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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Roots of Good and Evil: An Interview with Paul Bloom

By Sam Harris
Sam Harris Blog
Originally published November 12, 2013

Here is one excerpt:

Harris: What are the greatest misconceptions people have about the origins of morality?

Bloom: The most common misconception is that morality is a human invention. It’s like agriculture and writing, something that humans invented at some point in history. From this perspective, babies start off as entirely self-interested beings—little psychopaths—and only gradually come to appreciate, through exposure to parents and schools and church and television, moral notions such as the wrongness of harming another person.

Now, this perspective is not entirely wrong. Certainly some morality is learned; this has to be the case because moral ideals differ across societies. Nobody is born with the belief that sexism is wrong (a moral belief that you and I share) or that blasphemy should be punished by death (a moral belief that you and I reject). Such views are the product of culture and society. They aren’t in the genes.
But the argument I make in Just Babies is that there also exist hardwired moral universals—moral principles that we all possess. And even those aspects of morality—such as the evils of sexism—that vary across cultures are ultimately grounded in these moral foundations.

A very different misconception sometimes arises, often stemming from a religious or spiritual outlook. It’s that we start off as Noble Savages, as fundamentally good and moral beings. From this perspective, society and government and culture are corrupting influences, blotting out and overriding our natural and innate kindness.

This, too, is mistaken. We do have a moral core, but it is limited—Hobbes was closer to the truth than Rousseau. Relative to an adult, your typical toddler is selfish, parochial, and bigoted. I like the way Kingsley Amis once put it: “It was no wonder that people were so horrible when they started life as children.” Morality begins with the genes, but it doesn’t end there.

The entire interview is here.
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