Event Title

By Any Genes Necessary: Enlightened Self-Interest in Soren Kierkegaard’s Works of Love

Presenter Information

Noah Last, Oberlin CollegeFollow

Location

King Building 327

Document Type

Event

Start Date

4-28-2017 4:30 PM

End Date

4-28-2017 5:50 PM

Abstract

In his 1976 work The Selfish Gene, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins addresses two questions: are humans inherently selfish and, if so, is altruism possible? The concept of selfish gene theory that he offers argues that we are selfish by nature because our genes are selfish and altruism is probably impossible. This conclusion, however, is reductionist and not satisfying because it does not offer an ethic. I argue that the Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard asks the same questions in Works of Love and offers answers that are not reductionist and are more satisfactory in some ways because he promotes a balanced ethic. He posits that humans are selfish by nature and true Christians shed selfishness when they obey Matthew’s love command by loving God and all people without preference. This Christian practices what I call enlightened self-interest, in which God is a part of their relationship with the neighbor. There are also weaknesses in Kierkegaard’s argument that make his ethic unsatisfying in other ways, mostly that he does not directly support Christians practicing neighborly love through action. I interpret Works of Love to support an ethic of enlightened self- interest that includes loving one’s neighbor through action.

Keywords:

Kierkegaard, Works of Love, selfish gene theory, selfishness, altruism

Notes

Religion Capstone Panel
Session III, Panel 18 - Religious | Philosophies
Moderator: Cheryl Cottine, Assistant Professor of Religion

Major

Religion; Biology; Rhetoric & Composition

Advisor(s)

Cindy Chapman, Religion
Michael Moore, Biology

Project Mentor(s)

Cheryl Cottine, Religion
Margaret Kamitsuka, Religion
Charles Lockwood, Religion
Keith Tarvin, Biology

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Apr 28th, 4:30 PM Apr 28th, 5:50 PM

By Any Genes Necessary: Enlightened Self-Interest in Soren Kierkegaard’s Works of Love

King Building 327

In his 1976 work The Selfish Gene, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins addresses two questions: are humans inherently selfish and, if so, is altruism possible? The concept of selfish gene theory that he offers argues that we are selfish by nature because our genes are selfish and altruism is probably impossible. This conclusion, however, is reductionist and not satisfying because it does not offer an ethic. I argue that the Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard asks the same questions in Works of Love and offers answers that are not reductionist and are more satisfactory in some ways because he promotes a balanced ethic. He posits that humans are selfish by nature and true Christians shed selfishness when they obey Matthew’s love command by loving God and all people without preference. This Christian practices what I call enlightened self-interest, in which God is a part of their relationship with the neighbor. There are also weaknesses in Kierkegaard’s argument that make his ethic unsatisfying in other ways, mostly that he does not directly support Christians practicing neighborly love through action. I interpret Works of Love to support an ethic of enlightened self- interest that includes loving one’s neighbor through action.