Sorokin’s “Altruistic Creative Love”: Genesis, Methodological Issues, and Applied Aspects
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In the twentieth century, the social sciences and the humanities—especially sociology and psychology—have adopted a “negativistic” approach, i.e., a modus operandi that tends to bring out only negative or pathological phenomena. These disciplines often chase the operationalization of the social and human being losing sight not only of their peculiar objects of study but also of their aim of serving humanity. To describe this, we decided to do a journey through the Sorokin’s concept of altruistic creative love retracing the intellectual genesis of it. Sorokin had an “intuition” synthesizable in the following statement: the future of humanity and its development lies in the hands of humanity itself.
KeywordsAltruistic creative love Amitology Psychology Sociology Pitirim Sorokin
Social Research and Sociology and Positive Psychology
In the twentieth century, the social sciences and the humanities—especially sociology and psychology—have adopted a “negativistic” approach, i.e., a modus operandi that tends to bring out only negative or pathological phenomena without ever highlighting positive and healthy ones (Sorokin 1966). Moreover, they were characteristically oriented towards societal contrasts often ignoring the meaningful interactions between all the elements that constitute and give life to sociocultural phenomena (personality, society, and culture). Very often, the studies concerning some positive aspects of everyday life—such as gratitude, altruism, solidarity, and cooperation—have been neglected, since these are not considered a problematic (negative) aspect of society but rather a regular aspect of human and social events.
Such a modus operandi leads these disciplines (sociology and psychology) to reveal only negative or pathological phenomena, without ever pointing to positive aspects of human life. However, there are some fields of study that can be referred to sociology and positive psychology.
Positive sociology (not to be confused with positivist sociology) is the field of sociological research related to the study of prosocial phenomena such as altruism, mutual aid, volunteerism, social solidarity, friendship, and neighborliness. The origin of positive sociology is driven by the positive psychology movement which arose in the 1990s. As Nichols notes by analogy with positive psychology, we have the option of building a “positive sociology” (Nichols 2005; Nichols 2012). Positive sociology is also based on various intellectual currents in classical sociology. In this paper, we want to show that the Russian-American sociologist Pitirim Aleksandrovich Sorokin (1889–1968) made a significant contribution to the positive sociology through the concept of “Altruistic Creative Love.”
The positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living (Peterson and Park 2003), or “a science of positive subjective experience, positive individual traits, and positive institutions” (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi 2000, p. 5). The origins of positive psychology are rooted in the humanistic psychology, which was promoted by Abraham H. Maslow and Carl R. Rogers in the mid-twentieth century. It is necessary to say that Sorokin and Abraham H. Maslow collaborated in the mid-1950s. They established the Research Society in Creative Altruism and arranged a conference following which they published the book New knowledge in human values (Maslow 1959).
The necessity to reinforce “positive aspects” of psychology was due to the exclusive focus on pathology and psychological disorder such as neurosis, depression, alcoholism, and schizophrenia, that has dominated in the discipline. Positive psychologists believe that the science of positive subjective experience can improve the quality of life. They urge to study such phenomena as hope, wisdom, creativity, future mindedness, courage, spirituality, and responsibility. Positive psychologists note that Western countries have achieved the highest level of material well-being, but the most acute problems are still a lack of happiness, selfishness, and alienation between people (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi 2000). Positive psychology can point the way to a happier life, they consider. For example, in one of his important work, Seligman showed how optimism as a learned strategy of thinking can improve our life (Seligman 1991).
Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi mark out three levels of the positive psychology field: “1) subjective level is about valued subjective experiences: well-being, contentment, and satisfaction (in the past); hope and optimism (for the future); and flow and happiness (in the present); 2) individual level, it is about positive individual traits: the capacity for love and vocation, courage, interpersonal skill, aesthetic sensibility, perseverance, forgiveness, originality, future mindedness, spirituality, high talent, and wisdom; 3) group level, it is about the civic virtues and the institutions that move individuals toward better citizenship: responsibility, nurturance, altruism, civility, moderation, tolerance, and work ethic” (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi 2000, p. 5). Positive psychologists acknowledged that people and their experiences are embedded in a social context. Therefore, positive psychology needs to take positive communities and positive institutions into account. At the group level, we can transfer from positive psychology to positive sociology and take a look at the social life through its optic.
The intellectual sources of positive sociology include works related to the study of happiness, love, and mutual aid. But, for example, as Mihai Stelian Rusu notes: “None of the discipline’s key classics had shown a systematic interest in love as a social phenomenon. The amorous history of sociology’s classical thinkers seems to be much richer than their own intellectual record on the sociology of love” (Rusu 2018, p. 4). In particular, Rusu means relationship of August Comte with Clotilde de Vaux and Karl Marx with Jenny von Westphalen. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, traditions of studying solidarity and mutual aid were strong in Russia especially in the anarchist’s movement and so-called Narodniks movement1 (Efremenko and Evseeva 2012). A very famous work in this field is the Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (Kropotkin 1902).
Positive sociology can continue to develop the agenda of positive psychology and create new useful ideas. It can describe alternative resources of preserving the social order and show how to build a good society. The main methodological principle of positive sociology is the focus on positive social phenomena that can make society’s life better.
