would enter into an agreement such as this on the idea that it was unlikely they would be picked.

"Martyrs throughout history show us the implications of altruism on a society."

I have to concede this point. Everyone must strive towards altruism, and martyrs are a perfect example of those who go above and beyond for their cause.

I notice you've not mentioned my rebuttals to your "altruism's effect on happiness" argument. Are you conceding them or did you just forget?

Thank you again. Best of luck in the next round. :)


On altruism as the highest form of happiness you said, "this seems to be more of a societal impulse than one resulting from nature.... contradicts the evolutionry law of self-preservation.... happiness is derived from the fulfillment of social values rather than human nature itself"
Self-preservation on an evolutionary scale is to protect the genetics of the unit involved. I can see exactly why the development of altruism as having the highest form of happiness in the human psyche is an evolutionary response designed to protect the genetics that we all share as a species. IF our means were to purely protect the genetics of the self, we would be no more than asexually dividing organisms. Instead, we are with the genetics of a diverse world of humans, and most of which do not wish death against each other. Merely having a pet is a great counter-example. The genetics are not shared among the human and the animal (save the fact that we are anthropoids), there are no social values set between the human and the animal necessitating human care, yet the human takes it upon itself to feed and protect this animal in the hopes of preserving its life. Surely this is not a selfish notion, for we gain no direct benefit from having to provide for this animal. Yet the altruistic act gives us the internal reward without us even seeking it.

You claim that my examples using the animal kingdom are irrelevant, but I find this not to be true. If we are speaking of the "nature" of humanity, and humans are a part of this animal kingdom, then we should speak of the nature of the animal kingdom. Furthermore, I find that my point still stands of the nature of the male role being not only to impregnate a high number of women, but to see his genetic line through, and this entails providing food and safety. Through your mind back a few thousand years to a more primitive time, do you honestly think that the best strategy for a male is to maraud for females in hopes of impregnating and abandoning? The female and the child will not be able to survive in such a harsh world! The male holds the braun of the time and the testosterone to see it all through in hopes of providing an environment where his genetic line may pass on. Merely impregnating is only the start of the male goal, and if it were the only goal, the genetic line would dissolve as the child dies.

I would like to make the point that fairness is a form of altruism. In a purely selfish world, using the Donner party example again, the starving folk would erupt in violence, each individual preying on the weakest first; children, elderly, sickly, scrawny, least likely to survive. THIS was not the case. Instead, they devised a system where in some form of randomness as fairness they chose who would be allowed to survive and who would perish for the greater good. Though perhaps volunteers would have shown the scenario of pure altruism, and we don't really know nor will we ever know if there were actually any who volunteered (aside from the party that set out to find help), I still maintain that fairness as randomness is a form of group altruism.

Lovely debate. Closing arguments next round (no new points/rebuttals) or are new points/rebuttals allowed?
Debate Round No. 4


I have to concede this debate.

You more or less negated my argument about evolution very earlier in the debate with your arguments about parenting and finished them off completely last round. This combined with your argument about the Donner party to counter my Leningrad example (which you clarified very well last round) got rid of what was left of my opening arguments, and you had some quite strong arguments about martyrs and effects of altruism on happiness.

I must say you've completely changed my opinion on this topic. I apologize you couldn't find a more prepared opponent. This has been a very enjoyable debate. Best wishes to you! :)


Well it was very enjoyable. I'm glad to have changed your opinion on humanity, I hope you now see it in a better light. Thank you for the debate.
Debate Round No. 5
7 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Posted by Khons 3 weeks ago
Hello John locke
Posted by TheShaun 1 month ago
There's no point in anyone accepting this debate, You're basically asking for someone to debate a proven fact, Even if they present their argument better, they still lose based on fact. You're looking for a punching bag here.
Posted by Tree_of_Death 1 month ago
swimwithcats-I will send you the challenge in a few days if nobody else comments.
Posted by vi_spex 1 month ago
selling fish is not natural
Posted by canis 1 month ago
You could probably argue that altruism is selffish.
1. if you can not act as altruistic as you want...You, (selfish ) feel "bad".
2. If you can not act as selfish as you, (selfish) feel "bad"
Posted by Tree_of_Death 1 month ago
Potential debaters:
1. Swimwithcats
2. Aresx
Posted by Aresx 1 month ago
I always have found this topic to be of interest. Naturally, my cynical mind is more susceptible to the notion that humans are more selfish, than altruistic. I am now willing to support the claim that humans are more altruistic, than selfish. I have conducted a similar debate titled Possessive Impulse vs Creative Impulse.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by Khons 1 week ago
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Reasons for voting decision: pro conceded
Vote Placed by dsjpk5 1 week ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Concession.