CHAPTER 7
Acute altruism: agape

Although altruism is a modern concept, it is, of course, not entirely novel. Despite the secular context of its emergence and submergence, the basic notion behind it, of a concern for others, was integrated into the fabric of western culture through the influence of the Christian gospel. The sense that God reaches out to humanity in love, and seeks to elicit an emulating caring from us for one another, represents an obvious inspiration for a concept isolating other-regard. The obviousness of the Christian source is enhanced by an apparent lack of other prominent candidates. The notion seems to be missing from the other major pillar of the western outlook, Greek civilization. “In classical times at any rate, the Greeks seem to have had no inkling of a notion of brotherly love that could extend to all humanity. ”1 It seems clear that in western culture, Christianity is the ultimate source of the modern concept of altruism. It might be the case that there are parallels in other major religious traditions; however, that is a very large subject, and one that does not need to be pursued here. What does seem clear is that Christianity is the wider source of this modern western concept, and that that source is definitive of the Christian vision itself.

The focus in Christianity that provides the background for the concept of altruism is reflected particularly in the peculiar Christian concept of love as agape. In a book that has become a modern theological classic, agape and eros (thefirstvolumeof which was published in 1930), the Swedish theologian, Anders

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1
Charles H. Kahn, “Aristotle and Altruism, ” Mind 90 (1981): 20.

-167-

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Altruism and Christian Ethics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • New Studies in Christian Ethics *
  • Title Page *
  • Content *
  • General Editor's Preface xi
  • Preface xiii
  • Part One - Alien Altruism 1
  • Chapter 1 - Explanations for Altruism 3
  • Chapter 2 - Evidence of Altruism 34
  • Chapter 3 - The Elusiveness of Altruism 57
  • Part Two - Ideal Altruism 89
  • Chapter 4 - Contract Altruism 91
  • Chapter 5 - Constructed Altruism 110
  • Chapter 6 - Collegial Altruism 135
  • Part Three - Real Altruism 165
  • Chapter 7 - Acute Altruism: Agape 167
  • Chapter 8 - Absolute Altruism 190
  • Chapter 9 - Actual Altruism 218
  • Select Bibliography 251
  • Index 263
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