The term 'altruism' was used by David Emile Durkheim to describe a suicide committed for the benefit of others or for the community: this would include self-sacrifice for military objectives in wartime. Altruistic suicides reflect a courageous indifference to the loss of one's life. In altruistic regard for others is the principle of action.
Altruism is social behavior and value orientation in which individuals give primary consideration to the interests and welfare of other individuals, members of groups or the community as a whole. Sociobiologists argue that altruistic behaviour has its roots in self-interest, the unconscious desire to protect one's genetic heritage.
Critics of sociobiology respond that altruism is evident between individuals and in social situations where people are completely unrelated genetically and claim that human conduct and motivations cannot be explained without reference to the values and norms of culture.
The altruist looks to a goal beyond this world, and believes this world to be an obstacle and burden to him. The altruistic suicide springs from hope and faith. Contemporary sociologists have used this analysis to explain Kamikaze pilots, the cult of the suicide bomber, people who saw the social world as meaningless and would sacrifice themselves for a greater ideal. The altruist who commit suicide based on altruism die because they believe that their death can bring about a benefit to the society. In other words, when an individual is too heavily integrated into the society, they will commit suicide regardless of their own hesitation if the society's norms ask for the person's death.
Altruism is a state opposite to egoism, in which the individual is extremely attached to the society and thus has no life of their own. Altruism is at the heart of the mystical traditions propagated by both of the great Asian religions - Hinduism and Buddhism. The fiery self-immolation of Buddhist monks during the Vietnam war is a political exemplification of the inspirational power of this belief system.
In India, as noted in ancient religious texts like the Dharmashastra, two forms of altruistic suicide were practiced. Jauhar, a kind of mass suicide by women of a community when their men suffered defeat in battle; and Sati, the self-immolation of a widow along with her husband. The practice of Jauhar has ended but the practice of Sati still continues.
We also have followers and servants who kill themselves because it is his/her duty upon the deaths of their chiefs. Durkheim argued, such a sacrifice is imposed by society for social purposes; and the individual personality must have little value, a state Durkheim called altruism, and whose corresponding mode of self-inflicted death was called obligatory altruistic suicide.
Durkheim distinguished between egoistic, anomic, altruistic, and fatalistic suicide, classifications that reflect then-prevailing theories of human behavior. Dismissing altruistic and fatalistic suicide as unimportant, he viewed egoistic suicide as a consequence of the deterioration of social and familial bonds and linked anomic suicide to disillusionment and disappointment.
Evolution of the Concept
of Altruistic Suicide in Pre-Durkheim Suicidology
Altruistic Suicide or
Paetus, It Does Not
Hurt: Altruistic Suicide in the Greco-Roman World
"The recent events in
Turkey! They fit Durkheim's definition of altruistic suicide to a "T." They are
persons who, in Durkheim's words, "Are almost completely absorbed in the
group..."; who "completely [discard] their [individual] personalities for the
idea of which they [have] become the servants." - Suicide as a Weapon of Mass