Altruistic Creative Love

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= concept developed and researched by Pitirim Sorokin and the Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism


Emiliana Mangone and Alexander Dolgov:

The idea of love fits into this theoretical framework as “the supreme and vital form of human relationship” (love relationship) and as such the ways, forms, and power of this energy (love energy) are to be studied. This force is likened, for their similarities, to an iceberg: “Love is like an iceberg: only a small part of it is visible, and even this visible part is little known. Still less known is love’s transempirical part, its religious and ontological forms. For the reasons subsequently given, love appears to be a universe inexhaustible qualitatively and quantitatively."



Emiliana Mangone and Alexander Dolgov:

"Of its many forms of being the following can be differentiated: religious, ethical, ontolog-ical, physical, biological, psychological, and social” (Sorokin 1954b, p. 3).

These forms actually refer to the very aspects of love:

(a) religious love, refers to the experience of love for God or the Absolute;

(b) ethical love, “is identified with goodness itself. Love is viewed asthe essence of goodness inseparable from truth and beauty” (ibidem, p. 6);

(c) ontological love, is considered the highest form of unifying, integrating, and harmonizing creative power or energy. This is the “core” of love, because it makes the world go round and without it, we would witness the collapse of the physical, biological, and social world (D’Ambrosio et al.2014);

(d) physical love, refers to love expressed through the unifying, integrative, and ordinating energies of the universe;

(e) “The biological counterpart of love energy manifests itself in the very nature and basic processes of life. This energy, still little known, and often called the ‘vital energy’ that mysteriously unites various inorganic energies into a startling unity of a living – unicellular or multicellular – organism [... ] without the operation of a biological counterpart of love energy, life itself is not possible, nor its continuity, nor the preservation and survival of species, nor life evolution, nor the emergence and evolution of Homo sapiens” (Sorokin 1954b, p. 9);

(f) psychological love includes all the intellectual aspects of emotional, affective, and desire experiences. For its very nature, psychological love is an “altruistic” experience;

(g) social love is the last of the forms identified by Sorokin “on the social plane love is meaningful interaction – or relationship – between two or more persons where the aspirations and aims of one person are shared and helped in their realization by other persons” (ibidem, p. 13). The highest form of social love identified by Sorokin can be found in the Sermon on the Mount because, in it, the social relationship of love is expressed at its highest level.



Emiliana Mangone and Alexander Dolgov on the five dimensions:

"It follows that love not only has many aspects and forms, but it also has various dimensions. Sorokin identifies five of them, for which he foregoes any psychometric analysis5 since they have both scalar and non-scalar characteristics; nevertheless, he believes that it is empirically possible to find for them evidence or testimonies. “Sorokin acknowledged that because of the indistinct nature of love the dimensions had both scalar and non-scalar characteristics. It is difficult to know the range of how many times greater one act of love is from another or whether it is lower, higher or equal to another act. Although, it is possible to empirically witness acts of love and know that one act is greater than another” (D’Ambrosio et al. 2014, p.40).

We will now describe the five dimensions using Sorokin’s very words:

(i) The Intensity of Love: “In the intensity love ranges between zero and the highest possible point, arbitrarily denoted as infinity. The zero point is neither love nor hate” (Sorokin 1954b, p. 15);

(ii) The Extensity of Love: “The extensity of love ranges from the zero point of love of oneself only, up to the love of all mankind, all living creatures, and the whole universe. Between these minimal and maximal degrees lies a vast scale of extensities” (ibidem, 16);

(iii) The Duration of Love: “may range from the shortest possible moment to years or throughout the whole life of an individual or of a group”;

(iv) The Purity of Love: “ranges from the love motivated by love alone – without the taint of a ‘soiling motive’ of utility, pleasure, advantage, or profit, down to the ‘soiled love’ where love is but a means to a utilitarian or hedonistic or other end, where love is only the tinnest trickle in a muddy current of selfish aspirations and purposes” (ibidem, 17); and, finally,

(v) The Adequacy of Love: “The adequacy of the subjective goal of love to its objective manifestation ranges from a complete discrepancy between the subjective goal of love actions and its objective consequences, up to their identity.

