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

Stephen J. Pope is Associate Professor of Social Ethics in the Theology Department at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, MA. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1988. He is the author of The Evolution of Altruism and the Ordering of Love (Georgetown University Press, 1994).
Self, Others, and Sacrifice: The Ordering of Love

For the purposes of brevity I would like to focus my comments on the differences between two dominant “ideal types” displayed in Christian literature on love: the dialectical and the sacramental. The “dialectical” type opposes non-Christian and Christian love or agape: private good vs. common good, self-concern vs. self-sacrifice, egocentrism vs. altruism, etc. The writings of Tertullian, Luther, Kierkegaard, Bonhoeffer, and R. Niebuhr illustrate this opposition, though they exhibit other tendencies as well. Today this position strikes a heroic cord, repudiates cheap accommodation, and calls for loyalty to a distinctive religious community against secular culture.

This approach is usually contrasted with what can be called a “sacramental” interpretation of love, which regards all human relationships as potentially sacred, as potentially ordered by grace to the glory of God. It holds that creation is redeemed rather than obliterated by God, that nature is healed, and not destroyed, by grace. The powerful reality of human sin underscores the obstacles to its actualization, but a counterbalancing affirmation of the goodness of the creation upholds our awareness of its constructive potentiality. Just as any and all human relationships can be corrupted, so they can be healed by and ordered to grace. It appreciates the difference between legitimate and illegitimate self-love, ordered and disordered love of others, and proper and improper love of God. It need not identify all erotic desire with sin, or all forms of self-concern with unbounded egocentrism. The writings of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Jonathan Edwards, and Karl Rahner illustrate this position.

This approach is able to assimilate relevant studies from the sciences on love. One paradigm is Aquinas' critical appropriation of Aristotelian biology within his account of the graded relations of responsibility and affection known as the “order of charity.” Dialectically-minded thinkers alert us to dangers but, at their worst, they tend to dismiss scientific studies as having nothing to do with the radical demands of the cross. The sacramental approach, in contrast, can be informed about ways in which the affective imagination of Christians might have been stilted by social conditions, cultural assumptions, or personal biases and, conversely, how in the future it might be expanded by various means to encompass those who in the past have not been its spontaneous recipients.

In this view both science and theology pertain to our understanding of love, at least as long as what claims to be “science” is in fact genuinely scientific rather than journalistic evolutionary moralizing. Evolutionary theories of kinship, reciprocity, cooperation, and parental investment can be critically appropriated by those seeking to understand aspects of the human psyche that can be enlisted to support intimacy and commitment in marriage, stable and loving families, loyal friendships, etc. Sociobiology of course has not always functioned in a detached scientific vein, but when it does offer legitimate empirical information and insights into the natural underpinnings of human conduct, it ought to be appropriated. Conversely, evolutionary theories of xenophobia, aggression and violence, sexual opportunism, deception and manipulation point to other natural possibilities which need to be anticipated and to conditions which might be modified.

It is important to avoid misunderstanding sacramentality as simply domesticating agape. The Christian character of sacramentality requires conversion, discipleship, and a way of life marked by an ever deepening, self-transcending love. Sacramentality finds grace in ordinary kinds of relationships but it also requires that these relationships manifest divine love. Because of our propensity to disordered self-love, properly ordered love is most poignantly expressed as a demand to completely deny oneself, to “hate” our brothers and sisters, and so forth. But Jesus himself blessed the woman who anointed him, loved his disciples as friends, and suffered and died for the reconciliation of humanity with God. There is no doubt a crucially important dialectical subplot within the more encompassing sacramental narrative, but the former should not be allowed to overwhelm the latter.

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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