Hi-Phi Nation

The Selfless Kidney Donor

Are humans evolving to become altruistic?


Episode Notes

Penny Lane gave up months of wages and weeks of her life to have her kidney cut out and given to someone she doesn’t know and who may never thank her. She is one of about 200 people per year in the United States who give up a kidney altruistically. What motivates someone to do that?

Evolutionary psychologist Michael McCullough believes that not only is there true altruism among the human species but that it is a unique trait, an emerging and spreading trait, and it is selected for by evolution, even out-competing the more familiar traits of selfishness that drive evolution in other species. And this trait is responsible for moral progress in the world. Host Barry Lam is skeptical and calls friend of the show Kieran Setiya to talk him out of his skepticism, only to discover that, in many ways, humans are even worse than he thought. We may have evolved to demand altruism of others, but not be altruistic ourselves.

For all back episodes from Seasons 1 thru 4 of Hi-Phi Nation, visit www.hiphination.org


About the Show

Hi-Phi Nation is philosophy in story form, integrating narrative journalism with big ideas. We look at stories from everyday life, law, science, popular culture, and strange corners of human experiences that raise thought-provoking questions about things like justice, knowledge, the self, morality, and existence. We then seek answers with the help of academics and philosophers. The show is produced and hosted by Barry Lam of Vassar College.

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  • Barry Lam is host and producer of Hi-Phi Nation and Professor of Philosophy at UC Riverside, and Visiting Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University.