“Founding fathers” of positive psychology defined 24 character strengths as positive traits reflected in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Classification of character strengths is as follows: Appreciation of beauty and excellence [awe, wonder, elevation]; Bravery [valor]; Citizenship [social responsibility, loyalty, teamwork]; Creativity [originality, ingenuity]; Curiosity [interest, novelty-seeking, openness to experience]; Fairness; Forgiveness and mercy; Gratitude; Hope [optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation]; Humor [playfulness]; Integrity [authenticity, honesty]; Judgment [open-mindedness, critical thinking]; Kindness [generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruistic love, “niceness”]; Leadership; Love; Love of learning; Modesty and humility; Persistence; Perspective [wisdom]; Prudence; Self-regulation [self-control]; Social intelligence [emotional intelligence, personal intelligence]; Spirituality [religiousness, faith, purpose]; Zest [vitality, enthusiasm, vigor, energy]. Altogether, the character strengths form six basic virtues: wisdom and knowledge; courage, humanity, justice, temperance, transcendence (Park et al. 2004).
By analogy with this classification, positive sociology can create its own one by defining the basic social forms of interaction and social institutions through which these forms are produced. We need to know what kind of social institutions promotes kindness and what factors contribute to prosocial behavior.
Pitirim Sorokin expressed similar thoughts before all the above-mentioned researchers. He believed that sociology of the twentieth century was too focused on studying in the destructive social phenomena such as conflicts, crimes, and wars and paid little attention to positive phenomena. He considered that neither economic prosperity, nor democratic transformations, nor the growing role of science and education can eliminate the causes of social conflicts. It is interesting to note that Csikszentmihalyi mentioned Sorokin in his famous book about flow experience. He suggested that idealistic culture encourage flow activity—“a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it” (Csikszentmihalyi 1990, p. 4).
“At the present juncture of human history, a notable increase of an unselfish, creative love (goodness) in the superorganic world is the paramount need of humanity” (Sorokin 1958a, p. 184). This is the end point of Sorokin’s strenuous work. In fact, the Russian-American sociologist had an “intuition” synthesizable in the idea that humanity itself must act for its own salvation. Hyper-individualism has led to conflicts between individuals and groups, whose negative effects reverberate on these same individuals and groups:
In the twentieth century interhuman strife assumed the catastrophic proportions of two world wars and many other wars, of endless bloody revolutions and revolts, not to mention crimes and milder forms of the “struggle for existence”. At present, due to the discovery of the intra-atomic secrets and to the invention of Apocalyptic means of destruction, this moral anarchy begins to threaten the survival of mankind and especially the continuation of its creative mission. The situation explains why a notable increase of unselfish, creative love in the total human universe is the paramount present need of humanity (Sorokin 1958a, p. 185).
In his works, Sorokin demonstrated that altruism is an effective resource for overcoming social disintegration in time of the social and cultural crisis, and it also plays the role of the most important regulator of social development. Sorokin was one of the first who institutionalized the research of prosocial phenomena. In 1949, he established The Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism.2
The Genesis of Altruistic Creative Love
Sorokin condenses the discussion of altruistic creative love in some books (Sorokin 1950a, 1950b, 1954a, 1954b) and does the same with the activities at The Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism (Sorokin 1955, 1963 chap. 15, 1998a). However, the concept—although not in its final form—knew its genesis well before the establishment of the center (Sorokin 1941, 1942, 1948). We therefore choose to clarify here some of its key aspects.
A peaceful, harmonious, and creative society can exist only when its members possess at least a minimum of love, sympathy, and compassion ensuring mutual aid, co-operation, and fair treatment. Under these conditions its members are united in one collective ‘we’ in which the joys and sorrows of one member are shared by others. In such a group a member is not an isolated ‘atom’, but a vital part of a creative community [ … ]. Exercise your legal right and perform your legal duties when they do not harm anyone else and when they do not violate the rights and duties of others – such is the essence of marginal altruism, slightly above the purely legal conduct prescribed (Sorokin 1948, pp. 57-58).
We also need to note an obvious biographical context of Sorokin’s interest in altruism studies. On the one hand he wrote: “The roots of The Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism [ … ] go all the way back to these precepts of Jesus learned in my boyhood. Combined with my itinerant way of life and the social life of the Komi people, the religious climate of my early age played an important part in the formation of my personality, the integration of my system of values, and the crystallization of my early philosophy” (Sorokin 1963, p. 41). On the other hand, Sorokin—in his autobiographical works A long journey (1963, pp. 266–268) and Leaves from a Russian Diary (1924)—noted that personal emotional experience of wars and revolutions became for him a stimulus for the search for ways to prevent social crises, which ended with research in altruism. In particular, in the first English book (Leaves from a Russian Diary), he describes how in this period (1917–1922, from the beginning of the revolution up to the famine of 1922) his ideas changed from a liberal optimism to a severe criticism of contemporary society. He argued that the revolutionary model was not following the hoped-for pattern, but was getting out of bounds. This opposition to the revolution forced him to flee into exile. Sorokin published an addendum to the book called The Thirty Years After (1950c), in which he analyzes the successes and the failure of revolution and sees the causes for destructive success and creative failure in a world picture. He views the Russian Revolution as another facet of the giant effort to overthrow and destroy Western culture and society. For the American-Russian sociologist, “Only a basic reintegration of our culture can stop the diffusion and growth of these destructive processes. This reintegration can be achieved neither by the methods of the Revolution nor by the essentially similar techniques of the vociferous Crusaders against the Revolution. The techniques of love instead of hate, of creative construction rather than destruction, of reverence for life in place of serving death, of real freedom instead and pseudo-freedom – such are the techniques needed for rebuilding the house of humanity” (Sorokin 1950c, pp. viii–ix).