Inadequacy may have two different forms:

(a) love experience may be subjectively genuine in the loving person, but the objective consequences of his love actions may be very different from, even opposite to, the love goal;

(b) a person may have no love experience or intentions subjectively, yet the objective consequences of his actions, though motivated by something else than love, maybe most beneficial for others, similar to the effects of genuine love. The first sort of love experience and activity is altruistic subjectively but not objectively. The second sort of experience and action is not altruistic subjectively but is altruistic objectively” (ivi). At this point in the description of altruistic love, it should be noted that although Sorokin referred to the ways and power of love, he made the words “love” and “altruism” interchangeable throughout all the activities of the Harvard Center, starting with the book The Reconstruction of Humanity (1948), in which he accurately described the different types of altruism."

The five steps through which love energy can be produced and improved

Sorokin, however, does not merely describe aspects and dimensions of altruistic creative love, but, considers it as an energy that can be produced, accumulated, and distributed by individuals and institutions:

- “If love can be viewed as one of the highest energies known, then theoretically, at least, we can talk about the production or generation, the accumulation (or loss), the channelling, transmission, and distribution of this particular energy” (Sorokin 1954b, p. 36).

The Russian-American sociologist identifies five steps through which love energy can be produced and improved:

(1) The Increase of Creative Heroes of Love, meaning the great creators and thinkers (e.g., Plato, Dante, Shakespeare, and Mozart) and to the heroes or apostles of love (e.g., Buddha, Christ, Francis of Assisi, and Gandhi). It should be noted that in his book Altruistic Love (1950a), which is the first work published since the Harvard Center began its activities, Sorokin applies his skills as a social analyst to a study of the characteristic traits of people who are sensitive to the needs of others and who respond freely with kind help: the “good neighbors” of the Americas and “Christian-Catholic saints”.

(2) The Increase of Creative Heroes of Truth and Beauty, thinkers and creators in different fields of science and the arts are great forges for some of the components (truth and beauty) of the highest value (love energy). According to Sorokin, “Among all the meaningful values of the super-organic world there is the supreme integral value – the veritable summum bonum. It is the indivisible unity of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Though each member of this supreme Trinity has distinct individually, all three are inseparable from one another [ ... ]. These greatest values are not only inseparable from one another, but they are transformable into one another” (Sorokin 1958a, p. 180).

What is needed is a growth in the love in parts of the society:

(3) The Increase of Love by the Rank and File,

(4) An Increase in the Production of Love by Groups and Institutions, and finally

(5) The Increase Love-Production by Culture and the Total Culture.

The altruization scheme can be summarized as follows:

(1) an increase in the number of “heroes” of kindness;

(2) an increase in the number of “heroes” of truth and beauty;

(3) an increase in the number of ordinary altruists;

(4) altruization of social groups and institutions;

(5) altruization of the culture (Sorokin 1954b).

Thus, altruization affects three key levels: personality, society (groups and institutions), and culture. The methods of altruization proposed by Sorokin are interdisciplinary.

The methods use all positive experience of human civilization, including science (biology, medicine, sociology, psychology, etc.), philosophy, art, and religion. The altruization transforms social reality on micro and macro levels (personality, society, culture). For example, Sorokin proposed to use the technique of rational persuasion and scientific demonstration of advantages of kindness and cooperation; the technique of setting a heroic moral example; the technique of good deeds; the technique of altruization through the fine arts (Sorokin 1954b). The study of altruism provides an opportunity to rethink the sources of the social conflicts, which in the conditions of globalization and technological risks acquire high political, social, and cultural significance. In addition, studies of morality, altruism, and social solidarity can be aimed at addressing the problems of dehumanization, violence, discrimination, and consequences of environmental disasters

If this is how love energy can be generated or increased, it is not a utopia to think that it can also be accumulated and distributed (King 2004):

- “Like other forms of energy, love energy can also be accumulated or stored (a) in individuals, (b) in social institutions, and (c) culture [ ... ],accumulated love can also be distributed according to the particular needs of various persons and groups” (Sorokin 1954b, p. 45).

