Cooperation: Are Altruism and Ideology Necessary?

Essay, 2012

5 Pages, Grade: Distinction/1.0


Cooperation: Are Altruism and Ideology Necessary?


Human beings are born social creatures, linked with one another by clusters of dynamic interactions which shape, reinforce or redefine human nature, worldviews and interactions per se. By such design, cooperation—the quality of working jointly towards a common end (Oxford Dictionaries 2012), is often hailed as a desirable, if not decisive trait to the prosperity of society. It is widely regarded that altruism and ideology facilitate cooperation (Putnam 2000). However, that altruism or ideology is a necessary condition for cooperation remains open to question. This paper argues that while a certain class of altruism determines the emergence and sustainability of cooperation, ideology fails to make a convincing case.

The paper starts with examining the relationships between cooperation vis-à-vis altruism and ideology in the first and second parts. The third part explains the rationality of cooperation through a simplified iterated Prisoners’ Dilemma, and subsequently, restates the significant connection between cooperation and altruism. Finally, conclusions are drawn about momentums behind cooperation.

Cooperation and Altruism

Altruism refers to the situation where an individual’s inclusive wellbeing is positively affected by that of another (Oxford Dictionaries 2012). It constitutes an unbalanced relationship in terms of power and utility that goes against the fundamental belief of rational choice theory that humans are intrinsically self-interested. Aiming at impartiality, the paper, however, acknowledges this coexistence as a given. The interplay between altruism and self-interest, in effect, creates three scenarios for the rise or fall of cooperation. If all agents in a community are altruistic, cooperation is unquestionably the norm. However, when there is at least one self-interested agent in an altruistic community, this agent has every incentive to defect. In case where all agents are self-interested, the most rational and rewarding move in such community is to defect (Axelrod 1984). Together the three scenarios make it clear that altruism, in its broadest self, alone cannot promote cooperation.

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Cooperation: Are Altruism and Ideology Necessary?
London School of Economics
Political Economy of Europe
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ISBN (eBook)
File size
415 KB
cooperation, altruism, ideology, necessary
Quote paper
Kim H. Bui (Author), 2012, Cooperation: Are Altruism and Ideology Necessary?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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