Intellectual roots of Sorokin’s altruism theory go back to understanding love, compassion, and non-violence in Russian philosophy of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We can see special influence of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy on Sorokin thoughts. According to Dostoevsky, the experience of “active love” is able to reveal the existence of God to man. The principle of Dostoevsky’s active love here can be considered as an analog for Sorokin’s creative love. Sorokin can also be considered the ideological successor of Tolstoy. Defending Tolstoy’s Christian teaching as a philosophical system, Sorokin in 1912 analyzed Tolstoy’s ideas about “common humanity,” morality, social equality, brotherhood, and role of science in people union (Sorokin 1998b). In the USA, Sorokin renewed these ideas in his researches of altruism and morality.
Sorokin’s attention never deviates from what he described as the indivisible sociocultural trinity (personality, society, and culture). At this point in his studies, however, his attention focuses on individuals and their mentality. Moreover, Sorokin never departs from his idea of sociology as a science engaged in the study of meaningful interactions between all the elements of superorganic phenomena; a discipline able to show the way for improving the living conditions of individuals.
According to Sorokin, altruistic love is a positively vital force that can drive phenomena towards the highest levels of solidarity (it is not just a feeling), with the latter which is a form of social interaction. In light of this, the terms used by Sorokin since the book Contemporary Sociological Theories (1928) to qualify the conduct of human beings are not “conflicting” and “cooperative”: with a very illustrative choice, he adopts the terms “antagonistic” (or “compulsory”) and “solidaristic.”
The latter term is not by chance: it is precisely the social responsibility of solidarity that is entrusted with guaranteeing the safeguard of social vulnerabilities, thus presupposing reciprocity. The main problem of a constantly changing society is the lack of mechanical solidarity ties – as per Durkheim. The person’s action emerges as a causal dependence between her physical involvement and the pressure exerted on her by the environment. The term “solidarity” therefore presupposes a greater involvement of all the interacting parties in the social system. In this way, not only we avoid neglecting social protections for the more vulnerable people, but we also stimulate individual energies and autonomous initiatives to strengthen the protection and safeguard for all people (Mangone 2018a, p. 74).
The solidaristic form of human behavior will be then replaced by the “love relationship,” that love considered by Sorokin as “the supreme and vital form of human relationships.” Even before reaching its conceptual maturity with the work produced in the most fervently active years of the Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism, this form of relationship had already appeared in previous writings, through which we can outline the very genesis of this concept. Already in one of his early Russian works (Sistema sotsiologii [System of Sociology]) published in 1920, Sorokin had analyzed “solidary interaction” as a contraposition to “antagonistic interaction.”3 In the English summary of this book proposed by Isajiw (1956), this contraposition is clarified as follows: “Antagonistic interaction occurs when one party intends to induce another party to acts which the latter does not want to commit or disagrees with their commitment. [ … ] Contrary to antagonistic interactions, solidarity interaction takes place when one party intends to induce another party to such acts which the latter also intends to perform.” (p. 303).
Before focusing our attention on creative altruistic love and outlining its genesis, we must make an essential introductory remark: in his theories, Sorokin never abandons the idea that individual development is closely related with the sociocultural organizations of society.
Bearing this in mind, we will now try to outline the genesis of the concept of creative altruistic love through three writings by Sorokin that predate the start of the activities of the Harvard Center: The Crisis of Our Age (1941), Man and Society in Calamity (1942), and The Reconstruction of Humanity (1948). Obviously, in none of the three books will we find the concept as it will be outlined in The Ways and Power of Love (1954b), but they still contain many references to altruism and the means and ways through which to transform the personality of individuals to rebuild a crisis-ridden humanity. Sorokin thus wrote, during World War II, in the book The Crisis of Our Age (1941): With “the present crisis is not ordinary. It is not merely an economic or political maladjustment, but involves simultaneously almost the whole of western culture and society, in all their main sectors. It is a crisis in their art and science, philosophy and religion, law and morals, manners and mores; in the form of social, political, and economic organization, including the nature of the family and marriage – in brief, it is a crisis involving almost the whole way of life, thought, and conduct of Western society” (pp. 16–17). In the last chapter of this book, identifying the change in cultural mentality4 as the way out of the crisis, he recalls for the first time the Sermon on the Mount, which will be taken up again several times in his following works: “there must be a change of the whole mentality and attitudes in the direction of the norms prescribed in the Sermon of Mount. When such a change occurs, to a notable degree the technical ways of remodeling the economic and political structures in this direction became easy. Without this change, no mechanical, politico-economic reconstruction can give the desired results [ … ]. A transformation of the forms of social relationship, by replacing the present compulsory and contractual relationships with purer and more godly familistic relationships, is the order of day [ … ] Our remedy demands a complete change of the contemporary mentality, a fundamental transformation of our system of values, and the profoundest modification of our conduct toward other men, cultural values, and the world at large” (ibidem, p. 319). Sorokin can therefore be seen as foreshadowing of the overcoming of modern (sensate) culture in the direction of a transformation of relationships among individuals, and between these and the institutions by rediscovering the positive values of man.
