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 G. Post is Professor and Associate Director for Educational Programs, Center for Biomedical Ethics, School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University. He also serves as a Senior Research Scholar in the Becket Institute at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford University.

Dr. Post received his Ph.D. in religious ethics and moral philosophy from the University of Chicago Divinity School (1983), where he was an elected university fellow and a research fellow in the Institute for the Advanced Study of Religion. He was a National Endowment for the Humanities Visiting Fellow in the Department of Politics at Princeton University (1987), Chair of the American Academy of Religion’s Section in Religion and Ethics in Healthcare, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University. He is an elected Senior Fellow of the Hastings Center.

In 1995, Post completed his work as Associate Editor of the 5-volume Encyclopedia of Bioethics (Macmillan Press), with support from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is the author of The Moral Challenge of Alzheimer Disease (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), described as “an outstanding, potentially classic book ”in Health Affairs. He is Ethics Editor for the journal Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders. His most recent edited book is Genetic Testing for Alzheimer Disease: Ethical and Clinical Issues (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998). He is also the author of numerous articles and books on the concept of love in western religious thought.

Dr. Post is a member of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Panel of Alzheimer’s Disease International. He serves on the National Ethics Advisory Board for the U.S. Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Association, and the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada National Ethics Task Force. In 1998 Dr. Post was awarded a distinguished service recognition by the Association’s national board. He is also a member of the ethics committee of the American Geriatrics Society.

Agape: Its Meaning and Scientific Future

Desmond Tutu and Abraham Joshua Heschel prophets of justice, Gandhi and Martin Luther King nonviolent liberators, Bonhoeffer opponent of Hitler, Dorothy Day feeder of hungry laborers, Eugene Rivers bringer of peace to inner cities, Dame Cicely Saunders giver of new hope to the dying, Jean Vanier founder of L’Arche, Dag Hammarskjold seeker of peace in the Congo, and the Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism-these are a few examples of modern leaders with deep religious convictions and intelligent faith that shape or shaped their contributions to public life, political change, and human progress. All of them disprove Alfred North Whitehead’s definition: “Religion is what a man does with his solitude.”

All of these figures perceived a relationship with a Supreme Being, whatever their religious traditions, and were moved to do good works. Malcolm Jeeves, among many others, tell us that such exceptions can be appreciated with regard to neurological correlates (in contrast to causes). This frees religious experience from the confines of Platonic or Cartesian substance dualisms. It is unnecessary, then, to accept. E.O. Wilsonıs argument (or Francis Crickıs, for that matter) that if religion can be explained as a product of the brainıs evolution, its validity is undermined. Wilson does acknowledge that “the predisposition to religious belief is the most complex and powerful force in the human mind and in all probability an ineradicable part of human nature.” This suggests elements of evolution and of co-evolution. Donıt capacities usually evolve as selectively valuable in relation to some objective referent?

All of these figures act in profound love because they feel that their work in society (³polis”) is in concert with the nature of unlimited love at the heart of the anthropic universe (³cosmos”). They are then spiritual cosmopolitans. We are sometimes exclusively interested in what they do rather than in why they do it, but the “what” depends on the “why.” Their acts emerge from an empowering form of love. They do just “happen” to be deeply spiritual persons. The more we can understand about them, scientifically and otherwise, the more effectively we can educate and encourage future generations to emulate them.

The Nature of Love: What is at the very core of the holistic experience of human love? I say “holistic” because love involves cognition (e.g., imagination, judgment, and memory), affectivity or an abiding attunement of the emotions, and freedom (e.g., in affirming or negating affective responses). As for the core of love, it is, as phenomenologist Jules Toner described, “affirmative affection.” It is closely linked to care (cura or “cure” in the Latin), which is love in the context of the other in need. But if all need in the loved one were fulfilled in care-giving, love would not cease. As Toner argues, “Care is only the form love takes when the lover is attentive to the belovedıs need.” Love is to care as the person is to the person in need. Love is expressed as much in consonant “being with” as in doing for. Both joy or sorrow can increase or decrease in inverse proportion to one another, but this does not modify the underlying affective affirmation that is love.

Love is first a response to the “present actuality” of another as he or she is in irrevocable worth, and it is secondarily an encouragement toward fullness of being. Newborn infants are loved for what they are in their present actuality amidst demands of immense care, and then for their potentiality. Reciprocal radical affective affirmation of present actuality is the beginning of mutuality or community, but affective affirmation is not contingent on reciprocity.

If, for the moment however, we include “cura” within love and set aside fine distinctions, love is: an uniquely human, prevailing, free, and personal affective affirmation of another, and it is a correlative tendency or disposition to act in response to genuine need. It transcends sensual, acquisitive, reciprocal, and eudaemonistic interests, although it does not erase them. In all the moments of love that we remember, this core of affective affirmation has been seemingly palpable.

Agape Love: Agape love is the Christian language for a form of love that certainly has its rough equivalents in Judaism, Buddhism, and other great religious traditions. Agape love is love as defined above, but coupled with an overwhelming sense of equal-regard derived from a spiritual belief in the love of the Supreme Being for all humanity. Agape love, when manifest, expands the scope of love to the enemy (although what action this implies, especially when the lives of innocent others are imperiled, is an exceedingly complex matter), makes all strangers into neighbors, and even extends affective presence and care to persons with severe derangement, dementia, or retardation. Some “agapists” have written of agape love as a matter of rather mechanical impersonal bestowal upon those who have no desirable attributes or worth, but a countervailing personalist view of agape is that in every human person there is an intrinsic and unique worth that love insists on discovering even when it has been obscured by abuse, hatred, or illness.

In this presentation, I will quickly develop definitions of love and of agape love. On the basis of said definitions, I will suggestively (but briefly) interweave my thoughts with the work of the biologists, social scientists, philosophers, theologians, and practitioners who have given their valuable time to this conference. I will conclude with several suggestions for future scientific study of the constituent parts of love and of agape love, and for the phenomena of such loves considered nonreductively.

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
c/o altruisticlove.org
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