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The Altruistic Species

Scientific, Philosophical, and Religious Perspectives

Andrew Michael Flescher Daniel L. Worthen

What motivates altruism? How essential is the phenomenon of altruism to the human experience? Is altruism readily accessible to the ordinary person? In The Altruistic Species, Andrew Michael Flescher and Daniel L. Worthen explore these questions through the lenses of four disciplinary perspectives—biology, psychology, philosophy, and religion. In the course of their investigation, they make an extended argument for the existence of altruism against competing theories that construe all ostensible cases of benevolence as self-interest in disguise. The authors consider theories of egoism; the role of genetics and evolutionary biology; the psychological that induce altruistic behavior; philosophical theories of altruism in normative ethics such as Kantian, utilitarian, and Aristotelian models of moral action; and accounts of love of the neighbor in Christianity and Buddhism. Additionally, they offer a new, comprehensive definition of altruism that is inclusive of the insights of each of these perspectives.

The Altruistic Species reinvigorates the debate over the prevalence of selfless motivation in human behavior—whether it is a rare or ubiquitous phenomenon, something that is always to be considered exceptional or a capacity that members of any community potentially could develop. This noteworthy interdisciplinary examination of altruism balances science, virtue theory, and theology. It is ideal courses in ethics, human behavior, and evolutionary biology, as an educational resource for other multidisciplinary studies, and for interested lay readers.

Preface / vii

Introduction: Selfishness and Selflessness / 3

Part I: What Is Altruism?

1: Altruism Defined / 23

Part II: What Motivates Altruism?

2: The Perspective of Psychological Egoism: A Sheep in Wolf ’s Clothing / 57

3: The Perspective of Evolutionary Biology: The Genetic Dynamics of Caring and Cooperation / 91

4: Psychological Perspectives: Nurturing Our Nature / 125

5: Philosophical Perspectives: Altruism and the Role of Reason / 165

6: Religious Perspectives: Altruism, Saints, and Believers / 201

Part III: How Does Altruism Work?

7: Cultivating Our Altruistic Identity / 233

Notes / 265

References / 279

Index / 285

Shift: the Frontier of Consciousness—No. 17

The Altruistic Species is an ambitious attempt to explain altruism through the lenses of psychology, religion and evolutionary biology… The Altruistic Species includes some interesting stories about people who have expressed remarkable acts of caring for others, which the authors explore in a thorough and sometimes pr0vocative manner.

Flescher and Worthen do not shy away from explicating difficult discussions, and they diligently follow the implications of difficult human decisions.

Chicoer Enterprise Record—Chico, CA

Though the book delves into biological kinship systems and Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative, the writing is clear and accessible. In its calm way of demolishing objections to the authors’ contention that most all of us have the capacity—and moral obligation—to become more altruistic in our character (as part of what Aristotle called human flourishing), the book is also revolutionary.

It’s a matter, the authors say, of "practicing . . . moral skills" which become part of the "stable character" of altruism. It is a measure of the genuinely happy life.

Dan Barnett, Butte College.

CHOICE—Vol. 45, No. 9

Flescher and Worthen (both, California State Univ., Chico) present a superbly organized book that aims to assign altruism a more central role in both descriptive and normative accounts of human nature. This work is interdisciplinary in approach and rich in examples from philosophy, history, literature, and everyday experience. According to the authors, the title refers to "a central part of our identity as a species, a part that can become even more central than it currently is." To make the case for this, Flescher and Worthen begin by noting that standard definitions of altruism are too restrictive. Next, they integrate insights from biology, psychology, philosophy, and religion to reveal how these often conflicting disciplines "can be synthesized to contribute to a coherent, comprehensive, and truly interdisciplinary account" of altruism. The authors end by providing a new definition of altruism. This volume is a great addition to the growing literature on altruism and a good companion to Stephen Post’s Unlimited Love: Altruism, Compassion, and Service (CH, Jan’04, 41-2761) and Altruism and Altruistic Love (CH, Jan’03, 40-2711), ed. by Post et al. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers. —H. Storl, Augustana College (IL)

Catholic Library World—Vol. 78, No. 3

This book is the result of an interdisciplinary and team-taught course by a psychologist and an ethicist. Psychology is interested in the practical implications of altruism. Ethics is intersted in the existence and nature of altruism.

Templeton Foundation Press promotes studies on the relation of science to spiritual realities. This book is a remarkable contribution to such a project. —Luciasn J. Richard, OMI

Religious Studies Review—Vol. 34, No. 3

This book challenges the conventional wisdom of evolutionary biology that alleged cases of benevolence are really and only acts of self-interestedness in disguise. —Jim Gilman, Mary Baldwin College