Sorokin’s analysis of sociocultural changes as a consequence of disasters (war and revolution, famine, and plague) lies within this theoretical framework. The most interesting aspect of this contribution, thus commanding our attention, is the general principle Sorokin identifies. “Starting from the idea that people live in a time in which calamities are recursive, these have a great influence on many aspects of everyday life: from the forms of thought to behavior and from social life to cultural processes of society. Sorokin defines these as typical effects that are repeated every time disasters of the same type strike” (Mangone 2018b, p. 137). Sorokin affirms: “The life of any society is an incessant fluctuation between periods of comparative well-being and those of calamity. [...] Sooner or later this phase is succeeded by a new stretch of well-being, which is replaced, in turn, by a further period of calamity. And so this alternation goes on, throughout the entire duration of society in question” (Sorokin 1942 [ed. 2010], p. 13). Beyond this first consideration, the Russian-American sociologist clarifies a general principle (law of diversification and polarization of the effects of calamity): “I would stress the general principle of the diversification and polarization of these effects in different parts of the population. By this principle is meant that the effects of a given calamity are not identical - indeed, often are opposite - for different individuals and groups of the society concerned, since individuals and groups differ from one another biologically and psychosocially” (Sorokin 1942 [ed. 2010], p. 14). This depends, of course, on the degree of exposure to the disaster, and the effects are not only on the emotional aspects such as fear, but also on the cognitive processes of representation, memory, imagination, and structuring of thought. These are the factors that determine major changes, both on an individual level and in the social structure, which nevertheless necessarily require overcoming a crisis situation and searching for a new balance. What Sorokin stated in the middle of the last century is still valid today in describing the dynamics that occur in societies facing calamities. The crisis caused by a calamity is not to be considered sui generis; rather, it represents a normal moment of the flow of life that allows the recognition of the characteristics of social systems that might not otherwise be recognized since the calamity generates consequences on the vital level, on the socio-psychological regulatory mechanisms, as well as on social change. “In this sense calamities one of the potent and radical agents of sociocultural change. Although when the emergency is over, many a society rapidly recovers (reestablishing its equilibrium, its unity, its institutions, its system of social relationships), nevertheless it is never the same as the one that existed before the calamity” (Sorokin 1942 [ed. 2010], pp. 120–121). The final chapter is once again dedicated to the future (A Glance into the Future) and to the means to be used to escape from a crisis caused by calamities (wars and revolutions, famines, and plagues) as well as by an anarchy of values that can only be overcome by their deeper integration: “Since the trends are already in operation they cannot be prevented or averted. They can be shortened and alleviated, however, by the individuals as well as by societies. The best way for an individual to meet them is by integrating his values and rooting them – not so much in the values of the sensory world – but rather in the moral duty and transcendental values of the kingdom of God [ …] For societies, the shortest, the most efficient, and the only practical way of really alleviating and shortening the crisis is by reintegrating its religious, moral, scientific, philosophical and other values. This integration must be effected in such a way that new system of values is rooted not only in the noblest values of this sensory world, but primarily in the values of moral duty and the Kingdom of God” (Sorokin 1942 [ed. 2010], p. 318). In the light of this statement, we can deduce that thinking about the future during or after a disaster cannot ignore the existence of a community, or of a group of individuals that is configured as such, since it is from the relationships that are established and can be considered positive in themselves that the design and reconstruction of identity features, and new system of goods and values should start from.
In The Reconstruction of Humanity (1948), Sorokin maintained that the disintegration of solidarity links in favor of an exasperated individualism—present in the sensate cultural mentality—leads to the destruction of humanity and not to its possible escape from the crisis. In this book, Sorokin tries precisely to sketch how humanity can emerge from the highly uncertain situation following World War II, which has in fact led to a catastrophic crisis. According to the author, the only possible way out from this crisis is altruism, that becomes the only tool for peace and survival. Towards the end of the book, in summing up the remedies for disasters (crises) of the sensate society, Sorokin affirms “Since, besides the complexity of mental phenomena, the main reasons for our helplessness in rendering man creatively altruistic are the neglect of these phenomena by science during the past four centuries, the wrong conception of man and the sociocultural universe entertained by this science, and the disregard of the existing body of Oriental and Occidental experience in the field of the superconscious, the first remedial steps evidently consist in the correction of these defects [ … ] An incomparably greater proportion of scientific research and cognitive effort must be devoted from now on to the study of superorganic ‘energies of man’, [ … ] If during the next fifty years no important discovery should be made in the field of natural science, this would not seriously matter. But if our knowledge and control of man’s highest energies are not markedly expanded, this will mean a real catastrophe. For the sake of man’s very survival, the governments, foundations, universities, private endowers of research funds, and science itself must shift the bulk of their resources and activities to this field. A series of research institutions should be established. The most productive minds should be dedicated to this purpose” (Sorokin 1948, p. 196). Individual conduct, however, is not always positively oriented towards others, and yet it can be transformed by a revolution of minds and hearts—obviously a bloodless one: “the whole transformation of culture and institutions, of human conduct and social relationships, can be accomplished in orderly and peaceful fashion through the willing and concerted action of individuals and groups, guided by their consciousness, conscience, and superconsciousness” (ibidem, p. 231). The reference to the levels of personality—and in particular to the superconscious—remains even when he refers to the general principle defined in Man and Society in Calamity (Sorokin 1942): “‘positive polarization’, crises and calamities call forth also a ‘negative polarization’, a portion of the population being freed from the control exercised by the conscious and superconscious forces and falling victim to the chaotic unconscious, biological impulses. Such persons became ‘worse than the beasts’, in the words of Aristotle e Plato” (Sorokin 1948, p. 196). The book ends with a recommendation for the future in order to ensure the renaissance and transformation of humanity into a creative and happy order: “Since the existing sensate order is moribund, we have no choice, unless we are resigned to the extinction of our civilization, but to follow the road to renaissance and transfiguration. Assisted by the forces of the historical process and especially by the liberated energies of the superconscious, humanity may travel this road until it reaches the haven of the new order of creative peace and happiness. All that is necessary is the supreme mobilization of our available mental and moral forces, control of subconscious drives by the conscious and superconscious factors, and unflinching determination to meet courageously all the difficulties of the pilgrimage. It is for humanity itself to decide its destiny!” (ibidem, p. 241).
