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The Altruism Reader

Selections from Writings on Love, Religion, and Science

Edited by Thomas Jay Oord

This anthology brings together for the first time leading essays and book chapters from theologians, philosophers, and scientists on their research relating to ethics, altruism, and love. Because the general consensus today is that scholarship in moral theory requires empirical research, the arguments of the leading scholars presented in this book will be particularly important to those examining issues in love, ethics, religion, and science.

The first half of The Altruism Reader offers key selections from religious texts, leading contemporary scholars, and cutting-edge ethicists. Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism are represented. Among the highly respected writers are Thomas Aquinas, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, John Polkinghorne, Stephen Pope, Louis Fischer, Amira Shamma Abdin, Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, and Daniel Day Williams.

Primary readings on love and altruism from the sciences are featured in the second half of the book. Here the focus is on anthropology, psychology, sociology, biology, and neurology, with material written by Daniel C. Batson, David Sloan Wilson, Robert Wright, Stephen G. Post, Robert Axelrod, Richard Dawkins, Holmes Rolston III, and other renowned scientists and philosophers.

"Virtually all people act—and often talk—as if they have some inkling about love. We speak about loving food, falling in love, loving God, feeling loved, and loving a type of music. We say that love hurts, love waits, love stinks, and love means never having to say you're sorry.We use the word and its derivatives in a wide variety of ways . . . . My own definition of love is this: To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic response to others (including God), to promote well-being."—Thomas Jay Oord

Preface vii

Part I: Defining Love

1. The Core Meaning of “Love” / 3

Stephen G. Post

2. The Love Racket: Defining Love and Agape for the Love-and-Science Research Program / 10

Thomas Jay Oord


Part II: Ancient Religious Writings on Love

3. The Hebrew Scriptures: Psalms 100, 107 / 31

4. The Dhammapada: Joy / 34

5. The Bhagavadgita: The Religion of Faith / 36

6. The New Testament: Luke 10:25–37, 1 Corinthians 13, 1 John 4:7–21 / 39

7. The Qur’an: The Cow / 42

8. Teaching Christianity: On Christian Doctrine / 44 

Augustine of Hippo

9. Summa Theologica: The Treatise on Charity / 55

Thomas Aquinas

10. Agape and Eros: Excerpts / 60

Anders Nygren

11. Love in Any Language / 86

Thomas Jay Oord


Part III: Contemporary Religious Writings on Love

12. Loyalty: The Calling of the People of God / 95

Katharine Doob Sakenfeld

13. Understanding Our Fundamental Nature / 117

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

14. Ahimsa: The Path of Harmlessness / 129

Thich Nhat Hanh

15. The Incarnation / 133

Daniel Day Williams

16. Agapeistic Ethics / 148

Gene Outka

17. Philia / 156

Edward Collins Vacek

18. Kenotic Creation and Divine Action / 177

John Polkinghorne

19. Kenosis: Gender Connotations / 183

Sarah Coakley

20. Love in Islam / 188

Amira Shamma Abdin


Part IV: The Physics of Altruism

21. Ethics, Cosmology, and Theories of God / 201

Nancey Murphy and George Ellis


Part V: The Biology of Altruism

22. Evolutionary Ethics / 213

Robert Wright

23. The Selfish Gene: Excerpts / 226

Richard Dawkins

24. The Robustness of Reciprocity / 237

Robert Axelrod

25. Getting Along / 242

Frans de Waal

26. Bentham’s Corpse / 263

Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson

27. The Four Paths to Cooperation / 274

Lee Alan Dugatkin


Part VI: Altruism in the Social Sciences

28. Affect and Prosocial Responding / 285

Nancy Eisenberg, Sandra Losoya, and Tracy Spinrad

29. Aversive-Arousal Reduction / 313

Daniel C. Batson

30. Triangulating Love / 331

Robert J. Sternberg

31. Saving Others: Was It Opportunity or Character?   348

Samuel P. Oliner and Pearl M. Oliner

32. Progress through Love   369

Stephen G. Post

Scientific and Medical Network, The—Winter 2008

A remarkable book looking at altruism from scientific, philosophical and religious perspectives. This is particularly important in view of the public debate surrounding selfish genes and atheism… There is much food for thought in this exemplary volume, hailed by Stephen Post as a masterpiece.

This wide ranging reader begins by defining love in its various forms (there is a very interesting contrast between agape and eros). It then has sections on ancient and contemporary religious writings on love, the biology of altruism and manifestations of altruism in the social sciences. Each section contains a short introduction by the editor, together with notes and references. An important contribution to the emerging scholarship of love and altruism.

Theology Digest

The editor is professor of philosophy and theology at Northwest Nazarene University. The first three sections provide material from religious traditions, theologians, and moral philosophers. Section one gives definitions of love, and section two presents ancient religious writing from various world scriptures and from Augustine, Aquinas, and Nygren. Section three examines contemporary religious writings: loyalty, human nature, ahimsa, incarnation, ethics, kenosis, and love in Islam. The next three sections describe scientific research on love. Section four has one chapter on the physics of altruism, and section six involves altruism in the social sciences. These last two section present studies from psychology, sociology, anthropology, neurology, socio-biology, and non-human primate studies. The editor provides a brief summary to begin each of the 32 chapters.