1. For Comte Altruism meant the discipline and eradication of self-centered desire, and a life devoted to the good of others; more particularly, selfless love and devotion to Society. In brief, it involved the self-abnegating love of Catholic Christianity redirected towards Humanity conceived as an ideal unity. As thus understood, altruism involves a conscious opposition not only to egoism (whether understood as excessive or moderate self-love), but also to the formal or theological pursuit of charity and to the atomic or individualistic social philosophy of 17th-18th century liberalism, of utilitarianism, and of French Ideology.
2. By extension the term has come to mean the pursuit of the good of others, whether motivated by either self-centered or other-centered interest, or whether by disinterested duty. By some it is identified with the protective and other-regarding feelings, attitudes, and behavior of animal life in general; while by others its use is restricted to mean such on the level of reflective intelligence. -- W.L.