Explorations in Altruistic Love

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* Book: 1) Explorations in Altruistic Love and Behavior, edited by Pitirim Sorokin. 2) Altruistic Love.



Richard Simpson:

"Sorokin's Harvard Research Center in Altruistic Integration and Creativity produced its first book in 1950:

  • Explorations in Altruistic Love and Behavior, edited by Sorokin and featuring three

articles by him.

Many sociologists confronting a book in which are asked such questions as "Can Eros be separated from Agape?" may find themselves on unfamiliar ground; perhaps this is why this book, edited by one of the leading men in the history of sociology, has received scant attention in our journals. Since it has been unduly neglected, and since it is the start of a potentially fruitful chapter of Sorokin's scholarly life, it will be considered in some detail here.

The lead article by Sorokin is entitled "Love: Its Aspects, Production, Transformation, and Accumulation." The various forms of love-religious, ethical, ontological, physical, biological, psychological, and social-are discussed. Sorokin surveys the forms of love and prescriptions for its furtherance in a number of cultures, Eastern and Western, ancient and modern. While ranging over all the major religions in quest of worthy maxims about love and analyses of it, he finds the ancient scriptures of India the most valuable source of knowledge in this area.

Love can be analyzed into five components or dimensions: intensity, extensity, duration, purity, and adequacy. Sorokin expresses regret at the non-scalar nature of these dimensions and the difficulty of defining their quantitative relationships. The five dimensions of love are reminiscent of the Sensate Jeremy Bentham's felicific calculus.

Sorokin speaks of the love for humanity of Jesus, Gandhi, and other spiritual leaders as "unrequited." Since all they got for their altruistic actions was martyrdom, he reasons, the source of their loveenergy must be sought outside the customary human channels.

The most probable hypothesis ... is that an inflow of love comes from an intangible, little-studied, possibly super-empirical source called "God," "the Godhead," "the Soul of the Universe," the center of the highest energy in the universe, the "Ultimate and Highest Value," the "Heavenly Father," "Truth," and so on.

Love-energy is a very real thing. It "is even more imperishable than any other form of energy, including radioactivity; not a particle of it is lost."" This energy can be stored up in institutions and organizations. Mortification of the flesh helps to produce love-energy; such practices as the isolation of the hermit have been found effective. As a beginning in the empirical description and analysis of love, Sorokin reports two studies he has made of affiliative and hostile tendencies in human beings. The processes of love production in two groups, one composed of nursery-school children and the other of Harvard students, are described.

A number of other writers, mainly psychologists and biologists, contribute articles dealing with various aspects of altruism. Ashley Montagu, the distinguished anthropologist, has a chapter on the biological basis of altruistic cooperation.

Montagu has since published a short book in which he points out the overemphasis by Darwin and his followers on tooth-and-claw competition in evolution and makes a scientific case for a belief in cooperation, quoting liberally from the works of leading modern biologists. Montagu and Sorokin agree that there is a firm biological basis for human altruism.

Altruistic Love (1950) is a study of the lives and characteristics of 3,090 Roman Catholic saints, 415 Russian Orthodox saints, 500 contemporary Americans honored for neighborly deeds on Tom Breneman's "Breakfast in Hollywood" radio program, and 112 individuals commended for neighborliness by a group of Harvard students.

In an effort to find out what makes a saint or a good neighbor, Sorokin and his assistants catalogued such things as the age, sex, marital status, family size, socio-economic background, political views, and type of altruistic behavior of their subjects. In this way Sorokin hopes to make the first steps toward discovering what kinds of people are likely to become saintly or neighborly, and eventually to lay the groundwork for producing more of these types than we have heretofore been blessed with."