Pathological Altruism

Add the term to your vocabulary.

From James Taranto’s ever-amusing Best of the Web Today, read about the work of

Barbara Oakley, an associate professor in engineering…defines pathological altruism as “altruism in which attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm.” A crucial qualification is that while the altruistic actor fails to anticipate the harm, “an external observer would conclude [that it] was reasonably foreseeable.”

Dr Oakley has written extensively on the topic, and summarized it neatly in a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Taranto anticipates a Kuhnian “…revolution in scientific and social thought”.  I agree.

One only needs to think about the recent collapse of the residential housing market, the interminable War on Drugs, or the manifest failure of the War on Poverty to see examples of pathological altruism in public policy.  And I suspect a few moments of honest introspection will yield personal examples galore.

Tip from American Digest.


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