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
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William H. Durham joined the Stanford faculty in 1977, having earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Michigan. Durham is now Chair of the Department of Anthropological Sciences and Bing Professor in Human Biology. His main interests are ecology and evolution, the interactions of genetic and cultural change in human populations, and the challenges to conservation and community development in the Third World. In fieldwork, he has studied the demography, genetics, and resource management of the San Blas Kuna of Panama, the causes of land scarcity and environmental degradation in rural El Salvador and Honduras, and the social forces behind deforestation in Mexico, Central, and South America. Professor Durham’s publications include the books Scarcity and Survival in Central America (Stanford Press, 1979; in Spanish, by UCA Editores 1988), Coevolution: Genes, Culture, and Human Diversity (Stanford Press, 1991) and The Social Causes of Environmental Destruction in Latin America (U. of Michigan Press, 1995, co-edited with M. Painter). Durham has received the Gores, Dinkelspiel, ASSU, Rhodes, and Bing Fellow Awards for his teaching at Stanford. He has received fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the H.F. Guggenheim Foundation, the Danforth Foundation, and a five-year Prize Fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation. From 1992 through 1995 was the Director of Stanford’s Program in Human Biology. He is currently Editor of the Annual Review of Anthropology.


The Role of Culture in the Evolution of Altruism

This paper begins with the assumptions (1) that the human “capacity for altruism” is most likely many different capacities, each capable of producing acts of reproductive sacrifice singularly and in combination; and (2) that these capacities have been shaped by genetic evolution through some combination of sexual selection, kin selection, reciprocity selection (ie, selection for reciprocal altruism), and group selection. The point of this paper is to explore ways in which cultural evolution-that is, the process of cumulative change in socially transmitted information - extends and elaborates on these evolved human capacities. Other authors have discussed the role of culture, and particularly of “social norms” (ed. Boyd and Richerson) or “secondary behaviors” (Sober and Wilson), as a promoting or enabling force in the evolution of altruistic psychology. To complete the loop, I propose here that the evolving and evolved psychological processes, in turn, promote the cultural evolution of unselfish norms and values, propelling a true coevolution of genes, culture, and altruistic behavior.

The general argument of the paper is that the evolved human capacities for altruism contribute a selective context or “environment” in which varying cultural instructions for behavior (memes) differentially replicate over time. This selective environment may be thought of as a filtering device that preferentially favors (allows through) some replicating memes and not others. Just exactly how that environment filters and sorts among variants is a difficult issue and a matter of some debate among evolutionary culture theorists. The propositions of this paper are these: (A) that the main but not exclusive means of filtering is human preference, accomplished either through free choice (election) in a population or through force or coercion (imposition); (B) that human preference emerges from a complex weighting of many inputs or values in the minds of the decision-makers; and (C) that among those values are the intrinsic or “primary values” that are programmed into the human organism (and thus express themselves across a wide range of social environments), and any derived, socially-transmitted cultural standards (“secondary values”) that have themselves been shaped by past cultural evolution. (D) Drawing on the altruism literature, I would further propose that the evolved primary values of the human organism include (1) a desire to care for one’s mates, (2) a desire to care for one’s children and close kin, (3) a desire to care for reliable reciprocators, and (4) a desire to care for (interdependent) social group members.

Assuming, then, the efficacy of these four primary values (numbered above) in the environmental filtering over time of cultural instructions for behavior, one would then expect to find common cultural contexts of altruism of at least four basic kinds, singularly or in various combinations. First, one would expect to find cultural manifestations of altruism toward actual or potential mates, including individuals one believes might be actual or potential mates. In other, perhaps more cynical words, culturally-specific appeals to mating potential are an arena in which one expects to find altruistic human behavior. Second, culture-specific appeals to kinship status-as through the linguistic manipulation of local kin terms, particularly terms for close kin-are another domain in which one expects to find altruistic human behavior. Third, one expects to find altruism solicited by culture-specific appeals to actual or potential reciprocity. And fourth, one expects to find that altruistic behavior is also evoked by appeal to group membership and loyalty, particularly by appeals that emphasize a real or purported value to being part of a group which is in competition with one of more such groups. The paper concludes with a few provocative examples of such cultural contexts of altruism.

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

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