What Relationship Between Biological and Intentional Altruism?


  • Roberto Di Ceglie Pontifical Lateran University




In this essay, I first show that, from the view that God is the ultimate cause of the human ability to perform ethically laudable acts, does not follow that no continuity between biological and intentional altruism is possible. In line with recent theological research concerning the non-human world, I argue that there is a partial continuity between these two forms of altruism. I also show that, from a naturalistic viewpoint, no continuity at all seems demonstrable between the two forms of altruism at stake. I therefore contribute to strengthen a more general conviction, according to which evolution in itself is more persuasive than its combination with naturalism.


Aquinas, Thomas. 1920. Summa theologiae, tr. by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, second and revised edition. London: Oates and Washbourne. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/.

Aristotle. 2001. On the Parts of Animals I-IV. New York, NY: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Augustine, St. 1995. “The City of God”. In A Selected Library of the Christian Church: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff. Peabody: Hendrickson.

Bekoff, Marc, and Jessica Pierce. 2009. Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press.

Beyer, Gerald J. 2013. “Solidarity by Grace, Nature or Both? The Possibility of Human Solidarity in the Light of Evolutionary Biology and Catholic Moral Theology”. The Heythrop Journal 54, no. 5: 732–55. doi:10.1111/heyj.12030

Cliquet, Robert, and Dragana Avramov. 2018. Evolution Science and Ethics in the Third Millennium: Challenges and Choices for Humankind. Dordrecht: Springer.

Clough, David L. 2012. On Animals: Volume I: Systematic Theology. London: T&T Clark.

—. “On Thinking Theologically about Animals: A Response”. Zygon 49, no. 3: 764–71. doi:10.1111/zygo.12119

Dawkins, Richard. 1989. The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 2008. The Animal That Therefore I Am. Translated by Marie-Louise Mallet. New York, NY: Fordham Univ. Press.

Dulles, Avery. 2007. “God and evolution”. First Things no. 176: 19–24.

Flew, Antony. 1967. Evolutionary Ethics. London: Macmillan.

Grummett, David. 2011. “Animals in Christian Theology”. Religion Compass 5, no. 10: 579–88.

Hamilton, William D. 1964. “The genetical evolution of social behaviour. II”. Journal of Theoretical Biology 7, no. 1: 17–52. doi:10.1016/0022–5193(64)90039–6

Joyce, Richard. 2006. The Evolution of Morality. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Kearns, Laurel. 2014. Divinanimality: Animal Theory, Creaturely Theology. Translated by Stephen D. Moore. New York, NY: Fordham University Press.

Kerr, Fergus. 2002. After Aquinas: Versions of Thomism. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Kierkegaard, Soren. 1962. Works of Love. San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row.

Martin, Hilary C. 2010. “Divine grace and the created order in the history of catholic theology”. In Matter and meaning: is matter sacred or profane?, edited by Michael Fuller. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Midgley, Mary. 1995. “Animals and The Problem of Evil”. In Beast and Man, edited by Mary Midgley. New York, NY: Routledge.

Moore, Stephen D., and Laurel Kearns. 2015. Divinanimality: Animal Theory, Creaturely Theology. New York, NY: Fordham Univ. Press.

Niebuhr, Reinhold. 1979. An Interpretation of Christian Ethics. New York, NY: Crossroad.

Nowak, Martin A., and Sarah Coakley, eds. 2013. Evolution, Games, and God: The Principles of Cooperation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

O’Hear, Anthony. 1999. Beyond Evolution: Human Nature and the Limits of Evolutionary Explanation. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Okasha, Samir. 2013. “Biological Altruism”. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2013/entries/altruism-biological/

Oord, Thomas, J. 2004. “Morals, Love, and Relations in Evolutionary Theory”. In Evolution and Ethics: Human Morality in Biological and Religious Perspective, edited by Philip Clayton and Jeffrey Schloss. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

O’Rourke, Fran, ed. 2013. What Happened in and to Moral Philosophy in the Twentieth Century? Philosophical Essays in Honor of Alasdair MacIntyre. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Univ. Press.

—. 2016. “Evolutionary Ethics: A Metaphysical Evaluation”. In Aristotelian Interpretations, edited by Fran O’Rourke. Sallins: Irish Academic Press.

Peterson, Michael L. 2017. “A Theological Evaluation of Evolutionary Ethics”. In The Cambridge Handbook of Evolutionary Ethics, edited by Michael Ruse and Robert J. Richards, 273–88. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Plantinga, Alvin. 1993. Warrant and Proper Function. New York, NY: Oxford Univ. Press.

Pope, Stephen J. 1994. The Evolution of Altruism and the Ordering of Love. Georgetown: Georgetown Univ. Press.




How to Cite

Di Ceglie, Roberto. 2020. “What Relationship Between Biological and Intentional Altruism?”. European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 12 (3):53-74. https://doi.org/10.24204/ejpr.v12i3.3406.



Special Issue - Evolutionary Research on Morality and Theological Ethics