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Title: Nurturing altruism : the significance of sociobiology for Wesleyan ethics
Author: Hill, Matthew Nelson
ISNI:       0000 0004 2751 292X
Awarding Body: Durham University
Current Institution: Durham University
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis examines the significance of sociobiology within Wesleyan ethics. In addition to investigating how sociobiological altruism connects to Wesleyan holiness, it argues that John Wesley capitalized on the biological and environmental constraints on human action, creating a particular setting that nurtured altruism in his followers through the cultivation of holiness. Of the main chapters, Chapter 2 helps the reader understand basic and current sociobiological explanations of altruistic behavior—a behavior that has been a stumbling block for evolutionary theorists who have attempted, unsuccessfully, to explain why or how it exists. To address the presence of altruism among humans, this chapter elucidates kin selection theory, group selection theory (also called multilevel selection theory), and game theory, seeking to provide clarification of current research within the field of sociobiology. Chapter 3 offers a critique of the sociobiological explanations of altruism and examines the inability of sociobiology to adequately explain altruism while providing evidence for the reductionist tendencies of prominent sociobiologists such as E. O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins. Chapter 4 introduces how the biological and environmental constraints on human behavior influence where individuals are located on the selfish/selfless spectrum. Although all humans are influenced by some internal and external constraints, they still have the unique capacity to freely move on that continuum. This chapter paves the way for a discussion of John Wesley’s environmental constraints. Chapter 5, then, focuses on Wesley and the connection between the sociobiological understanding of altruism in regards to his theological understanding of both original sin and Christian perfection. In order to fully account for Wesley’s unique bands and classes (those groups that provided a system through which Wesley encouraged altruism by way of social holiness), it is necessary to work through his underlying theological presuppositions. To this end, the last major chapter, Chapter 6, further unpacks John Wesley’s ideas, illustrating how his understanding of holiness and Christian perfection led him to develop a complete system of checks and balances—which this thesis calls his “world of constraints”—that created an environment whereby individuals were much more likely to move toward the altruistic side of the selfish/selfless spectrum. Therefore, this thesis argues that, within a community concerned with Christian perfection, an individual can develop a virtuous character that encourages the overcoming of genetic constraints.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available