Human Nature and Philanthropy

Human Nature and Philanthropy explored the implications of new research on the sciences of human nature and community for our understanding and practice of philanthropy.

Neuroscientists, evolutionary biologists, sociologists, philosophers, and even experimental economists are exploring the biological and cultural bases of altruism. Is man wired for the self-sacrificing behavior we designate as altruism? Or is man primarily “selfish,” and are our mores about giving primarily a product of cultural rather than biology?  How does this matter for the social, economic, and political institutions that enable human beings to cooperate? How does it matter for philanthropy? And what happens when our altruism becomes pathological?

Our program featured a special presentation by Dr. Barbara Oakley, professor of engineering at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. Dr. Oakley is a writer of national acclaim whose research focuses on the complex relationship between neuroscience and social behavior. Her books include Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend; Cold-Blooded Kindness; an edited collection, Pathological Altruism; and most recently A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra).

Human Nature & Philanthropy
May 21-22, 2015
The Duke Mansion
400 Hermitage Road, Charlotte, NC 28207


Thursday, May 21

6:00 p.m.            Welcome and Hospitality

7:00 p.m.            Dinner

8:00 p.m.            The New Sciences of Human Nature

Remarks & Discussion:  Barbara Oakley, Professor of Engineering, Oakland University

Readings:                  Oren Harman, “The Evolution of Altruism”             
                                      Barbara A. Oakley, “Concepts and implications of altruism bias and pathological altruism” 

Friday, May 22

8:00 a.m.            Breakfast buffet available

9:00 a.m.            Paradoxes of Giving                  

Readings:                  Stephen V. Benet, “The Bishop’s Beggar” (in The Perfect Gift, 378-394)
                                      O’Henry, “The Chair of Philanthromathematics” (in The Perfect Gift, 155-160)

10:45 a.m.            Persons, Individuals and Social Order

Readings:                  F. A. Hayek, “Individualism, True and False”
                                      Nicholas A. Kristakis and James H. Fowler, excerpt from Connected                       

12:00 p.m.            Lunch

1:30 p.m.            Philanthropy and Its Limits

Readings:                  Leon Kass, “Charity and the Confines of Compassion” (in The Perfect Gift, 267-277)
                                      John O’Connor, “Philanthropy and Selfishness” (reader)

3:00 p.m.            Departure