Chapter iv of The Ways and Power of Love describes the benefits of the power of creative love in social life and in the activities of human beings through numerous findings.

This chapter concludes the description of the aspects, dimensions, production, and management of love, as well as its power, to leave room in the rest of the book (the remaining two-thirds) for the detailed description of the types of altruism, the growth of altruism, and the techniques of how to transform individuals and groups into altruists. The over-500-page book ends with the chapter From Tribal Egoism to Universal Altruism in which, using a medical metaphor, Sorokin states that sick humanity can find a cure in the affirmation of universal altruism “Love acted as an antidote. Its force created little islands of health amid great sickness. It is this that gives me hope for today [...]. Some day – perhaps soon – mankind will learn what individuals have always known: that love is the only truly creative force in the world” (Sorokin 1958b, p. 17)."



Sorokin's Understanding of Altruistic Love: a review of the sources

Emiliana Mangone and Alexander Dolgov:

"Sorokin condenses the discussion of altruistic creative love in some books (Sorokin 1950a,1950b, 1954a, 1954b) and does the same with the activities at The Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism (Sorokin 1955, 1963 chap. 15, 1998a). However, the concept — although not in its final form—knew its genesis well before the establishment of the center (Sorokin 1941,1942, 1948). We therefore choose to clarify here some of its key aspects.

- "A peaceful, harmonious, and creative society can exist only when its members possess at least a minimum of love, sympathy, and compassion ensuring mutual aid, cooperation, and fair treatment. Under these conditions its members are united in one collective ‘we’ in which the joys and sorrows of one member are shared by others. In such a group a member is not an isolated ‘atom’, but a vital part of a creative community [ ... ]. Exercise your legal right and perform your legal duties when they do not harm anyone else and when they do not violate the rights and duties of others – such is the essence of marginal altruism, slightly above the purely legal conduct prescribed" (Sorokin 1948, pp. 57-58).

We also need to note an obvious biographical context of Sorokin’s interest in altruism studies. On the one hand he wrote:

- “The roots of The Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism [... ] go all the way back to these precepts of Jesus learned in my boyhood. Combined with my itinerant way of life and the social life of the Komi people, the religious climate of my early age played an important part in the formation of my personality, the integration of my system of values, and the crystallization of my early philosophy” (Sorokin 1963, p. 41).

On the other hand, Sorokin — in his autobiographical works A long journey (1963, pp. 266–268) and Leaves from a Russian Diary (1924) — noted that personal emotional experience of wars and revolutions became for him a stimulus for the search for ways to prevent social crises, which ended with research in altruism. In particular, in the first English book (Leaves from a Russian Diary), he describes how in this period (1917–1922, from the beginning of the revolution up to the famine of 1922) his ideas changed from a liberal optimism to a severe criticism of contemporary society. He argued that the revolutionary model was not following the hoped-for pattern, but was getting out of bounds. This opposition to the revolution forced him to flee into exile. Sorokin published an addendum to the book called The Thirty Years After (1950c),in which he analyzes the successes and the failure of revolution and sees the causes for destructive success and creative failure in a world picture. He views the Russian Revolution as another facet of the giant effort to overthrow and destroy Western culture and society.

For the American-Russian sociologist,

- “Only a basic reintegration of our culture can stop the diffusion and growth of these destructive processes. This reintegration can be achieved neither by the methods of the Revolution nor by the essentially similar techniques of the vociferous Crusaders against the Revolution. The techniques of love instead of hate, of creative construction rather than destruction, of reverence for life in place of serving death, of real freedom instead and pseudo-freedom – such are the techniques needed for rebuilding the house of humanity”. (Sorokin 1950c, pp. viii–ix).