What Sorokin had presented in The Reconstruction of Humanity (definition, forms, gradation of altruism, and methods and techniques for the transformation of minds and hearts), albeit not in full detail, will then find its maturity, together with many examples, in the over 500 pages of The Ways and Power of Love (1954b).
Altruistic Creative Love: Aspects, Dimensions, Production, Transformation, and Power
The idea of love fits into this theoretical framework as “the supreme and vital form of human relationship” (love relationship) and as such the ways, forms, and power of this energy (love energy) are to be studied. This force is likened, for their similarities, to an iceberg: “Love is like an iceberg: only a small part of it is visible, and even this visible part is little known. Still less known is love’s transempirical part, its religious and ontological forms. For the reasons subsequently given, love appears to be a universe inexhaustible qualitatively and quantitatively. Of its many forms of being the following can be differentiated: religious, ethical, ontological, physical, biological, psychological, and social” (Sorokin 1954b, p. 3). These forms actually refer to the very aspects of love: (a) religious love, refers to the experience of love for God or the Absolute; (b) ethical love, “is identified with goodness itself. Love is viewed as the essence of goodness inseparable from truth and beauty” (ibidem, p. 6); (c) ontological love, is considered the highest form of unifying, integrating, and harmonizing creative power or energy. This is the “core” of love, because it makes the world go round and without it, we would witness the collapse of the physical, biological, and social world (D’Ambrosio et al. 2014); (d) physical love, refers to love expressed through the unifying, integrative, and ordinating energies of the universe; (e) “The biological counterpart of love energy manifests itself in the very nature and basic processes of life. This energy, still little known, and often called the ‘vital energy’ that mysteriously unites various inorganic energies into a startling unity of a living – unicellular or multicellular – organism [… ] without the operation of a biological counterpart of love energy, life itself is not possible, nor its continuity, nor the preservation and survival of species, nor life evolution, nor the emergence and evolution of Homo sapiens” (Sorokin 1954b, p. 9); (f) psychological love includes all the intellectual aspects of emotional, affective, and desire experiences. For its very nature, psychological love is an “altruistic” experience; (g) social love is the last of the forms identified by Sorokin “on the social plane love is meaningful interaction – or relationship – between two or more persons where the aspirations and aims of one person are shared and helped in their realization by other persons” (ibidem, p. 13). The highest form of social love identified by Sorokin can be found in the Sermon on the Mount because, in it, the social relationship of love is expressed at its highest level.
It follows that love not only has many aspects and forms, but it also has various dimensions. Sorokin identifies five of them, for which he foregoes any psychometric analysis5 since they have both scalar and non-scalar characteristics; nevertheless, he believes that it is empirically possible to find for them evidence or testimonies. “Sorokin acknowledged that because of the indistinct nature of love the dimensions had both scalar and non-scalar characteristics. It is difficult to know the range of how many times greater one act of love is from another or whether it is lower, higher or equal to another act. Although, it is possible to empirically witness acts of love and know that one act is greater than another” (D’Ambrosio et al. 2014, p. 40). We will now describe the five dimensions using Sorokin’s very words: (i) The Intensity of Love: “In the intensity love ranges between zero and the highest possible point, arbitrarily denoted as inifnity. The zero point is neither love nor hate” (Sorokin 1954b, p. 15); (ii) The Extensity of Love: “The extensity of love ranges from the zero point of love of oneself only, up to the love of all mankind, all living creatures, and the whole universe. Between these minimal and maximal degrees lies a vast scale of extensities” (ibidem, 16); (iii) The Duration of Love: “may range from the shortest possible moment to years or throughout the whole life of an individual or of a group” (ivi); (iv) The Purity of Love: “ranges from the love motivated by love alone – without the taint of a ‘soiling motive’ of utility, pleasure, advantage, or profit, down to the ‘soiled love’ where love is but a means to a utilitarian or hedonistic or other end, where love is only the tinnest trickle in a muddy current of selfish aspirations and purposes” (ibidem, 17); and, finally, (v) The Adequacy of Love: “The adequacy of the subjective goal of love to its objective manifestation ranges from a complete discrepancy between the subjective goal of love actions and its objective consequences, up to their identity. Inadequacy may have two different forms: (a) love experience may be subjectively genuine in the loving person, but the objective consequences of his love actions may be very different from, even opposite to, the love goal; (b) a person may have no love experience or intentions subjectively, yet the objective consequences of his actions, though motivated by something else than love, may be most beneficial for others, similar to the effects of genuine love. The first sort of love experience and activity is altruistic subjectively but not objectively. The second sort of experience and action is not altruistic subjectively but is altruistic objectively” (ivi). At this point in the description of altruistic love, it should be noted that although Sorokin referred to the ways and power of love, he made the words “love” and “altruism” interchangeable throughout all the activities of the Harvard Center, starting with the book The Reconstruction of Humanity (1948), in which he accurately described the different types of altruism. Sorokin, however, does not merely describe aspects and dimensions of altruistic creative love, but, considers it as an energy that can be produced, accumulated, and distributed by individuals and institutions: “If love can be viewed as one of the highest energies known, then theoretically, at least, we can talk about the production or generation, the accumulation (or loss), the channelling, transmission, and distribution of this particular energy” (Sorokin 1954b, p. 36). The Russian-American sociologist identifies five steps through which love energy can be produced and improved: (1) The Increase of Creative Heroes of Love, meaning the great creators and thinkers (e.g., Plato, Dante, Shakespeare, and Mozart) and to the heroes or apostles of love (e.g., Buddha, Christ, Francis of Assisi, and Gandhi). It should be noted that in his book Altruistic Love (1950a), which is the first work published since the Harvard Center began its activities, Sorokin applies his skills as a social analyst to a study of the characteristic traits of people who are sensitive to the needs of others and who respond freely with kind help: the “good neighbors” of the Americas and “Christian-Catholic saints”. (2) The Increase of Creative Heroes of Truth and Beauty, thinkers and creators in different fields of science and the arts are great forges for some of the components (truth and beauty) of the highest value (love energy). According to Sorokin, “Among all the meaningful values of the superorganic world there is the supreme integral value – the veritable summum bonum. It is the indivisible unity of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Though each member of this supreme Trinity has distinct individually, all three are inseparable from one another [ … ]. These greatest values are not only inseparable from one another, but they are transformable into one another” (Sorokin 1958a, p. 180). What is needed is a growth in the love in parts of the society: (3) The Increase of Love by the Rank and File, (4) An Increase in the Production of Love by Groups and Institutions, and finally (5) The Increase Love-Production by Culture and the Total Culture.
