It sems to me that the usual questions about altruism are aimed at analysing the degree of conscious awareness of the "self" with respect to its interactions with "others". The discussion of "purity" is really about whether there was consciousness of a "pay off" for a particular choice of action.
I think that's correct, and I don't really want to get hung up on the notion of "purity" either -- even though I introduced the term in my initial post.* Craven
raised the issue, though, and I wanted to make sure it was addressed in some fashion.
But the argument becomes circular or vacuous when for example (a) the "self" is seen as "part of the other" by genetic or other linkage or (b) when "conscious choice" is absent in the case of automatic behaviour mode.
I'll agree with (b). I'm not so sure I understand (a).
In short I think the debate should alter its focus away from the "existence" of altruism towards the "pragmatic utility" of the term. i.e. Are there particular modes of social interaction that can only be described as altruistic (pure or otherwise) and what relevance if any, does such a term have with respect to concepts of "humanity", "civilization" and "progress"?
I'm happy to take a pragmatic approach to "altruism" without getting entangled in a debate about whether someone's act is 100% pure or only 98.44% pure. Before pursuing the relevance of altruism to "humanity," etc., however, I think we still need to determine if any such thing exists -- in other words, we need to decide if the concept of "altruism" has any "cash value" (as William James might say) or if it is a thoroughly bankrupt notion.
*EDIT: I looked back at my previous posts and I found that I didn't
introduce the term "purity" in this discussion: it was Craven
who first mentioned it.