"...to have no restraint from, no regard to others in our behaviour is the speculative absurdity of considering ourselves as single and independent, as having nothing in our nature which has respect to our fellow-creatures, reduced to action and practice. and this is the same absurdity, as to suppose a hand, or any part to have no natural respect to any other, or to the whole body."
-- i have a huge crush on Joseph Butler
*disclaimer: all chronology is flippant and estimated because i am slothful and have not thought about any of this since theory of knowledge class in high school.
the altruism debacle is ageless, with one of the more sinusoidal flux patterns of any of the philosophical redundancies. this seems a reflection of what generational mascot sits chair of the committee on altruistic behavior.
in the beginning - the 1850's - altruism was introduced as the diametric of egoism... by some dude whose name escapes me, probably because he's French. the conception of the word provided wind for the Hobbesian argument of self-interest as the evolutionary drive of all beings (which came at least a century before), at which time Hobbes was the committee chair, proclaiming from the grave that altruism itself was a demonstration of supreme egoism. sure, he had critics in Hume and Butler, but their projections of altruistic behavior as innate to both the individual and collective self did not rise to power until the Church adopted the altruism consortia in the late 19th/early 20th century.
under Popes Pius VIII-X (yes, i most definitley had to fact-check this one), altruism became the act of love for the sake of being one with God. from here, the Behavioralists took over not only the chair, but the committee majority. reverting to the era of Hobbes' reign, they effectively obliterated the remote connection between altruism and love (on which it was originally based, go ask Compte [huh, apparently i recall his name after all]) and redefined the act as "reckless curiosity." this was, in my harrowed opinion, in reference to the experimental foray into exactly how much tit one could get for tat. a Machiavellian endeavor, if you will.
giving credit where due, the Hippie movement did actually achieve something. tangential as it was (and I consider almost every lasting effect of their stint to be so), they monopolized the altruism consortia and brought back Christian altruism, replacing "God" with "self" and "love" with "collective consciousness" (or, psychadelics, if you prefer to be technical).
however, the reign was short-lived and power was redistributed to the Atheists (i may or may not be accurate in posting Dawkins at the stern, here, but i'm gonna anyway; its done out of reluctant respect). so here we are, withthe committee on altruism manned by those who have given up on surprised continuity of souls and, instead, mellowed Hobbes' altruism to a more gentle tool of survival; taking responsibility for all associated behaviors out of the hands of conscious creatures and placing it in their genes.
i don't necessarily disagree with the current consortia (see post on Microtubules and Intelligence), but my personal philosophy on altruism is a little more toward the end of irrational benevolence... which, i suppose, places me in the neo-Kantian vein. Nagel is our most prominent hope for the next phase shift in the altruism consortia, riding on the back of the forgotten and forlorn Empathetical movement (shudder).
we are not independent organisms; having a more developed intelligence than other species does not now make us exceptions to the evolutionary tactics that propagated that intelligence in the first place. we need our mothers, we learn by imitation, we thrive on continuity of selves. altruism is a mechanism to foster that continuity.