Empathy, Altruism & Agape:Perspectives on Love in Science and Religion
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October 1-3, 1999, University Park Hotel at MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Path Home: Empathy, Altruism and Agape | Presenters or Itinerary

Don Browning is Alexander Campbell Professor of Religious Ethics and the Social Sciences. He is the author of nine books, most recently a co-authored book, From Culture Wars to Common Ground: Religion and the American Family Debate (Westminster, 1997). He is the principal investigator of the Religion, Culture, and Family Project, financed by a grant from the Lilly Endowment, that resulted in the publication of an eleven-book series on various topics pertaining to the contemporary debate on the family.
Human Development, Attachment, and Love

This paper has two goals: 1) to outline a philosophical framework for productive collaboration between religion and science on discussions about love, and 2) to illustrate this approach by examining some actual issues pertaining to the nature of love. The central question of the paper is in what ways can religion and science cooperate in defining the ideals and conditions of a model of love needed to guide human development?

I advance two theses. First, a fruitful dialogue between science and religion should proceed within what Paul Ricoeur called a “critical hermeneutical” perspective on both science and religion. Second, when this happens, science will have a clearer picture of some of the ideals of human love that it should serve but cannot itself invent or create. On the other hand, such a dialogue will provide religion with a more critical grasp of its own ideals and a clearer understanding of some, although not all, of the conditions needed to approximate these ideals.

A Philosophy of Science for Collaboration

The philosophical framework I recommend for the science-religion conversation is “critical hermeneutics.” It is hermeneutic in that it repudiates foundationalist perspectives on knowledge. This is certainly true for the human sciences (the main point of both this paper and this conference), but also most likely true of the natural sciences as well. Knowledge first inquires into the traditions that give us our basic terms and frames of reference for defining a field of inquiry. This is an interpretive, hence hermeneutic endeavor. But critical hermeneutics goes beyond the hermeneutic perspectives of Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer and finds a significant place for the objectifying moments of science. Paul Ricoeur, my primary resource for a theory of critical hermeneutics, does not simply stay with history and tradition; he holds an appreciative but nonfoundationalist view of science that finds a place for its explanatory interests. He argues, however, that science can and should aspire for only various degrees of cognitive “distanciation” from the traditions that form and shape human inquiries. Total objectivity is both impossible and destructive; it alienates science from the tradition to which it actually “belongs.”

Love and the Traditions

To study love, one must begin with the traditions that have delivered to us our various languages of love. Take the terms agape, eros, and caritas. They all can be translated in English as love, but historically they have had quite different meanings. Agape’s the Greek word for love as it was used in the Christian scriptures, especially the letters of Paul. Protestant theologians have for the most part defined it as self-sacrificial love on behalf of the other, made possible by the grace of God, with no thought of the good returned to the self. Eros, on the other hand, has been seen as more egocentric; the lover is viewed as attempting to elevate or increase his good through the love of a higher or better being, be it God or another person. Finally caritas, the Latin translation of the Greek agape, advanced a slightly different understanding of love. It contained more elements of self-fulfillment (eros) and mutuality than Protestant Reformation interpretations of Christian love. Love as friendship (philia), primarily found in Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, and love as parental investment (storge) are additional terms important for the tradition.

Various contemporary forces, including the insights of evolutionary psychology, are functioning to shift Christian love away from historic Protestant strong agapic models toward the syntheses of Aristotelian friendship and New Testament love found in a variety of Roman Catholic formulations. I make this report, not as a Roman Catholic, but as a liberal Protestant observer of the contemporary theological discussion. Love as mutuality or equal regard, with self-sacrifice serving as a transitional ethic designed to restore love as equal regard, is an emerging dominant model of love in contemporary theological ethics.

The concepts of kin altruism, inclusive fitness, and reciprocal altruism are beginning to influence theological-ethical views of love. The breakthrough work of William Hamilton, George Williams, and Robert Trivers on these ideas has not gone unnoticed in theological debates about love. The biological evidence that genetic parents will under certain conditions sacrifice for their offspring, that nature has selected for parental care, that other genetically-related family members are more likely to sacrifice for one another than nonkin, has sensitized some theological ethicists to the existence of similar insights assumed by, and sometimes embedded in, Christian concepts of love. Pope and Browning have found naturalistic observations in the thought of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas that understood the role of kin preference in both mammalian relations and human love. Aquinas had his own theories of kin preference, the role of infant dependence in bonding males and females into families, and the role of paternal recognition in developing paternal investment. These insights served to give rise to a theory of love that saw the developmental importance of kin preference, strong parental investment, the dialectical relation between self-regard and other-regard, and how these early formative influences, with the right communal and symbolic reinforcements, can be extended analogically to include nonkin, neighbors, strangers, enemies, and God. Stephen Pope argues, and I concur, for a reconstruction and extension of Catholic naturalism in light of insights from evolutionary psychology.