The altruization scheme can be summarized as follows: (1) an increase in the number of “heroes” of kindness; (2) an increase in the number of “heroes” of truth and beauty; (3) an increase in the number of ordinary altruists; (4) altruization of social groups and institutions; (5) altruization of the culture (Sorokin 1954b). Thus, altruization affects three key levels: personality, society (groups and institutions), and culture.
The methods of altruization proposed by Sorokin are interdisciplinary. The methods use all positive experience of human civilization, including science (biology, medicine, sociology, psychology, etc.), philosophy, art, and religion. The altruization transforms social reality on micro and macro levels (personality, society, culture). For example, Sorokin proposed to use the technique of rational persuasion and scientific demonstration of advantages of kindness and cooperation; the technique of setting a heroic moral example; the technique of good deeds; the technique of altruization through the fine arts (Sorokin 1954b). The study of altruism provides an opportunity to rethink the sources of the social conflicts, which in the conditions of globalization and technological risks acquire high political, social, and cultural significance. In addition, studies of morality, altruism, and social solidarity can be aimed at addressing the problems of dehumanization, violence, discrimination, and consequences of environmental disasters.
If this is how love energy can be generated or increased, it is not a utopia to think that it can also be accumulated and distributed (King 2004): “Like other forms of energy, love energy can also be accumulated or stored (a) in individuals, (b) in social institutions, and (c) culture [ … ], accumulated love can also be distributed according to the particular needs of various persons and groups” (Sorokin 1954b, p. 45). Chapter iv of The Ways and Power of Love describes the benefits of the power of creative love in social life and in the activities of human beings through numerous findings. This chapter concludes the description of the aspects, dimensions, production, and management of love, as well as its power, to leave room in the rest of the book (the remaining two-thirds) for the detailed description of the types of altruism, the growth of altruism, and the techniques of how to transform individuals and groups into altruists. The over-500-page book ends with the chapter From Tribal Egoism to Universal Altruism in which, using a medical metaphor, Sorokin states that sick humanity can find a cure in the affirmation of universal altruism.
“Love acted as an antidote. Its force created little islands of health amid great sickness. It is this that gives me hope for today [...]. Some day – perhaps soon – mankind will learn what individuals have always known: that love is the only truly creative force in the world” (Sorokin 1958b, p. 17). In The mysterious energy of love (1959)—the year in which the Harvard Center closed its doors—Sorokin argues that, although he has little knowledge of this energy and of how it is produced and used, it is enough to justify his hypothesis that the “grace of love” is one of the three highest energies known to man (along with those of truth and beauty).
These are the peculiarities that make creative altruistic love a powerful tool for the reconstruction of humanity, which was falling into a marked sensualism due to the transformations of its cultural mentality.
Amitology as an Applied Science of Altruistic Creative Love
The activities of the Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism allowed Sorokin to focus the attention of researchers—albeit with few followers—on themes such as love and altruism, previously overlooked by the social sciences as these were too committed to seeking negative values instead of positive ones. According to Sorokin, change must begin by rediscovering the positive values of man, and science is also a guide to overcoming strictly sensate models of knowledge.
Three accounts of the center’s activities have been published (in English and French), all signed by Sorokin (1955, 1963 chapter 15, 1998a), but each of them has a different ending—yet they can all be traced back to Sorokin’s basic idea that social scientists must take a leading role in the social transformations needed to “rebuild humanity.” The report published in the French magazine Cahiers Internationaux de Sociologie ends with the following statement: “L’humanité se meurt par disette d’amour. Les vastes champs de l’univers humain demandent des jardiniers de cette fleur merveilleuse. Vivos voco! (Sorokin 1955, p. 103). Needless to say, the social scientists did not answer the call.
