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The Heart of Altruism:
Perceptions of a Common Humanity
Kristen Renwick Monroe

Winner of the 1997 Best Book Award, Political Psychology Section of the American Political Science Association
Winner of the 1997 Best Book Award, American Political Science Association

Paperback | 1998 | $47.95 | £39.95 | ISBN: 9780691058474
312 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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Is all human behavior based on self-interest? Many social and biological theories would argue so, but such a perspective does not explain the many truly heroic acts committed by people willing to risk their lives to help others. In The Heart of Altruism, Kristen Renwick Monroe boldly lays the groundwork for a social theory receptive to altruism by examining the experiences described by altruists themselves: from Otto, a German businessman who rescued over a hundred Jews in Nazi Germany, to Lucille, a newspaper poetry editor, who, armed with her cane, saved a young girl who was being raped. Monroe's honest and moving interviews with these little-known heroes enable her to explore the causes of altruism and the differences between altruists and other people. By delineating an overarching perspective of humanity shared by altruists, Monroe demonstrates how social theories may begin to account for altruism and debunks the notions of scientific inevitability that stem from an overemphasis on self-interest.

As Monroe has discovered, the financial and religious backgrounds of altruists vary greatly--as do their views on issues such as welfare, civil rights, and morality. Altruists do, however, share a certain way of looking at the world: where the rest of us see a stranger, altruists see a fellow human being. It is this perspective that many social theories overlook. Monroe restores altruism to a general theory of ethical political behavior. She argues that to understand what makes one person act out of concern for others and not the self, we need to ask how that individual's perspective sets the range of options he or she finds available.


"Monroe elegantly shows that altruism is not one simple thing, but many distinct things, and that ... [it] is not adequately captured by models based on rational self-interest."--Martha C. Nussbaum, The New Republic

"In her adventurous new book ... Monroe takes mainstream economics, psychology, and evolutionary biology to task for assuming self-interest is the key to human behavior.... The Heart of Altruism is an important achievement, for it sketches a partial route past the whirlpool of selfishness."--Michael Collins, The New Leader

"Analytically brilliant and extremely moving. [Monroe's] case studies are gripping and her demonstration of the actual existence of altruism, in contrast to self-interested behavior. . ., is wholly convincing."--Albert O. Hirschman, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

Table of Contents:

The Human Face of Altruism
Introduction 3
Ch. 1 The Puzzle of Altruism 6
Ch. 2 The Entrepreneur 27
Ch. 3 The Philanthropist 41
Ch. 4 The Heroine 63
Ch. 5 Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe 91
Ch. 6 Sociocultural Attributes of Altruism 121
Ch. 7 Economic Approaches to Altruism 137
Ch. 8 Explanations from Evolutionary Biology 161
Ch. 9 Psychological Discussions of Altruism 179
Ch. 10 The Altruistic Perspective: Perceptions of a Shared Humanity 197
Ch. 11 Perspective and Ethical Political Acts: Initial Thoughts 217
Conclusion 233
Notes 239
Bibliography 271
Index 285

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Kristen Renwick Monroe:

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Hardcover published in 1996

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