The paper ends, however, with a few thoughts about the inevitable tensions between science and religion on the nature of love. These tensions need not impede investigations into common models of love that are culturally powerful and that can guide various aspects of education and culture. My last thoughts consist of a meditation on metaphysics. I argue that religion should be open to naturalism and that science should be either open to the transcendent or at least agnostic with regard to metaphysical pronouncements that may exceed its competence.

Friday, October 1, 1999

Elliott Sober, Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin
Mapping the Conceptual Terrain

Leda Cosmides, Ph.D. & John Tooby,Ph.D.
University of California, Santa Barbara
Friendship, engagement, and the Banker’s Paradox: Other pathways to the Evolution of Altruism

William H. Durham, Ph.D.
Stanford University
The Role of Culture in the Evolution of Altruism

David Sloan Wilson, Ph.D.
Binghamton University SUNY
The Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall of Altruism in Evolutionary Theory: Discussion with Audience

Frans B. M. de Waal, Ph. D.
Emory University, Yerkes Primate Living Links Center
Communication of Emotions and the Possibility of Sympathy in Monkeys and Apes

Antonio R. Damasio, M.D., Ph.D.
University of Iowa Hospital
The Neurobiology of Emotion

Hanna Damasio, M.D.
University of Iowa Hospital
Impaired Emotion and Social Behavior Following Brain Damage

William B. Hurlbut, M.D.
Stanford University
Empathy, Evolution and Ethics

Rev. Eugene Rivers
Ella J. Baker House

Saturday, October 2, 1999

Thomas R. Insel, M.D.
Emory University, Yerkes Primate Center
The Molecular Biology of Monogamy

Greg Fricchione, M.D.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Brain Evolution: Separation, Attachment and Agape

Jerome Kagan, Ph.D.
Harvard University
The Human Moral Sense

Don Browning, Ph.D.
The University of Chicago
Agape, Empathy and the Foundational/Nonfoundational Debate

Joan Eads, Zone Coordinator
L’Arche USA

Jeffrey P. Schloss, Ph.D. Westmont College
Is It Really More Blessed to Give than to Receive?: Emerging Questions in the Evolution of Radical Altruism

Edith Wyschogrod, Ph.D.
Rice University Pythagorean Bodies and the Body of Altruism

Stephen J. Pope, Ph.D.
Boston College
The Ordering of Love

Rev. Robert Hamerton-Kelly
Woodside Village Church
Emergence of Radical Love in the Biblical Tradition

Dame Cicely Saunders
St. Christopher’s Hospice

Sunday, October 3, 1999

Samuel P. Oliner, Ph.D.
Altruistic Personality and Prosocial Behavior Institute
Extraordinary Acts of Ordinary People: Faces of Heroism and Altruism

Pearl Oliner, Ph.D.
California State University - Humboldt
Ingroup and Outgroup Altruism: Protestants and Catholics

Kristen Renwick Monroe, Ph.D.
University of California
How Identity and Perspective Constrain Choice

Dan Batson, Ph.D.
University of Kansas
Addressing the Altruism Question Experimentally

V.S. Ramachandran, Ph.D.
University of California, San Diego
Neural Basis of Empathy and of Artistic Experience

Lynn G. Underwood, Ph.D.
Fetzer Institute
The Human Experience of Agape & Compassion: Conceptual Mapping and Data from Selected Studies

Ruben L.F. Habito, Ph.D.
Southern Methodist University
Compiversity Pythagorean Bodies and the Body of Altruism

Stephen J. Pope, Ph.D.
Boston College
The Ordering of Love

Rev. Robert Hamerton-Kelly
Woodside Village Church
Emergence of Radical Love in the Biblical Tradition

Dame Cicely Saunders
St. Christopher’s Hospice

John Templeton Foundation
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