Self & Ethics: The Science of Altruism, Part 2

Self & Ethics: The Science of Altruism, Part 2


As we consider the views of both Buddhist philosophy and Western science on the nature of the self, what are the implications about our interactions with others, and our behavior in the world? What can we make of the idea that the self is constructed, and that all phenomena, including “selves,” are interdependent and mutually co-arising? In this presentation, I will discuss how the way we conceive of the self has deep repercussions on our relation to ourselves, to others, and to the world. I will also distinguish the notions of altruism, empathy, and compassion, and present a way to enact both individual change and societal change by adopting a more compassionate, selfless attitude. Specifically, I will explore the concept of altruism and attempt to show that it is a natural predisposition among human beings. Although some philosophers and psychologists have believed that we are irredeemably selfish, there are no scientific studies supporting such theory; indeed, a significant number of people do behave altruistically. I will also argue that altruism seems to be the only concept allowing us to reconcile the needs pertaining to the short term of the economy, the midterm of the quality of life, and the long term of the environment. Applications will be considered, including enhanced cooperative learning in schools and stronger cooperation within corporations, as well as the notion of sustainable harmony, which aims at reducing inequalities and preserving our environment and the other 8.7 million species who are our co-citizens on this planet.

  • Dialogue 30
    19 sessions
  • December 17, 2015
    Sera Monastery, Bylakuppe, India
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Richard Davidson

Richard J. Davidson, PhD, is the founder and chairman of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, and the director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience and the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, both at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He was educated at New York University and Harvard University, where he received his bachelor’s of arts and PhD degrees, respectively, in psychology. Over the course of his research career, he has focused on the relationship between brain and emotion. He is currently the William James professor and Vilas research professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin. He is co-author or editor of 13 books, including Visions of Compassion: Western Scientists and Tibetan Buddhists Examine Human Nature, The Handbook of Affective Science, and The Emotional Life of Your Brain. Davidson has published more than 300 chapters and journal articles, and is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards for his work, including the Research Scientist Award from the National Institute of Mental Health, the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has served on the board of directors for the Mind & Life Institute since 1992. In 2006, Time named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and he received the first Mani Bhaumik Award from UCLA for advances in the understanding of the role of the brain and the conscious mind in healing.