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

Kristen Renwick Monroe is Professor of Politics and Associate Director of the Program in Political Psychology at the University of California at Irvine. She was graduated with honors from Smith College, where she spent her junior year in Geneva. Her M.A. and Ph.D. are from the University of Chicago. She has taught at Princeton, NYU, SUNY at Stony Brook, and the University of British Columbia.

Monroe’s most recent book is The Heart of Altruism (Princeton, 1996), which was awarded the 1997 Best Book Award by the American Political Science Association Section in Political Psychology and nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She is the editor of several books, including Contemporary Empirical Political Theory (University of California, 1997) and The Economic Approach to Politics: A Reassessment of the Theory of Rational Action (HarperCollins, 1991) and the author of Presidential Popularity and the Economy (Praeger, 1984).

Her current research asks how identity, categorization and perspective constrain choice. Her interdisciplinary approach to this problem is reflected in a book manuscript on moral choice during the Holocaust, which draws on work in political and psychological theory to reconceptualize our traditional understanding of rational choice and moral action. Her other research projects include: (1) an edited volume, Political Psychology: An Overview, (2) a book analyzing in-depth interviews with German Jewish exiles who left Germany before WWII, (3) and a book contrasting the cognitive frameworks of a “matched”sample, consisting of a Dutch Resistance leader, his bystander cousin, and 3 Dutch Nazis: one a propagandist, one a soldier and one a top political figure.

Monroe is a member of the Governing Council for the International Society of Political Psychology, the American Political Science Association, and the Midwest Political Science Association, for which she is also Vice-President. She has published widely on topics in political and social theory, genocide, political economy, and political psychology and has lectured on these topics in many universities and public meetings throughout North America and Europe.

She is married to R.G. Wilmot Lampros, President of ALEKS Educational Systems, and lives in Irvine with their three children, Alexander, Nicholas and Chloe.

How Identity and Perspective Constrain Choice
Constructing a Theory of Moral Action on the Concept of Self

“To be a rescuer, under these circumstances, it took a unique person. Someone who had the deep-seated conviction...that they had to do it. And they were not people who were making choices on reflection. They just simply had to do it because that's the kind of people they were.”

Emmanuel Tanay, Polish survivor of the Holocaust

I begin with a puzzle. Rescuers of Jews during World War II insisted they had no choice in making what appear - at least to the rest of us - to be extraordinarily difficult life-and-death decisions. Yet the rescuers themselves insist, in study after study, that “there was no decision to take” (Magda Trocme, French rescuer). If this is true, if rescuers indeed had no choice in their actions because “that's the kind of people they were,” then the dominant motif in moral theory needs to be rethought, for the traditional approach to moral theory builds on precisely the kind of agonistic choice the rescuers claim they did not experience. This is the puzzle I treat in this paper.

My approach is that of the empirical political theorist. My goal is not to demonstrate or explain this puzzling finding that identity and perspective constrain choice but rather to treat this anomalous finding as an analytical tool that can both reveal limitations in the traditional literature on moral choice and help construct new theories to more fully capture the complexities of empirical reality.

The paper begins with the simple documentation of the puzzling anomaly that intrigues me. I present several illustrations, from my own research and from studies by others. I then contrast what we learn from an empirical examination of moral exemplars with the theoretical discussions found in the traditional literature on moral choice. My conclusion - that the major theoretical explanations of moral action omit critical aspects of rescue behavior - turns me in Part 2 to recent work in psychology and in virtue ethics, both literatures that stress character and identity. I ask whether this literature accurately captures the psychological process through which identity and perspective trump choice, and conclude that it does not. In Part 3, I use my empirically based understanding of rescue behavior to create a new theory of moral action, one that more accurately captures the moral psychology. This is the heart of the paper, in which I propose amoral theory driven not by ratiocination or religion but by one's sense of self in relation to others.

This theory builds on my earlier work (1996) on perspective, which suggests that perceptions of our selves in relation to others define the range of options available, not just morally but empirically. To construct a moral theory driven not by ratiocination or religion but by identity, especially one's sense of self in relation to others, I draw on literatures in three areas not traditionally the domain of moral theory: (1) psychological work on the need for consistency and self-esteem, (2) linguistic and psychoanalytic arguments on categorization, and (3) empirical work on the cognitive frameworks of altruists and genocidalists.

The basic argument can be expressed in five parts. (1) The need for both consistency and self-esteem is universal and innate in human beings. (2) We desire to be treated decently by others. (3) Psychoanalytic categorization and linguistic communication causes us to recognize this desire in others as in ourselves. (4) We thus are led to extend universal rights of entitlement reciprocally, treating others as we would ourselves wish to be treated. (5) This ethical reciprocity is more basic than an intellectualized sense of duty or a religious dogma. It is a fundamental correlate of the human capacity for intersubjective communication and the need to distinguish boundaries via categorization. As such, it can transcend the arguments against universal morality leveled by cultural relativism.

To construct and describe my theory, I begin by discussing the psychological work on consistency, especially the role consistency plays in linking identity formation to acts that confirm our sense of self. I next draw on psychological studies on self-conceptualization to argue that the narcissistic need for self-esteem works to establish boundaries between one's self and others. I then link this psychological need for individuation, boundaries and identity formation with Chomsky's arguments about language analysis and categorization. I argue that basic syntactic structures, encoded in an innate human capacity for language learning, are central to the establishment of behavioral expectations in interpersonal interaction. I apply Chomsky's arguments regarding the nature of language and speech communities to Smiley's work on pragmatist moral theory to argue that the only coherent understanding of moral community that we can reasonably form in the modern world will be a universal one. Finally, I return to the rescuers of Jews during World War II as illustration of how our sense of self in relation to others leads to moral action through a sense of universal entitlement, based on psychoanalytic and linguistic principles of categorization and boundary formation.

I do not argue that rescuers are paradigmatic of all moral actors. But I do believe my analysis suggests the advantages of supplementing traditional explanations with theories emphasizing identity and perspective, as outlined above. As a piece of moral theory, the work is preclusive; perhaps even attempting to construct original moral theory is an audacious act. I offer the work in the hope that it will stimulate the debate necessary to further understanding of what encourages moral action.

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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