This question appeared in my mind with relation to another my question (Yet another question about Tenacious badge), but I think this one is worth being asked separately. I made some analysis of my motivation of why I spend time on actively participating on Stackoverflow (asking, answering, voting, editing, commenting, reviwing, flagging, any other changing actions) and ended up with such list ordered according to percentage:

1. Challenging problems (I love brainteasers) - 25%
2. Altruistic help - 20%
3. Professional self-satisfaction - 15%
4. Self-learning in areas of interest - 15%
5. Socialization in discussions around problems and solutions - 10%
6. Respect from community - 10%
7. Ideas for startup/open source - 3%
8. Searching for fresh trending topics - 2%

As you can see altruism takes about 1/5 of all my motivation. And my question is how ethical is it to do all this being dependent on reaction of the system updating my reputation, badges, scores, ratings and so on? I want to increase common amount of good things in the world. So could it be that being not 100% altruist I make more harm than good (even if my expertise level is good enough) and in this case it's better for me to stop doing it (in terms of previous sentence)?

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    I wouldn't worry. I doubt true altruism exists in it's purist form and the system is in place in order to encourage you to contribute. The reputation/badge/etc. system is working; that's all this means. You're complimenting Stack Exchange on coming up with something that works by being less than 100% altruistic! – ben is uǝq backwards Oct 8 '15 at 21:11
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    The worry that anything not altruistic is unethical seems deeply philosophically dangerous, and is not well-supported by what passes for general consensus in historical philosophies. – Nathan Tuggy Oct 8 '15 at 22:36
  • Interesting. Does downvoting mean that my question brakes some rules or it's not logical or people don't like the idea of asking this question at all? – rsutormin Oct 8 '15 at 23:41
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    @rsutormin On meta.SE people downvote for a variety of reasons, most of which just boil down to disagreement. (It usually isn't about post quality or anything like that) I believe most of the downvotes here say "So what?" and nothing more. – M.A.R. Oct 9 '15 at 0:26
  • I guess my motivation is more or less like you, but I don't see any problem since I don't really care about rep, badge, scores, ratings, etc. I do care about constructive comments, but that's all... as long as you're following the "guidelines & rules" (e.g. not posting an answer to blatantly off-topic question, etc), whatever your motivation is, I really don't see any problem for yourself and the community. – Meta Andrew T. Oct 9 '15 at 1:24

Nothing one does is 100% altruistic. Nothing.

And there is nothing wrong with that.

All the more so when it helps others and does no harm.

  • This couldn't be more true. Altruism makes a person feel good. Thus we do nice things to feel good. – The forest of Reinstate Monica Jun 11 '18 at 5:38

There is a reason why the system is loaded with rep, notifications, badges, and the like: It makes people do more than they otherwise would. What they otherwise would is what they would do if they were only altruistic and looking to improve themselves by learning.

So by being motivated by more than just those two, you're not only being perfectly ethical, you're being just like the rest of us. Sure, there are times people do things that are not good for the site (such as cheating) to get those other goodies. But that's why we have moderators and high-rep community members to clean up from those situations.


I see a logical flaw in your reasoning. If you are doing good for imaginary reputation points, you are still doing good in this world. Yes, there are religious systems where the purity of intention counts as much as the outcome, but the reward/punishment for that would come in the afterlife.

There's another factor to consider: Stack Overflow is not the best venue for altruism. You can spend your time to greater effect by e.g. offering sysadmin/coding services to a charity NGO for free.

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