It is interesting to point out that this “call” was not spelled as such in the two English versions. In the version published after Sorokin’s death thanks to his son Sergei (Sorokin 1998a) and derived from private documents there is no “call,” but there is one—albeit in less categorical terms, but equally clear and always in Latin—in the report published in his autobiography: “I have devoted some ten years of my life to the study of the ‘mysterious energy of love’. This study has seemingly added something to the extant knowledge of this energy. If the results are more modest than I might have wished, my excuse can be expressed by an old adage Feci quod potui faciant meliora potentes” (Sorokin 1963, p. 292). These different endings, however, merely confirm Sorokin’s firm belief in the potential of social sciences as a guide for humanity, to the point of even hypothesizing the birth of a new applied science that would promote friendship, unconditional love, and mutual aid.
Sorokin proposed to developing this new science of love that he named “amitology,” characterized as “an applied science of amity and unselfish love” (Sorokin 1951). As Rusu notes: “At the core of amitology lie two complementary high ideals: an anthropological end, aiming to discover the most efficient techniques for the altruistic transformation of human personality, and a societal ideal, aiming to reconstruct humanity as a universal community of altruistic love. At a micro-level, Sorokin strove for amitology to lead to the ‘creative altruisation’ of persons and groups, that is, to people’s characterial transfiguration through the power of love. On the macro-level of redeeming society of its evils and hate, conflict and war, violence and inequality, Sorokin imagined a political economy of love based on ‘finding and inventing the most efficient ways of production, accumulation, and circulation of love energy in the human universe’” (Rusu 2018, p. 11).
In fact, for Sorokin “The historical moment has struck for building a new applied science or a new art of amitology – the science and art cultivation of amity, unselfish love, and mutual help in interindividual and integroup relationships. A mature amitology is now the paramount need of humanity. Its development tangibly determines the creative future of Homo sapiens” (Sorokin 1951, p. 277). The first task of this new discipline is an accurate analysis of the main aspects, properties, and basic forms of altruistic relationship and love energy, which means that amitology actually starts from the study of social relations and interactions. The application of these assumptions implies an understanding of the mechanisms by which human beings make their decisions based on their degree of knowledge about a given situation. As stated by Krotov “Sorokin believed in the reformist mission of sociology. He pioneered amitological studies, in so doing translating macro-theory into applied research” (Krotov 2014, p. 146).
We are back to the problem that Sorokin raised in Integralism is My Philosophy (1958a) on the construction of an integrated system of knowledge that may hold together the three forms: empirical-sensory, reason, and intuition; a system of knowledge able to provide as many elements as possible to understand superorganic phenomena, so as to have the opportunity, whenever possible, to foresee their transformation.
As Nichols notes (2012, p. 266): throughout his “altruistic period,” Sorokin emphasized two arguments: (1) that sociology should study the positive as well as the pathological; and (2) that only “the mysterious energy of love” could overcome the severe conflicts and anomie of the times, which he called “the crisis of our age.” As we can see, Sorokin embedded the problem of altruism into the context of social and cultural dynamics and the social and cultural crisis. He saw the solution to the crisis problem in the study and understanding of altruism or “the mysterious energy of love.”
Altruism in Sorokin’s works is closely intertwined with integralism. Integralism is an epistemological principle that allows one to fully understand reality. As an epistemological principle, Sorokin’s integralism intends a three-dimensional reality that is known by humans through three channels of cognition. (1) The universe of physical phenomena is known by the five organs of sense; (2) the realm of ideas is known by a reason; (3) phenomena that are not known by the senses and the reason are understood through intuition. Sorokin argues for the three channels of cognition all together make harmonious contributions to the full knowledge. Jeffries notes that theoretical and research program of integralism center around the practical question of how love and morality can be increased in personality, society, and culture (Jeffries 1999, p. 51). As social phenomena integralism and altruism predetermine each other: an integral worldview creates the prerequisites for an altruistic transformation, and vice versa, altruistic behavior becomes the basis for the formation of an integral worldview.
According to Sorokin, transformations must begin with a rediscovery of the positive values of man, and science acts as a guide also by overcoming of strictly sensate models of knowledge. In the case of sociology, it is not only a sociology of the crisis, but a “critical sociology” that does not stop at analyzing the processes of degeneration of society but seeks its deep roots by denouncing the negative factors that determine it.
Sorokin believed that values of waning sensate culture obstruct to the “altruistic tendencies” in social life. For Sorokin, the values of sensate culture predetermine people’s belief in power, selfishness, struggle, violence, hedonism, and mercantile interests. He argued that the scientific community supports this worldview by focusing on the study of social problems and social pathologies.
At the time when Sorokin expressed his “foolish” ideas—as they were then defined by some of his colleagues (Sorokin 1955)—and still today while this work is coming into being, no solution has yet been found for the devastations and wars. This is because individuals tried to act from the outside, thinking of changing political and economic institutions without intervening on the individuals themselves. These attempts are destined to fail because, to change institutions and the economic system, it is necessary to change the individuals acting in these very institutions and systems. Or, rather, it is necessary to transform people’s way of interacting by orienting them towards the love relationship that characterizes a free, harmonious, humanistic, and creative society.
Deepening Sorokin’s concept of Altruistic Creative Love was in fact only a pretext to highlight how the social and the human sciences continue to adopt a “negativistic” approach to research. Positive aspects such as gratitude, altruism, solidarity, and cooperation are neglected, since they are not considered a problematic (negative) aspect of society. But the rapid social changes that involve thousands of individuals in humanitarian emergency (i.e., migrations and natural phenomena such as earthquakes and/or floods) lead us to reconsider the role of sociology and of the other social sciences in reading social transformations.
