Philosophy/Virtue Ethics

The following is an excerpt from More about Generosity: An Addendum to the Generosity, Social Psychology and Philanthropy Literature Reviews," (University of Notre Dame, July 7, 2009).

Blackstone, Amy. 2008. “Doing good, being good, and the social construction of compassion.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 38(1):85-116.

Activists and volunteers in the United States face the dilemma of having to negotiate the ideals of American individualism with their own acts of compassion. In this article, I consider how activists and volunteers socially construct compassion. Data from ethnographic research in the breast cancer and antirape movements are analyzed. The processes through which compassion is constructed are revealed in participants’ actions and in their identities. It is through their actions (or ‘doing good’) and their perceptions and presentations of themselves (‘being good’) that participants construct compassion as a gendered phenomenon. Together, the processes of doing good and being good raise questions about the extent to which participants’ acts of compassion are or can be transformative in a way that promotes the social change which activists and volunteers seek. (Sage Publications)

Browning, Don. 2008. “Love as sacrifice, love as mutuality: Response to Jeffrey Tillman.” Zygon 43(3):557-562.

Jeffrey Tillman is perceptive in noticing that certain Protestant theologians have used evolutionary theory to become more sympathetic to Roman Catholic views of Christian love. But he is incorrect in saying that these formulations deemphasize a place for self-sacrifice in Christian love. Christian love defined as a strenuous equal-regard for both other and self also requires sacrificial efforts to restore love as equal-regard when finitude and sin undermine genuine mutuality and community.

Etzioni, Amitai. 2008. “The Denial of Virtue.” Society 45(1):12-19.

When a New York City man risked his own life to save a stranger on the subway tracks, the New York Times interpreted his behavior not in terms of virtue but as a product of certain ‘hard-wiring’ he happened to possess. In denying virtue, the Times followed a school of thought that is pervasive in social science (referred to in this paper as the ‘individualists’) who, for example, explain charitable donations by pointing out tax deductions, explain volunteer work by revealing the opportunities contained therein to meet other singles, and so on. Actually, the assumptions and arguments which ground this widespread ‘denial of virtue’ are both empirically and normatively flawed, and the theory itself is belied by data about people doing good for moral reasons. Evidence drawn from personal introspection, from empirical studies of human behavior, from analysis of voting as a civil act, from interpreting peoples’ reaction to Alzheimer’s disease, from critical inspection of the logic of ‘individualist’ social explanations, and from a normative criticism of the products of the ‘individualist’ approach all support a rejection of the ‘individualist’ approach. The deniers of virtue should heed the evidence and pay mind to the amoralizing consequences of their erroneous theories.

Fehr, Beverly, Susan Sprecher, and Lynn G. Underwood, Editors. 2008. The Science of Compassionate Love: Theory, Research, and Applications. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

The Science of Compassionate Love is an interdisciplinary volume that presents cutting-edge scholarship on the topics of altruism and compassionate love. The book
Adopts a social science approach to understanding compassionate love
Emphasizes positive features of social interaction
Encourages the appropriate expression of compassionate love both to those in intimate relationships and to strangers
Includes articles by distinguished contributors from the fields of Psychology, Sociology, Communication Studies, Family Studies, Epidemiology, Medicine and Nursing
Is ideal for workshops on compassionate love, Positive Psychology, and creating constructive interactions between health professionals and patients.

Miller, Christian. 2009. “Social psychology, mood, and helping: Mixed results for virtue ethics.” Journal of Ethics. Forthcoming.

I first summarize the central issues in the debate about the empirical adequacy of virtue ethics, and then examine the role that social psychologists claim positive and negative mood have in influencing compassionate helping behavior. I argue that this psychological research is compatible with the claim that many people might instantiate certain character traits after all which allow them to help others in a wide variety of circumstances. Unfortunately for the virtue ethicist, however, it turns out that these helping traits fall well short of exhibiting certain central features of compassion.

Tillman, Jeffrey J. 2008. “Sacrificial agape and group selection in contemporary American Christianity.”
Zygon 43(3):541-556.

Human altruistic behavior has received a great deal of scientific attention over the past forty years. Altruistic-like behaviors found among insects and animals have illumined certain human behaviors, and the revival of interest in group selection has focused attention on how sacrificial altruism, although not adaptive for individuals, can be adaptive for groups. Curiously, at the same time that sociobiology has placed greater emphasis on the value of sacrificial altruism, Protestant ethics in America has moved away from it. While Roman Catholic ethics has a longstanding tradition emphasizing an ordering of love, placing love of self second only to love for God, Protestant ethics in America has adopted a similar stance only recently, replacing a strong sacrificial ethic with one focusing on mutual regard for self and others. If sociobiology is correct about the significance of sacrificial altruistic behaviors for the survival of communities, this shift away from sacrificial agape by American Christianity may cut the community off from important resources for the development of a global ethic crucial for the survival of that faith community and humankind itself.

_Ratié , Isabelle. Forthcoming. “Remarks on compassion and altruism in the Pratyabhijñā philosophy.” Journal of Indian Philosophy Springer Link. <>.

According to Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta, a subject who has freed himself from the bondage of individuality is necessarily compassionate, and his action, necessarily altruistic. This article explores the paradoxical aspects of this statement; for not only does it seem contradictory with the Pratyabhijñā’s non-dualism (how can compassion and altruism have any meaning if the various subjects are in fact a single, all-encompassing Self?)—it also implies a subtle shift in meaning as regards the very notion of compassion (karuṇā, kr̥pā), since according to the two Śaivas, compassion does not result from the awareness of the others’ pain (duḥkha)—as in Buddhism—but from the awareness of one’s own bliss (ānanda). The article thus shows that in spite of their radical criticism of traditional ethical categories such as merit (dharma) and demerit (adharma), the two Śaiva philosophers still make use of ethical categories, but not without pro- foundly transforming them.

Rigoni, Fr. Florenzo Mária. 2007. “Compassion and solidarity.” Social Work in Health Care 44(1):17-27.

In his introduction, the author discusses topics including: Compassion and Solidarity as a Life Option; Today’s Culture vs. Compassion and Solidarity; Compassion and Solidarity in a Hostile Culture; Compassion and Solidarity Suffocated by Indifference; the Risks of Compassion and Solidarity; Compassion and Solidarity as a Risk of Exclusion; Compassion and Solidarity as a Risk of Manipulation; A Personal Tale of Compassion through Solidarity; and Gratuitousness—Absence of Gratification. (PsycInfo)

Rosas, Alejandro. 2007. “Beyond the sociobiological dilemma: Social emotions and the evolution of morality.” Zygon 42(3):685-700.

Is morality biologically altruistic? Does it imply a disadvantage in the struggle for existence? A positive answer puts morality at odds with natural selection, unless natural selection operates at the level of groups. In this case, a trait that is good for groups though bad (reproductively) for individuals can evolve. Sociobiologists reject group selection and have adopted one of two horns of a dilemma. Either morality is based on an egoistic calculus, compatible with natural selection; or morality continues tied to psychological and biological altruism but not as a product of natural selection. The dilemma denies a third possibility—that psychological altruism evolves as a biologically selfish trait. I discuss the classical treatments of the paradox by Charles Darwin (1871 1989) and Robert Trivers (1971), focusing on the role they attribute to social emotions. The upshot is that both Darwin and Trivers sketch a natural-selection process relying on innate emotional mechanisms that render morality adaptive for individuals as well as for groups. I give additional reasons for viewing it as a form of natural, instead of only cultural, selection.