Intellectual roots of Sorokin’s altruism theory go back to understanding love, compassion, and non-violence in Russian philosophy of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We can see special influence of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy on Sorokin thoughts. According to Dostoevsky, the experience of “active love” is able to reveal the existence of God to man. The principle of Dostoevsky’s active love here can be considered as an analog for Sorokin’s creative love. Sorokin can also be considered the ideological successor of Tolstoy. Defending Tolstoy’s Christian teaching as a philosophical system, Sorokin in 1912 analyzed Tolstoy’s ideas about “common humanity,” morality, social equality, brotherhood, and role of science in people union (Sorokin 1998b). In the USA, Sorokin renewed these ideas in his researches of altruism and morality. Sorokin’s attention never deviates from what he described as the indivisible sociocultural trinity (personality, society, and culture). At this point in his studies, however, his attention focuses on individuals and their mentality. Moreover, Sorokin never departs from his idea of sociology as a science engaged in the study of meaningful interactions between all the elements of superorganic phenomena; a discipline able to show the way for improving the living conditions of individuals. According to Sorokin, altruistic love is a positively vital force that can drive phenomena towards the highest levels of solidarity (it is not just a feeling), with the latter which is a form of social interaction.

In light of this, the terms used by Sorokin since the book Contemporary Sociological Theories (1928) to qualify the conduct of human beings are not “conflicting” and “cooperative”: with a very illustrative choice, he adopts the terms “antagonistic” (or “compulsory”) and “solidaristic.”

- "The latter term is not by chance: it is precisely the social responsibility of solidarity that is entrusted with guaranteeing the safeguard of social vulnerabilities, thus presupposing reciprocity. The main problem of a constantly changing society is the lack of mechanical solidarity ties – as per Durkheim. The person’s action emerges as a causal dependence between her physical involvement and the pressure exerted on her by the environment. The term “solidarity” therefore presupposes a greater involvement of all the interacting parties in the social system. In this way, not only we avoid neglecting social protections for the more vulnerable people, but we also stimulate individual energies and autonomous initiatives to strengthen the protection and safeguard for all people (Mangone 2018a, p. 74).

The solidaristic form of human behavior will be then replaced by the “love relationship,” that love considered by Sorokin as “the supreme and vital form of human relationships.” Even before reaching its conceptual maturity with the work produced in the most fervently active years of the Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism, this form of relationship had already appeared in previous writings, through which we can outline the very genesis of this concept. Already in one of his early Russian works (Sistema sotsiologii [System of Sociology])published in 1920, Sorokin had analyzed “solidary interaction” as a contraposition to “antagonistic interaction.”3 In the English summary of this book proposed by Isajiw (1956), this contraposition is clarified as follows: “Antagonistic interaction occurs when one party intends to induce another party to acts which the latter does not want to commit or disagrees with their commitment. [ ... ]

Contrary to antagonistic interactions, solidarity interaction takes place when one party intends to induce another party to such acts which the latter also intends to perform.” (p. 303).Before focusing our attention on creative altruistic love and outlining its genesis, we must make an essential introductory remark: in his theories, Sorokin never abandons the idea that individual development is closely related with the sociocultural organizations of society. Bearing this in mind, we will now try to outline the genesis of the concept of creative altruistic love through three writings by Sorokin that predate the start of the activities of the Harvard Center: The Crisis of Our Age (1941), Man and Society in Calamity (1942), and The Reconstruction of Humanity (1948). Obviously, in none of the three books will we find the concept as it will be outlined in The Ways and Power of Love (1954b), but they still contain many references to altruism and the means and ways through which to transform the personality of individuals to rebuild a crisis-ridden humanity. Sorokin thus wrote, during World War II, in the book The Crisis of Our Age (1941): With “the present crisis is not ordinary. It is not merely an economic or political maladjustment, but involves simultaneously almost the whole of western culture and society, in all their main sectors. It isa crisis in their art and science, philosophy and religion, law and morals, manners and mores; in the form of social, political, and economic organization, including the nature of the family and marriage– in brief, it is a crisis involving almost the whole way of life, thought, and conduct of Western society” (pp. 16–17).