Sorokinʼs solution is to create an Integral culture based on Integral truth. This form of knowledge, by integrating the three forms of truth (reason, meaning, and faith),6 provides a fuller and more valid understanding of reality. According to Johnston (1999), integralism is at the same time epistemology, psychology, sociology, and theory of history. The integral system links the three dimensions of truth so that it is closer to the three-dimensional nature of humanity, as well as to reality. Through integralism, one knows that the individuals, the things they do, and the cultural system are thus constructed in a more complete way.
Sociology, humanities, and social sciences are an instrument of knowledge of social interconnections because they do not analyze the specific aspects of society as such, but rather their interactions, ties, and reciprocal conditioning.
In this context that leads to abandon a sensate culture through the affirmation of altruistic creative love or love relationship—as Sorokin had prefigured—the role of researchers (sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, or any other scholar of humanities and social sciences) is to analyze superorganic phenomena. The end is not their explanation, but their understanding in order to accompany their transformation in favor of a development of a solidaristic humanity.
The need for the development of a positive (non-positivist) sociology—and so for the other social and human sciences—through an integrated system of knowledge in the study of sociocultural phenomena is inherent in the very complexity of these phenomena.
The general theme of the relationship between theory and practice has gone hand in hand with sociology since its positivist stage. However, the prevalent empirical content of sociological knowledge does not solve the problem of its usability, nor it clarifies the ambivalent role of the researcher (actor and observer at the same time of the phenomenon investigated). This leads researchers to re-define paradigms and methods so that knowledge is configured as a network experience resulting from confrontations and conflicts in a given space and time and in an integrated knowledge system. In this way, this system of knowledge is produced by the relationship/interaction between the researcher and the object of his investigation, between self and other, without any dependencies or hierarchical levels.
These aspects prompt the researcher to wonder what is the most appropriate methodology that relates theory and action to sociocultural phenomena. Research is a tool to expand the ability to describe the phenomenon, by increasing the knowledge that leads to its explanation and understanding, and then to its prediction.
In other words, to actualize this integrated system of knowledge, we must go beyond the various discipline-related viewpoints and combine our reflections through a disciplinary co-reflection in a perspective that must not only consider macro-social phenomena (related to social systems and their forms of organization), but include micro-social (relating to the individual/society relationship and social actions) and/or meso-social ones (relating to the relations between the social system and the world of life, the latter being understood as the set of meanings and representations of culture).
It is through systematic and methodologically well-founded observation—considered the main activity for overcoming Comte’s “social physics”—that we can lay the foundations for positive human and social sciences that can lead changes/transformations both at individual and social level because it is oriented towards those positive actions described above (altruism, solidarity, etc.).
Sorokin cannot however be termed “sociological humanism”; instead, we could speak of a committed “humanistic sociology.” A sociology that does not analyze and study only social phenomena, but a science that, with its peculiarities, contributes to the analysis and study of the most human part of individuals and society (living man). The purpose is to contribute to the discovery of human beings as creative and responsible social actors.
According to these circumstances, Nichols (2012) suggests doing sociology “with love” in the classroom, academic departments, and professional associations. Lissa Yogan suggests promoting “positively teaching positive sociology.” She notes that “positive sociology should help us create courses and teaching pedagogies that correspond to the elements of culture and society known to promote individual, group, and societal flourishing” (Yogan 2015, p. 2). We can see some steps in this direction. In 2011, Section on Altruism, Morality and Social Solidarity of the American Sociological Association was established. For the further development of positive sociology, it is necessary to combine the efforts of the researchers who are engaged in the study of prosocial phenomena. As we can see, the Pitirim Sorokin’s heritage is the main historical and intellectual basis for development and institutionalization of positive sociology and other social and human sciences.
The Narodniks were a social and ideological movement of the Russian middle class in the 1860s and 1870s. They believed that social and political transformations are possible as a result of close contacts of the intellectuals (or more precisely in the context of Russian history - intelligentsia) and the ordinary folks.
Sorokin, in 1949, thanks to funding from Mr. Eli Lilly and the Lilly Endowment, can establish The Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism. This center had the objective to study—in an interdisciplinary way, through the promotion of research and symposia—the theme of altruism, analyzing its various types, aspects, and dimensions, as well as the effects on the individual, social, and biological life.
This study emerges by his idea of sociology is that studies, on the one hand, the phenomena of the interaction of people with one another, and on the other, the phenomena which follow from this interactions.
With “cultural mentality,” Sorokin (1957) meant the internal aspects of a cultural system that concern the experience linked to people’s thought and the processes of symbolic mediation that allows for the attribution of meaning. Hence, the development from the theory of cyclical movements of the systems he had previously identified (ideational, sensate, and idealistic) was caused by the transformations of the mental foundations of men and groups.
Based on these five dimensions, some scholars (Levin and Kaplan 2010) have developed and validated a measure of love, the Sorokin Multidimensional Inventory of Love Experience (SMILE).
In order to understand this logic, it is necessary to briefly explain each of the aspects considered as reality systems. The empirical-sensory aspect of reality is perceived through the senses of human beings, or with artificial extensions of them (for example, the microscope or the telescope). In this case, science aims, though not exclusively, at reaching a precise understanding of this sensorial aspect. The rational-mindful aspect is primarily understood by our reason, starting from all the various forms that it assumes in all kinds of mathematical and logical thought. Finally, the glimpses of its superrational and supersensory aspect “are given to us by truly creative-supersensory and superrational intuition, or ‘divine inspiration’, or ‘flash of enlightenment’ of all the creative geniuses” (Sorokin 1958a, p. 180).
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