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Meaning of altruism

Reading the Thursday Opinions page, I stumbled across a definition in an Other Voices column, “The Real Meaning of Conservatism,” by Tony Rohl: “Altruism holds that a man or woman has no moral right to exist for their own sake, that service to others is the only justification for one’s existence, and that self-sacrifice is ones (sic) highest societal duty, virtue and value.”

I had never thought of a practice of altruism as requiring self-sacrifice, or of self-sacrifice as being a high moral value. I checked the dictionary to see if I have been missing something in my moral training for over 75 years.

According to Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, 1979:



“Altruism: unselfish concern for the welfare of others, opposed to egoism”

“Egoism: 1. a person who is self-centered or selfish; 2. a conceited person; an egoist; 3. in ethics, the doctrine that self interest is the proper goal of all human actions; opposed to altruism.”




Although Mr. Rohl has misunderstood the word, I hope he hasn’t missed the joyful experience of the action, which is simply to understand and act on principles of kindness to all and caring for those in need.

Teddy Kell

Rough and Ready


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