In the last chapter of this book, identifying the change in cultural mentality as a notable degree the technical ways of remodeling the economic and political structures in this direction became easy. Without this change, no mechanical, politico-economic reconstruction can give the desired results

[ ... ]. "A transformation of the forms of social relationship, by replacing the present compulsory and contractual relationships with purer and more godly familistic relationships, is the order of day [ ... ] Our remedy demands a complete change of the contemporary mentality, a fundamental transformation of our system of values, and the profoundest modification of our conduct toward other men, cultural values, and the world at large” (ibidem, p. 319).

Sorokin can therefore be seen as foreshadowing of the overcoming of modern (sensate) culture in the direction of a transformation of relationships among individuals, and between these and the institutions by rediscovering the positive values of man. Sorokin’s analysis of sociocultural changes as a consequence of disasters (war and revolution, famine, and plague) lies within this theoretical framework. The most interesting aspect of this contribution, thus commanding our attention, is the general principle Sorokin identifies. “Starting from the idea that people live in a time in which calamities are recursive, these have a great influence on many aspects of everyday life: from the forms of thought to behavior andfrom social life to cultural processes of society. Sorokin defines these as typical effects that arerepeated every time disasters of the same type strike” (Mangone 2018b, p. 137).

Sorokin affirms:

- “The life of any society is an incessant fluctuation between periods of comparative well-being and those of calamity. [...] Sooner or later this phase is succeeded by a new stretch of well-being, which is replaced, in turn, by a further period of calamity. And so this alternation goes on, throughout the entire duration of society in question” (Sorokin 1942 [ed. 2010], p.13).

Beyond this first consideration, the Russian-American sociologist clarifies a general principle (law of diversification and polarization of the effects of calamity):

- “I would stress the general principle of the diversification and polarization of these effects in different parts of the population. By this principle is meant that the effects of a given calamity are not identical - indeed, often are opposite - for different individuals and groups of the society concerned, since individuals and groups differ from one another biologically and psychosocially” (Sorokin 1942 [ed. 2010], p. 14).

This depends, of course, on the degree of exposure to the disaster, and the effects are not only on the emotional aspects such as fear, but also on the cognitive processes of representation, memory, imagination, and structuring of thought. These are the factors that determine major changes, both on an individual level and in the social structure, which nevertheless necessarily require overcoming a crisis situation and searching for a new balance. What Sorokin stated in the middle of the last century is still valid today in describing the dynamics that occur in societies facing calamities. The crisis caused by a calamity is not to be considered sui generis; rather, it represents a normal moment of the flow of life that allows the recognition of the characteristics of social systems that might not otherwise be recognized since the calamity generates consequences on the vital level, on the socio-psychological regulatory mechanisms, as well as on social change.

- “In this sense calamities one of the potent and radical agents of sociocultural change. Although when the emergency is over, many a society rapidly recovers (reestablishing its equilibrium, its unity, its institutions, its system of social relationships), nevertheless it is never the same as the one that existed before the calamity” (Sorokin 1942 [ed. 2010], pp. 120–121).

The final chapter is once again dedicated to the future (A Glance into the Future) and to the means to be used to escape from a crisis caused by calamities (wars and revolutions, famines, and plagues) as well as by an anarchy of values that can only be overcome by their deeper integration:

- “Since the trends are already in operation they cannot be prevented or averted. They can be shortened and alleviated, however, by the individuals as well as by societies. The best way for an individual to meet them is by integrating his values and rooting them – not so much in the values of the sensory world – but rather in the moral duty and transcendental values of the kingdom of God [ ...] For societies, the shortest, the most efficient, and the only practical way of really alleviating and shortening the crisis is by reintegrating its religious, moral, scientific, philosophical and other values. This integration must be effected in such a way that new system of values is rooted not only in the noblest values of this sensory world, but primarily in the values of moral duty and the Kingdom of God” (Sorokin 1942 [ed. 2010], p. 318).

In the light of this statement, we can deduce that thinking about the future during or after a disaster cannot ignore the existence of a community, or of a group of individuals that is configured as such, since it is from the relationships that are established and can be considered positive in themselves that the design and reconstruction of identity features, and new system of goods and values should start from.

In The Reconstruction of Humanity (1948), Sorokin maintained that the disintegration of solidarity links in favor of an exasperated individualism—present in the sensate cultural mentality — leads to the destruction of humanity and not to its possible escape from the crisis. In this book, Sorokin tries precisely to sketch how humanity can emerge from the highly uncertain situation following World War II, which has in fact led to a catastrophic crisis. According to the author, the only possible way out from this crisis is altruism, that becomes the only tool for peace and survival.

Towards the end of the book, in summing up the remedies for disasters (crises) of the sensate society, Sorokin affirms

- “Since, besides the complexity of mental phenomena, the main reasons for our helplessness in rendering man creatively altruistic are the neglect of these phenomena by science during the past four centuries, the wrong conception of man and the sociocultural universe entertained by this science, and the disregard of the existing body of Oriental and Occidental experience in the field of the superconscious, the first remedial steps evidently consist in the correction of these defects [ ... ] An incomparably greater proportion of scientific research and cognitive effort must be devoted from now on to the study of superorganic ‘energies of man’, [ ... ] If during the next fifty years no important discovery should be made in the field of natural science, this would not seriously matter. But if our knowledge and control of man’s highest energies are not markedly expanded, this will mean a real catastrophe. For the sake of man’s very survival, the governments, foundations, universities, private endowers of research funds, and science itself must shift the bulk of their resources and activities to this field. A series of research institutions should be established. The most productive minds should be dedicated to this purpose” (Sorokin 1948, p.196).

Individual conduct, however, is not always positively oriented towards others, and yet it can be transformed by a revolution of minds and hearts — obviously a bloodless one: “the whole transformation of culture and institutions, of human conduct and social relationships, can be accomplished in orderly and peaceful fashion through the willing and concerted action of individuals and groups, guided by their consciousness, conscience, and superconsciousness” (ibidem, p. 231).

The reference to the levels of personality — and in particular to the superconscious—remains even when he refers to the general principle defined in Man and Society in Calamity (Sorokin 1942): “‘positive polarization’, crises and calamities call forth also a ‘negative polarization’, a portion of the population being freed from the control exercised by the conscious and superconscious forces and falling victim to the chaotic unconscious, biological impulses. Such persons became ‘worse than the beasts’, in the words of Aristotle e Plato” (Sorokin 1948, p. 196).

The book ends with a recommendation for the future in order to ensure the renaissance and transformation of humanity into a creative and happy order:

- “Since the existing sensate order is moribund, we have no choice, unless we are resigned to the extinction of our civilization, but to follow the road to renaissance and transfiguration. Assisted by the forces of the historical process and especially by the liberated energies of the superconscious, humanity may travel this road until it reaches the haven of the new order of creative peace and happiness. All that is necessary is the supreme mobilization of our available mental and moral forces, control of subconscious drives by the conscious and superconscious factors, and unflinching determination to meet courageously all the difficulties of the pilgrimage. It is for humanity itself to decide its destiny!” (ibidem, p. 241).

What Sorokin had presented in The Reconstruction of Humanity (definition, forms, gradation of altruism, and methods and techniques for the transformation of minds and hearts), albeit not in full detail, will then find its maturity, together with many examples, in the over 500pages of The Ways and Power of Love."


More information

Related material:

  1. Creative Altruism
  2. Creative Altruism and the Prospects for a Common Humanity in the Age of Globalization
  3. Pitirim A. Sorokin’s Contribution to the Theory and Practice of Altruism
  4. Amitological Paradigm
  5. Sorokin's Positive Sociology Applied to the Study of Altruistic Creative Love
  6. From the Positive Psychology of Abraham Maslow to the Positive Sociology of Pitirim Sorokin
  7. Pitirim Sorokin on the Altruization of Humanity